The Mattewara project envisions the construction of an industrial park and textile units on the site, dubbed by some as the largest forest in Punjab.
The Punjab government’s proposal to set up an industrial park in the historic Mattewara Forest along the Sutlej River near Ludhiana has raised the ears of politicians and residents of the state.
The Public Action Committee, a non-profit organization based in Ludhiana, organized a protest against the project on July 10, 2022 at the local gurdwara near the Dhussi Bund on the Sutlej in Ludhiana district. The area is close to the village of Sekhowal, whose land will be used for the project. The nonprofit also streamed the event live on YouTube.
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The previous State Congress government led by Captain Amarinder Singh approved the establishment of an industrial park on 955.67 acres near Mattewara Forest and Sutlej in July 2020.
The opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) called the project “poorly conceived” at the time, with current Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann saying the government was not concerned about the environment.
But after coming to power in this year’s state elections, the AAP turned around although they later clarified that the project would not be set up on forest land. He would rather come on lands acquired in the villages of Sekhowal, Mattewar, Salempur, Garhiyan, Cell Kalan and Kalewal, in addition to the lands of the Animal Husbandry and Rehabilitation Departments.
“It’s a half-truth and half-truths are more dangerous than lies,” said Jaskirat Singh, who works with the Public Action Committee. BBCis the Punjabi service.
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Maninderjit Singh, a local farmer, told the BBC that the textile and fashion industries were among the most polluting in the world.
Hardev Arshi of the Communist Party of India addressed the crowd and claimed that land in the nearby village of Sekhowal had been forcibly acquired from the village sarpanch.
An opinion piece published last week in Down to earth said that all of the land in the village of Sekhowal had been acquired for the project, except for 100 acres for houses and fodder.
“The people of the village have no other means of subsistence than agriculture. No one knows if the government has any plans for employing these people,” the article noted.
River waters and forests
The project will see the light of day near the Sutlej and its floodplain. The river water issue has always been a thorny one in Punjab.
State leaders for much of its post-independence history claimed that the Center had unfairly allocated the waters of its rivers to states such as Haryana and Rajasthan in violation of riparian principles.
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The state’s river and groundwater are also heavily polluted. According to the Punjab Pollution Control Board, 18 towns on the banks of the Sutlej and its tributaries pollute its water.
The Budha Nalla in the town of Ludhiana, which was once a tributary of the Sutlej, is now so polluted that when its water enters the river, the water from the Sutlej becomes “E” grade.
Political leaders also visited the protest and addressed the crowd gathered there.
“The water of Sutlej is already so polluted that the Malwa region (in southern Punjab) has become a cancer belt,” said Simranjit Singh Mann, the head of Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar).
Mann, a supporter of a distinct Sikh homeland called Khalistan, won the by-vote for Sangrur Lok Sabha constituency last month. The seat had been vacated by Bhagwant Mann when he became chief minister of Punjab this year.
“This Morcha (agitation) will be so strong that the government of Central and Punjab will have to run with their tails between their legs,” Mann said to cheers from the crowd.
Another prominent politician, Sukhpal Singh Khaira, said that Punjab has already donated billions of cubic meters of water to a non-riparian state like Rajasthan in the past 20 years through the Rajasthan Feeder Canal.
“Our underground water was sucked up to grow paddy. Punjabis all over the world must fight for this project to be abandoned,” he said.
Punjab’s best-known environmentalist, Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal of the Nirmala sect of Sikhism, however, was absent from the protest. Seechewal is known for cleaning the Kali Bein, a stream near the city of Sultanpur Lodhi considered sacred in Sikhism.
“I have work in Goindwal near Amritsar so I was unable to attend,” Seechewal said. Down to earth on the phone. “My position on forests is well known. I support their protection,” he added.
“This issue is about the lives and livelihoods of people in the state. I see it becoming as big as the farmers’ protests in Delhi. It will become a focal point for people seeking to join it in large numbers,” said Ronki Ram, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Professor of Political Science at Panjab University, Chandigarh. Down to earth.
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