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Uttarakhand gearing for rejuvenation

From C. K. Chandramohan (The Hindu)
PAURI GARHWAL, Aug. 30, 1996

Now that the emergence of Uttarakhand as the 26th State in the near future seems a possibility following the Prime Minister, Mr. H. D. Deve Gowda’s announcement from the Red Fort on Independence Day, intellectuals, women, ex-servicemen and social action groups in the region are gearing up to develop it as a self-sustaining economy and to rejuvenate this part of the Himalayas which has been plundered by vested interests including businessmen and bureaucrats from the plains.

Although, the local people are sore at the plunder of natural resources by outsiders, there is no hatred or ill-will against them. The hate element is however, being introduced in Udham Singh Nagar carved out of Naini Tal recently and Dehra Dun city by some politicians for electoral reasons – a trend that needs to be checked immediately to avoid a clumsy situation.

A number of Uttarakhandis while urging politicians to stop whipping up passions for petty electoral gains wanted them to rise above party lines and become the real agents of economic change by launching special drives aimed at developing infrastructure for employment nearer home so as to check the exodus of youth to the plains for jobs and rejuvenate the hills which have sufferred a great environment loss over the decades. The politicians at best should work for securing special funds for the region from the Centre at least for the next 15 years, a period required by Uttarakhand to prosper and develop into a sustainable economy, feel Dr Rameshwar Dhaundiyal and his friends at Chamoli.

Women are the main working force of the region and going by their active participation in the Uttarakhand agitation involving them in development programmes should not be difficult says Ms Subadhra Dangwal, a social worker in Uttarkashi. The development plans should however, first provide for fuel, fodder and water nearer home as the women have to trek several kilometres everyday to fetch these essentials, she added.

Evoking public participation should not be difficult as the Uttarakhand movement itself is a classic example where the entire agitation was spearheaded by local action groups and politicians who earlier spoke of regional or national issues had to resign from their parties and join hands with the crusaders in a bid to survive politically. Violence did occur but that was only after serious provocation by the police or rather immature statements by the then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Some of the areas that need to be developed expeditiously in the region are ropeways to connect villages to the roads for human, vegetable and horticultural produce transportation, schemes to lift water to hamlets for drinking water and irrigation and electrification of the hamlets for promoting mini cottage industries. Enterprises requiring minimum investment and training and which are eco-friendly need to be identified and promoted through various agencies including well-meaning NGOs.

To rejuvenate the hills there is an urgent need to cover them with grass, shrubs and plants that bear fruit, fodder and fibre – this will evoke a lot of local participation in the schemes as all items produced by the plants are eagerly sought after by the population for domestic consumption. Experts at the Forest Research Institute (FRI) in Dehra Dun have over the past recommended plantation of several locally acceptable species of grass, shrubs and trees. These recommendations could not see the light of the day as the State Forest Department entrusted with the job found it convenient to plant commercially profitable species which were not accepted by the population leading to mass failure of the plantations.

As most of the agriculture can be done profitably only in the valleys that are scarce, the area needs promotion of select fruit, off-season vegetables and herbs species in the higher areas says Dr. Doshi, officer in charge of the G B Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Hill Campus at Ranichauri in Tehri Garhwal district.

Mr. Himanshu Ghildyal, Mr. Satish Chandola and Mr. Girish Naithani all students at the H. N. Bahuguna Garhwal University in Srinagar (Garhwal) feel that the new State should lay emphasis on providing roads and buses for people living in interior villages to at least reach the district headquarters (not to talk of the State capital) without having to trek through dangerous hills. Such inaccessible villages abound in the Tons, Kedar, Pindar, Mahakali and Dhauli valleys.

A number of local politicians are also accused of having felled a large number of trees in the catchment areas of the major rivers over the past decade sparking off a serious environmental degradation of these vital glacier-bearing areas. These politicians-cum-contractors are also responsible for poaching of animals like the musk deer, admitted a senior officer.