WHILE THE downpour stopped in Bathinda Wednesday morning, the city still struggled to get back on track as water did not recede from inundated parts of the city.
As residents suffered, a blame game went on between Union Minister and local MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal, held area MLA and state Finance Minister Manpreet Badal for the situation, and the latter accusing the Akali-held municipal corporation of deliberately delaying the works despite having adequate funds.
Accumulated rainwater from heavy showers throughout Tuesday night led to drains filling up. Electric motors were not much use in pumping water out. Ponds and paddy fields were overflowing. A large part of the city remained without power even on Wednesday as supply was not released as a precautionary measure.
The administration was seen distributing food items loaded onto a JCB machine to residents in water-logged colonies. SAD workers distributed langar food in many low-lying areas.
Harsimrat asked Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh to sack state Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, a the latter for the situation because and accusing him of stopping sludge carrier line work aimed at doubling the capacity to drain out water from low-lying areas, withholding funds to the municipal corporation and even perting corporation funds to the Improvement Trust.
Manpreet on the other hand blamed criminal neglect by the Akali Dal-held municipal corporation, lack of action by the Akali Dal mayor, and 10 years of disastrous performance by the SAD government as factors responsible for the state of Bathinda.
Harsimrat alleged that the finance minister denied funds to the corporation to complete the 13.5 km sludge carrier line (which carries waste of the city). She claimed that 4.5 km of this line was completed during the SAD-BJP government, but it had not been increased by even an inch during more than two years of Congress rule. However, information from Trevani the private agency working on this project revealed that the project got all clearances in October last year, though it was announced way back in October 2015.
Manpreet alleged that the core problem lay in the MoU that was signed by the previous SAD government with a private sector company, which includes the Union Government as a party. Trevani is enhancing the capacity of the sewage treatment plant (STP) and has also been awarded a contract of 10 years of operation and maintenance of sewer and water pipes of the city.
The finance minister raised four questions for Harsimrat Kaur Badal: Can Bathinda MP explain why her party signed such a lopsided MoU? Can she inform the public as to why her party, which has been heading the Bathinda MC ever since the MC came into being, has been stalling the tenders every time? Can Harsimrat explain why the MC is not paying compensation to farmers whose land falls next to the sludge carrier? Can Harsimrat explain why the MC has not cleared the alignment of the sludge carrier so far?
For want of compensation to farmers, the remaining 9 km line of the sludge carrier has not been constructed. The way the MoU has been signed imposes heavy penalties on the state government as and when it tries to intervene, he alleged.
Meanwhile, Harsimrat claimed that corporation work was hampered because the finance minister did not release funds even for repairs of motors and cleaning of sewerage lines. She said that the corporation was due to receive Rs 16 crore worth pending funds of the central Urban Renewal Mission, but even these funds were denied to the corporation and instead given to the Improvement Trust by the finance minister. This has compounded the problem of water logging in the city and resulted in unprecedented flooding in various areas , she added.
The Bathinda MP also asked the finance minister to tell people why he had not implemented the number one promise listed in his election manifesto for Bathinda assembly segment to stop water-logging completely.
Harsimrat further said that last month, the NDA government had sanctioned a Rs Rs 48 crore project under the AMRUT scheme for laying a new sewer line to resolve all water-logging problems besides providing sewerage system to 5,000 houses in 16 new areas . She said the state government should put up its 30 per cent share in the central project so it can be started immediately.
However, Manpreet stated that the Bathinda Municipal Corporation floated tenders in March regarding the Rs 48 crore AMRUT scheme. In the first week of July, he had questioned the MC as to why they had not started the work. He however did not respond regarding the 30% share of state government in this fund, but stated that the projects have been granted administrative clearance by the Punjab government and according to government rules and regulations, payments are made as soon as the work is completed.
Manpreet even claimed that he had released Rs 50 lakh to the MC for installation of new motors for draining out water, but it was not used.
Bathinda is no stranger to waterlogging. Questions have been raised as how the city was given the 31st rank in India and first in Punjab in the 2019 Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. Congress had lost from Bathinda urban in the parliamentary elections by around 3,700 votes. They had won with huge margin of 34,000 votes in the 2014 polls.