The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab has abandoned the Mattewara textile project in the face of protests from civil society. The project was first announced by the Congress government led by Amarinder Singh in February 2020. Facing opposition, the state government had changed the name of the project to “Modern Industrial Park”. Meanwhile, members of civil society formed a Public Action Committee (PAC) in July 2020 itself and the group continued to oppose the now-abandoned project. Notably, the PAC members achieved their goal without blocking roads or railroads. Here’s a look at six important faces of the PAC and what they have to say about the mass movement.
Jaskirat Singh (45), software engineer
“We first heard about Mattewara Industrial Park in July 2020. PAC was formed in the second week of July with a handful of members and I was one of them. Despite the pandemic, we held online and offline meetings to build momentum. We never wanted to lose this jungle in the name of development. Over the past two years I have visited the Mattewara jungle over 50 times and many of our meetings have been held at the proposed project site…people from all walks of life joined our meeting on July 10, the government therefore had no choice but to retreat. I vividly remember how AAP leaders including Bhagwant Mann spoke against the project, but they changed their position after they came to power. The public protest forced them to back down,” he said.
Kapil Arora (46), civil engineer
A consultant civil engineer based in Ludhiana, Arora said: “I have been involved in several social issues for more than five years and Mattewara Textile Park was one of them.”
He added, “We had visited various government offices since July 2020. In November 2020, I saw a notice in the newspapers in which public objections were invited regarding changes to the master plan of Ludhiana to convert it into an area industrial from a non-manufacturing area. As public objections were invited, the public began to object. In May 2021, we filed a complaint with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against the project. During this period, we were mistaken that it would be a mixed industrial zone and not a textile park only. But in November 2021, we saw a notification uploaded on Punjab government website which talked about industrial park with textile units and so we filed another complaint to NGT in February 2022. On April 8, DC Ludhiana and three others were questioned. to file by June 10, their response on how they planned to protect the floodplain area (as the land in question is close to the Sutlej River as well as the Mattewara Forest). This answer has not yet been given by the administration…”
HC Arora (71), High Court Barrister
Attorney HC Arora provided voluntary legal assistance to PAC. He said, “I have raised various cases regarding irrational tree felling… I have received restraining orders for tree felling on Muktsar-Ferozepur Road, and Sadik to Kanaha Road, among others. Getting involved in this project was the voice of my inner soul and the battle is not over yet. We will observe how the government returns land to the village panchayats as it was acquired by the Greater Area Ludhiana Development Authority (GLADA).
Kuldeep Singh Khaira (44), dairy businessman and RTI activist
Khaira got into activism after the college he enrolled in turned out to be a fake. He said, “The PAC had been working hard since July 2020 but the momentum has been building since June 28, 2022 when Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann made the case for the project in the Vidhan Sabha. We were shocked because his old videos are still with us in which he criticized the previous Congress government for continuing the project. Many other AAP leaders also protested with us. The movement gained such momentum that a sea of people joined the protest against the project on July 10. The government therefore had to bow before the public force.
Dr Amandeep Singh Bains (42), Dentist
Dr. Bains attended nearly every PAC meeting and was a force behind the protest. He said: “The area in question is in the flood plains, so how can they allow industrial construction in this area? We are not against development but against environmental degradation.
Col Chander Mohan Lakhanpal (retired) (77), former military
Colonel Lakhanpal motivated all PAC members and he did not allow anyone to slack off at any given time, Khaira, Jaskirat and other PAC members said.
Ranjodh Singh (57), industrialist
He made many photos and videos in and around the Mattewara forest to show the damage the proposed textile park could cause to the environment. Many industrial associations supported the project, but Ranjodh deviated from the view of his fellow businessmen.