‘Poor’ Punjab village hot destination for bankers, car dealers

By Alkesh Sharma, IANS,

Jeorheri (Punjab) : Jeorheri, on the outskirts of Punjab capital Chandigarh, does not have the best of roads. But that has not stopped bankers, investment planners and car dealers from heading for it.

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In a village that is suddenly flush with funds, they all want a slice of the pie.

The acquisition of 306 acres by the Punjab government for the expansion of the Chandigarh airport to make it an international facility has turned out to be a windfall for residents of this “poor” village who have become millionaires overnight by selling their land.

The villagers, many of whom had not entered a bank earlier, now hold accounts in 20-25 banks. Swanky sports utility vehicles (SUVs), from a Mitsubishi Pajero to Tata Safaris and Scorpios, Jeorheri flaunts it all.

“On an average, more than 150 dealers engaged in buying and selling of land are visiting our village with one or the other new plan,” said Vijay Sharma, 25, whose six and a half acres of land fetched him a compensation of nearly Rs.100 million.

“Middlemen from companies like Reliance, HDFC, ICICI Prudential, Bajaj Alliance and others are coming to our homes with endless investment schemes and trying to woo us to buy motorbikes, cars, SUVs, tractors and other things.”

Even though the old guard in the village is not exactly happy about moving out of the land they have owned for generations, the younger lot is excited given the moolah raked in by their land – acquired by the Punjab government at the rate of Rs.15 million per acre.

Over 150 families, owning anything from a few hundred square yards to up to 10 acres, have benefited from the government land acquisition. Within a fortnight, everything in the small village has undergone a radical makeover with nearly Rs.5 billion coming the way of villagers.

Jeorheri has now become a hot destination for banks – both private and nationalised – investment agencies, car dealers and even share brokers.

While most families have opted to buy cars and SUVs – they mostly owned noisy motorcycles and jeeps earlier – the biggest beneficiary of the acquisition, Prem Lambardar, who gave eight acres of land, has bought a Rs.2 million Mitsubishi Pajero.

Nowadays it is not difficult to find youngsters with gelled hair, branded sunglasses, gold chains and expensive mobiles.

“Big companies like Ford, Mahindra & Mahindra, Tata Motors and Swaraj Tractors are coming with their vehicles and giving free test drives to villagers to lure them. We are fed up with these people and are now not even taking their calls,” says village youngster Darshan Singh.

“In the initial days, many banks came to the village to open accounts with zero balance schemes. Now many people in the village have bank accounts in roughly 20-25 banks. But one can put his money in only one or two banks, so now other banks are calling us every day to put some money in our accounts there,” added Vijay Sharma who just bought a Ford Fiesta car.

One representative of ICICI Prudential, requesting anonymity, said, “Poor villagers’ bank accounts have suddenly been flooded with big amounts, so this is the best time for the company to hit bull’s eye. Many people here are illiterate and we are actually saving them from unscrupulous middlemen. And in return villagers are also getting many lucrative investment schemes.”

Nirmal Sharma, whose two acres were also acquired, said: “On the face of it, it’s true that the so called ‘poor’ landholders have got fat cheques. They are buying swanky cars and constructing concrete houses; foreign trips are also being planned. But in reality this fascination for money is just superficial or just for the young people.”

Sharma says the bigger reality is that farmers from the village will have nothing to do now.

“They are buying land in other places like Fatehgarh Sahib, Sirhind and Patiala district but people there have more than doubled the rates from Rs.1.2 million per acre to Rs.3 million per acre,” Sharma said.

Many villagers also point out that the government has given them a raw deal. “In adjoining Mohali town, the government sells the same land for billions of rupees after acquiring it at much lower rates,” villager Gurnam Singh said.