After months of dilly-dallying and uncertainty, the state government has decided finally to locate New Amritsar Central Jail at Fattapur village on the Chabal road.
The controversy was laid to rest with deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal's laying the foundation stone on Wednesday of the new Sudahar Ghar (reformatory) at Fattapur. The new prison will be over 64 acres and the expenditure will be more than `150 crore.
The proposal to shift the jail from near Gumtala village on the busy airport road was moved in 2010. The following year, the district administration proposed Bhalla Pind, 17-kilometres from Amritsar, as the site. In April 2012, however, agricultural trade unions questioned the choice (it was fertile land) and threatened an agitation after the government began a survey. HT had then raised the issue.
At Bhalla Pind, families also didn't want to part with land of the loss-making Ajnala Co-operative Sugar Mill. Of the 85 acres to be acquired, 55 belonged to the mill. In the early 1980s, the farmers had given it to the government on the condition to use it for sugarcane research and other agriculture-related activities and no other purpose.
Surjeet Singh, a member of the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Naujawan Sabha, whose land was also to be acquired, was first to object. Thereafter, the Border Area Kisan Sangharsh Committee and the Jamhuri Kisan Sabha joined the struggle and the matter reached Chandigarh, after farmers' groups said they were prepared to shed their blood for the cause.
In May 2012, in a meeting with chief secretary RK Singh, Rattan Singh Randhawa of the Kisan Sangharsh Committee questioned the government's wisdom of relocating the jail to 85 acres from an 88-acre site. Randhawa said the jail's overcrowding could be solved, if the government made proper use of the vacant space on the 88-acre campus.
When the farmers refused to budge, the government started scouting for a new site and zeroed in on Fattapur. Two years ago, the site was earmarked for dairy farms but the project had flopped as only a handful of dairy owners had moved in, with the majority thinking that their business couldn't flourish from there.
Prisoner transfer risky: Police will have to pass through crowded areas of the city, while moving prisoners to the district courts in the Civil Lines for trial. Not only the present jail is closer to the courts but also police have the advantage of wider roads and less traffic.
Inconvenient to visitors: Even for most visitors to the prison, Bhalla Pind on the Ajnala road would have been more accessible than Fattapur. It will suit visitors from Khem Karan, Chabal, Valtoha and other border areas of Tarn Taran district, while visitors from Gurdaspur, Jalandhar, and other districts will find it far.
Place stinks: The level of pollution is expected to be high. There are large waste dumps on either side of the Chabal road. The inmates will not have clean air at Fattapur.