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Badal’s b’day gift: cricket stadium on prime farmland

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS

Chandigarh : If the Parkash Singh Badal government has its way Saturday, a chunk of prime farmland in the agricultural belt of Bathinda district in southwest Punjab might be taken over to make way for a cricket stadium of “international standards”.

Seen as a brainchild of Badal’s son and imminent political heir Sukhbir Badal, 29 acres of prime agricultural research land is being transferred from the hold of the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) to set up a cricket stadium near Bathinda town, 250 km from here.

PAU has been using the prime land for agriculture research for the last several decades, especially in the cotton-growing Malwa region of south Punjab. The land belongs to PAU’s regional research centre.

Badal is scheduled to lay the foundation stone of the new stadium to mark his 81st birthday Saturday.

The main opposition Congress is not amused by the developments and says the Badal family is trying to woo the electorate in Bathinda district to make the Bathinda Lok Sabha seat cushy for Sukhbir as his present parliamentary seat of Faridkot will become a reserved seat in the next general election. The Bathinda seat, presently reserved, will fall in the general category at the next polls.

Eight sitting Congress legislators, including former chief minister and now state Congress president Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, and young legislator Sukhpal Khaira, Friday petitioned Punjab Governor S.F. Rodrigues, who is also the chancellor of PAU, to stop the agricultural research land from being taken away for the cricket stadium.

“Punjab is passing through a grave agrarian crisis, there is a huge burden of Rs.240 billion as debt on the farmers of our state, due to which there have been a spate of suicides by farmers across the state particularly the Malwa region where the cricket stadium is being proposed. The government of India has specifically allocated Rs.1 billion in the previous budget to PAU for the purpose of research, but unfortunately if we squander the land meant for the purpose of research how would the grant be spent?”

“We wish to emphasize that our party is in the forefront to promote sports in the state, but it should not be done at the cost of the suffering of the farming fraternity. We already have two international cricket stadiums at Mohali and Chandigarh, but if the Punjab government wishes to build a stadium at Bathinda, it can be done by acquiring less important land or identifying some wasteland in rural Bathinda,” the Congress legislators said.

They have sought the governor’s intervention in getting the foundation stone of the cricket stadium stopped.

Agriculture experts too are worried about what they claim as the utter disregard shown by the Badals in “grabbing” the agriculture research land for a cricket stadium. The ruling Akali Dal is primarily identified with the agricultural and rural class in Punjab.

“If Sukhbir Badal thinks that all Punjab farmers and their children are cricket buffs, he is sadly mistaken. The research centre has benefited farmers for a number of years. This will ruin Punjab’s agricultural economy,” said farmer Ujagar Singh as he read a full-page advertisement in a Punjabi newspaper at his village near Bathinda.

But Badal Jr is unperturbed by the criticism over the stadium. “This will change the economic scenario of the area. This will bring prosperity to the region,” he claims.