Even as academicians and green campaigners are planning a host of activities to mark the foundation day of Amritsar on Saturday, the city bore a defaced look and the Amritsar municipal corporation seemed to turn a blind eye to the myriad problems dogging the city.
A recent case in point is the construction of a parking lot and a skating rink on a plot of land inside the Ram Bagh, a protected area that houses the heritage of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
"Functions have been planned on the Guru Nanak Dev University campus and elsewhere in the city to mark the foundation day, but hardly any action has been initiated to preserve the heritage sites like the Ram Bagh," said Brij Bedi, a social activist. He added that the need of the hour was to focus on the preservation of heritage sites like Gurdwara Baba Atal Rai.
The city, which has seen a spurt in the mall culture in the recent years, does not have any infrastructure to match. BJP national vice-president Laxmi Kanta Chawla said that if the authorities and the public wanted to celebrate the foundation day in the true sense of the term, they should turn attention towards the conservation of their heritage. "The government should ensure that it does not destroy the original character of the old city to pave way for malls and other complexes," she said.
The BJP leader said that issues pertained to garbage disposal, broken roads, absence of water supply and sewerage and resultant waterlogging during rains and ever increasing pollution, besides traffic and parking woes bothered city residents even as authorities turned a blind eye to these problems.
Shortage of funds and lack of foresight and planning on part of MC authorities were cited as reasons for these problems. This despite the fact that the government proposed to turn Amritsar into a model city in two years. Come monsoon, and the roads and localities in Amritsar would get submerged in rainwater.
The areas worst affected by waterlogging during rainy season are localities in and around the walled city, not forgetting the posh areas like Lawrence Road (near DAV Public School), Court Road, Madan Mohan Malviya Road and Cooper Road (as one moves towards Bhandari Bridge).
The ambitious elevated road too is no better. The over Rs 210- crore elevated road too gets waterlogged on rainy days, causing inconvenience to the commuters.
"Amritsar means a pool of nectar, but it has been turned into a pool of poison. The city's air and water are polluted, while its parks, the green lungs, are sacrificed to pave way for concrete jungles," remarked Deepak Babbar, director of NGO Mission Aagaaz, adding that due to oversight of officials concerned to preserve environment, the holy city had failed to live up to its name.
Another issue that needs MC attention is unsafe buildings in the walled city area. During monsoons, these buildings pose threat to the lives and limbs of area residents and visitors alike. In the past few years, several deaths have been reported as some of these buildings collapsed due to heavy rains.
Several important projects such as the city bus service and the pods project too remain a distant dream. The city bus service was planned on the lines of the one running in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, and the original plan entailed a fleet of 150 buses.
Announced in 2007, the proposed bus service witnessed several trial runs, but is yet to hit the road. The delay in the implementation of the project has led to the escalation of costs by Rs 13 crore to Rs 46 crore.
The ambitious pods' project is another issue awaiting realization. As per the plan, the project would include around 210 six-seat laser-operated and driverless cars besides 13-inch accident-proof radials in the first phase. These cars have a capacity to ferry around 6,000 people in one hour. The total length of the track would be 3.5 km. The pods would operate between seven stations. The cost of the project is estimated to be around Rs 198.5 crore.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency-sponsored sewerage project is another big venture taking time to materialise. Sanctioned in 2007, the delay has led to escalation of project cost to Rs 600 crore from Rs 350 crore. The delay is cited as a reason for health-related problems in areas where the sewerage was to be laid.
Municipal commissioner BS Rai claimed that the MC was doing its best to develop the city. He added that the MC proposed to revamp and widen the Rego Bridge and extend the elevated road from Bhandari Bridge to GT Road. He added that there was also a proposal to provide underground electrical wiring at the Lawrence Road. "The project of widening the Rego Bridge is worth Rs 50 crore. These projects are sponsored by HUDCO and would materialise in the coming few months," he said.
Amritsar was founded in 1574 by the fourth Sikh master, Guru Ram Das. The city was set up on a piece of land purchased from owners of village Tung, and came to be known as 'Guru Da Chakk' or 'Chakk Ram Das'. This walled city houses the Golden Temple, the world famous Sikh shrine right in its centre.
Thousands of devotees pay obeisance at the shrine every day. Though one would expect to find the best of amenities here, development is a far cry. The residents of the walled city area said that apart from the usual problems caused by the absence of civic amenities, they had to deal with the menace of rodents, insanitation, waterlogging and unsafe old buildings.