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Haryana’s Morni hill turns into a crime hotspot

The hill station with just one police post and poor connectivity is being increasingly used for crime and flesh trade as rules are thrown to the wind. Ninety-plus guest houses have cropped up on forest land as admn look the other way.

punjab Updated: Aug 09, 2018 13:18 IST
Yuvraj Kaushal
Yuvraj Kaushal
Hindustan Times, Panchkula
Haryana,Morni hill,Morni
Away from prying eyes, the secluded hill station is a perfect haunt for anti-social elements. (HT Photo)

Not too long ago, the only hill station of Haryana was a popular picnic destination for families looking to escape the hustle-bustle of the tricity. Not any longer. Over the years, Morni, known for its fabled association with the Pandavas, has acquired a seedy reputation as a haunt of criminals and drunken revellers. Last month, it also added flesh trade to its dubious record.

The dense forests, empty roads, poor connectivity, almost negligible police presence, and sparse population, the very features that attracted picnickers to Morni, have turned it into a den of anti-social elements.

A few year ago, gangster Sampat Nehra opened fired at a private hookah bar in Morni. Last year, Tanishq Bhasin, a 19-year-old resident of Panchkula and the son of an advocate in the Punjab and Haryana high court, was found dead with a bullet wound in his car near Berwala village on Morni road. A pistol was seized from the car that was locked from inside. A few days later, a Kurukshetra man shot dead his two young nephews and a niece, and dumped their bodies at Morni.

Illegal guesthouses offered hourly rates

The alleged gangrape in a guesthouse at Kaimbwala village of Morni has now turned the spotlight on the illegal guesthouses here. Though Morni has been declared a wildlife area and an eco-sensitive zone where no construction can take place without the permission of the forest department, the last five years have seen an explosion of guesthouses.

Locals put their number at 200, though an initial report by the police following a drive initiated on July 21, pegs their number at 91.

Sources in the administration say most of them are not registered and have not taken a CLU (change of land use) from the Town and Country Planning Department. Nor do they have a no objection certificate from the forest department, which is mandatory.

The Punjab Scheduled Road Act, 1927, Punjab Land Probation Act, 1900, Section-4, Land Conservation Act, 1986 applicable in Morni Hills prohibits construction around the roads, but there are several guesthouses close to the roads, many of which were offering rooms at hourly rates before the police crackdown.

Blaming political patronage for this mess, Dharamvir Chaudhary, a resident of Morni, said, “Police, forest and tourism departments don’t take any steps because the guesthouse owners have political protection. They have been running illegally for many years, yet no one took any note until this incident was highlighted by the media.”

Locals say the hill station had became a favourite haunt of youngsters wanting to rent rooms on hourly basis during the weekends. Admitting this, Rajesh, an employee at New Nancy Guest House, said, “Usually we get a lot of business on the weekends, but police crackdown that followed the alleged gangrape is keeping people away.”

Agreeing that guesthouses had become a lucrative business , Jaswinder Rana, who runs Green Valley Guest House, said they used to earn around Rs 30,000-Rs40,000 on the weekends depending on the customers. “But now no one shows up here due to the fear of police.”

Low land rates

Observers say the guesthouse boom at Morni was spurred by the low real estate rates. The land rate here varies from Rs 6 to 8 lakh for an acre to as low as 2 lakh depending on the location. This is a far cry from the neighbouring Panchkula, where an acre would cost several crores.

Locals say these guesthouse started mushrooming five years ago. “Earlier hotels and guesthouses were restricted to Mandhana only. Now they are everywhere, right from the Chandimandir road, Raipur Rani road and even in the interiors. Also, many outsiders are now coming here to run these guesthouses on rent,” said a villager.

Poor connectivity

Poor network connectivity also makes Morni an easy prey for anti-social elements.

“There is a communications network problem, which has not been resolved for decades. This is one of the reasons why criminals are having a free run here. They know their victim would not be able to call for help. The increasing crime has affected tourism here. The government should take appropriate steps to boost tourism with better infrastructure,” demanded Geeta Thakur, a resident.

Action, at last

It is only last week that the Panchkula police lodged first information reports (FIRs) against the owners of 10 guesthouses and hotels in Morni under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for failing to show any no objection certificate (NOC) for carrying out commercial activities. The police said despite notices, the guest houses and hotels had not maintained any registers with entries and ID proofs.

However, guesthouse owners claim they had never received any notices.

Atul Garg, a hotel owner, spoke for many when he said, “The police never issued any notices nor conducted any checks in the past. It was their duty to raise awareness among the locals running the guesthouses regarding the required procedure and documents. Now, they have suddenly woken up from their slumber and are making everyone suffer.”

Vijay Bansal, president of Haryana Shivalik Vikas Manch, has urged the Haryana government to protect the Morni Hills. Bansal rued that this area has become synonymous with immoral activities. “The incident of gangrape has embarrassed the area,” he fumed.

We will take tough action: Commissioner of police, Charu Bali

Why has Morni turned into a hotspot for crime?

Morni has always been a place for spending pleasant times with friends and family. However, with the rapidly changing socioeconomic realities, the nature of activities in the Morni area has also been affected.

It is now the endeavour of Panchkula Police to ensure safety of people on the entire route to Morni and to keep a check on the recently sprung up guesthouses.

Do you have any plans to step up policing in the area?

Yes, we have finalised plans to set up a police station at Morni. It will be in place soon. We will also start patrolling though we are short of human resources. Security infrastructure too is being updated.

How do you plan to check illegal activities?

We are carrying on a drive to check guesthouses under Sarais Act. Our teams are booking violators. It will be a regular feature.

VHP meditation centre under construction

Besides guesthouses, Morni is also seeing development of another kind. Vishva Hindu Parishad has started the construction of a meditation-cum-research centre on seven acres at Dhar village in the Thandog block of Morni. The VHP is likely to complete work on the centre by the end of this year or early next year.

The foundation stone for the meditation centre was laid in October last year by VHP organising secretary general Dinesh Chandra, nearly a year after land was bought from eight to nine land owners in the village. Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali trust is also developing a world herbal forest in the Morni Hills area.

A hill station ignored

In 2016, Vijay Bansal, president of Shiwalik Vikas Manch, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, accusing the Haryana government of ignoring Morni, which was earlier a part of Sirmour, Himachal. The PIL pointed out that almost entire Morni Hills is forest land as per the rulings of the Supreme Court and cannot be used for non-forest purposes unless it was already under cultivation.

It alleged that though the Morni block was included in Haryana in 1966, the state government had done little for its development.

“The residents of Morni fall within the definition of traditional forest dwellers, but no efforts have been made either at political nor at administrative level to secure social, economic and political justice for the people of the block,” Bansal submitted.

The Morni is grossly underdeveloped. Out of the 500 small villages, over 100, including Dhar and Kohlan, have yet to get access to electricity. Just a solar photo-voltaic power plant, set up by the Haryana government at Kohlan a few years ago, provides three to four hours of free electricity to 10-12 homes in the village.

First Published: Aug 09, 2018 13:15 IST