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Uttarakhand of dreams

by Sharad Gupta
India Express, June 17, 1997

Union Home Minister Indrajit Gupta’s assertions to get the Cabinet’s approval for the Bill for creation of Uttarakhand, comprising nine districts of Uttar Pradesh, notwithstanding, Statehood for the region remains a far cry from reality. For no one, neither the Uttar Pradesh Government nor the people of the hill region, appear prepared for the eventuality. Though the demand for Uttarakhand is 75 years old, little spadework has been done.

The Government is yet to demarcate the boundary of the proposed State as differences have cropped up within the ruling BSP-BJP coalition over the issue. While the BSP leaders want the newly-created district of Udhamsingh Nagar, comprising the Terai region, to be excluded from the proposed State, the BJP leadership is in favour of merging it in the new State. Similarly, the dispute over the status of Haridwar is yet to be resolved, some leaders want it in the new State, others favour retaining it in Uttar Pradesh.

Other areas of difference are a power- and water-sharing agreement between the two States, setting up a separate cadre of Central Services like the IAS and IPS, and establishing a High Court in the new State. The draft bill prepared by the Centre for creation of the new State envisages a common High Court and cadre for Central Services.

Water sharing has been a major problem between neighbouring States like Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and needs to be decided before creation of the Uttarakhand State. Major rivers such as the Ganga and the Yamuna, flowing into Uttar Pradesh have their origin in Uttarakhand where a number of dams and hydro-power projects, including the famous Tehri Dam, have been set up.

The draft bill proposes that the benefits accruing from the hydro-electric power projects and the water would be equally shared by the two States. It also proposes that the Centre will issue directives if execution of a project is modified to the disadvantage of a State. This clause is certain to cause financial loss to Uttarakhand which was banking on selling water and power to other States to generate resources.

Similarly, if the draft bill is accepted both by the Uttar Pradesh Assembly and Parliament in toto, the seat of High Court at Allahabad will be 1,000 km from the proposed capital of the new State in Gairsain in Chamoli district.

The common cadre of Central Services for the two States would result in weakening the administrative hold of political leadership on the bureaucracy and may at times set the two State Governments at loggerheads over control on bureaucracy. The draft bill proposes setting up committees to determine the strength of the joint cadre, service conditions and determining seniority. But no work has so far been undertaken by the Uttar Pradesh Government in this direction.

The BJP-BSP Government which came to power on March 21 was quick to adopt a resolution to be sent to the Centre demanding early Statehood for Uttarakhand. But, none of the eight Government departments have so far given their views on the draft `Uttar Pradesh Reorganisation Bill 1996′ as demanded by the Union Home Ministry. The Bill was sent to the law, finance, revenue, power, irrigation, home and personnel departments for their comments which could be incorporated while giving a final shape to the bill.

Despite repeated assertions by both the Centre and the State Government, it might still take a long time for the draft bill to become an Act that will bestow Statehood on the hill region. The bill, lying at present with the Union Home Ministry, needed approval of the Union Cabinet before it could be sent to the President who then would refer it to concerned State Assembly.

All provisions of the bill would be discussed threadbare in the Assembly and some or all of its suggestions might be incorporated in the bill before it is returned to the Centre. The bill then needs approval of both houses of Parliament to become an Act.

This is indeed a long process and given the state of political flux both in the country and the state, the State of Uttarakhand does not seem possible in the near future. “In view of political instability, mutual distrust and intolerance among United Front constituents it may take at least two-three more Governments to bring Uttarakhand into existence” says V.N. Seth, a political analyst. His remarks appear close to reality as the I.K. Gujral Government could not even get the Cabinet’s approval for the Uttarakhand bill due to fierce opposition from the CPM leaders who fear the demand for Gorkhaland would gain ground in West Bengal after formation of Uttarakhand.

Another handicap for the hill people in getting their own State is lack of popular leadership. Those who led the agitation in the past 15 years, including leaders of Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD), Uttarakhand Jan Sangharsh Vahini and Uttarakhand Samyukta Sanghash Samiti have lost the faith of the people because of their vested interests in the past three elections. Only the BJP holds sway in the region.

But the sudden ascent of BSP in Uttarakhand has led to the polarisation of the people on caste lines. Scheduled Castes who with 17 per cent population constitute the second-largest segment of society after Rajputs (64 per cent), have been opposing the demand for Statehood because they had all along been neglected by the upper-caste torchbearers of the Uttarakhand agitation. “Besides there are feelings of badi dhoti-chhoti dhoti (sub-castes) within Brahmins and Rajputs, between residents of Garhwal and Kumaon, Terai and the hills which needed to be resolved before the formation of a separate Uttarakhand State” says Prof B.K. Joshi, Vice-Chancellor of Kumaon University.

These factors were probably responsible for the sudden death of the Uttarakhand agitation about a year ago. The agitation died soon after former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda’s Independence Day promise to form the new State. The hill people were ecstatic when Deve Gowda repeated his promise at Almora and Nainital while campaigning for party candidates for Assembly elections on October 3 vowing to “bring Uttarakhand in existence by March 31, 1997”. But, his Government fell just before the deadline, crushing hopes of Uttarakhandis.

Deve Gowda, with the help of then Congress (T) President, N.D. Tewari, had apparently done a thorough study of problems being faced by the hill people under the Uttar Pradesh Government, 27 per cent quota for OBCs as per Mandal report was one of them. The Uttarakhandis were up in arms when then Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav announced OBC quota in admissions and jobs in July 1994. Their anguish was understandable since there hardly are four per cent OBCs in the hill region and earmarking 27 per cent quota meant handing jobs on a platter to people from other parts of Uttar Pradesh on the hills while denying opportunities to the local people.

“People ruling from Lucknow and New Delhi can not understand the typical problems of the hills. This is why there has been no planned development of Uttarakhand where over 70 per cent people still depend on the money-order economy (people working in the plains send money to their kins by money order)” says Prof K.P. Nautiyal, vice-chancellor of Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University.

The immediate priority of any Government should be to strengthen the economy of Uttarakhand, create job opportunities and make developmental schemes, says Prof Joshi.

He however, stresses that separate Statehood for the region was the only and the ultimate solution to all problems.

Through the years –

  • 1924 – The first demand for Statehood raised by Kumaon Parishad
  • 1931 – Kumaon Commissioner Evitson submitted report on economic backwardness of the region to Government of United Province
  • 1938 – The All India Congress at its Srinagar (Garhwal) convention chaired by Jawahar Lal Nehru moots Statehood to the region
  • 1946 – Haldwani convention of the All India Congress chaired by Badri Dutt Pandey demands separate administrative unit for hills. Demand rejected by United Province Premier G.B. Pant
  • 1952 – Communist Party of India General Secretary P.C. Joshi submits a memorandum to Government of India for Statehood to the hills
  • 1953 – Three-member States Reorganisation Commission formed by Central Government under Fazal Ali does not consider demand for Uttarakhand though one member, K.M. Panicker, supports it.
  • 1965 – The Communist Party moots proposal for an Autonomous Hill State.
  • 1973 – Uttarakhand Parvatiya Rajya Parishad gives `Dilli Chalo’ call to press for Statehood
  • 1974 – Congress MP Pratap Singh Negi presents a proposal in Parliament for creation of Uttarakhand
  • 1979 – Uttarakhand Rajya Parishad constituted by Janata Party MP Trepan Singh Negi holds a rally in Delhi on July 28, 1980. Jaswant Singh Bisht of the first regional party, the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD), wins assembly election from Ranikhet.
  • 1986 – Demonstrations protesting delay in formation of Uttarakhand mark Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Pauri and Nainital visit
  • 1987 – Demonstration and rally organised at Boat Club on November 23, 1988. Jail Bharo agitation launched by the UKD at district headquarters
  • 1989 – Two UKD members, Kashi Singh Airi and Jaswant Singh Bisht, win their respective Assembly seats
  • 1990 – Uttarakhand Kranti March is organised by the UKD. UP Assembly adopts a unanimous resolution to form Uttarakhand
  • 1991 – The UKD supports Mulayam, loses all assembly seats in Uttarakhand. The Janata Dal demands Hardwar be made part of Uttarakhand. The CPI’s memorandum to prime minister too demands Hardwar’s merger in Uttarakhand
  • 1992 – The UP Assembly adopts another unanimous resolution to be sent to the Centre demanding statehood to `Uttaranchal’
  • 1994 – Mulayam’s decision to enforce 27-per cent quota for OBCs in the hills, evokes large-scale protests. Police fire on agitators at Mussoorie, Khatima, Srinagar and Muzaffarnagar
  • 1995 – Anti-quota protests taken over by the demand for a separate State, agitation dies a natural death due to vested interests of leaders
  • 1996 – Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda during Independence Day speech lists formation of Uttarakhand among his priorities. Again, promises on the eve of assembly elections to bring Uttarakhand into existence by March 31, 1997.
  • 1997 – The BSP-BJP Government passes another resolution demanding Statehood for Uttaranchal. The Centre prepares draft bill which is awaiting the approval of the Union Cabinet.