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Uttarakhand @18: Past imperfect, future uncertain

As hill state grows a year older, activists rue how political leaders have failed the founding fathers and urge to take lessons from past failures to create a better future

dehradun Updated: Nov 08, 2017 21:02 IST
Deep Joshi
A bird’s eye view of Dehradun.
A bird’s eye view of Dehradun.(Vinay S Kumar/HT Photo)

Growing unemployment, the near absence of public health and educational facilities coupled with lack of development sparked the long-drawn agitation for a separate hill state that culminated in Uttarakhand being carved out of Uttar Pradesh on November 9, 2000. Seventeen years on, things haven’t really looked up on the front of development — the main battle cry of the statehood movement, regret activists. On the contrary, growth “continues to elude key sectors such as farm, health and education even as the soaring unemployment remains unchecked giving a fillip to forced migration from the rural areas and hills.”

‘Hill-centric growth eludes people, thanks to the self-serving politicians’

Obviously, self-serving politicians are to blame for the impeded growth,” rues Sushila Baluni, a veteran social activist who was at the forefront of the statehood agitation. “They indulge in self-aggrandisement never bothering to push for development in keeping with local aspirations.”

Analysts share the view that the hill-centric growth model envisioned by the martyrs of the statehood agitation remains unrealised. The growth model “meant” livelihood generation through natural resources and their efficient management. Political observers agree that some infrastructural growth in terms of roads, highways besides industrial estates in the plain districts did take place but clarify that it mostly courtesy the central schemes a new state is entitled to. “As a result, we also got an IIT, an IIM, an NIIT, a central university and an AIIMS,” says Prof Shekhar Pathak, another social activist, noting that though good, such infrastructural growth doesn’t directly benefit the people. The growth that “directly impacts the people, remain largely unrealised, thanks to planners’ failure,” he adds.

Forced migration — A pointer to the growth eluding the people

“Consequently, the hills are facing an acute paucity of doctors. There are schools but they have hardly any teachers, and farming has turned un-remunerative causing livelihood crisis for farmers. All these factors have forced people to migrate, emptying out the hills,” Prof Y P Sundriyal of HNB Garhwal (Central) University adds. “The people’s dreams stand shattered…They now feel they were better off when the mountain sate was a part of undivided Uttar Pradesh.”

Baluni agrees that the exodus from the hills in the past 17 years is a “clear indicator of everything that has gone wrong” on the front of the development.

Shamsher Singh Bisht, a statehood activist, says some 13 lakh people have relocated from the hills to the plains and from villages to urban areas in last 17 years.

BJP and Congress ‘failed’ the state

Political observers cite mainly two factors behind growth eluding the state. One of these is the indifference of the two national parties — the BJP and the Congress — that have ruled the state alternately, to the local aspirations. The other crucial factor was a regional outfit like the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) getting politically marginalised after the state’s formation.

The Shaheed Smarak was built in honour of those who fought for Uttarakhand’s creation. (Vinay S Kumar/HT Photo)

Regional leaders ‘too turned out to be self-serving’

Baluni feels that the onus of realising the hill model of growth was more on the UKD for two reasons. One, its core agenda was to fulfil the regional aspirations. Second, it had also been an active player during the statehood agitation. “But the leaders of the faction-ridden outfit, instead of working on those lines, literally sat in the laps of two national parties obviously with an eye on power,” says former bureaucrat and social activist S S Pangety.

Consequently, the UKD “remained politically marginlised” and was completely wiped out in the 2017 assembly elections with the BJP replacing the Congress regime. However, neither protection of natural resources— jal, jungle, jameen (land, water and forests) — nor the hill model of development ever formed a part of the two parties’ poll agenda, according to analysts.

“Worse, the high command culture prevailing in such parties saw chief ministers being frequently changed,” says J P Pachauri of HNB Garhwal (Central) University. “These CMs, who mostly ran minority governments, were answerable to their political bosses. They were, therefore, least concerned with people’s aspirations.”

Permanent capital continues to elude state

This lack of concern, adds Sundriyal, was evident from the way the twin parties have been playing politics over Gairsain, a centrally located hill town the Paharis (Highlanders) wished to see as the state’s permanent capital. “Their logic was that it will pave the way for development in the long-neglected hills,” he says. “Instead, leaders of both parties “kept harping on setting up a summer capital at Gairsain to cash in on the sentiments of the Paharis while keeping Dehradun as a provisional capital so that there was no backlash from the people in the plains.” Statehood activists though aren’t happy with the way the previous Congress regime “wasted massive funds” in erecting a Vidhan Sabha Bhawan in the hill town without commissioning it as the state’s permanent capital.

Life in the hills hasn’t improved much with migration still continuing to be a major problem. (Vinay S Kumar/Ht Photo)

Top politicians desert hills with an eye on vote bank

BJP and Congress “also failed to generate livelihood opportunities” based on natural resources by conserving them to boost the state’s agri-pastoral economy. “As a result, much of the scarce (6%) arable land in the hills that comprise 88% of the state’s total geographical area, has been lost to the urbanisation in the past 17 years,” says Pathak who attributes the lacuna to the politicians’ failure” to enact tough land laws like in Himachal Pradesh where no non-agriculturist or any outsider is allowed to purchase agricultural land. “At the root of the forced migration is the complete collapse of the state’s traditional village-based economy”, he says.

People migrating from the hills to the plains also caused a “serious demographic imbalance”. As a result, in the 70-member assembly, the 10 hill districts now constitute a mere 37 constituencies. The discrepancy that resulted owing to the population-based delimitation of constituencies also had an adverse impact on development in the hill districts. “The problem had its root in almost all top BJP and Congress leaders including most former chief ministers besides the incumbent (Trivendra Singh Rawat) shifting their base from the hills to the plains,” says Sundriyal. Consequently, funds “started flowing to the plains depriving the hills of growth giving a fillip to forced migration.”

Devolving power to the panchayats—the ‘only way forward’

Analysts are unanimous that the only antidote to forced migration lies in boosting development in the hills. “As our experience so far testifies such a situation won’t be possible until power is devolved to the panchayats,” adds Pathak.

Echoing the sentiment, Pangety underlines the need to bring all the 29 departments under the three-tier Panchayat system in compliance with the Uttarakhand Panchayati Raj Act, 2016. “That’s the only way we can boost growth in rural areas and minimise corruption in governance,” he says. Pangety adds that the political parties are strongly opposed to devolving power to panchayats as they do not want to loosen their grip over the governance.

H C Semwal, director, Panchayati Raj confirmed that the 29 departments were yet to be brought under the local self-government.