Friday, 11 December 2009 – NEW DELHI: A forceful demand for declaring Amritsar a ‘heritage city’ was rejected in the Lok Sabha, with the government saying there was no legal provision to do so either in India or under the UNESCO rules. [The current status is not known – Editor]
The government on Friday rejected heritage city status to Amritsar on grounds that its population was less than one million, the cut off for classifying a city as “mission”.
Amritsar houses 10.03 lakh people (2001 census), 3000 more than the technical requirement for shifting it from Category B to C, the category which lists 28 cities on the basis of their religious, historical and tourist importance. These cities get greater financial contribution on the patter of 80:20 to develop their infrastructure.
But the government today steered clear of BJP member Navjot Sidhu’s persistent and emotional appeals to not bury the significant issue under the debris of technicalities, and instead spare a thought for the legacy of Amritsar.
Calling the attention of the government to the urgent need to grant “heritage city status” to Amritsar, and classify it as Category C under Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), Sidhu recounted the pride of place which Harmandar Sahib enjoyed in the world, with top international leaders making time to offer prayers there, including Queen Elizabeth and the Canadian PM.
“The SGPC says two lakh people daily offer prayers at the Golden Temple,” Sidhu said, in the House, most members uniting behind him, including the Congress MPs from Punjab.
“The Prime Minister has twice promised heritage status to Amritsar,” said the Amritsar MP, beseeching the PM to honour his word.
“Can we negate the history of Amritsar, the fact that it houses the temporal seat of Sikh religion, it is a birthplace of Luv and Kush; it is a historical treasure?” Sidhu asked. He rued the fact that while Lahore is a world heritage site, Amritsar is struggling for heritage tag in India.
The opposition, led by Deputy Leader of the BJP Sushma Swaraj, backed Sidhu’s demands. She requested leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee, whose birthday it was, to gift to the nation the heritage status for Amritsar. Pranab was silent but did not appear opposed to the appeals.
Minister of State for Urban Development Sugata Ray, however, made matters queer when he said there was no provision for declaration of a city as a heritage city under the ministry.
“Punjab has a balance of Rs 145 crore under the JNNURM. Amritsar can use these funds to take up projects for development of heritage areas,” he said to agitated BJP members, who said they were asking for recognition, not alms.
The House saw a brief disruption on the matter, especially so when Sidhu referred to an urban reform which empowers national steering group under the JNNURM to delete and add cities to Category C, on the basis of suggestions from states.
Watch Navjot Singh Sidhu, MP and former cricketer, making a case for heritage status for Siri Amritsar Sahib