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Uttarakhand: Fresh look needed

Opinion (The Hindu) Aug. 13, 1996

THE DEMAND FOR the creation of Uttarkhand comprising the eight hill districts of Uttar Pradesh has once again come to the fore with the Congress(I) expressing its strong support to the proposal. There are authentic reports to the effect that the former Prime Minister, Mr. P. V. Narasimha Rao, has also written to the Prime Minister, Mr. Deve Gowda, that the Centre should take an early decision on the issue of granting Union Territory status to the Uttarkhand region. Mr. Rao is believed to have said that the issue had been pending for a long time and the creation of a Union Territory for the region would fulfil the legitimate aspirations of the people and also expedite development of the region. It is surprising that Mr. Narasimha Rao who has shown so much concern for the people of the hill region now did not think it wise to act on the proposal although he was at the helm in New Delhi for an uninterrupted period of five years. Some two years ago the Uttar Pradesh Assembly had passed a resolution recommending to the Centre that a separate State should be created comprising the eight hill districts. When Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav was the Chief Minister a ministerial committee which was set up to examine the proposal had submitted a comprehensive report indicating the modalities for the formation of a new Hill State. A little earlier too during the BJP regime in Uttar Pradesh the Assembly had urged formation of a Hill State.

Although the preponderant opinion of the leaders of all parties hailing from the hill districts was in favour of separate statehood for the region, the Centre did not favour the idea. With elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly in the offing there is a spurt of activity on this issue although before New Delhi takes a decision the proposal has to be studied in the national context. Even when the States Reorganisation Commission was examining the creation of linguistic States it was urged before it that physically and geographically the hill and plateau regions of Uttar Pradesh had little in common with the Gangetic Valley. Further the hill region was totally neglected and hence it was much better that a new State was carved out which was the only guarantee that the region would get its due. The Commission did not see much force in the argument nor did it accept the allegation of neglect of some parts or for that matter of any portion of the State.

This was 40 years ago and there have been several changes in the State during this long period. The people of the hill region strongly feel that their needs have been consistently ignored by successive Governments with their headquarters at Lucknow and there is now no alternative to giving a special status to the hill region. Slowly but surely almost all the political parties seem to have reconciled to this demand and the question is how exactly the region has to be treated in the new political context. The fear of the Centre all along has been that if separate statehood is granted to the hill districts similar demands which are much older cannot be set aside any more and this will only lead to the creation of units in the federation which cannot be self-sufficient. This is bound to impose fresh burdens on the Centre which it can ill-afford. At one time it was suggested that development councils should be set up in the hill region which will take care of the special needs of the hill’s people in economic, social, educational and cultural spheres. In fact this could have been done long ago but the continued lack of interest in furthering the progress of the hill areas has led to the present situation in which the people seem to reject anything less than a separate statehood. Elections or no elections the demand needs serious consideration before the agitational approach now being thought of becomes violent as it is bound to.