'Eh lohe da shehar te, pittal de dillan de wasde ne lok aithe (It's a city made of iron while people of this city have hearts of brass).
This poem aptly sums up the apathy of bureaucrats and politicians, not of the people of Batala, about whom Shiv Kumar Batalvi is said to have written this stanza.
Batala residents still remember the poet, who was one of them, but it is the bureaucrats and some local politicians whose apathy has once again ensured that work on the Batalvi auditorium, lying incomplete for the last more than three decades, comes to a halt.
Batalvi, the youngest recipient of Sahitya Academy Award and also known as John Keats of Punjabi, has penned some of the best in Punjabi literature. He was born on July 23, 1936 in a village in Sialkot district (now in Pakistan). His family moved to Batala in 1947 in the wake of Partition where he received his education. died on May 6, 1973.
In 1980, the then Punjab governor Aminuddin Ahmad had laid the foundation of the auditorium dedicated to the famous son of Batala. The same year, 'Shiv Kumar Batalvi memorial trust' was formed under the chairmanship of the then Gurdaspur deputy commissioner Ashok Kumar Kundra while the Batala SDM was made president to ensure upkeep of the auditorium.
However, even after more than three decades, the auditorium project remains incomplete due to dearth of funds even while the trust people are at a loss to know what to do.
Apart from contributions from local residents and industrialists, successive state governments doled out funds for the completion of the project but it was alleged that huge sums of money were siphoned off into pockets of individuals.
Due to incomplete auditorium, local artistes and town residents have been unable to hold cultural events and have to depend upon marriage palaces in the area. Even the Batalvi trust has failed to organise any function to commemorate Batalvi's birth or death anniversaries for many years now.
It was learnt that though the Punjab government had given Rs 1.80 crore to the district administration last year for the completion of the half-built auditorium, but after spending around Rs 60 lakh within four months, construction work had been stalled for the last 20 days due to undisclosed reasons.
Requesting anonymity, a member of the Shiv Kumar Art and Cultural Society revealed that a battle of one-upmanship between two Akali leaders of the area had led to the suspension of the work.
Both these leaders allegedly wanted nomination of their supporters in the society and thus were pressurising the district administration officials to replace some existing members, he added.
Showing an official circular send by the Gurdaspur DC, the society members said that the DC had called a meeting on May 23 to discuss the construction issue but the meeting agenda indicated that the administration instead wanted to change the memorandum of association of the society.
When contacted, Shiv Kumar Art and Cultural Society chief patron and senior SAD leader Sewa Singh Sekhwan maintained that the civil work of the auditorium had been completed and now they were to float tenders for interior designing very soon. He denied the role of any politician for the delay in the construction of the auditorium.
Gurdaspur DC Abhinav Trikha maintained that there were some weaknesses in the constitution of the society and the same needed to be removed before the body formally began to function. He said that officials had earlier remained busy with election duties, and assured that the construction work would be completed within six months.