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‘They came here for picnic... will never declare Gairsain as capital’

Highlanders have long been demanding that Gairsain, the state’s centrally located hill town, should be its permanent capital. They feel that such an arrangement, if realised, would pave the way for development in the long-neglected hill districts

dehradun Updated: Mar 30, 2018 22:30 IST
Deep Joshi
Deep Joshi
Hindustan Times
Most people in this picturesque valley in Chamoli have lost hope that Gairsain will ever be declared permanent capital.(HT File)

“In so many years, politicians couldn’t even provide water supply to our homes… will they set up a permanent capital here,” asks sexagenarian Sarojini Devi, sitting in her shop at Diwalikhal village. “If they declare this area a district, perhaps it would then witness some development and our pregnant women wouldn’t die for want of medical facilities,” adds Sarojini’s husband Puran Singh Negi.

The couple’s views reflect the dominant mood among the locals. Like the people in all the 10 hill districts, they feel betrayed by the BJP and the Congress for ignoring the permanent capital issue. The two parties have been alternately ruling the hill state since it was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000.

Highlanders have long been demanding that Gairsain, the state’s centrally located hill town, should be its permanent capital. They feel that such an arrangement, if realised, would pave the way for development in the long-neglected hill districts.

Seventeen years on, most people in this picturesque valley in Chamoli have lost hope that Gairsain will ever be declared permanent capital. “Our demand for a permanent capital remains but what should we do with that demand when nobody is listening to us,” says Bhupal Singh Mehra, 68, a cloth merchant at Gairsain. He blames the BJP and the Congress for keeping the residents of Gairsain deprived of development. “So, let them (government) first declare this remote hilly area as district so that development, our main requirement, gets a boost here,” says Mehra.

The sentiment is echoed by many. “If a district headquarters is set up in this remote town, all kinds of offices will come up here apart from basic facilities like roads, hospitals, school and colleges,” says Jaspal Singh Negi, an electronics goods retailer. “That also means that remote villages will also get road connectivity and economy of this entire area will get a boost.”

Jaswanti Bisht, 31, a local resident agrees. “We have just one state-run hospital in this town. It has one woman doctor who too remains unavailable,” she says. “In this (Gairsain) block there are villages that are still deprived of electricity and medical facilities.”

Devendra Singh Negi, 45, a tea shop owner in Diwalikhal village, says lack of basic facilities like hospitals and schools “has led to a massive forced migration” from Gairsain, just like other hilly areas. “There are a number of local villages, which are still not connected by roads. In emergency situations patients have to be tied to cots before villagers shift them to the nearby roads,” he says. “The majority of such seriously ill patients besides a number of women undergoing labour pains die on the way.”

However, there are many who still favour a permanent capital at Gairsain but blame politicians for keeping the contentious issue in limbo. “We want a permanent capital. It will give a boost to development in the hills but politicians of both the parties want to let the issue remain unresolved, which suits their interest,” says Devendra Singh referring to the ruling BJP and the Congress.

“At the root of it all is the vote bank politics,” adds Jaspal Singh. “Both the parties fear that commissioning Gairsain as a permanent capital would end up evoking a huge backlash from the plain districts.”

No wonder, the rival parties’ promise to develop Gairsain as a summer capital came under a scathing attack from the locals. Nor do they favour the idea of successive BJP and Congress governments holding Vidhan Sabha sessions in that town.

“The weeklong budget session, which concluded in nearby Bhararisen area here on Monday, could have been organised in Dehradun,” says Krishna Negi, who owns a shop at Gairsain. “Crores wasted by this (BJP) government in organising that picnic could have been used in development of this remote area.”

Darban Singh, a gift shop owner, pooh-poohs the two parties’ promise of developing Gairsain as a summer capital. “It is a ruse to divert the people’s attention from the issue of a permanent capital.” The majority of the locals agree to that.

First Published: Mar 30, 2018 22:30 IST