Monday, October 19, 2009

Residents pull town out of the pits, set example CITIZENS' INITIATIVE

Fazilka, on the Indo-Pak border now has library, car-free market, rickshaws on call

by Rajni Shaleen Chopra

CHILEANS had a saying: `En Chile no pasa nada (In Chile, nothing happens)'. The same could earlier be said for Fazilka. Not any more.

A citizens' group has taken matter in its own hands and with no tangible help from the state government, turned the town around. Considered one of the most backward areas of the state, the border town has taken giant leaps in the past one decade. A team of citizens -- the Graduate Welfare Association of Fazilka (GWAF) -- has taken a number of initiatives and set an example.

The group consists of a motley group of doctors, lawyers, educationists, businessmen and others who hail from the town. Some are working outside the town, but the desire to see development in Fazilka is the thread that binds them.

Last month, residents of Fazilka came together to celebrate Anand Utsav -- a modern version of the traditional mela, with stalls of eatables and toys, cultural programmes, and rural games. The real motive behind the utsav was to raise awareness levels about environment.
Women took out a jaago -- a festive march taken out at night -- singing songs to spread awareness about the need to plant trees. "About 300 saplings of trees like Kachnar, Gulmohar, Neem, Pipal and Jamun were given to the residents of middle and lower-middle class areas like Nai Abadi, Dhingra Colony and Teachers' Colony," said Navdeep Asija, secretary, GWAF.

GWAF deputed volunteers, who went house to house and helped residents plant the saplings. "We got the saplings planted by a daughter of the house. Female foeticide is a menace in Punjab, and through this move, our effort was to make people realise the importance of daughters," said Laxman Dost, a former municipal councillor and one of members of GWAF.
"Till now, 610 saplings have been planted in various areas of the city as part of the initiative," he added.

GWAF had earlier written to the schools of the township to get saplings planted on campus. With the help of Vikram Ahuja, a leading entrepreneur of the area, a tractor-trolley with saplings and equipment is sent to schools to assist in the job.

The town now has a working library, inaugurated in August, and in September, GWAF celebrated `Green Ramlila'. In the episode played on September 25, when Hanuman brings the Sanjivani booti to help save Laxman, saplings were given as prasad to the audience. The Fazilka Value Education Library has books given by students who have cleared competitive exams in various fields. "Now students preparing for these exams have the best of books, and a quiet environment to study," informed Dr Rajnish Kamra, a member of GWAF. The library was opened in the old municipal library building, which was rarely used. GWAF is organising lectures by experts for local students, through video-conferencing.

The association has also brought back the tradition of a community cooking area. In June this year, it set up tandoors in the streets of Nai Abadi, Teachers' Colony and Dhingra Colony. "Women now look forward to coming to cook at the tandoor each afternoon and evening, instead of hurrying up with the work to watch TV serials," smiles Raj Rani, a resident of Nai Abadi. A tandoor was also provided to a poor woman in the TV Tower Colony, where she is now able to make a living for herself as a cook. The number of such tandoors has now gone up to 10.

The earlier initiatives taken by GWAF are going strong too. A major achievement of the group was making the main commercial area of Fazilka, the Ghanta Ghar Market, a `car-free zone'. From 10 am to 7 pm, no cars are allowed here. The dial-arickshaw programme is also working well, said Asija.

A guiding force behind these various initiatives is Dr Bhupinder Singh, a retired faculty member of IIT Rourkee, and patron of GWAF. Laxman Dost says their efforts were born out of a feeling of frustration over the state of affairs in the township. "We realised that any change for the better could come through initiatives taken by the citizens themselves."

Indian Express, 19th October 2009

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