Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal was in for a surprise during a 'sangat darshan' he held at Heir village about a forthnight ago. In the habit of doling out large sums of money to panchayats for developmental projects, the chief minister was taken a back when he heard a couple of youngsters saying, "Paise saade kole haigey ne, paise de lorh nahi " (We have money, we do'nt need it).
These youngsters happened to be from Sarchander village and they wanted the CM's intervention in a police case, which they claimed was fabricated.
Before hearing them, the CM showed his astonishment when in a low tone he muttered, "Eh pehli panchayat hovegi jis ne paise nahi mange (This is perhaps the first panchayat which has not demanded funds)" .
To know the reason behind the refusal of a developmental grant, a HT team visited Sarchander, 14 km from Amritsar and close to the international airport at Raja Sansi. The village indeed presented a picture of prosperity, quite unlike most villages of Punjab.
Barring a few cow dung heaps at certain selected places, the bricked lanes of the village were free from any garbage and neither were there any choked drains. Inquiries revealed that residents had been forbidden from emptying their household garbage onto the lanes, a habit which is quite common even in city localities.
The entire village of around 1,000 population is supplied water from one central place, which has a tubewell and a huge tank to store water for onward supply to houses. The village also has a sewerage system as a result there were no signs of dirty household water flowing here and there. It also boasts of a gymnasium where there are treadmills and other exercising equipment worth around rs 2.5 lakh.
FISCAL POSITION OF PANCHAYAT
"We never ask the government for any money. All that you see, including the school building and gymnasium, all were built with panchayat funds, with not a penny coming from any other source," said Sartaj Singh, a village resident while sitting at his home and discussing a land dispute case with a revenue official who had come from Amritsar.
The case which is being heard in a civil court involved the village panchayat and a well-known catering company that supplies food to various airliners operating from Amritsar.
Explaining the case, Sartaj Singh said, "A former sarpanch with the help of forged papers had sold land measuring 4 kanals and 4 marlas at a throw-away price to a catering company, which was keen to buy the land as the airport is very near. Though we did manage to remove the sarpanch concerned but we could not stop the catering company from taking possession of the land and setting up its office and kitchen here".
Pointing to the building of the catering company along the village link road, he said, "Here we have to be careful of the land sharks, who have their eyes on our panchayat land".
Gurmail Singh, president of the village sports club, pointed out that when this case happened in 2009, the panchayat under another sarpanch, Karag Singh, decided to sell some of the panchayat land.
"Protecting the land from the land mafia was a major problem. So we sold some of the panchayat land which was along the village link road and deposited the money in the panchayat account in the bank," said Gurmail while pointing out that currently an acre of land on the periphery of the village is worth around rs2 crore to rs2.5 crore.
As of now the panchayat has around rs7.5 crore in fixed deposit in the bank. This deposit gets the panchayat an annual interest between rs60 lakh to rs70 lakh.
"It is with the interest earned that we carry out all developmental works and in the past five years we have not taken a single penny from the government. On the contrary 21% of the interest money that we earn goes to the government coffers," said Gurmail Singh while explaining a government rule governing all panchayat bodies that have fixed deposits.
Under Karag Singh and then under Karan Singh, the present sarpanch, the village carried out a number of developmental projects. The panchayat also built new rooms for the government middle school and also established an anganwadi centre, a gymnasium for the youth while a stadium is still under construction.
Forty solar lights have been installed in the village lanes and more are in the process of being put up. The panchayat also built a shed and installed inter-locking tiles at the cremation ground, besides setting up gurdwaras and temples and even three dharamshalas. The village pond was re-designed and tiles were laid all along its floor.
Other than the interest from the fixed deposit, the panchayat also earns some money from the 8-9 acres agricultural land it still has in its possession.
"I think in such cases, like ours, it is better to have fixed deposits than keep a constant guard over a property which is constantly being eyed by the land mafia and real estate dealers," said Sartaj Singh as others standing around him nodded their heads.