The Badal government has set the ball rolling on an ambitious project to develop the Siswan dam and its surrounding areas in Rupnagar district as a major eco-tourism attraction.
The proposed project is barely a few kilometres from an upcoming five-star resort in which Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal and his wife-Union minister Harsimrat Kaur are major stakeholders. Sukhbir’s project, Sukhvilas, is coming up on over 17 acres of forest land at Pallanpur village, about 20 km.
The dam, one of the many small dams built in the area, has a lake surrounded by a forest. The envisaged eco-tourism project spread in 12.5-acre forest area will offer features such as water sports, eco-huts, recreational activities, bird watching and rappelling to tourists visiting the area. A major attraction would be a ropeway across the lake between two guesthouses in the area.
Conceived by the Punjab Infrastructure Development Board (PIDB) -- a nodal agency of the government which has the chief minister as chairman and the deputy chief minister as co-chairman — the Siswan ecotourism project will be taken forward in the public private partnership (PPP) mode. The project got the government’s nod in February this year. The request for proposal (RFP) documents is now ready to be put out. “We are awaiting a clearance from the forest department,” said PIDB MD Anurag Aggarwal.
The tourism project is likely to raise brows as it has come to light in the wake of a controversy over the Greater Mohali Area Development Authority (GMADA) constructing a 1.3-km-long and 100-ft-wide road apparently to provide an access to Sukhbir’s hotel and nearby villages. One of the private land owners whose land was acquired for the road project has recently moved the Punjab and Haryana high court, challenging the motive behind the acquisition.
To begin with, the PIDB has helped the state’s forest department organise a “forest walk”, a 6.5-km trek beginning at the irrigation department guesthouse at the Siswan dam to the Mirzapur forest rest house. The Mirzapur rest house has been cleaned up and the forest department has installed trek furniture and drinking water kiosks on both sides of the trek.
“The trek is ready and the forest department will advertise it. The response to the trek will give us a good idea of the response to the Siswan dam eco-tourism PPP project,” said Aggarwal.
NO CLUE: SUKHBIR
When asked about the upcoming eco tourism project near his hotel, the deputy chief minister said he had no clue about it.
“Even if there is a project coming up there, it has nothing to do with my project. It is very far away from the hotel,” said Sukhbir. Aggarwal also defended the PIDB’s move. “The project was conceived 20 years ago. It is an old idea which the forest and tourism department had been toying with for years now. It is only now that we are implementing it,” said Aggarwal.
DY CM HEADS TOURISM BOARD FOR AREA
Last October, the Punjab government had announced the creation of the Shivalik (Dhauladhar) Tourism Development Board, a body parallel to the Punjab State Tourism Development Board (PSTDB), to exploit the potential for tourism in the area along the Shivalik foothills. The board is headed by Sukhbir Badal and was to conceive and implement the eco-tourism projects in SAS Nagar, Rupnagar, Hoshiarpur, Pathankot and Gurdaspur districts. Sukhbir’s private resort falls in this belt.