BATALA, A CASE FOR SMALL DISTRICTS
CITIZENS ARE A CHALLENGE, SO NEED FOR SMALLER ADMINISTRATIVE UNITS
Captain Amarinder Singh led 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 into 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 much faster speed.
Citizenship has been posing tremendous challenges to governance set up. National security and globalization are real challenges in Batala like elsewhere. In 1966, post reorganization Punjab inherited eleven districts (full or partial). Today, the area of these eleven districts has been reorganized into twenty-four 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 the neighborhood’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.
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. Interestingly, Batala is one of the few Hindu majority towns of Punjab.
Hindu population of the city has declined from 70.5 %in 1971 census to 46%in 2011. Achaleshwar Dham’s connection with Sidha-Nath tradition, as described in Guru Nanak’vani and Bhai Gurdas Var is evidence of popularity of Nath jogis in the region. The city was home to Islamic learning institutions and it was revered as Batala Sharif. Before partition, it was a Muslim dominant city.
Batala’s relationship with Sikh heritage and Punjabi khattri class is beyond doubt. It was home to Bhai Mul Chand Chona, Guru Nanak Dev’s father in law. He was revenue official of lands around Pakhoke Randhawa.Gurdwara Kandh Sahib and Dehra Sahib are associated with this major marriage procession celebration known as Babe-da-Viah Purab.Batala’s relation with Sikh rule is too elaborate to be mentioned in passing. It was second home to Maharaja Sher Singh; the man who conquered Ladakh in 1841.His palace is now home to Baring Union Christian College, one of the oldest colleges in North India. With this college, Christian Church made immense contribution to higher education.
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 globalization. The local industry suffers from government apathy.
Geography 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 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.
DISTRICT STATUS AS ENGINE OF GROWTH
The city is suffering from congestion and greater population density. Batala as district shall see the growth of official buildings at the periphery and this will lead to growth of colonization beyond the immediate surroundings of city. It will act as multiplier effect, leading to improvement in land prices and creating better habitats. In 1971, 30% of city residents lived in one room houses. Today, its population is going to cross 1.5lacs and demand for affordable housing is likely to grow like never before. It is possible only if private investment in real estate grows and it creates a free and competitive market for middle income housing units. With Batala as District, Fatehgarh Churian and Sri Hargobindpur shall be upgraded as Sub division and the region shall see fine results in governance and ease of urban living.
A District status means not only the presence of ‘almighty’ Deputy Commissioner, lesser mortals like education bureaucracy, agriculture bureaucracy, medical bureaucracy and other technocracies also get a chance to play a greater role.
SMALL DISTRICTS FOR BETTER GOVERNANCE
Declaration of Batala as twenty-fourth districts shall lead to further demand for more districts in Punjab. Many states in India like Telangana have performed the enormous feat of creating twenty-three new districts (triple the original number)in six years. Smaller districts mean better governance because districts are meant for the people, not for the soil. With increase in the population, small territory districts shall solve one thousand problems of governance.
The fact, sooner realized the better!