Dharchula Expectations

Post 59th Johar Club Football Tournament, which concluded late evening of 15th June 2014, Munsyari is now quickly returning back to its normalcy. Last June, the same day it was a very slight trickle while the two finalist teams matched their skills to wrest the Trophy, for which they had been struggling for the past two weeks. It was the same tournament Chief Minister Harish Rawat had inaugurated and in which he had stated that he came to re-charge himself, again and again. Last year also the final  match was being played on the 15th June 2013, and what happened thereafter is now history. While the Kedar-ghati witnessed an unprecedented surge of what is now being described as a GLOF ( Glacial Lake Outburst Flood ) and the head-count seemingly is still on, the Naini Tal High Court, now having taken control of the situation and enquiring about the efforts that are being made by the state government for those who perished a full year ago and besides being officially accounted for are yet to be given a decent adieu. Much waters have since flown down the  Ganga and its tributaries, flushing their icy waters into it from its five watersheds, before the mainstream touches the plains at Rishikesh / Haridwar.

The Ganga and the Kumbh of Experts

The Ganga of 2013 is obviously no more the Ganga of 2014. The Ganga Action Plan of 1985, launched by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, is now remembered only in as dry-as-bones statistical terms and a new drawing board has now been brought forward and this time it is going to be major congregation  at  New Delhi, of experts of all hues and shades, as Ganga in its normal life-cycle attracts every 12 years ( the Kumbhs ). The date of proposed ‘Kumbh of Experts’ seems to have been shifted slightly. The Union Minister in charge of the entire new age Bhagirath efforts seems to be deftly taking the move forward hinting that it is going to be an equipoise between ‘environment and development ’. Uttarakhand, of course, has already taken the lead in the shape of recommendations made by an Expert Body suggesting that the ‘uninterrupted flow’ ( the Aviral dhara ) can only be when the river is allowed to remain ‘untouched by human hand and technology’. The ‘untouched by human hand’ philosophy mind-set has already taken the country to the espousal of an education policy which today churns out millions upon millions of ‘unskilled’ and thus ‘unemployable’ graduates and post graduates. It has nearly decimated all kinds of skill-based enterprises in a state like Uttarakhand, rendering Shilpkars and artisans of various traditional trades and skills which gave monumental temples ( Kedarnath and Badrinath, being just two of them ) and buildings ( see various wood-based temples along Tons rivers in Uttar Kashi ) and multi-storey houses in the entire Jaunsar-Bawur and elsewhere. Yashodhar Mathwals’ ‘Uttarakhand Ki Kasthkala’ provides us a graphic but a very small sample of what this region used to have in terms of traditional skills and crafts. All that is gone thanks to a groups of academics for whom India continues to live in an age where PSLVs and launching of commercial satellites, Chandra-yan and project Mars would have been just pipe-dreams !     

From the base of Panchachuli, from where this piece is being written, all the speed and fire that is being generated by the Modi Government seems near surreal. Surreal, as one sees no parallel triggering of Speed, Skills at any Scale worth speaking of, in this state.. What seems, however, matter more here are the possible results of elections ( there seems to be an ending stream of this process, Lok Sabha General Elections, 2014,  followed by Panchayati Raj bodies elections, 2014 woven seamlessly to the fresh round of State By Elections to the three vacant seats, Dharchula being one of them ), which are still unfolding themselves and will end only with the constitutions of 95 Kshetra Samitis and 13 Zila Panchayats. In the meanwhile, it is prolonged Holiday from public Works and implementation of all development programmes. There has been an attendant series of Code of Conducts, and all  ‘developments’ are but election-related.

Treat  Ganga, as the River

Ganga seems inescapable, as it seems, as far we Uttarakhandis are concerned. In this land of Dharchulas and Panchachulis we have also as many as three  –  the Gori Ganga, the Ram-Gamga and the Kali Ganga. Mercifully though none of these three water-streams so far have been ‘deified’, at least not as yet, as far as the knowledge of this writer goes. Nor have they been condemned either, as some water- streams seem to have been e.g. the Karmnasa ( which washes away all your good deeds !), or if this writers limited knowledge serves him right, Tamsa ( the Tons ). Just look at any authorised map and one comes across Gangas and Gangas, of course all of them as suffixes e.g. Vishnu-ganga, Jad-ganga, Birhi-ganga and so on. Was it Dr Khadga Singh Valdiya, our very own Geologist, who once explained to us that the expression Ganga really stood for ‘a river’, a major water-stream, and Vishnu Ganga in fact meant Vishnu river ? Thus a ‘ganga’, actually meant ‘a  river’. All it did mean, however, is that  ‘the Ganga’ was kind of primus inter pari, the premier among the equals, yet just a body of water. Premier Jawahar Lal Nehru also underlined the river’s significance in his Discovery of India but he very consciously stopped just short of deifying it. In an interesting presentation Dr Valdiya had also shown how ‘Yamuna’ stood for a link river which ‘stole water’ of one major water stream and diverted it to an adjoining one ! In Central India he had shown that there were as many four other ‘Yamunas’, stealing water from one current and diverting it to another. That seems to have caused vanishing of the now mythical Saraswati river, just a physically phenomenon, described mythologically.

The story of now invisible Saraswati, the third stream which joined the Ganga has also been explained by such geological changes in the course of rivers. While these ‘scientific’ explanations explained physical phenomena and underscored importance of these natural endowments, especially for the animate world, the real harm seems to have been done by their increasing ‘deification’ instead of taking care of their inherent qualities for which they became better known than others. One moot question which the forthcoming Kumbha of Experts on the Ganga certainly needs to seriously consider is the harm that seems to have been caused to the Ganga  by its increasing ‘deification’ during the last half century or so. Even a cursory look at all the major cities situated on the banks of river Ganga would show that a considerable part of its increasing pollution can be safely ascribed to its ‘deification’ which is only bound to worsen as the time passes, by the sheer dual burdens of increasing population and urbanisation. Experts, though know of this major cause, remain silent lest they be hauled over the ‘religious ambers’, by one section of experts !

A comparison with what one sees has or could be done in London with river Thames or in Paris with river Seine is simply not replicable in the case of Ganga as the first two are not burdened with their ‘deification’. These are simply taken as a river, a physical feature, and addressed as one unburdened with their ‘deification’. Major issue that the Kumbha of experts do need to consider, among of course many other factors, is how to contain and address its further ‘deification’ and the river as a river, not a Goddess. This writer, however, doubts seriously that this approach is gong to be followed, if the current stream of thought be any guide. Those who wish to compare descriptions of this river, and how fast it has been allowed to deterioration through its over- deification, need to read its first physical survey undertaken in 1820 by Engineer Webb and Captain Raper ( available in Survey of India Library, East Canal Road, Dehradun ), compare a series of articles by Acharya Dr Vishnudatt Rakesh and others, compiled in the  Kumbha 2010 compilation, and compare it with the ground truth, travelling to Gomukh via Gangotri today. This writer has been a witness to this sad metamorphosis during 1971 and 2014 period, as many readers would also be. It is indeed a pity what we have done to this ‘the River’, a river taken as a role model at least for all rivers of India, if not the world. The Nature had blessed this country with a unique river system which we have in a mindless manner managed to destroy inside just half a century. Among many of its known causes, the one that remains unspoken is its ‘deification without corresponding right-conduct’ on the part of the so-called worshippers.    

Back to Dharchula and Pancha-chuli

Political temperature in the region defined by Dharchula and Panchachuli, in the run up to the forthcoming Bye Election to the vacant seat, is gradually  gearing up. There are many firsts as far the forthcoming Bye Elections are concerned. Candidate Harish Rawat, continues to hold the office of the Chief Minister, without remaining a member of the Lok Sabha or a Member of the State Assembly. Dharchula MLA constituency is literally and physically at the other geographical extreme of the state, more than 600 kms. It is easily the most strategic constituency, bordering on two neighbouring countries, the Republic of China in the north and Republic of Nepal in the north-east. Secondly, its is not only an entirely mountainous constituency it is also a predominantly tribal constituency as well, with Dharchula and Munsyari, two of the prominent tribal blocks constituting the majority of voters. Till the last state elections, last two elections were reserved for Scheduled Tribe candidates. Thirdly, speaking infrastructurally, the constituency represents easily the most deficient constituency in the entire state. Both major highways, one to Lipulekh and the other to Unta dhura, remain as far and as unconnected as these were during the UP days, rather since India gained its political independence in 1947.  Outmigration of villagers, abandonment of agricultural lands, is one of the highest in the state. Hydro electric power projects, five of them had been planned on the Gori river, have all been scrapped, NTPC’s 261 MW Khasiabada HEP has been withdrawn, NHPC HEPs are in limbo, Askot Deer Sanctuary, is a classical case of MoEF dithering over defining the sanctuaries. Rampant violation of alienation of ST lands, in open violation of the land laws, known to revenue authorities and even receiving their patronage. Degree College, sanctioned more than a decade ago, remains without a building, without teachers, however, holding regular exams !  Local GIC and GGIC, have had the privilege of never having their teachers quota filled more than 35 per cent, ever ! The Ashram Type School meant  for STs remains an example of splendid neglect. The litany is simply end-less, the only constant.    

Dharchula constituency today typically represents what has not happened in Uttarakhand, since its creation in November 2000. Governments have come and governments have gone, both major parties, having had their full terms, so no party has any excuse for having not being given an opportunity to do something. Past two and a half years of the present Government have not had any impact, except of course, the local governance touching its nadir. The only silver lining seems to be that it can not go down any further. There being a fair chance that once it becomes a constituency whose MLA happens to be also the Chief Minister of this state, the senior district officials may now start visiting the interior regions of this district, leaving their headquarters, for a change. It may even force the local SDM, who simply refuses to visit any border villages, for a change make an effort to do so. What is more perhaps the Dehradun based officials may suddenly discover that places like Dharchula and Munsyari also exist and may be through them the local people may start looking forward to see some developmental action for which they have been patiently waiting for 14 long years.

Purang  Vs Dharchula

As the political activities for the forthcoming by elections to the three vacant MLA constituencies gear up the Kailash-Mansarovar prilgrim jatthas are getting an opportunity to compare and contrast how two great Asian nations, India and China, treat their extreme border-lands. Purang, the sub-division, across the Lipu Lekh, in which the Great Lakes of Mansarovar-Rakas Tal and Mount Kailash are situated, of the Tibet Autonomous Region ( TAR) of the Republic of China, and Dharchula sub-division of Uttarakhand, a state of the Republic of India, get consciously compared and contrasted. There are reported to be a number of pilgrims who are undertaking this Yatra for the umpteenth time. These repeat-yatris must be sharing and contrasting the sincerity of these two Asian Nations, and believe you me, their comparisons shared with the co-pilgrims will be any thing but complimentary to this country, India. This writer was there the very next year, across Lipu-lekh, in company with the then DM, Anup Pandey and the Trade Officer, Kutiyal, to look into the complaints of the Indian traders as well as the Kailash Mansarovar Yatris. The strides that have been made in the adjoining Purang sub-division, as reported by almost every traveller, is simply phenomenal. While we make our Yatris rough-it-out all though, Tawaghat onwards till they make it to the Lipu-lekh Pass, there is all-weather road from the Pass itself to take the pilgrims to Takla Kot via Go; the old market has since been replaced by a modern looking shopping complex where the Indian  traders are made to hire shops on rent, and one gets to travel to the Mt Kailash and do the parikramas, aided by all modern means of travel trade.

When this writer visited Taklakot, of course on official assignment ( 1993 ), besides the official meeting with the Tibetan authorities, and a single pass-port check , there was absolutely no presence, or harassment, from the uniform wearing tribe of civil servants. One could, eve in the very second year of the re-opening of the Indo-Tibetan trade, travel freely at will, any where, without being accosted by any uniform wearing personnel. The contrast, this side of the international border, is just the opposite. There are at least four layers of security personnel, intelligence guys, each trying to out do other in harassing any one in sight ! Infrastructural facilities are an absolute and remarkable contrast of the approach of these two countries !.While the Chinese officials have left nothing to human imagination to improve common life, this side of the border one finds it hard to pick a single item, where there is an improvement. One really wonders what the pilgrims, some 450 to 500 every year, think of local administration, our Union Government, when they contrast the situations as they see in Purang vis a vis what they re-enter their own mother land, Lipu-lekh downwards ! Adding Helicopter rides from Gunji-Nabidhang to Dharchula is no substitute for the sheer neglect that these Indian pilgrims have already witnessed, this must be realized by our powers-that-be.

The Task for Cadidate Harish Rawat

Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi has taken upon himself to see that the Ganga is rid of every element that ails it today. PM Modi has also taken up a Make your Neighbours Your Friends mission and he has taken a few meaningful steps. A vision of SAARC Satellite being the latest. Could Candidate Harish Rawat provide us a similar vision, though his Dharchula constituency, that Dharchula will give Purang, in TAR ( China), a ride for its money, when it comes to developing the entire Constituency ? The tragedy of Kedarnath is now known to the entire world before the tragic under-development of our border-regions hits the international media it is time for Candidate Harish Rawat to do something substantive beyond rhetoric of developing our mountain regions. Extant literature on these two regions along the Himalaya have been described as ‘regions of complementality’ i.e. one regions complementing the needs of the other e.g. the food grains deficiency of the Tibetan plateau are provided by the Indian region, while the wool, transport animals, meat etc, in today’s context, were aplenty across the Himalayan passes. Today, our neglect has rendered these regions as ‘regions of contrasting development, or the want of it.’ Chief Minister Rawat, once in the hot-seat, must make it a point to bring this sad fact to the notice of the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Competing Politics must give way to Competing Development, both inside India and in its immediate  Neighbourhood.        

The Indo-China trade, resumed in early 1990s  has progressed only in one direction, ever increasing imports and ever diminishing exports. Quarantine restrictions, imposed since the Beijing Olympics, have continued and stopped import of sheep and goats, the only carriers of goods for the Indian traders. The contrast between the Purang/Taklakot ( Tibet ) unprecedented development and absolute non-development on the Pithoragarh side, is what the lasting impression that all  450 plus Mansarovar-Kailas Yatris take back home, year after year, all over India. While Kailas base has an air-field, all-weather road,  green-fields, modern shopping avenues, Chinese choppers have recently landed in Bara Hoti on No Man’s Land area, Indian side continues to be what it was, if not worse, in 1992, when the trade resumed !

Dharchula Expectations

Kedarnath disaster is a recent one, the oldest disasters are our border –regions like Dharchula and Munsyari. Dharchula by election is likely to throw up expectations which would, hopefully, focus on an over-due development of our long neglected border-regions, all over the northern international borders, issues related to development of tribal regions, constitution of pending Tribal Advisory Council, protection of land alienation rights of the Scheduled Tribes which are being openly flouted with the open connivance and collusion of local revenue officials, innovative development schemes likely to arrest massive outmigration and rapid infrastructural development, in short, on all core issues of mountain region’s development. Amen. 


R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

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