Bhagtanwala garbage dump continues to vex constituency residents. Even the Akali MLA failed to get it shifted.
Amritsar, 17 November 2017. The Heritage Street leading to the Golden Temple is all spick and span, making you feel blessed to be in the holy city. But barely 2 km away, ugliness jolts you out of reverie: Potholed roads, heaps of garbage and the inescapable stench. Welcome to Amritsar South, where the government’s tall claims of “overall development” come crashing down.
This constituency has been in the news mostly for the Bhagtanwala garbage dump, against which Akali MLA Inderbir Singh Bolaria took on his own party’s government. Bolaria, once a close aide of Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia, turned a rebel over the Badals’ failure to shift the dump.
“Rather than solving the problem, they compounded it by proposing the setting up of a solid waste management plant at the site,” he says, while asserting that he tried his best.
Jatinder Singh, who runs a grocery store near the dump, is unimpressed by Bolaria’s efforts. “Being a member of the ruling party, he should have got things done. About 40,000 people are affected by the dump. Poisonous gases from the garbage are ruining our health,” he complains.
The traders in the anaj mandi (grain market) are the chosen sufferers as there is not even a boundary wall to separate the place from the dump. Gurinder Bir Singh, a shopkeeper, says, “Hundreds of palledars and other workers in the mandi are daily exposed to malodorous fumes.” Undoubtedly, it’s hard to bear this assault on the senses.
Residents of Khol Mangal Singh Abadi, Gobind Nagar, Guru Nanak Colony, Sham Colony and other settlements, who have been on a dharna under the banner of the Sanjhi Sangharsh Committee for the past two years, seeking shifting of the dump, are taking the politicians’promises with a pinch of salt.
The sole consolation for them is that the garbage-laden trucks that used to pass through their area are now taking a detour to reach the dump.
Anti-incumbency is a key factor here, even as Bolaria is now in the Congress camp. The AAP candidate, Dr Inderbir Nijjer, a radiologist new to the political arena, appeals to the voters to break the Akali-Congress cycle. During group discussions, he highlights the unresolved issues of the dump and the filthy conditions in the Sultanwind area and other unplanned urban settlements.
“The dump is located beside thickly populated areas and a major grain market,” he points out, stopping short of promising to get it moved if he is elected.
There is unrest and confusion in the local Congress unit over the induction of Bolaria. “He was instrumental in getting cases registered against our workers. How can we support him?” asks a party worker.
Former MLA Harjinder Singh Thekedar, an aspirant for the Congress ticket, prefers to focus on the work done by him during his tenure (2002-07). A vital figure for the party is the 21,897-vote lead Capt Amarinder Singh got in Amritsar (South) in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, on his way to a thumping win over BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley.
With the elections yet to be announced, the constituency has its fair share of fence-sitters. Unfazed by the din of the eco-unfriendly auto-rickshaws and the rickshaw pullers’ incessant shouting in the crowded bazaar, Partap Singh looks casually at the posters of the SAD/Congress/AAP, pasted on walls adjoining his chemist shop on the Sultanwind road.
He’s in the wait-and-watch mode. Unkept promises of the 2012 elections weigh on his mind. Once the code of conduct is enforced, the picture will become clear and he will take a call, he says.
Be it rickshaw pullers or shopkeepers, former BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu is a popular figure, never mind his recent flip-flops. They feel he can tilt the scales in favour of the party he will join, as and when. They remember him for taking the Akalis head on.
Sultanwind, a historical village known for its brave soldiers and dreaded militants, presents a picture of apathy. Choked sewers and mounds of trash don’t let you dwell on the eventful past of this place.
Vishal, who runs a garment shop along the Sultanwind road, has just one demand: Garbage collection on a regular basis. He wonders whether this is too much to expect from an elected representative.
The business community has its own issues. The “suniars”, who have about 40,000 votes, are unhappy with the NDA government for the heavy taxation on gold trading.
Pargat Singh Dunna, a goldsmith, says, “The Guru Bazaar markets of gold and silver cater virtually to the whole of north India, but the government has done nothing to boost the trade. Instead, more taxes have been levied.”
When asked which party he will vote for, Nirmal Singh, a resident of Gobind Nagar, pulls out a bottle of water which he is taking to a local lab for testing. “The RO system at my house gets clogged frequently. This water doesn’t seem potable,” he says, making it clear that it all boils down to providing civic amenities.