Friday, 7 May 2010

Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s legacy in ruins

A foundation stone laid nine years ago at Heritage Hill near Ropar’s Sutlej bridge to mark the bicentenary celebrations of Maharaja Ranjit Singh is now buried under heaps of garbage.

Overgrown wild bushes have completely blanketed the plaque, while a flag of the Maharaja’s era restored on the top of hill remains out of reach of common man.

As per historians, in 1831, Maharaja Ranjit Singh hoisted his Sarkar-e-Khalsa flag and mounted his guns on this hill, which is a Shivaliks foothill near Asron village, to demonstrate his will to protect the sovereignty of Punjab.

Later, the Maharaja met Lord William Bentick, the then British Governor General of India, for the historic Punjab treaty at Ropar at Sutlej’s opposite bank.

The Punjab Heritage Foundation and the Environment Society took up the cudgels to safeguard this heritage project and on October 19, 2001, Union Minister Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa laid the foundation stone to set up a memorabilia marking Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rich legacy.

Since then, the stone and the area around it lie uncared for by the roadside crowded with garbage. Not even a decent fencing has been erected to bar entry of animals or anti-social elements. The restored flag stands on top of the hill, albeit out of the reach of common man. As per project, the area was to be developed as a tourist site, but maintenance of its present structure is none’s task.

“Apathetic attitude of government has ruined the place. It’s shameful that Punjab’s biggest ruler’s legacy is being spoilt in such a way,” observed area resident Bhupesh.

Gurbax Singh Shergill, president of the Punjab Heritage Foundation, said after laying the foundation, the organisation fought case against Swaraj Mazda in the high court for five years trying to wrest back the historic land, which the Congress-led Punjab government had sold to Swaraj Mazda.

“We managed in getting 9 acre of the hill declared as heritage site. It took over two years to get the area demarcated and notified. All these legalities delayed the project, which would have been commissioned by now,” he said.

Shergill added that since the hill is steep, a road starting from the base of the hill till its peak cannot be constructed.

The Punjab Tourism Development Board has now floated a plan to lift 150-ft area and a small road stretch would be constructed to scale further height. The board has adopted this heritage hill for eco-tourism in state.

He added that soil department of state has already planned Rs 1.5 crore to check soil erosion in the area, especially at the time of monsoons.

“At the site of restored flag, a gazebo has been constructed, while new tiles are being laid. We are planning Chief Minister’s visit to the place on June 28, the anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh,” he added.

Megha Mann, Tribune News Service, Ropar, May 5


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