A canopy of fruit laden- trees with wheat stalks rustling underneath, a tube-well gushing clear water and a hammock swinging gently in the breeze. All this might seem a figment of imagination for someone who inhales the noxious traffic fumes on the Madhya Marg every day. Yet this world exists, barely 10 km away from the city periphery.
A few decades ago, Chandigarh was a city embraced by a circle of fruit orchards. Several baghs and bagichaas with trees bearing litchis, mangoes, peaches, guava were present in the area that has now been taken over by the housing board flats. The area under Mohali was also lined with fruit orchards, say old timers. All this changed with development and rising land prices. The orchards gave way to dwelling units and people replaced the trees. However, patches of small fertile holdings were left behind.Prosperous city dwellers picked up a few acres of such land to house a quaint dwelling unit and at times a random assortment of fruit trees.
Today,the prices of fruit orchards have picked up even in the present dwindling real estate market, says Arvind Mehta, who dabbles in property transactions on the periphery and suburbs. People are more interested in setting up fruit orchards as the returns are higher. On an average, an orchard yields between Rs 75,000 and Rs 1 lakh per year per acre, with returns going up for high value and high risk crops.The cost of orchard land is the highest in the Zirakpur area where it is available for Rs 25 lakh per acre, while towards the Mullapur area it is between Rs 14 lakh and Rs 15 lakh per acre. As one proceeds away from the city, the prices obviously fall.Orchards 15 to 20 km away from the city centre are going at the rate of Rs 5 to Rs 6 lakh per acre. The holdings in the Pinjore belt where fruit-bearing trees abound are around Rs 12 lakh to Rs 14 lakh per acre. Real bargains can be picked up in the Barwala-Raipur Rani belt of Ambala district where land is available for Rs 2.5 lakh per acre. This land falls in the kandi area and water is a problem,but orchards do not require much water, says Mehta.
The government too steps in to aid growers of fruit trees. Besides subsidy on plants and fertilisers, water is available from government tube-wells at the rate of Rs 7 per hour and, of course, the ultimate advantage is the tax-free income, says Mehta. There are no restrictions on land usage and holdings except that the orchard should be set up on agricultural land, he says. Several orchard owners are also doing farming on their orchards.Thus, besides two to three crop of fruits, the land can also be made to yield bajra, maize and wheat albeit at a slightly lower yield.
Land rates have gone up phenomenally in the last 10 years. Good orchards were available for as little as Rs 1 lakh per acre in the 1980s and averaged between Rs 1.75 lakh and Rs 2.25 lakh per acre in the early nineties.
Today, the latest offering in the orchard segment is the strawberry farms, coming up fast despite the massive outlay required. Earlier, such farms were set up in the Amritsar area but the Chandigarh- Bathinda road is becoming the next strawberry belt of Punjab, says Gurbir Singh, a BSc (computers) student, who is setting up a strawberry farm at Khuda Lahora. From a family of land-owning Jat Sikh farmers, he says strawberry cropping is close to his heart as tractor nahin chalana padega. Also, the highly perishable crop gives higher returns than the conventional produce. The outlay required is of course substantial, as strawberry requires microsprinkler systems and special fertilisers from Pune. Profit rolls in with the crop retailing at Rs 200 per kg on an average.
A businessman, who has recently set up a strawberry farm at Mullapur-Sultanpur Taprian, says he ended up spending around Rs 25 lakh on the entire set up. The break- up being-- Rs 12 lakh for two acres, 6 lakh on infrastructure inclusive of a small dwelling unit, Rs 75,000 for an electricity connection (the most difficult task), Rs 3 to 4 lakh for the sprinkler system and the first spray dose of fertiliser, and another Rs 2 lakh for uninterrupted water supply from his own tubewell.
Though the orchard market is upbeat at the moment, the future may not be too bright. With the government withdrawing subsidy on urea, the tax-free agricultural income is likely to be the next target, feel brokers. This will obviously cause a decline in the agricultural land prices around the city. Many land deals here have also come under scrutiny by the Income Tax Department, as people do not disclose the full value of their transactions. The result is that evaluation of the property is being done, by government agencies. Sale and resale of agricultural land is today better documented, thus it can no longer be used to funnel undisclosed funds, feel brokers, and this may depress the market a bit.
Meanwhile, the property market has dipped further in the Chandigarh, Mohali, and Panchkula area. In Chandigarh,the price of property has declined by at least 30 per cent with the buyer practically absent from the market. In Mohali, the market scene is particularly bad with transactions coming to a halt. Even Panchkula where realtors were expecting an upswing following the extension given to plot holders, the scenario has been dismal with a tight market. Apprehen-sions of a change in the government and absence of finance have also prevented the real estate market from recovering.
By H.S. Bhanwer
IN the wake of the Partition of the country, Punjab was divided into two parts East Punjab came to India and West Punjab went to the newly created Pakistan. Lakhs of Hindus and Sikhs migrated from Pakistan to India, and Muslims from India to Pakistan. The Sikh population in Pakistan was reduced to a microscopic minority that too only in the tribal area of Swat. All gurdwaras, including the historical Sikh shrines, were closed.
As per an agreement arrived at between the governments of India and Pakistan, Sikh pilgrims could visit Gurdwara Janam Asthan at Nankana Sahib, Panja Sahib at Hassan Abdal (Attock district), Gurdwara Dera Sahib at Lahore and Smadh Maharaja Ranjit Singh at Lahore on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, Baisakhi, martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev and death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh every year. (Muslim pilgrims could visit their five shrines in India too).
The SGPC staff, which had been looking after these historical gurdwaras before the Partition, was allowed to be posted at Nankana Sahib, Panja Sahib and Dera Sahib to perform the religious service. After the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the Pakistan Government refused to issue/renew visa to the SGPC staff, including granthis (priests), ragis (devotional singers) and sewadars.
During 1979, when the Janata Party was in power at the Centre, a six-member delegation led by Gurcharan Singh Tohra, SGPC president, visited Pakistan to study the state of affairs of historical gurdwaras in that country. He also met General Zia-ul-Haq, the then President of Pakistan.
Tohra raised the demand that SGPC staff should be posted at the gurdwara as per the practice before 1971. General Zia did not agree, and suggested that Pakistani Sikhs should be imparted necessary training for enforcing maryada (Sikh code of conduct) in the gurdwaras. He said he was prepared to send Pakistani Sikhs to India for the purpose.
Subsequently, General Zia persuaded about 50 Pakistani Sikhs to shift from Swat to Nankana Sahib. Some of them have been assisting the Waqf Board to run the gurdwara affairs in that country. These families are residing in the complex of Gurdwara Patti Sahib.
The new Sikh generation, and their children 120 in number (70 boys and 50 girls) in the age group of 5-15 have been getting education about gurmat maryada. These children rise early in the morning, take bath and then recite shabad kirtan. After their studies in the school, they learn the Gurmukhi script, and learn Gurbani in the evening from their elders.
These children have been observing almost all historical days such as birth and death anniversaries of the Sikh Gurus, sangrand (beginning of Vikrami month), amavas (a day before new moon) and purnima (full moon). They also participate in religious functions organised by the visiting Sikh pilgrims from India and abroad.
Balwant Singh, a young man who teaches these children, says that these youngsters are very eager to visit the Golden Temple and other historical Sikh shrines in India. Since their parents are small-time shopkeepers or businessmen, they cannot afford the expenses for the pilgrimage. The SGPC and other Sikh organisations should extend all cooperation, including financial assistance.
It is these children who
are likely to look after the maryada of Sikh
shrines in Pakistan in the coming years.
How I wish I were a
A daughter is a wistful
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