Uttaranchal: Five Years of Statehood

- Raja Bahuguna

On November 9, Uttaranchal completed five years as a State. How has the five-year long journey been for the new State? The new State, from its very birth, bore the marks which foretold betrayal of the aspirations that had fuelled the popular movement for Statehood. The ‘UP State Re-organisation Ordinance – 2000’ tabled in Parliament by the BJP for the creation of Uttaranchal, had already laid the ground for the distortion of the vision of the hill state – and the BJP and Congress Governments that followed took the process forward.

In the Uttarakhand movement, people had demanded a hill State consisting of the Kumaon and Garhwal Mandals – where people’s rights over rivers, land and forests would be safeguarded, and development would actually mean livelihood and dignity for the common man and woman. The demand for a State where women, who constituted half the population and were the pillar of the hill economy, would face fewer hardships and where the landless would be guaranteed land and youth, jobs, was the heart of the Uttarakhand movement. In order to ensure access and accountability of hill people to the seat of governance, people had demanded that Gairsain, in the middle of the hill region, be named the capital.

But when the State was formed, the ruling class destroyed the very concept of the hill state, by including the Haridwar district in the State. Flying in the face of popular demand as well as the recommendations of the Kaushik Committee, Dehradun was declared the capital rather than Gairsain. Adding insult to injury, Uttaranchal received step-motherly treatment in the distribution of assets with UP, and was also deprived of the Constitutionally guaranteed right to make its own land-ceiling laws. The State was created with the interests of the big landlords, land mafias, corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and multinational corporates in mind – and the common people were left feeling betrayed, with the signboard of ‘Uttaranchal’ hanging around their necks.

Five Years of BJP Rule

As soon as it came into being, the new State, in keeping with the saffron model of ‘development’, was handed over to the World Bank, bureaucrats and NGOs, while Ministers and MLAs dedicated themselves to amassing as much wealth as possible. This regime was marked by repression of people’s movements, a spiralling crime graph and dedication of the Kumaon and Garhwal Development Authorities to the liquor business. By passing the ‘Uttaranchal Forest Panchayat Regulations 2001’ and the ‘Forest Ordinance’ (Uttaranchal Amendment) 2001-2002, BJP snatched away any existing vestiges of rights over forests and land. It was this Government which also took the decision to privatise all public parks. Distribution of assets, restoration of the posts of temporary teachers and karmcharis, filling up of empty Government posts and ensuring punishment for the guilty in the Muzaffarnagar case – on all these matters, the BJP Government maintained a deafening silence.

BJP was under the delusion that taking credit for formation of the State, it would be easily able to rise back to power in the 2002 Assembly elections. But the people of the State gave them a fitting rebuff, and threw off the yoke of BJP rule at the first opportunity.

Three and a Half Years of Congress Rule

If anything, Congress rule, headed by N D Tiwari, (the man known for declaring that ‘Uttarakhand will only be formed over my dead body!’) has been a few steps ahead of the BJP in robbing people of their rights and betraying their aspirations.

Corruption has been the watch-word for this Government, which has outdone itself in distributing favours to its favourites – in the form of ‘red light’ vehicles and grants from the discretionary fund.

This Government, which makes grand claims of ‘development’, has bent the new-born State under the burden of enormous debt. The State has been turned into a profitable grazing ground for land mafias, corrupt politicians and bureaucrats as well as the World Bank and MNCs. Be it MLAs who indulge in hooliganism inside the Assembly, or be it corrupt Ministers like Tilakrak Behad and Indira Hridayesh, they are all chosen favourites of N D Tiwari. The Patwari Recruitment Scam, Police Constable Recruitment Scam, State-wide Medicines Scam, Board Results Scam, Bull Scam, construction of road leading to the Forest Minister’s personal farm house …there is a long and ever growing list of scams that are enough to earn the title of ‘Scam Rule’ for Tiwari’s regime. As for repression of people’s movements, there is an equally long list: brutal lathicharge on the ‘Shiksha Mitr’ and ‘Shiksha Bandhu’ teachers; lathicharge on students protesting against the case of plagiarism by the former VC of Kumaon University, B S Rajput; police brutality in Hardwar; assault on the dairy producers’ movement led by the CPI(ML); police killing of an innocent man in Rishikesh; custodial death of a man in Haldwani Jail. There have also been innumerable cases of rapes and sexual exploitation of women – most notably the Jaini case. All these, compounded by the increasing criminalisation in the State, expose the real face of the Tiwari regime.

On the one hand, a Committee has been set up to reopen the question of the State Capital; on the other, land has already been earmarked for an Assembly Building in Dehradun. Clearly, the Government’s decision is already a fait accompli.On the question of distribution of assets and temporary teachers, the State is dependent on the whims of UP. Far from rolling back the anti-people ‘Van Panchayat Regulation 2001’, the Tiwari Government is in fact implementing the Forest ordinance amended during BJP’s tenure, thereby robbing the hill people of their rights. The privatisation of public forests is being speeded up. At the same time, plans are afoot to give Government Cattle Farms to private hands. The threat of being auctioned off hangs over the public and State-owned enterprises like HMT; further, corporates like Birla and Britannia are being given all kinds of benefits.

The development projects favoured by the State and Central Governments are all set to displace 30% of the State’s population in the near future! The Tehri Dam is an example: where a historic town and the population of more than a hundred villages are being forced to endure displacement. The Tapovan Vishnugad project is another, where an environmentally dangerous project is being forced on people. If all the proposed dams and hydro-electric projects are actualised – without taking the people’s concerns into account – they will pose dangerous consequences for the State.

In the name of eco-tourism and ambitious development projects, villages within and bordering 14 big, secure areas will be displaced. The agricultural land surrounding the emerging tourism centres are being swallowed up by builders and land mafias.

The people of the State are deprived of the basic facilities of drinking water and irrigation, while the Government is impatient to auction off all water sources. Uttaranchal is the first State in the country where, thanks to anit-people policies, agricultural areas are rapidly shrinking and forest areas expanding. The Government has no plans to ensure BPL cards, land or employment for the lakhs of poor, landless and unemployed in the State. Far from implementing the ceiling laws and distributing ceiling-surplus land among the landless, the Government is unwilling even to redistribute the land which big farms are holding after the lease has expired.

Despite a long struggle, and many empty promises, Bindukhatta, Dumuadunga and Sunderkhal are yet to be designated as revenue villages. Most rural areas continue to suffer, deprived of basic facilities like roads, hospitals, water and electricity.

The Uttaranchal Assembly

Presided over by Tiwari, the Uttaranchal Assembly has achieved a record of sorts: it has met fewer times than any other Assembly in this duration. Tiwari never sees the need to convene a meeting of his legislative group. On the floor of the Assembly, the treasury representatives and the Opposition are often seen on the same side – the Forest Ordinance Amendment 2002, Forest Panchayat Regulations 2001, privatisation of State parks, curtailing the rights of panchayats are all cases in point.

The MLA Fund is used to silence Opposition, and the Fund for activists of the Uttarakhand Movement is also used to offer privileges and jobs in order to silence a section of former activists.

The Uttarakhand Movement: An Assessment

Why is it that the harvest of the Uttarakhand Movement, in which the broadest section of people participated, was reaped by those who betrayed that movement – BJP and Congress? During the movement, the CPI(ML) stressed the need for unity among Left and democratic forces, and fostered a debate against the BJP and Congress, centring around what kind of new State was being visualised. However, other forces in the movement largely chose to submerge their identity and distinction in the face of the BJP and Congress, arguing that these debates could be resolved later, after the State was formed. This was a major factor which has laid the ground for the present situation, where all the major questions of the movement – from the name and capital of the State to punishment for those guilty for atrocities like at Muzaffarnagar, all remain unresolved.

The CPI(ML) is striving to mobilise the people of the State once again to call the Congress and BJP ruling parties to book, and to rebuff them for their distortion of the fundamental vision of the State.