Gandhi Dham in Phillaur serves as route to illegal sand mining
As the country celebrates the 152th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Gandhi Dham in Phillaur, the memorial constructed at the place where a part of his ashes were immersed, has turned into a hotspot for illegal sand mining.
Located on the banks of Sutlej River near National Highway-I (NH-I), the memorial is a picture of bureaucratic neglect. But as a yearly ritual, just before Gandhi Jayanti, the memorial and its surroundings are whitewashed to offer a red-carpet welcome to babus and politicians.
As many as 50 labourers from the surrounding villages of Phillaur were seen carrying out last-minute cleaning and whitewashing in the area when this reporter visited the spot.
One of the workers, while showing the tractor marks on the ground, said, “Visit the place at night and you can see hectic activity of tractors in the area. This place is frequently used as a passage by people involved in illegal sand mining.”
“The memorial and its surroundings have become a haven for drug addicts. The nomadic Gujjar community, who are into livestock farming, have encroached upon the green belt around the memorial due to which maintenance becomes difficult,” another worker said.
A worker, requesting anonymity, said, “The place has turned into a den of drug addicts. As the place remains secluded, drug addicts and anti-social elements frequent the place throughout the day.”
“The neglect of the memorial site speaks of the scant regard governments have for freedom fighters’ sacrifices. Punjab government should save the memorial site from destruction and encroachments,” said PS Gulshan, patron, Peace Mission, and son of freedom fighter Late Ujaggar Singh Bilga.
Brij Bhushan Goyal, the organising secretary of Mahatma Gandhi Peace Mission, said, “Successive governments have neglected the memorial since mid 1980s. Earlier, there was direct access to the historic memorial site, but this has been blocked due to encroachments.”
He added, “The site should have been developed as a good tourist spot with a library. The grants promised by various leaders for development of the site never saw the light of the day. There should be a direct approach road from the main GT Road.”
Narinder Goyal, former president of Phillaur Nagar council, said lack of bureaucratic and political will was the reason behind the sorry state of the memorial. “We have been sending repeated representations to the government for funds to restore the memorial. Sadly, neither the administration nor the politicians have issued funds for the memorial. The memorial does not fall under the municipal limits, but still, we are carrying out the cleanliness work here,” said Goyal.
Despite repeated attempts, Member of Parliament from Phillaur constituency, Santokh Singh Chaudhary, who is scheduled to chair the function on Gandhi Jayanti here, was unavailable for comments.