Punjabis in search of their Punjab

    “NRIs in Punjab face peculiar problems and fear of exploitation keeps expatriate Punjabis from investing in industry in Punjab”, says the US based author

    Most NRIs are very genuinely reluctant to visit Punjab. According to their perception and actual experiences, the crime as reported abroad in the newspapers and Punjabi television channels, is simply too much in the state and that scares them from visiting their villages. On paper, the police in the state and the other government machinery is very helpful, but in actuality, when need arises, the role of the officials is otherwise. The NRI visitors are viewed as prime targets for exploitation. NRIs even dread going to the exclusive NRI police stations. The record of NRI police stations so far in solving the common problems of the expatriate community appears far from satisfactory.

    The NRI office in Jalandhar is a nice place to visit but it does not fare any better. The bornabroad second generation finds Punjab simply devoid of any attraction to visit. Barring a few very affluent NRIs, who visit Punjab at least once every year, on an average an NRI visits Punjab only once in three years. Some have not visited Punjab for more than a decade. The good or bad experiences of their latest Punjab visit linger for years in the psyche of the NRI visitors. Expatriate Punjabis are indeed very hardworking, at least when they earn their livelihood abroad. Finding time for a Punjab visit from their jobs and businesses is very difficult for them. So on coming to Punjab, they don’t want to face unnecessary hassles and procedural wrangles in doing their business. They are simply not used to face clumsy obstructionism in their countries of domicile.

    Woes of expatriates
    Common problems of the Punjabi diaspora include vacation of adverse possession of their land holdings and residential and commercial properties back home. The occupiers are generally their close relatives or politically influential people of their area. Political backing of the illegal occupants of the NRI properties makes it difficult to evict them. In spite of government’s assurances, even the court cases linger for years and the NRIs don’t have time to relentlessly pursuing their cases sitting idle in Punjab for indefinite durations. They also know that once they are airborne, the cases they initiate shall be put on the backburner. Such a scenario sounds scary for the NRIs. Such cases are too numerous to count in Punjab. Every NRI loves Punjab and he/she wants to contribute his/her bit to make things somewhat better in his/her village.

    Promises not kept
    The Punjab Government is very generous in making promises to the NRIs. In 2007, the Punjab Government had made a commitment to match dollar for dollar if the NRI community contributes money for development projects in their villages. Subsequently they hiked the matching grant to twice the contribution of the NRIs. And now the state’s contribution against each dollar contributed by the NRI is three times. The irony is that in most cases neither dollar for dollar was matched, nor twice compared to a dollar was matched nor three dollars for each dollar is being matched these days. The common folks feel cheated in this situation. Why make a promise and then make a mockery of that. According to NRIs, their biggest priorities are improvement of school buildings, panchayat ghars, dispensaries, hospitals and janj ghars in their villages.

    They are more than willing to spend money on common facilities. If we look at the school buildings in the six NRIdominated districts viz Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahar, Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Ludhiana and Moga, thanks to the NRIs, most of their school buildings are relatively in good shape. But if we consider the Punjab Government’s contribution towards it, barring some villages of politically wellconnected people, the government’s role is negligible. The NRIs of Doaba are worried at the fast-depleting underground water in Punjab. The water table is going down even in some underserved canal irrigated areas of Doaba and Majha. The ever-deepening tubewells are a double edged sword.

    It costs a lot to deepen the well and it costs even more to the power companies to foot the bill of free power to the deepened tubewells. The power company’s loss is recovered from industrial and urban consumers. This becomes a never-ending vicious cycle. The Bist Doab Canal primarily serves the districts of Nawanshahar (Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar) and Jalandhar. More than half of land owners on both sides of this canal and its distributaries have at least one person settled abroad. In the last one-and-a-half decade, this canal has not been dredged in real sense. As a result, its flow capacity has been seriously inhibited. As of today, this canal can’t carry even half the discharge it was designed to carry. Weeds and cattails are growing in its bed. In some areas, some people have dumped construction and demolition debris in it.

    If the canal is not carrying full quantity of water, it is supplying much less water to the farmers. The shortfall in canal water means that the tubewells will run more. That leads to ever-deepening tubewells. The NRIs end up paying for the cost of deepening of the tubewells. If this cost can be saved, the NRIs and power companies can spend the spared money on other productive works elsewhere. As far as investing in industry in Punjab is concerned, the NRIs don’t appear to be in a serious mood to do so. The past experiences of their friends have not been very pleasant. They are once bitten, twice shy. Those involved in the IT industry are most interested in investing in Gurgaon, Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Some have already done that. Punjab is not yet on their radar. I hope some positive thinking takes shape during the coming two-day NRI conclave.

    Welcome Notes
    An NRI web portal www.nripunjab.gov.in has been opened for expatriate Punjabis. NRIs will be able to register their complaints and grievances online on the portal. The portal also contains a photo gallery, along with information on Punjab. The Punjab Government is contemplating setting up special fast track courts for the speedy redress of complaints of NRIs pertaining to civil cases. The state Cabinet would soon allocate budget for setting up of the courts in the state.

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