NEW DELHI: Chief of Defence Staff General Anil Chauhan recently emphasised the need to repopulate the unoccupied areas and villages near the border in Uttarakhand. He may have made this point in view of the security factor, but what Chauhan said is the only way to protect and save Uttarakhand’s regions bordering China. Not only border areas, but villages in all the districts of the state must be repopulated and developed.
If the villages are properly repopulated, then there would be no crowds in cities and towns on the pilgrimage way. There will be less pressure on the towns on the way to pilgrimages such as Joshimath. But the government must show will power. Unfortunately, this will power has been missing. As a result, creation of Uttarakhand has in fact turned into a curse. The residents of the state could hardly see any development. Only the land mafia, liquor mafia, mining mafia and hotel mafia flourished. People’s representatives in the government also minted money. The “Devbhoomi” was exploited brutally in the name of development. Illegal constructions were carried out. The state witnessed massive construction of hotels and resorts without any planning. Rest of the job was done by the government’s ambitious projects. Dozens of power general companies were given permission to set up projects in Uttarakhand. The companies damaged the hills for dam construction. As a result of such reckless activities, Joshimath is on the verge of being wiped out. This is the beginning of bad days for the hills, no matter how hard the central and state governments work now to save it. Joshimath could be in headlines only because it is a town on the “yatramarg”. In fact, most of the villages on this way have met with similar fates. Several villages of Uttarkashi, Paudi, Nainital, Almorah, Chamoli, Tihri, Pithoragarh and Rudraprayag have faced similar situations. Only broken houses and deserted villages are there.
The people of the hill state were expecting some dramatic developments after the creation of Uttarakhand. They were expecting good road networks, industries, huge tourism, hospitals, schools, etc. They were hopeful that those who have gone to the plains will return one day. But they got nothing. Rather, most of them sold off their land and property to outsider businessmen, and migrated to cities in non-hilly regions such as Haridwar, Dehradun, Roorkee, Rishikesh, Kotdwar, Ramnagar, Kashipur and Haldwani. Some of them settled in towns like Joshimath which were on the “yatramarg” (way to pilgrimage centres) in search of employment. So these towns and cities got overcrowded. Illegal construction took place in the name of development. Rules were ignored. Drainage and sewer systems were destroyed, which resulted in erosion of soil and land sinking. This is exactly what happened in Joshimath.
After Uttarakhand came into existence, migration from villages to cities has been tremendous. The leaders in power only took care of their interests and kept cheating the common people. Even 23 years after the creation of Uttarakhand, the state did not see any employment, new roads or new industries. The situation took a turn from bad to worse. Pauri is a glaring example of all this. Most of the commissionary offices are still in Dehradun, despite the fact that the district of Pauri has given seven CMs. Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, his son Vijay Bahuguna, Bhuvan Chandra Khanduri, Ramesh Pokhriyal, Tirath Singh Rawat and Trivendra Singh Rawat were all from this district, who became CM of Uttarakhand. UP CM Yogi Adityanath is also from Pauri. NSA Ajit Doval and CDS Anil Chauhan are also from this district only. Former CDS late Bipin Rawat also hailed from Pauri. But this district remained undeveloped.
Both the BJP and the Congress governments in Uttarakhand are responsible for this. Every single Chief Minister and Minister is responsible who cheated the people of the hill. There may be some leaders and social organisations who raised their voice against the exploitation but they could not do anything before all powerful leaders. If forest mafia had been reined in during the 1980s, trees could have been saved. And, then the tragedy could have been averted. But the forest and liquor mafias were quite powerful. Journalist Umesh Doval was murdered for exposing the nexus between officers and mafias. Several departments for “save trees and save hills” were opened and a huge fund also came from abroad. But all the action remains confined in the papers due to corrupt officers, public representatives and mafias. Several movements to save trees were held. Sundar Lal Bahuguna, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, and Gaura Devi launched Chipko Movement in Chamoli in 1973. But illegal felling of trees could not be stopped. It would be better if Uttarakhand had been made a Union Territory for a certain period of time. Proper planning for development of villages should have been done so that exodus could be stopped. After Dehradun was made capital, all departments were opened there in some plain regions only. Hills were handed over to mafias who destroyed the sanctity of the Dev Bhumi by opening hotels, resorts, etc spanning from the banks of the Ganga to other rivers. All this happened ostensibly to promote tourism. After court orders the activities were under control for a certain period of time. But illegal constructions resumed again, without passing of maps. Dev Bhumi turned into a place for leisure and pleasure only. Dams damaged the hills. The Central government then started construction of all-weather roads and railway networks in the strategically important regions. This also angered the hill people.
Who can forget the severity of the Kedarnath tragedy in 2013? Another tragedy struck in February 2021 when a hydropower unit faced damage claiming several lives. Chamoli district has seen tragedies several times in the past. Dozens of geologists and environmentalists have been warning that the hills in Uttarakhand are getting weaker. These hills could be dangerous if they are disturbed. But the governments remained indifferent. Several lakes in the hill regions like those in Tehri and Nainital could wreak havoc. The Central and state governments must together prepare a plan for development of Uttarakhand which is an important state in view of growing Chinese aggression. The dozens of big rivers like the Ganga and the Yamuna will be badly affected if pilgrim centres face a crisis. The government must heed CDS Gen Anil Chauhan’s statement in which he has advised that the villages across Uttarakhand border regions should be repopulated. If the government really works in this direction, Uttarakahand could be saved from the possible calamity. If villages are repopulated, the population of towns like Joshimath would not increase.