Thanks – Giving in Munsyari

After his historic  Assembly bye election victory where Congress won all three Assembly seats that went for mid-election poll on 25th July 2014,  Doiwala, Someshwar ( reserved ) and Dharchula, Chief Minister Harish Rawat is paying a visit to his own constituency and it has been christened as a Thanksgiving Visit. His Thanks-giving visit covers a visit and night halt at Munsyari, on the 16th ( Thursday ) December, followed by a visit to Dharchula on the 17th December 2014. Readers need to be reminded that the Dharchula seat was vacated for him by the sitting Congress MLA, his name – sake Harish ( Dhami ). More on this ‘sacrifice’ by Harish Dhami, later. It would also be instructive to recall that former Chief Minister Bahuguna, whom he ousted, also got elected to the State Assembly via another ‘sacrifice’ which resulted in the migrant Bengali population of Sitargunj conferred inheritable/transferable land rights. Every ‘sacrifice’ does have a price-tag. What would it be in this case, many are very curious to know ? Already, 143 sub-Castes, all non SC and non ST ethnic groups residing in the constituency have been declared, very deservedly so, ‘Backward Classes’; as many as 111 villages along the Gori river have been finally taken out of the Askot Deer Sanctuary, and  Madkot Tehsil ( Goriphat ) has been carved, very fittingly so, out of Munsyari tehsil. These and many others were, however, all pre-poll sweeteners. The ‘main-course’ is expected to be rolled –out during this ‘thanks-giving’ round. Last heard, unprecedented turn-out of the expectant constituents was seen at the Tehsil rally-ground and individual petitioners were being attended to by the Chief Minister, helped by officials accompanying him on this tour.  

Political profile of Dharchula MLA Constituency

Munsyari with 140 villages and no urban agglomeration ( Munsyari has since been declared by the State Cabinet as a Nagar Panchayat, but formal notification still in abeyance ) and Dharchula with 247 villages and Dharchula, as the sole Nagar Panchayat, constitute two development blocks with the same name and with coterminous Tehsil boundaries, go on to make this strategically most important Constituency of the state. Its eastern border, along the Kali river defines Indo-Nepal border, while its entire north and north-western border, delineates the Indo-Chinese border. No other Constituency of the state has this unique distinction, i.e. the only Constituency with two international borders. This in itself perhaps spells out the very first priority of the MLA, now Chief Minister, for the remaining slightly less than three years of his tenure. Newspapers hailed his land-slide victory by more than 20,000 votes over his adversary, in the July elections, as endorsement of his past 5 months’ tenure, at the helm of the state. This victory became all the more significant in the sense that an unfortunate air-accident just before the elections rendered his personal campaign physically impossible, and his campaign was led by his wife Renuka Rawat, helped by visits to the constituency by several Cabinet colleagues and Kishore Updhyaay, the Congress President. The only interest left about his personal performance converged on the margin by which he was going to win.

Dharchula, of which Munsyari is the other major component, was given the status of the third ST MLA constituency, after delimitation of Uttaranchal/Uttarakhand constituencies, and the fact that both the terms it returned a member to the Assembly who belonged to an ST ethnic group ( Van Raji ), with the smallest number of population ( slightly more than 500 souls ), explains its own political complexity with ethnic rivalries. The present incumbent, Harish Dhami, was returned as the first general category member, after the fourth seat for STs, was again delimited to just two seats, Khatima ST constituency being reorganized as Nanakmatta, Khatima being reverted as a general seat. It need not be gainsaid that Dharchula constituency, with a predominant electorate consisting of the ST population, is going to witness considerable political upheavals based on the pace set by the post July developments. That ST populations of both the blocks backed Harish Rawat en block would amount to saying the obvious. That subsequent Panchayati Raj elections also returned a ST Block Pramukh, un-opposed, in Munsyari, also throws much light on how the political equations in coming months are going to take shape. What makes it all the more important is the fact that the main quid pro quo of the reported ‘sacrifice’ has its deep roots in this hugely complex and competing ethnic aspirations-mix, dating back to year 2007. A highly literate and politically aware ST population of both the blocks makes it still more difficult a task for the newly elected MLA cum Chief Minister, to balance fast emerging aspirations, political included. Its more than a tight-rope-walk for him and would really test his long innings in political adroitness. That the other main opposition party, and even the regional ones, have not made out any issue out of it so far, points out the acute sensitivity of the issues at stake.   

Pre–poll Promises

This thanks-giving visit also activates the process of fulfilling promises made by the Candidate just before formally throwing his towel into the election ring. It thus ticks of a process which should periodically review of what happens in this now VVIP constituency, especially after he has had time also to than the electorates personally. This piece makes this review, from the vantage point of Munsyari itself, where this writer is located, mostly not covered by either an informed ground-reporter of electronic media franchise. This should give the readers an assessment of how things could be presumed, by way of implementation of various poll-promises, in the remaining 70 non- VIIP constituencies. Essentially it consisted of four broad themes:

  1. Commitment to Reconstruction and Rehabilitation of the Disaster- affected Regions,
  2. Providing Employment to the unemployed Youth of the region,
  3. An Honest, Transparent and Development oriented Action Plan of the State and helping the local population in achieving the objectives set in the same, and
  4. Promise of a Development – oriented and Corruption-free Uttarakhand.

 Reconstruction and Rehabilitation

How big and complex, with a sordid record of local indifference post June 2013 disaster has been reported by this writer and compiled by Garhwal Post itself in a volume presented to none other than the President Pranab ‘Babu’. The fact that the writer was compelled to title it as ‘Disastrous Management of Uttarakhand’ speaks for itself. More than 15 months down the line the situation remains unaltered, with stories of rampant corruption in distribution of relief, added to the tale of woes. In yet another series again published in Garhwal Post, ‘Development of High Himalayan Habitats’, this writer has mentioned that the agenda remains far from addressed and it is about time that the local authorities who are found guilty of such acts need to be proceeded against in an exemplary manner.

Unemployment & Youth : Need for Innovative Initiatives

Chief Minister Harish Rawat would be advised to take a leaf from the approach followed by Premier Narendra Mod in respect of his home-constituency i.e. Kashi, and the way he has imaginatively woven his development agenda of ‘Sanitation’, ‘Smart City’, ‘Invitation for FDI through the 3 D mantra- Democracy, Demographic Dividend and Demand’ with Kashi-Kyoto Twin-City concept, and come out with a clear vision, looking far beyond 2017 challenge. He has to look at some so-called Big-Ticket but practical schemes and initiatives.

Starting from his main political base, the ST populations who have stood solidly behind him he has to address some of the problems that stare them on a daily basis. The 15 High Himalayan villages of Munsyari block and 20 in Dharchula block, which have accumulated problems galore during the last six decades, most of them Congress ruled. Connectivity by road, which has forced Premier Narendra Modi seek from President XI an alternate route, hit these border villages where it hurts the most, their livelihoods. Besides hitting at their livelihoods it has made the life of these 35 high Himalayan villages, who migrate down every year after September, a most miserable life, forcing huge out migrations. The agitation against the inefficient and corrupt proceedings of the Border Road organisation ( BRO ), is only waiting to be exploded any time. Connecting these 35 High Himalayan Villages in the next three years, though looking impossible, is something where his serious efforts are bound to strike the right chord. While he attends to these roads, Dharchula- Lipulekh, Tawaghat-Rhalam, and Munsyari-Milam, he must enquire into as to what has happened to the oldest skill, known to this state, namely wool-based handicrafts ?

With the sheep-rearing, the bed-rock of wool-based handicraft industry, which has provided sustenance to hundreds upon hundreds of indigent tribal families, over the centuries, without much official support, is today on the verge of extinction ! The cessation of Indo-Tibetan trade dealt the first blow, with closure of Tibetan Belchi-wool import and high-jacking of fine pashmina-wool, and the June 2013 disaster has now resulted in the wiping out of thousands of sheep. One estimates says that as many as 24,000 sheep were lost, if the compensation given recently are any guide ! there are anecdotal evidence to suggest that this ancient handicraft skill is today on the verge of extinction. It would be blot on the administrators of this state if this should happen.

Save a Dying Handicraft & Skilling Young Unemployed Women

A Big-ticket Comprehensive Sheep- rearing cum Wool purchase –processing-provisioning ( wool bank )- skill training of young by the older generation skilled ladies plus Marketing Support through the SARAS chain’ would be the minimum that needs to be planned and put in place. A near-dead Industries Department carding-unit in Munsyari, non-functional wool-based schemes of Khadi Gramodyog with knee-jerk responses to occasional demands from alarmed stakeholders, simply would not do. What is needed a major Big Ticket Wool-Based Handicraft revival project, involving Sheep & Wool Board, Industries , Khadi Board and Tribal welfare department. Under Livelihoods Mission and Skill Development  Mission, both national Missions, the state government will have to imaginatively look at all that has remained amiss, including a large women/unemployed girls being drawn into a skill transfer programme.

Re-vamping Mountain Farming/Family Farms

Agriculture, mountain agriculture, which means integrated agriculture, has not travelled to the regions like Munsyari and cultivable areas of these two blocks. Whatever has been done by the Pantnagar University or Vivekanand Institute of Almora, has refused to scale the mountain fields, resultantly every year large number of cultivable holdings are being added to fallow-land area, whatever is being cultivated is not being allowed further growth by a range of wild-animals. Agriculture, Horticulture and Animal Husbandry departments, and institutions such as the herbal Research & Development Institutes, or the various commodity development boards will have nothing on board to show to Chief Minister Harish Rawat, were he to review their performance in the presence of persons like, say this writer. Large chunks of good cultivated lands which could have been converted into demonstration cum production centres, remain not only neglected but ready to be absorbed into non-productive uses. It would not be an exaggeration to say that almost every development department of the state government has almost nothing worthwhile here to show and prove what they may have claimed on paper and official reports.

As the local Collectors and Chief Development Officers hardly ever visit these parts, and if they do hardly meet any public functionaries, the cue is taken by the local officers. The Block Office wears a deserted look, the tehsil gets visited by a harassed population, assisted by middle-men in various shades. Almost every department deserves a major revamp and hard knock to stir from the current state of deep stupor. All land-related activities need to be revamped, revisited and upscaled in an innovative way, if Chief Minister really wishes to look forward to a repeat of 2014 in year 2017. The only positive thing for him, as of now, is that the situation can not go any further down ! 

Transparency and Corruption

The local administration, as has been reported by this writer in a large number of articles which have already appeared in Garhwal Post previously, is any thing but transparent and corruption-free. If the Chief Minister were to call for Inspection Reports of the past three District Magistrates and all Chief Development Officers who have been posted to district Pithoragarh, as they are supposed to do by government orders, he would be dumb-founded to find that not only their visits to Munsyari and Dharchula blocks, tehsils and thanas have been so infrequent, if at all then without any purpose or impact, that these two regions have become a bye –words of administrative apathy, neglect and utter shame. Harsh words but a naked reality. What Chief Minister Harish Rawat receives in legacy is a challenge that is far more difficult than the political sheningans that he has to manouver from his opponents, within his own party and outside. The minimum he could begin with is prescribe copies of written Inspection or Tour Notes from District Magistrates  and Chief Development Officers in which they should records how often they have visited these remote areas, what have they reviewed and what they have got implemented. Once such written reports of their performance get recorded and produced by way of their performance only then the truth will come out. Written Tour Reports must be prescribed for the DMs and the CDOs, and even for the Departmental Heads and why not the Secretaries ? 

Setting the pace & Mountain Leadership

As he spends his first night in Munsyari, on his thanks-giving first day, while wishing him good luck what needs to be added is that by transforming things they way they exist in these far-off regions he would set an example for not only his colleagues but perhaps all Chief Ministers in the country as no other Chief Minister has a Constituency which is the farthest away from his capital, entirely in the High Himalayas, bordered by two Asian neighbours, one that he has already visited ( Nepal ) and the other to whom he has played host ( Republic of China ). Such a transformation has also the potential of his being taken as a pace setter Chief Minister among the eleven Indian Mountain States and all the mountain states could be shown that development of High Himalayan regions is not only possible but is in the interest of the country and its fragile mountain ecosystems. However, it would not be possible in a ‘Business as Usual’ mode, which exists today, but would require an Himalayan resolve. His time starts, as they say, now.

Tail-piece :

This writer does not believe that any of his local officers accompanying him on his Thanks giving trip  would let him into a well-kept secret, namely  as to why new Collectors who get posted to Pithoragarh delay visiting Milam as long as they can postpone it ?  It is believed that the moment he visits, the blighted place i.e.  Milam, the day of their departure from the district is not far off ! Ask any of the officers who have been posted as District Magistrate to Pithoragarh, as quite a few of them are still serving the state ! Who said that we have promoted a ‘scientific temper’ in independent India ? Solution, seems to be that all new District Magistrates must be made to visit Milam soon after they join duties at Pithoragarh. This also could be a major initiative on the part of the new Chief Minister,  remove ‘Milam Fear Psychosis’.

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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