By: Mohit Behl
Dharamsala (Feb 11): Demolition drive undertaken by the Public Works Department (PWD) around Sheela road on the outskirts of the town has invited controversy and now the government and local administration have been trying to stay away from making any statements so as to save themselves from any further embarrassment.
It all started when PWD authorities started demolishing shops on the left side of Sheela road, which starts from Chaitru and connects important areas like Sidhbari, Yol, Dari with Kangra. In spite of demolishing all shops near Sheela Chowk, the department razed just 10 shops & did not touch the remaining shops in the lower areas, which otherwise were also encroachments.
Affected shopkeepers who have been running their livelihood from these shops for as long as 40 years – Bbansi Lal, Surinder, Raju, Lakshmi, KC Gupta, Dharam Chand, Suman Kumar, Sushil Chand, etc, blamed the authorities for sparing others “because of their political connections”. They also accused the government and the administration for cheating them and robbing them of their livelihood. Speaking about the issue, the shopkeepers said, “The government has again got itself involved in ‘partybazi’ as they have spared shops belonging to the ruling party loyalist, whereas shopkeepers loyal to Congress party have been targeted. If the other shops too are not demolished we will not let the PWD department complete this road work at any cost.”
Justifying their action, the PWD department’s xen Devi Singh Chauhan said, “The shops razed are illegal and encroachment on government land and the shopkeepers were informed about it beforehand. Action has been taken keeping in consideration flow of heavy vehicles on this road. The department is not working under any pressure from the government; neither are we going to spare any encroachment property, regardless of owners’ political alliance.”
The area has worn a deserted look ever since these shops, which were the hub of busy business activity all day long, have been completely wiped out. But it also has raised some serious questions like why are other shopkeepers, who were originally in the action plan, being spared and also why did not the department bother to inform the shopkeepers well in advance as the work of widening the road started almost two years back.
Coming down heavily on the ruling party, Dharamsala bock Congress president Suresh Kumar said, “The PWD department is adopting pick and choose policy under pressure from the local minister. It’s not wrong to demolish the encroached shops, but it was the duty of the government to formulate rehabilitation policy for the affected shopkeepers before taking this step.”