Fazilka villagers oppose setting up of distillery, continue to block NH-7
A complete blockade of the National Highway-7 by villagers in Fazilka in protest against the setting up of a distillery by a politically influential family at Hiran Wali village entered 14th day on Sunday.
Villagers said the upcoming plant would pollute groundwater and the air quality of the area thus impacting agricultural production.
‘Sharab Factory Virodhi Sangharsh Committee’ has also written to the Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar to intervene to maintain the ecological balance of villages located near the India-Pakistan border.
After the protests, construction work has been stopped and the highway connecting Amritsar-Ferozepur-Fazilka-Bikaner has been blocked by farmers for the last two weeks near Fazilka.
Over 20 panchayats have reportedly passed a resolution against the distillery being managed by the family of sports minister Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi. The minister’s son Raghumit Singh Sodhi is a director of M/s Savera Beverages.
Interestingly, Congress legislator from Fazilka Davinder Singh Ghubaya has extended support to the agitation and demanded the state government to redress concerns of villagers.
“I stand with the residents of my constituency. Their apprehensions are very serious in nature as the liquor factory may adversely affect the economic lifeline of the region. I have spoken to the chief minister in this regard and hope that a decision in support of farmers will be taken soon,” said Ghubaya on Sunday.
Sodhis and Fazilka deputy commissioner Arvind Pal Singh did not respond to the calls.
Official sources said the firm has all the necessary approvals to set up the distillery.
“In all likelihood, residents of Hiran Wali and adjoining areas were not taken into confidence by the brewery management. The protest by farmers against the project also has a political angle and the entire matter is in the knowledge of the CM and the chief secretary,” said a source.
According to the sarpanch of Hiran Wali Anil Kumar, Sodhis bought nearly 28 acres in 2013 and the panchayats had been opposing it since then.
“In Fazilka, the topography is unusual where the groundwater table is less than 10-feet and any mishandling of wastewater by the brewery would severely affect the agriculture sector in the area. A panel of villagers visited three places in Bathinda and Patiala districts where liquor factories were started a few years ago. Residents of those villages told us how the ash and foul smell emanating from the liquor units has hit their daily lives,” said Kumar.
Another activist from Ashwani Kumar of Begawali village said the Punjab government has adopted an indifferent attitude towards farmers. “Fazilka district administration is under political pressure and our representations have not been taken seriously. We demand the approval to establish a liquor factory should be withdrawn immediately,” he said.