Once known for its foundry units that produced quality lathe machines and other industrial machineries, this sub-divisional town of Gurdaspur district now gearing-up for a major poll battle that will decide which party or coalition will be at the helm for the next five years and bring back its lost glory.
From being the most prosperous town of the district, Batala has over years become associated with unhygienic conditions that have at times led to the outbreak of water-borne diseases and caused other health-related problems to residents.
Chocked sewerages, heaps of garbage, overflowing drains, encroached roads, non-functional street lights and inadequate and potable water supply are some of the basic problems that all political parties and even individual candidates are promising to tackle if voted to power to the 35-member municipal council (MC).
Though such promises are made in every election, the civic condition in Batala remained unchanged, exposing insensitivity of local leaders’ towards the resident.
With the SAD and the BJP being unable to mend fences and reach a consensus over seat-sharing, the Batala council is heading towards a triangular contest — it’s going to be SAD vs BJP vs Congress.
However, besides fighting each other, the three major parties are also contending with the dissidents, who left the parties after denial of a ticket and contesting the polls as Independent.
In the 2008 MC polls, the SAD-BJP alliance swept to power, winning 25 of the total 33 seats, while the Congress could manage to win just seven seats and one seat went to an Independent. While the BJP emerged victorious in 19 out of the 25 wards it had contested, the Akalis won six of the eight wards.
The delimitation, prior to the 2012 assembly elections, however, changed the demography of the 33-ward Batala council and added two more wards to it.
In the 2012 assembly polls, the Akalis had contested for the Batala seat, while in 2007, it was the BJP.
Under the seat-sharing arrangement, the Akalis staked its claim over 26 seats, leaving just nine for the BJP, which refused to accept the proposal. After failing to reach an understanding, the alliance partners have decided to field their candidates from all wards.
Though senior leadership of both the parties tried to mend differences and tried to reach a consensus over seat-sharing, strife between local leaders of the two parties ruined their effort.
However, with September 16 being the last date of withdrawal of nominations, talks are on to reach some form of understanding. The SAD and BJP too are having problems from those who were denied tickets.
The Congress is also facing troubles due to differences between local MLA Ashwani Sekri and Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa, with loyalists of both these leaders filing their nominations.
Poor sanitation, health conditions
Though people are facing numerous problems, sanitation remains a major issue, which has potential to affect the prospects of SAD and BJP candidates. Around two and a half years back, as many as 47 people died of gastroenteritis spread in Wards 6 and 7 due to negligence of the council authorities. Due to apathy of the civic administration, sewerages passing through the two wards got chocked and resulted in mixing of sewerage water with the potable water, which led to the gastroenteritis outbreak.
The condition is more and less in almost all localities of the town. The authorities claimed that they had spent crores of rupees to improve the sanitation condition, but nothing is visible on the ground.
Ranno Devi, a resident of Ward number 7, said, “The administration does not treat us like human beings. For them, we are just animals. Despite large number of deaths, the council has done nothing to improve our living condition.”
Non-functional street lights
With the MC authorities turning a blind eye to non-functional street lights, most of the localities of the town plunge into the dark after sunset. This gives commuters a tough time and often results in mishaps. The darkness also helps robbers, thieves and snatchers escape after committing a crime. Interestingly, the MC claims to be spending `16 lakh per annum on the maintenance of street lights, seeing the poor and inadequate lighting in the town, one wonders where all those money have gone. Ironically, not just opposition leaders, but even many BJP-SAD leaders sought answers on the use of these funds and fingers were pointed at some of the MC members.
Encroachments by makeshift vendors and shopkeepers on both sides of the roads are increasing with every passing day. Shopkeepers in many markets have even occupied the footpaths and presence of ‘rehriwalas’ at every nook and corner gives an ugly look to the town.
Encroachments on busy roads like Amritsar-Pathankot highway, Dera road, Samadh road and along the road to Mehta chowk are a major cause of traffic jams.
Even as the civic authorities time and again said that they would initiate a comprehensive drive to remove all makeshift encroachments from outside the shops in various localities, nothing concrete has been done so far. The MC has removed some encroachments from some localities, but the violators resurrect.
The vote bank politics is mainly responsible for the failure of the authorities in removing roadside encroachments and when the authorities act, MC members themselves halt the anti-encroachment drives.
Increasing crime and eve-teasing
Though Batala is a small town, the crime rate here is too high. Increasing incidents of snatching, robberies, murders and crime against women have not only created panic among the residents, but also raised a question mark on the functioning of police. The crime against women, including eve-teasing, near educational institutions are rampant.