Uttarakhand: 11 Years of Statehood

Raja Bahuguna

On November 9, 2000, when the state of Uttarakhand was formed, common people aspired that now, at last, development policies would be tailored to their needs. The plunder of jal-jangal-zameen would end, and new avenues of employment would be created. 11 years later, corruption and plunder are at their height. Till today, those guilty for the massacres at Khatima, Muzaffarnagar and Masuri are yet to be punished. 
The very first state government headed by Nityanand Swami (of the BJP) laid the foundations of the state on corruption. That government did all they could to corner the Rs 33 crore allotted for construction of the temporary capital. The Parade Ground where the Government took oath had no grass – but this did not stand in the way of the Government showing an expenditure of Rs 14 lakh on mowing the grass!    
The expectation from a hill state is that the capital should be right in the midst of the hills and easily accessible to the hill people. Gairsain was the obvious choice, but the BJP and Congress politicians, and bureaucrats, preferred Dehradun.  
The agriculture policy has provisions to allow for the plunder of land by corporate houses, builders and real estate sharks. Had the rulers of Uttarakhand wished, they could have learnt from the neighbouring hill state Himachal Pradesh, which has adopted a commendable policy of protecting agricultural land and promoting horticulture.  
Women in hill areas are farmers and their role is crucial to development, but the burden they bear on their heads has not lessened even a whit. The women’s work force – including the large number of ASHA-Bhojanmata-Anganwadi workers – do not even receive due wages for their labour.  
The problem of out-migration not only continues but has increased. The fear of wild animals in hill areas has dealt a death blow to the already fragile agricultural structure. The state government has no policy to offer relief in this matter. Local unemployed youth sweat away as contract labourers in the SIDCULs established in the state, labour laws are rampantly violated. 
During the statehood movement, we had spoken of people’s right to jal-jangal-zameen (water, forests and land). Today, water has been captured by the wealthy and the industrialists. People have not received the benefits either of drinking water or of irrigation and electricity. Uttarakhand has always had forests. Today it is probably the only state where large tracts of agricultural land have been converted into forest land; and people have no control over these forests. Land of every kind is in the grip of the mafias, who control politics in Uttarakhand.    
Uttarakhand is situated in the middle Himalayas. The construction of Tehri dam and other mega dams and hydro electric projects with tunnelling poses great dangers in such an area. During floods and landslides, those in power virtually hit the jackpot, competing to corner the funds allocated for disasters.
The government claims to have no land to distribute among the landless or displaced. But the Tatas are being given land at Re 1 per square metre in the SIDCUL at Pantnagar Agricultural Farm. In the past 11 years, the governments have failed to make any policy for the displaced and landless. 
The state follows the undemocratic policy that caste certificates will be issued only to those who hold land. The dalit and landless population of the state lives in great privation even today. Being landless is, for the most part, synonymous with being dalit. Yet they are denied caste certificates.  
Be it the ND Tiwari of the Congress, or the BJP Governments led by Khanduri and then Nishank, corruption has been the hall mark. When Nishank and his scams became a liability, Khanduri has replaced him again. In Uttarakhand today, the Congress accuses BJP of 65 scams and the BJP accuses Congress of 56 scams! This farce takes place on the eve of the forthcoming Assembly polls.

In the midst of this farce, Khanduri has introduced the Uttarakhand Lokayukta Bill in order to project himself as a crusader against corruption. The real test of Khanduri’s Lokayukta will be if it can act against Nishank and the tainted Ministers who continue to find a place in Khanduri’s Cabinet! The people of Uttarakhand are tired of the corrupt Congress and BJP. Creating a political alternative and effective opposition calls for challenging the deeply entrenched culture of political corruption that both the dominant parties have fostered.