Chandigarh: In the run up to this week’s assembly elections in Punjab, unplanned urbanisation has emerged as a key issue in three constituencies in Mohali district, officially known as Sahibzada Ajit Singh (SAS) Nagar, bordering the union territory of Chandigarh that serves as the state capital.
Residents in these constituencies — SAS Nagar, Kharar and Dera Bassi — claim developers, in collaboration with successive governments, have created a concrete jungle that results in obstruction of traffic, shortage of parking space that results in violence, waterlogging and environmental damage, among other issues.
According to them, towns like Zirakpur and Kharar, which fall under these assembly segments, see traffic jams lasting hours, affecting their daily lives.
As ThePrint visited these areas, several of them also highlighted that politicians don’t address their issues, including the alleged problem of frauds related to property selling and buying.
N.K. Sharma, the sitting Shiromani Akali Dal MLA from Dera Bassi, who is fighting for re-election, said he was aware of the civic issues.
“We have addressed several such issues in the constituency. But many things are yet to be resolved. We have planned for a city model which will be implemented soon,” he told ThePrint.
Opposition leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also acknowledged the problems and promised to resolve them if they came to power.
Deepinder Singh, the Dera Bassi candidate from the ruling Congress, said: “The problem has been growing with each year passing and the past government has completely failed to resolve the issue. The problem of unplanned urbanisation and traffic has really grown serious. I have been receiving people’s complaint on property frauds and infrastructure problems. This issue is on our priority list and will address this with immediate effect.”
Punjab will vote on 20 February. The counting of votes will be held on 10 March.
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What residents say
Daljeet Singh, a resident of SAS Nagar, said urbanisation is considered development, but it has given rise to a lot of civic issues.
“Apart from SAS Nagar, towns like Kharar, Zirakpur, Dera Bassi and Mullanpur have become hubs of unplanned construction and property related frauds due to a number of housing projects which had come up in these towns in the past 10-12 years,” said Daljeet.
Jaspal Singh, a Dera Bassi resident, added: “Properties for sale or rent in Chandigarh are really expensive, resulting in most people working in Chandigarh having to look for residence in the adjacent cities of Mohali, Kharar, Dera Bassi, Peer Muchalla and Mullanpur. In the last few years, a huge number of residential flats and housing projects have come-up in these areas to accommodate such people.”
According to the Indian State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2021, the forest cover in Punjab decreased by 2 square kilometres in 2021, compared to 2019’s mark of 1,849 sq km.
In Kharar, the built-up area increased threefold to 9.4 sq km in 2020 from 3.066 sq km in 2000, according to ISFR 2021. The city was envisioned to be agro-based, but around 6.41 sq km of agricultural land was lost to the Kharar local planning authority.
Zirakpur resident Abhishek Sharma, meanwhile, said “unplanned and illegal occupation of land around roads is obstructing traffic”.
“There is an acute shortage of parking spaces. Roads are in a bad condition because they get flooded every monsoon. Accidents, fights over parking spaces are common in Zirakpur,” he said.
In one such parking space fight, an alleged murder was also reported a few years ago.
“The parking problem has arisen because houses in these areas are being used as accommodation for paying guests, which is completely unauthorised. Because of them, the number of vehicles has increased, and cars have to be parked on internal roads and footpaths. All these leads to people fighting for parking spaces,” added Amritaash Sharma, a resident of Mohali town, which falls under SAS Nagar district.
Alleged illegal encroachments and shortage of parking space has led to narrower roads affecting the flow of traffic in Dera Bassi. However, residents in Zirakpur said their situation is the worst as they face hours-long traffic jams nearly everyday, particularly on the Zirakpur-Patiala road.
Residents also said they have to deal with the problem of waterlogging on the roads every monsoon. “The poor construction and maintenance of sewage and roads is exposed during monsoons. Roads get waterlogged, colonies are inundated and parking lots resemble dirty swimming pools,” said Dalbir Dhillon, a resident of Zirakpur.
Dera Bassi’s Jaspal Singh noted the environmental costs too. “Unbridled construction without a proper plan has really affected the environment. No proper plan for nature conservation has been taken into consideration,” he said.
Sukhdev Chaudhary, a Zirakpur-based social activist, told ThePrint that in every election since 2007, he has been raising the issue of illegal colonies and unplanned urbanisation, but despite promises made by all the candidates, the parties have done nothing on the ground.
“No politician has taken any concrete action. Residents suffer because no government takes on the builders. The voters must ask the candidates about this,” Chaudhary said, adding that the illegal residential colonies should be investigated.
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Opposition leaders promise to resolve issues
Sanjeev Khanna, the BJP candidate from Dera Bassi, spoke to ThePrint and promised strict action against those at fault.
“We have interacted with the locals and understand the seriousness of the issue. We will work on to get solutions to the problems and strict actions will be taken,” Khanna said.
Kulwant Singh, the AAP candidate from Mohali, said “the problem is definitely a big one and needs to be resolved soon”.
“Past governments have failed to offer a concrete solution for these. Good infrastructure plan is needed to be introduced in order to tackle the issue and a special committee will be formulated especially for this (if his party comes to power),” he said.
The author of this report is a first-year student of PG diploma in journalism and mass communication, Panjab University, Chandigarh. He is currently interning with ThePrint.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)
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