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Penning an epitaph on a fresh foundation stone, Govt style

Sharad Gupta
Indian Express, June 20, 1997

GARSAIN, June 19: When Uttarakhand Kranti Dal president Kashi Singh Airi laid the foundation stone of the future capital of his dream state here in 1992, people thought God had finally smiled on Gairsain.

But with the Government having put the statehood issue on the backburner, Gairsain’s euphoria has been stubbed out.

The initial spate of Government activity to convert this small town of about 5,000 people into the capital of the proposed state raised people’s expectations. Everyone felt land prices would soar, and life in general would change for the better in this small town.

Things looked brighter when the Government sanctioned Rs 7.5 lakh to conduct a land survey. A committee was formed, comprising Revenue officials, the District Magistrate, and the Principal of the Dwarahat Engineering College. Its job was to select sites for a secretariat, a Vidhan Sabha, an MLAs’ hostel and other Government buildings in Gairsain and adjoining villages of Nagarjunasain, Nagchula, Rithia and Bharadisain.

According to Patwari Nandan Singh, a resident of the area, the Government then announced a rate of Rs 45,000 per nali (200 square metres) for acquiring private land. But the Government, he said, had given up the idea of buying private land to set up the infrastructure. Instead, it started looking at barren or forest land.

But with the Centre dithering over granting statehood to Uttarakhand, the Government began to go slow on the process of acquiring land. This resulted in a chain reaction with private operators, who had earlier showed keen interest in buying property here, starting to back out. And soon there was a general slump in land prices.

Two banking companies, Crystal Corporation and Himgiri Plantations, each of which had bought two acres of prime land about six months ago in anticipation of a boom, are now thinking of disposing of the property. “We bought the land after former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda’s announcement, promising to bring the Uttarakhand state into existence by March 31, thinking it would pay rich dividends. But, with no progress in this direction, we are forced to recover our money for better investment,” said a Himgiri Plantation official. Singh agrees. “Even local people are getting restless and disillusioned about the promised statehood, so what’s wrong if private investors say the same thing,” he said.

It is this feeling of hopelessness that has now engulfed Gairsain. Life here is no different from other small hill towns the only sign that sets this one apart is the foundation stone proclaiming it as the capital of Uttarakhand.

Uttarakhand Kranti Dal chief Airi also made it a point to install a statue of the “local hero of the Peshawar battle”, Chandra Singh Garhwali, as the party had christened Gairsain as Chandranagar after him. And today, even though most of the sign boards in the town read “Chandranagar”, there seems to be little hope of Gairsain living its dream of becoming the most important address in Uttarakhand.

Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.