Batala’s promotion as district on hold for now; Bajwa says ‘will happen’

It will take time. There is so much to be done. There are so many villages. Then there are sub-divisions. Everything has to be considered”— Partap Singh bajwa

PUNJAB government has put upgradation of Batala town to a district on hold for now after it opened a plethora of similar demands from leaders of various towns in the state.

Batala had assumed centre stage a few days ago when two factions of Congress in Majha region were sparring over credit for getting the town upgraded. The controversy assumed significance when once staunch supporters of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa and Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, had turned rebels and his bete-noire Partap Singh Bajwa had joined CM’s camp.

It was expected that the CM will announce Batala’s upgradation at a function on the occasion of ‘Babe Da Viah’ on Monday. The function is associated with the wedding anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev. However, the declaration was not made on Monday.

Government sources said that there were political as well as other reasons for deferring the decision on Batala for the time being. As soon as the proposal for upgradation of Batala hit headlines, at least four more leaders of the state demanded that their towns too should be upgraded to districts. They included BJP leader Som Parkash, who made a similar case for Phagwara, Congress MLA Gurkirat Kotli for Khanna, AAP MLA Sarvjit Kaur Manuke and Congress leader Rajinder Kaur Bhattal for Lehra Gaga.

Kotli and another MLA, Lakhvir Singh Lakha, met the CM recently and demanded that Khanna to should be upgraded to a district. “I had gone to the CM and reminded him that he had made a promise of upgradation to the people of the town before the elections. And if Batala is being made a district then Khanna deserves it more than others as it is the biggest town of the state,” he told The Indian Express.

Sources said that upgradation of a town to a district costs the state at least Rs 100 crore as a mini secretariat has to be constructed, Deputy Commissioner and SSP are to be given offices and residences, and employees houses are also to be constructed.

The government had recently upgraded Malerkotla to a district. “For Batala, it was not just about the money factor. It was about politics also. Two factions of the Congress were at war to hog credit. Although the CM had given the credit to Partap Bajwa, he would not have given him a district on a platter,” he said.

Partap Bajwa, however, said that Batala will be declared a district. “It will take time. There is so much to be done. There are so many villages. Then there are sub-divisions. Everything has to be considered,” he said.

Dr Satnam Singh Nijjar, renowned Batala based surgeon and chairman of Gurdaspur district planning board has also demanded that Batala should be made a district.

He said, “Amarinder Singh government has introduced a number of governance innovations, but it has acted like a conservative in the formation of new districts. It has formed only one district (Malerkotla) since it came to power. Keeping status quo in administrative divisions means the government is not waking up to the pressing needs of changing times. And times are changing at a much faster speed.”

He added, “In 1966, post reorganisation Punjab inherited eleven districts (full or partial). Today, the area of these eleven districts has been reorganised into twenty three districts as of 2021. Every time a new district was declared, Batala missed the bus. The most significant urban centre between Amritsar and Jammu has been a victim of political miscalculations from time to time. It is strange that this negligence has taken place despite this neighbourhood’s dominance in Punjab Cabinet from time to time.”

History, economics, geography, politics and people, everything makes a strong case for Batala as district set up. Politically, Batala remained capital of Punjab in place of Lahore for a brief period during the reign of Adinabeg whose in-laws were in Batala, and also breathed his last here. It remained headquarters of Batala Riyasat under the governorship of Maharaja Sher Singh, son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. After annexation of Punjab by Britishers, Batala was made a district with its headquarters in Anarkali and palace of Maharaja Sher Singh was made office of the first deputy commissioner, Capt J R Betcher. During this era Christian missionary, Francis Henry Baring became vactive in Batala area for Christian missionary activities. He prevailed upon the Governor, who happened to be his close relative, to hand over the Anarkali area along with the palace of Maharaja Sher Singh to start a missionary school. Under the circumstances, the district headquarters were shifted to Gurdaspur.

Established in 1465, it is one of the oldest surviving cities of Punjab. A strong connection with religious heritage makes it a unique place. The presence of Achaleshwar Dham makes it a land of Sanatan Hinduism where it is believed that Lord Kartik became achal (immovable) and Lord Shiva then visited this place with all gods and goddesses.

The city has produced great men of letters like Sujan Rai Bhandari, Sohan Lal Suri, Ahmed Shah Batalvi, Mumtaaz Mufti, and Shiv Kumar Batalvi.

After history, comes economics. During 1970s, the city was predominantly known for trade, industry and service. It emerged as major centre for foundry works. Not much attention was paid to keep pace with forces of globalisation. The local industry suffers from government apathy, said Dr Nijjar.

He added that geography also makes the city a unique place. It is situated on Amritsar, Pathankot and Jammu national highway. It is home to interesting marshes and wetlands. All surrounding towns like Fatehgarh Churian, Dera Baba Nanak, Qadian and Hargobindpur have direct historical link with Batala.

With more administrative power to Batala, these towns shall get new push towards growth. Its proximity with Pakistan border means that a keener civilian alertness on national security shall take place.
Dr Nijjar said declaration of Batala as a district will lead to further demand for more districts in Punjab. Smaller districts mean better governance, he said.

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