With the opening of luxurious Sukhvilas resort this month, the surrounding area in Mullanpur presents a picture of stark contrast. On the one hand is the resort with its unheard-of features at unheard-of prices, and on the other lies deprivation and poor quality of life.
Sukhvilas used to be a poultry farm owned by the family of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal till about 10 years ago in the nondescript village of Pallanpur, some 15 kilometre from here. Today suites and villas equipped with high-end features like private pools dot the area. While the costliest one, named Kohinoor Villa, is available for Rs 5 lakh per night, there are other “cheaper” options too, such as the one-bedroom Luxury Villa at Rs 1.5 lakh. The cheapest suite is tagged at Rs 35,000 a night.
Till about two years ago, drive through the patchy, rugged road to Pallanpur would be tiresome and bumpy. Today it’s a seamless drive, thanks to the road network that has been built at a breakneck speed. The wide roads have fancy, ultra-modern lights and underground wiring, with even the dividers beautified.
The residents say all this development was unimaginable. However, what hasn’t changed is the life of the villagers. A few hundred metre short of the resort, for instance, is a government primary school, where students still sit in the open. Students and teachers say it’s not possible to sit inside the rooms. The single-storeyed building has fallen victim to neglect. It’s not uncommon for snakes to sneak into the dark, damp rooms; so sitting outside is much safer, they say. The roof of the decrepit rooms leak so much that it pours during rains.
It’s the only government school in the village. Anyone from the village wanting to study beyond Class 8 has to travel six kilometre to Boothgarh village. And there is no bus or any other transport facility available in the village.
Just outside the school, a few women with their heads covered were moulding cow dung cakes to be used as fuel. How do they take the new resort that has come up in their village? “It means nothing to us,” says Baljeet Kaur. “What are we getting from all this? We’d be happy if instead our village’s only school had been upgraded to Class 10. Even our kids are not getting jobs in the resort. They have all outsiders there.”
It’s a sparsely populated area with open fields, a few farm houses and some brick kilns around. Drive down a couple of kilometres and you reach Majra village where Baljinder Singh, a farmer, says development in Mullanpur and Pallanpur has helped. “Earlier people coming from Chandigarh side would pass by our village, and there used to be frequent accidents. Now the Badal government has built this amazing road. So there’s little traffic and fewer accidents,” he says.
While Sukhvilas is functional, development in Mullanpur, which Badals have been billing as New Chandigarh, is still patchy. There are big names — DLF and Omaxe — and some local ones, such as Manohar Singh, and even the state agency Greater Mohali Area Development Authority (Gmada). But except some pockets where a handful of families are living, it will take some years before it’s fully ready for habitation. As of now, most of them seem to be selling their units citing the smooth roads that some people say was done mainly for Sukhvilas.
Badals’ stakes in the luxurious resort
“Metro Eco Green Resorts Limited owns the Sukhvilas property. EIH Limited (of the Oberoi Group) has been given management contract for the resort. EIH or Oberoi Group has no ownership stake in it,” says Oberoi’s director corporate communications Silki Sehgal.
The Oberoi Group official says Metro Eco Green Resort is owned by a private consortium of investors. Union minister Harsimrat Badal, in her latest asset statement, disclosed that she owns equity shares worth Rs 81.5 lakh in Metro Eco Green Resort while her husband and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal owns Rs 3.12-crore shared.
With elections round the corner, the resort’s opening has given ammunition to Badals’ political opponents. Congress leaders Jagmohan Singh Kang, Balbir Singh Sidhu and Deepinder Singh Dhillon say it’s “blatant misuse” of office by Sukhbir. “After first having got the Mullanpur master plan amended to name it New Chandigarh to help real estate giants Omaxe and DLF, and then getting a road constructed at government expense around Sukhvilas , Sukhbir had now gone ahead with the opening of the resorts in blatant disregard to all political norms,” they allege.