Ludhiana, July 12
Members of the Public Action Committee (PAC) are on cloud nine after Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann scrapped the textile park project proposed to be set up on around 1,000 acres, near the Mattewara forest and the Sutlej. A big role was played by their unity in the decision.
‘Mattewara Chalo’ gave the final push
After the success of the ‘Mattewara Chalo’ event, held on July 10, under which thousands reached the banks of the Sutlej near the Mattewara forest raising their voice against the proposed textile park, a delegation of the Public Action Committee was called to meet CM Bhagwant Mann.
When the matter of an industrial park was proposed to be set up near the Mattewara forest and Sutlej, a number of environmental activists of Ludhiana raised their voices against the project. They were concerned that if any industrial park is set up there, it would destroy the forest, damage the Sutlej’s floodplain and pollute the water.
Later, they came on one platform and formed the committee in July 2020 to protect the forest, river and its flood plains.
After the success of the ‘Mattewara Chalo’ event, held on July 10, 2022, under which thousands of people reached the banks of the Sutlej near the Mattewara forest raising their voices against the proposed textile park, a delegation of the PAC was called to meet Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann.
Eight members of the core committee of the PAC — Col CM Lakhanpal (retd), Dr Amandeep Singh Bains, Jaskirat Singh, Kapil Arora, Kuldeep Singh Khaira, Ranjodh Singh, Maninderjit Singh and Mahinder Singh Sekhon — met the Chief Minister on July 11.
Dr Amandeep Singh Bains (42), a dentist by profession, said: “During the Covid pandemic in July 2020, four environmental activists had gathered by following social distancing to hold a meeting on the matter. A few persons were also connected with us via phone calls. It was the first meeting wherein we decided to raise our voices together to save the forest and river. Later, a public action committee was formed for the cause.”
Notably, the PAC members not only staged protests but also used to organise visits of environmentalists, social activists and other personalities to the Sutlej and Mattewara forest. In November 2021, noted social activist Medha Patkar, who had led the Narmada Bachao Andolan, visited the proposed project site. She appealed to the people to launch a ‘jan andolan’ to save the river and forest.
Col CM Lakhanpal (retd), who is 73, is the most senior member of the PAC. He was well aware of the Mattewara forest and surrounding areas and led the committee to run its campaign in a dedicated manner.
“We are happy with the government’s decision to scrap the proposed textile park project. Actually, it is the victory of all Punjabis, including the Chief Minister who took the bold decision for the protection of the environment,” he said.
Civil Engineer Kapil Arora (46) and RTI activist Kuldeep Singh Khaira (45) played important roles and moved the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against the proposed industrial park. On hearing of an application filed by them in May 2021, the NGT gave directions to the Chief Secretary, Punjab, to take remedial action for the protection of the flood plains of the Sutlej.
“An advocate of Punjab and Haryana High Court, HC Arora, was our legal adviser. He helped us a lot. All PAC members worked together and stayed united to raise voices against the proposed project,” Kapil Arora said.
Also, Kuldeep Singh Khaira, who runs a dairy store, used to obtain important information regarding the project and important documents from government departments by filing RTIs.
A chemical engineer, Jaskirat Singh (45), is one of the key members of the PAC. He studied all project-related documents and details in depth. He, along with some other members, had submitted memorandums to officials and elected representatives for the protection of the forest and river.
A city-based industrialist, Ranjodh Singh (57), had also written to the then Chief Minister in July 2020, requesting him not to develop any industry in the vicinity of the forest and river. He organised awareness rallies, photo contests and also an online campaign on change.org, a web portal, to save the environment.
MS Sekhon, a 70-year-old man, who is working to promote Punjabi language, came forward to join the Public Action Committe eagainst the proposed industrial park.
Maninderjit Singh (58), a farmer, also helped the PAC to garner local support for the cause. “We got a huge support from the people and various organisations for the protection of the environment,” he said.
The PAC members continued their campaign on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to spread awareness on the adverse effects of the textile plant on environment.
Residents hold ardas
A day after the Chief Minister scrapped the textile park project, the members of the PAC and residents of Sekhowal village held an ardas (prayer) on the Sutlej bank near the Mattewara forest on Tuesday. A PAC member, Mahinder Singh Sekhon, said they offered ardas to thank the almighty.
They also thanked everyone who extended support to the campaign to save the forest and river. Laddoos were also distributed to mark the occasion.
Some of the PAC members and Sekhowal village sarpanch Amrik Kaur were among those present. The villagers honoured the Public Action Committee members. The residents also demanded from the state government to return the acquired panchayat land. Financially weak families of the village used to grow crops on the land for their sustenance. due to which they were opposing the park.
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