Agra welcomes drive against encroachment

Agra, July 23 (IANS) Agra is breathing easy as there are fewer road jams in the Taj city following a major drive launched two weeks ago against encroachment. The drive will continue till September-end.

In earlier campaigns, the targets used to be confined to the Mahatma Gandhi Road, the city’s lifeline.
This time “we have drawn up an elaborate plan to clear the interiors of the city and the old bazars that were untouched earlier”, said officer Rajiv Rathi of the Agra Municipal Corporation.
Rathi said the authorities had identified all the encroachment in advance and put on guard everyone likely to be affected.
Most shopkeepers themselves began bringing down illegal projections on the roads.
“Suddenly there is a huge scarcity of labour force in the city,” said Rajesh Gupta, a grocery store owner on Moti Lal Nehru Road.
“Electricians, welders and fitters have disappeared following the huge demand for them from all markets,” he said.
In just two weeks, major bazars including Kinari Bazar, Ghatia, Belanganj and Loha Mandi have been cleared of illegal constructions.
Even a Bhartiya Janata Party legislator has been a target of the anti-encroachment drive.
And on Wednesday, a gas cylinder godown allegedly belonging to a former BJP district president was demolished on the Yamuna river front.
Leading the massive campaign is Agra Magistrate Rekha S. Chauhan, a young officer.
“She shows no mercy or favour to anyone. Nor is she deterred by protests or complaints,” says social activist Devashish Bhattacharya, who is one of the many here who are more than happy with the developments.
Bankey Lal Maheshwari, 75 and a shopkeeper of Johri Bazar, said: “I don’t remember anyone taking the problem of encroachment so seriously barring one officer in the early 1990s.
“But his campaign fizzled out in the face of stiff opposition from politicians.
“But this time one sees rare determination. And the way the authorities are going, one hopes the city will breathe freely,” he added.
After the municipal authorities razed all encroachment around the university gate to the Yamuna river front two days ago, homemaker Padmini exclaimed: “Oh my god, I never imagined this road is so wide!”
Tourism industry leaders are happy.
The illegal constructions were leading to unending traffic jams, forcing tourists to waste hours on Agra roads instead of enjoying the Taj Mahal and other monuments.
The Taj Mahal, Agra’s biggest attraction, draws millions of Indian and foreign tourists every year.
One reason the anti-encroachment drive has been a success is largely due to the non-involvement of the ruling Samajwadi Party leaders.
“So far no minister or MLA has opposed the drive. The administration has a free hand. The results are there for everyone to see,” said one official of the municipal corporation.
Divisional Commissioner Pradip Bhatnagar has asked Mathura District Magistrate Rajesh Kumar to launch a similar drive to clear the busy roads of neighbouring Mathura and Vrindavan of illegal constructions.