Munsyari : An Evolving Model of Development ?

This writer has spent best part of his civil service career, spanning over nearly four decades now, and has been witness to many a development initiatives undertaken in the mountain regions. Only the other day he received an sms from a well-wisher intimating him that even the new Union Government, headed by Narendra Modi is seriously contemplating constituting a new Ministry dedicated to the Indian Mountains. No news could have been sweeter to the ears of this writer as for some years past he has dedicated most of his active time towards the very same concept, viz., a dedicated administrative mechanism to look after the multiple concerns of our mountain regions, call it a Ministry or whatever.

A  disastrous and unfortunate coupling

This writer is more than convinced that the biggest harm to the cause of the mountain development has been caused by anchoring ‘mountain development’ in the Ministry of Environment & Forests. It is something like constituting an Expert Body to evaluate the impact of recent disaster in Uttarakhand, include in its ToR a term whether the on-going Hydro-electric projects have contributed to the over all calamity, and let it be headed by two ‘eminent experts’ who are well-known opponent of hydro-electric projects and dams ! The Expert Body was, you guessed it right, constituted by MoEF. Give the dog a bad name, and hang it ! Dr Shekhar Pathak was here recently via Askot-Arakot, and this writer shared his deepest anguish with him. Mountain people cannot take it any more, I guess.

De-link Mountain-Development from MoEF

Sooner the subject of ‘mountain development’ is taken out from the MoEF the better it would be for the Indian Mountains and the mountain people of India. It is also about time that the working of institutions like the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education ( ICFRE ) is reviewed by experts other than the members of the Indian Forest Service, its mode of interacting with the major States with forest cover is reviewed better it would be both for the States and the forests themselves. The modus followed by its counterpart, the ICAR, and the results it has already delivered to the entire world, is the best example for it to emulate. The Twelfth Plan document has also included this reform agenda and this writer has recently filed an RTI application with the MoEF asking how much progress has been made in this direction ? A full-fledged thesis is required to document the downfall and deterioration in the living conditions of the hapless mountain people because of this unfortunate coupling i.e. anchoring of mountain development in the Ministry of Environment & Forest ? All limits of decent behaviour and academic honesty were crossed when the FRI University ( or deemed to be a University ) withdrew a PhD awarded to its very own Chancellor, the then DG ICFRE, when matters came to a stage of huge embarrassment, all round. It is no wonder that the so-called University goes on merrily about its so-called academic business and the officials and the academics involved are not brought to books ! What further deterioration in our forest—related institutions is required, every one concerned is very keen to know.                                                                                                                                                                        

Back to the Model

While hoping for an early deliverance of ‘mountain development’ from the vicious clutches of this Union Ministry, let me revert to an incipient model that seems to be evolving in one of the remotest parts of this new mountain state. The most important issue seems to be what all that needs to be done to attract first the private and public investment in our remote mountain regions and secondly, the people, both the locals who are said to be abandoning it and others who wish to visit these remote mountain regions ?

The immediate provocation for this writer to write this piece immediately after Chief Minister Harish Rawat’s departure after opening of the 59th Annual Foot-bal Tournament, at Munsyari, by a local sports club, the Johar Club. Chief Minister Harish Rawat shared his world-view of how he looks forward to develop remote mountain regions like, say Munsyari itself, as was expected from him. This writer would like to wish him well as no one can at this stage  fault him for not trying his very best. That he is doing and he could perhaps take a leaf from his senior mate, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is giving as long a rope as any civil servant wants to have with him or her, before he or she starts taking some ‘personal initiative’. What one does with this rope, long or otherwise, that is yet to be seen. That civil service, in Uttarakhand, is perhaps at its worst-best, there seems to be an universal agreement.

As an example, this writer had written about the local SDM, we have in Munsyari, who is shielded by the local MLA, backed by all incoming DMs,( see articles under Disastrous Management of Uttarakhand series in Garhwal Post ) and thus very capably represents Uttarakhand bureaucracy. He has not only survived the impact of last year’s disaster, thanks to his patrons, but has contributed significantly by becoming the biggest disaster himself ! We all are indeed thankful to the state government who has so thoughtfully allowed such a SDM to continue, who can openly insult the local people with impunity and get away with it. If the insulted persons are hapless and poor tribals, so much the better. That he is seen as the best specimen to be serving the most difficult region in the state, immediately reminds us all of our good old UP days, when hill-postings represented three Ps – Punishment, Promotion ( which one could not refuse)  or Pre-mature Retirement ( which one was expected to enjoy ) !

Individuals  and  Institutions

Notwithstanding all the ‘enabling circumstances’ stated above there are individuals and institutions which provide us reasons to hope  that out-migration can not only be arrested but even reverse migration also activated, private and public investments attracted and suitable initiatives ( some of which were mentioned in the speech delivered by Chief Minister Harish Rawat today ) if sincerely implemented, replicated and up-scaled in several places reeling under the out-migration juggernaut in the hills.

Chief Minister Harish Rawat kicked-off a foot-ball tournament organized by the Johar Club, an this was its 59th edition, non-stop for the last 58 years since independence. One could challenge  any Sports event in entire north India, organized by a local sports club, which mobilizes resources and donations locally, lives from tournament to tournament, yet attracts no fewer than a crowd of more than 5,000 to 7,000 on its final rounds. Spectators travel daily, any where from 3 to 7 kms on mountain tracks to witness matches ! if one were to compare the money and expenses spent on Winter Games events at Auli, or supine Ice Skating events. Leave aside the so called and politically plagued State Association games, one would marvel at the organizing skills and dedication to sports of clubs such as the Johar Club.

Munsyari is 600 kms away from Dehardun and may I add there are any number of Johari spectators who will be here till the Johar Club Football finals ! Chief Minister Harish Rawat was not playing to the gallery when he praised the efforts made by the office-bearers of this small sports Club. Why such events can not be handed over to local Sports Clubs and sports enthusiast in all of tehsil and block headquarters. Lest, assumptions be made about the quality of games may I add that the umpires are drawn from the State Umpires Association, and are paid for. Shouldn’t the State Football Association find out how many other Johar Clubs exist, ready to take on the responsibility, and conduct the foot-ball tourneys all over the state ? This year will also see, addition of Junior Girls’ football matches, the younger boys having started a few years back already.

Various Johari associations have come together and now organize what is called Munsyari Greeshm Mahotsava. A souvenir brought out by the Central Committee this year was handed over by this writer to Chief Minister Harish Rawat. He was struck by the fact that unlike fun and frolick which normally goes for Mahotsavas, spending lakhs, this was a serious effort, where day long serious discussions are held, day after day, discussing the state and prospects of Education, Health, Culture, Forest and Livelihoods, Eco-tourism prospects, Law & Order, Adventure Sports, Construction of Roads, Urban Development, and so on. Experts come from outside, many Joharis are themselves very well reknowned and they feel privileged to share their knowledge and take part in such events. To wit, this ear Prof JS Titiyal, of AIIMS, who received Padmshree for his outstanding services was the guest of honour. And, was he pleased to be in Munsyari and share his progress from a primary school in adjoining Darma valley, right into the List of National Honours for most distinguished service to the field of specialisation ? Dr Titiyal said to be honoured by your own people and at home is the ultimate honour, indeed. He valued this honour above every other honour he has received hitherto, in India or abroad. What message such expressions send out, ask the budding student who was in his audience raptly listening to this self-admission of an achiever  ?

Milam school to Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences !

Then was the turn of Prof YPS Pangtey, first DSc, in Botany, a world reknowned taxonomist and current Fellow of the National Science Academy. He started his schooling from Milam primary school, at 11,200 feet above mean sea level and reached the ultimate Everest of knowledge, if there was one ever. As many as seven plant species are named after him, as he discovered them ! Talk of motivation, he needed just an invitation and he came home to be honoured by his own people, the ultimate honour for any one, any where. Lovraj Dharamsaktu, who picnicked to Mt Everest for the fifth time, ad honoured by the President few weeks back, could not make it, as he was still at work, training rescue workers in his Academy.

This writer is repeatedly intrigued why when there are so many achievers, many he knows personally, from almost all parts of our state, they do not go back to their respective root-villagers, participate with the local organisations, encourage their small but highly significant local efforts, and be their guide and role –models, instead of haranguing the state government and officials for not doing this or badly doing that. Yes, personal re-location, is the first condition.

Young Doctors attending Patients in remote villages

As this piece gets written remotest villages like Shama, Namik, Madkot, Bona and several villages falling en-route will be visited by bands of young doctors, who plan the entire year, and visit in groups, the patients in-situ. Johar Munsyari Doctors Association has been doing this far many years past. Their 2014 summer vacation will be spent in paying back to their motherland through selfless service. As Munsyari CHC had to be let out on PPP mode, quite a shame if you look at the efforts made by a new state in terms of reaching out our farthest points, these Doctors, in-service on official leave and private at their own expense, have taken upon themselves to reach out to those who need them most. On the 3 rd and 4th there will be a huge Health Mela, organized at the CHC campus, which will be attended to by all those who have been to the remote village plus more who will join them, and jointly they will cover all in-coming patients, and assure those who need any follow-up, later. We talk of young generation going stray. I do not think the older generation did even think of it, what these young public-spirited doctors have been doing for years now. Last year, Veterinarian doctors also joined the band and that takes care of all living beings. Can this not be done all over the state –  this is for the Medical & health Director General to think and plan for ?

Environment Awareness

Yet another group will have a two day “Gel Patal”, standing for Intensive Plantation drive, entirely at their own expense and with the cooperation of the local forest department,  an intensive plantation drive in several villages of Tall Des, villages this side of Kalamuni, a regular part of Munsyari tehsil. Last year it was Madkot, in Goriphat. It is an entirely community motivated plantation drive, which covers various parts, through local Van Panchatas. Its quite different from the sarkari Van Mahotsavas !

Tribal Heritage Museum

This writer has to cut short this story as he has to participate in yet another event, organized at the Tribal Heritage Museum, raised by a local culture enthusiast, devoting his life-savings in collecting artifacts, tomorrow afternoon. Every year one cultural event gets organised, serious topics of cultural heritage and conservation get discussed. This year, significantly, is dedicated to the individuals who have contributed significantly to the over all development of the region, through their individual dedication and excellence. This writer has to speak on Rev. Uttam Singh Rawat, who was instrumental in reviving the famous Ramsay College of Almora, in 1914, which provided education to almost all, repeat all, greats of Uttarakhand history who hailed from the Kumaon region, starting with Premier and Home Minister Govind Ballabh Pant ! Some thing like eight great local individuals, out of which only great explorers Nain Singh Rawat, CIE, and Rai Bahadur Kishan Singh Rawat are known to the outside world, are going to be remembered and paid homage to. Every place has its own heroes, big and small, who await being remembered and honoured, do this quickly, create an atmosphere of local achievement. These are but a few events and institutions, in a small place like Munsyari.

Get Re-charged and Charge freely

Chief Minister Harish Rawat, ending his speech said, “ Every time I come to Munsyari, I get re-charged, and I have come so many times and would like to come as many times as possible.” One has reason to believe, Uttarakhand is replete with scores of Munsyaris, and this writer is sure, that each reader will, like Chief Minister Harish Rawat, would consider going back to his very own Munsyari, to get-recharged himself, and stay back there permanently, providing free re-charging facilities to all those who have to stay back in our polluted cities, thoroughly fatigued, frustrated and forlorn. This writer firmly believes that “ our mountains have been failed by its own sons and daughters and it is only they who can re-populate it, re-charge it with developmental action, and new life ”.

Honourable CM Uttarakhand Shri Harish Rawat looking at a copy of the Souvenir brough out on Munsyari Greshm Mahotsava 2013
Honourable CM Uttarakhand Shri Harish Rawat looking at a copy of the Souvenir brough out on Munsyari Greshm Mahotsava 2013

R S Tolia

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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