As this writer prepares to take a brief break to attend to some unavoidable matters related to civil servants’ training at the Naini Tal based Academy, give final touches to an ambitious two-year long ICSSR Education field-project at the Doon University Policy Centre and attend a pan-India Mountain Development related incipient civil society Initiative at New Delhi and elsewhere, the preceding period completes his uninterrupted two month’s stay at his new perch, Munsyari. Past two months, end- May to end- July 2014, has seen a brief-but-busy cycle, consisting of ( i ) the annual get-together of the Munsyari diaspora and their eventual dispersal to their respective individual destinations, ( ii ) back-to-back academic–cum- sports events, ( iii ) completion of the State By-Election Dharchula Constituency and parallel Panchayati Raj elections ( up to Block Pramukh stage ), ( iv ) ‘On-Now Off-Now’ Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra, and ( iv ) Incessant Monsoon rains, causing massive dislocation of public communication, heavy land-slides resulting in extremes of human misery. Most of these developments have already been shared with the readers through several Garhwal Post columns. The latest human tragedy, resulting in an unfortunate toll of a family of six with several injured when a massive rock-fall accompanying land-slip caught-up a Maxi-taxi near Garbadhar, taking enthusiastic participants to the Rang Kalyan AGM at Gunji, and another event later at nearby Kuti village, in Byanse. As this writer puts down these lines a historic “Maha Bund” is under mobilisation, starting from Tanakpur to Gunji via Champawat–Pithoragarh-Dharchula, which in all probability would be joined by a similar protest against the Border Roads Organisation ( BRO), this side of Jauljibi. In terms public resentment and mass-unpopularity, this once premier Central road-making organisation, beats any other organisation, Central, State or local — hands down.
Border Roads Organisation ( BRO )
No organisation’s work impacts the daily life, as well as the future of the people living in the districts through which BRO’s work i.e. road-making, takes place, as that of this one. To give some idea to the people living in Dehradun, Udham Singh Nagar, Naini Tal and Haridwar, who are lucky to be spared BRO’s various acts of omission and commission, districts falling between Tanakpur in Champawat in the east Kumaon through Pithoragarh, right upto Lipu-Lekh Pass near Gunji and Kuti; Almora via Dania to again Pithoragarh via Ghat and Jauljibi- Madkot-Munsyari and Milam, all stand comprehensively covered. Perhaps this writer would be expressing the current sentiments of all the border people, at least those on the eastern part of Uttarakhand borders, that this organisations has of late become synonymous with corruption, “reeking corruption” at that. These days news papers are full of pictures of how the miles upon miles of road-sides stand devastated through the inefficient, incomplete works, how trees are over-hanging at various construction-sites with road underneath threatening to fatally strike down on any passer by, instantaneously without any notice ! Several unsuspecting lives have already been lost. The Garbadhar tragedy was just a small instance which got so much publicity because it falls on the Dharchula-Lipulekh stretch and because of the ill-fated Gunji AGM of the Rang Kalyan Sanstha.
Out here, in Munsyari bazar, stories abound how the BRO are hand-in-glove with the local Munsyari Tehsil revenue staff, the Amins, openly demanding a cool cut of 2 % on compensation for the Nap and Benap Lands, buildings which are going to come under eligible compensation for road-widening that is going to take place on 65 kms long Munsyarri-Milam Highway ( another BRO task, moving at a snail’s pace, for years !). The buildings on both sides of this highly strategically important road, starting close to from where this writer lives, have been cross-marked many years ago, by white paint-mark, and now the wheeling and dealing between the beneficiaries and the compensation-making Munsyari tehsil staff, is in full-swing ! Large chunks of so-called ‘benap’ ( unmeasured lands, which are not privately owned ) have been thoroughly encroached upon, shops have been constructed along with other structures, which now the same is being considered for ‘compensation’. As the BRO does not believe in notifying the road sides under any Road Side Control Act kind of legislation prohibiting any construction along the notified roads, it is any body’s sweet will to construct any structure, any where ! This lack of road-side control, absence of any regulation prohibiting construction along the roads, has been the main cause of huge loss of human lives and wastage of public money in subsequent litigation and compensation for all kinds of buildings. Kedarnath, rather all along our Char-dham pilgrim route, it is a case of no regulation by BRO, and our very own PWD, through Road-side Control Act, which is the main cause of our annual tale of woes and human misery via land-slides, road accidents and so on. The BRO and the state PWD have turned out to be the single biggest causative factors for human loss and suffering in the mountain regions, Forests are a close second.
Not only the Border Roads Organisation but also our Public Works Department ( PWD ) must be to be made squarely answerable for all additional cost and loss of human lives if any road made by any of them has not been covered by the Road-side Control Act. This writer recalls that in one of the RTI appeals which involved sanctioning of a Liquor Bar in Haldwani, he as Chief Information Commissioner, had asked the Chief Engineer, PWD, to explain why such a large number of road-stretches controlled by them are not notified under the UP Roadside Control Act, as made applicable to Uttarakhand. In that Appeal the BRO representative was also made a party, as a major chunk of important motor roads come under their purview. Agitators who are planning a “Mahabandh” against the BRO on 2nd August have been forced to undertake such a protest, because there seems no sign of any improvement. If there was any genuine reason for organising such a Bandh against the BRO, it was perhaps over-due. Chief Minister Harish Rawat must immediately get the entire working of the BRO reviewed by an independent authority and certainly there exists a case to order even an ‘Open CBI Enquiry of their all past and present operations’. BRO working is a Crying Shame on a Central Government Organisation and our 5 Members of Parliament must support such a review, also an Open CBI Enquiry against all alleged activities, using their collective presence in the Parliament. In Milam all kinds of allegations abound, fictitious muster-rolls carrying names of labourers who go to collect Keera-ghas, individuals shown as labourers who may be Nepalese residents, fictitious measurements and so on. The fact that the entire area receives a very few residents, again thanks to their delay in road-making, is a heaven-sent ‘enabling environment’.
The batches of Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims, coming from all over India, cannot help but compare the progress that has been made in the Purang-side, a four-lane road as soon as you step in Tibet, that is China, with our BRO and PWD offerings ! Pictures of multi-storey shops that have now been built there, all –weather four-lane roads on the other side are a sad commentary on the efficiency and efficacy of the State and the Central Governments, this side of the Lipu Lekh Pass. One hopes that Chief Minister Harish Rawat, in the Local MLA avatar, will take due and urgent notice of this nauseating and ever-growing mess.
Uttarakhand : End to End
With its ‘provisional’ capital at Dehradun and a Chief Minister representing a Constituency which is exactly at its extreme opposite-end, Dharchula, bordered by two giant Asian neighbours, Nepal and China, Uttarakhand now stands completely covered, geographical representation -wise. It has done better than even what was the case during Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna( he also represented an extreme-end Constituency, Sitargunj ) but it did not cover the dominant feature of this State, the High Himalayas. A Chief Minister representing Dharchula Constituency and seated at Dehradun, now completes the picture. The political message conveyed by the voters, during the recent two major political tests at the hustings, the Lok Sabha 2014 and Uttarakhand By Elections to the three resultant vacancies, Doiwala, Someshwar and Dharchula, has been quite Loud and Clear. Now, Govern, and Govern Well ! Neither the BJP nor the Indian National Congress has any ground to complain. An absolute majority at the Centre, Uttarakhand contributing full 100 % ( all 5 MP seats ), and now a comfortable majority of 36 MLAs in a House of 71, for Uttarakhand ! The citizens now demand just one thing ; Good Governance, period. Premier Narendra Modi seems to be trying his best at the Centre, seems to have won his first round, both with the Cabinet Colleagues and the hitherto dispirited Mandarins. Chief Minister Harish Rawat now has nearly full three years to achieve what he has waited so long to try his hands at, serve his home-land. He has peoples’ support, to begin with. One is yet to see how he is able to take his Cabinet Colleagues along and motivate his hitherto supine bureaucracy.
Silver –Lining : Peoples’ Initiative
Even as the various public service sectors present what seems worst in this part of the State there are several, not just one, silver linings. Notwithstanding any visible efforts at development through a somnolent Development Block Office, with near zero activities and complete absence of the entire FRDC development departments, private investment has taken place in construction of several lodges, which now accommodates a large number of tourists, most foreigners on treks and the ubiquitous Bengali groups. Schools, Colleges of all shades and sizes, despite an extremely poor support of our educational set up, Basic, Secondary of Higher Secondary, keeps these institutions full of school going students. Results in High School and Intermediate indicate dedication of teachers, not of official set up, but the likes of Munsyari Public School, Vivekanand Vidya Mandir, and Shishu Mandir, as well as the Kerala’s Thoma-Mission run Kimchaura school. GIC, GGIC, the Degree College are again hardly any example of “good-governance”. Like the private investment, mostly by the local residents, almost all social organisations are now organizing events, of which any government department would be proud of. In some of recent pieces, all published in Garhwal Post, this writer covered their activities in the field of education, Foot-ball tournament, tree-plantations and so on. These were put together in a piece called “Munsyari: A Developing Model ?”. Among various public services one would give full marks to BSNL for its broad-band and telecommunication facilities, no small achievement under heavy rainy conditions at 8,000 plus feet above sea level ; a brave effort by our Power Corporation as far as regular supply of electricity is concerned, notwithstanding extreme weather and worst season ( this writer has started providing them power-outage hrs, though sms, as he happens to be a late night-bird, marking their service rating !).
On the good-governance scale, the Border Roads Organisation rates as the “Worst”, given their scandalous performance, closely followed by a totally insensitive local Tehsil Revenue and Magisterial out-fit ( a murder accused decamping from Revenue Police custody and not re-arrested for last 10 days ! ) and open alleged corruption in land-building compensation matters, openly demanding a 2 per cent bribe, again followed by the Block Development machinery, which does not seem to exist ! Elections to PRI were done well except the fact that a history of sorts was made in Munsyari Tehsil, when a re-poll had to be arranged for the Bona polling booth, across the Gori in Goriphat. A collective shame, in so far as the gullible electorate and the local petty politicians are concerned. Thumbs Up, for BSNL, Uttarakhand Power Corporation and above every one else, local people for their interest in the education of their children and all teachers serving in various educational institution, for their dedication and good results in both the Board examinations. All civil society organisations are looking up, organisationally and activities wise. Like, full marks to the local Sports Club, the Johar Club, which has been successfully organizing Football Tournaments in Munsyari for last 60 years ! The Johar Club’s Under-19 Team recently reached the Semi Final stage, of a tournament held, at the other extreme-end, Jogiwala Grounds, Dehradun.