Beyond the News - FACT Analysis

Let us evolve our own model for Punjab’s development

Harjap Singh Aujla

No two countries or provinces are alike in this world. Their characteristics are different, their needs are different and their potentials are different. Punjab prior to 1947 had two huge centres of growth. Lahore was the flourishing provincial capital and Amritsar was the major centre of industrial and commercial growth. The immense potential of growth of these twin cities was carrying the entire province of Punjab on its broad shoulders.

There were some minor centres of growth like Sialkot, Batala, Kasur, Dhariwal, Phagwara, Jullundur and Ludhiana.

In partition, we lost our capital Lahore and our economic growth became Amritsar centric. But in the absence of any provincial incentives, it was difficult to sustain the growth of Amritsar at the pace it was used to during the days of Emperor Ranjit Singh and the British Raj.

As the once affluent border belt lost its economic momentum, the economies of the rich cities of Batala, Ferozepore and Fazilka started collapsing. Amritsar was still holding its own firmly like the rock of Gibraltar. But during the days of militancy from 1978 to 1995, even Amritsar started feeling the impact of industrial attrition. Its rich business class started settling in other business cities.

As the economy of the hitherto well-off border region collapsed, the focus of growth shifted away from the border into the hinterland of Punjab. The new centres of Punjab’s growth are Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Chandigarh. Although most of the border areas fell by the wayside, Amritsar being a massive urban agglomeration had still retained its status as the second major economic centre of the state. Ludhiana has become the leading centre of Punjab’s growth.

As far as the urban industrial and commercial economies of Punjab are concerned, Ludhiana and Amritsar are at number one and two. If Amritsar lost most of its industry, after 1984, its economy has moved to tourism and hospitality sector. Today Amritsar has shifted its focus and more than one thousand hotels have appeared in the government approved category. The number of unauthorized hotels may exceed five hundred more.

Ludhiana had by 1980s effectively replaced Amritsar as the industrial capital of Punjab. Today it is Punjab’s leading industrial and commercial centre and it deserves maximum state provided incentives and stimulous by the government. The third centre of Punjab’s growth is the city of Jalandhar.

The other cities that need government sponsored incentive spending are Mohali, Gobindgarh, Patiala and Bathinda. Mohali is smaller than both Patiala and Bathinda, but its income per capita is a lot more than the other large cities. The IT industry should be a priority sector for governmental injection of cash.

So far, Punjab has seen a crude model of feudal autocracy for a long time. The other model has been the princely autocracy. Both autocracies are unsuitable for Punjab’s growth. In both autocracies, the stress has been on spending in their own neck of the woods. This tendency has not yielded the desirable economic results. One ruling dynasty has been spending disproportionately on the Bathinda, Mansa, Muktsar belt. Another dynasty has been spending a lot more on the development of Patiala and its surroundings.

In the past 4.5 years, we have seen three universities coming up in Patiala alone. This is not a prudent spending practice. Similarly, during the decade long rule of previous government, one central university and one AIIMS hospital were established in Bathinda. Both Jalandhar and Amritsar had received a raw deal at the hands of both dynasties. Jalandhar was left at the mercy of its NRIs. This parochial spending has not yielded the desired economic results.

As far as the rural agrarian economy is concerned, we need to wean the agriculturists away from the cultivation of coarse grain rice paddy, which has been consuming too much of underground water. The diversification should include growing of fruits and vegetables as well as pulses and non conventional vegetables. We need more research on horticulture for which the central government has approved a national institute of horticultural research in Amritsar.

The state government needs to expedite the land acquisition for this institute, the rest will be done by the central government. Punjab needs the expedicious construction of the Ferozepore – Patti missing railway line.

On completion it will establish the shortest link between Srinagar in Kashmir and Mumbai. It will bring all the railway stations in Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Tarantaran, Ferozepore and Fazilka districts on the main line railway map of India. This will immensely help the moribund economy of the entire border belt of Punjab. This is my model for the economic development of East Punjab.

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