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Uttarakhand awaits its permanent capital as politics intensifies on Gairsain ahead of polls

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:39 IST

The emotive issue of Gairsain as Uttarakhand's capital has taken centrestage in the state's political matrix with Assembly elections approaching. Dehradun has been its capital since Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh 16 years ago. Ever since, there has been a demand for a permanent capital.

Dehradun, located the southern part of the state, is considered to be a valley town and the people of Uttarakhand, formerly known as Uttaranchal. The demand of the populace has been that the capital city should be in the hills, easily accessible to a larger number of people.

With the last two days of the session of the outgoing Assembly being held on a premises built in Bhararisain in the Gairsain area of Chamoli district, political players have started looking for ways in which to address the core issue of a permanent state capital during campaign.

It was theatrics, as usual, this time by the BJP MLAs who created a ruckus in the state Assembly proceedings asking the Harish Rawat-led Congress government to come clear on the status of Gairsain as the permanent capital of Uttarakhand.

The Leader of Opposition, Ajay Bhatt, has been pushing that the Rawat government specifies whether Gairsain is permanent, temporary, winter or a summer capital of the state.

The Congress government, however, continues to remain non-committal on the issue knowing that it would be opening a can of worms if it says something at this juncture.

Capital issues

The issue of Gairsain goes back to the days of the Uttarakhand agitation, the movement a hill state envisaged a capital in the hills that were easily accessible from both Garhwal and Kumaon divisions.

In the days when Uttarakhand was a part of Uttar Pradesh, the people had a tough time going to Lucknow to get their work done. During the statehood agitation, the popular slogan used to be 'Jai Badri, Jai Kedar; Gairsain mein ho Sarkar'.

But much to the disappointment of the statehood agitators, the state was created with Dehradun being announced as its interim capital.

"Kumaon got the state high court at Nainital and the people of Kumaon division had agreed that the capital should be in Garhwal division - at a point easily accessible from Kumaon as well. Gairsain was found to be the most suitable since it is located right on the border of both Garhwal and Kumaon divisions," explains veteran observer Jay Singh Rawat at Dehradun.

He believes that there is no point in making Dehradun as the permanent capital as this city is located at one end of the state and has already exceeded its carrying capacity. It is a valley town that peters into plains and can in no way be called a 'hilly district'.

Making the best of trouble

Right from the time Uttarakhand came into existence in 2000, politicians have tried to reap political dividends on the issue.

"Everyone says that he is in favour of a permanent capital in the hills but no one has the political will to do so. The reason is simple that even the top politicians belonging to the hills have been contesting from comfortable seats that ensure their victories.

Be it Rawat who contested Lok Sabha polls in 2009 from Haridwar, or former BJP Chief Ministers Major General BC Khanduri and Ramesh Pokhariyal Nishank who contested last assembly polls from Kotdwar and Doiwala or former Congress president Yashpal Arya who represented Haldwani.

"If the leaders themselves are moving to the plains who is there to address the concerns of the people living in the hills? In any case, there is a considerably large number of constituencies located in the Terai and the plains on account of high population density. And these people would not be keen to have a capital in a hilly terrain," Jay Singh disclosed.

Divided powers

Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) which was once seen as a major force representing the people from the hills, given its leaders playing active roles in the statehood agitation, today stands in a shambles.

The party that had been raising the issue of Gairsain in the initial years of the state coming into existence, but today it stands fragmented after a split and its senior leader Diwakar Bhatt, who was once known as 'Field Marshal', has recently joining the BJP.

The present Congress regime that came into power in power in 2012 is credited with upping the ante on the issue of Gairsain.

Observers point out that Rawat's predecessor, Vijay Bahuguna, started holding cabinet meetings in Gairsain after he saw his base sliding when his son Saket lost the Tehri Lok Sabha by-poll after he had vacated the seat to become the state's chief minister in 2012.

After Rawat took over, he went a step ahead and started holding Assembly sessions at Gairsain. These sessions were initially held in tented accommodations and were then shifted to a building.

The BJP, which saw itself cornered, has recently launched a counter offensive asking Rawat to come clear on the status of Gairsain.

In fact, former Samajwadi Party leader Vinod Barthwal was the only politician who used to openly say that Dehradun be made the permanent capital of the state.

How feasible is Gairsain?

Observers say that though having a permanent capital at Gairsain has its emotive appeal but there are questions on its feasibility. This was also pointed by the Justice Virender Dixit Commission that was set up in 2001 to identify a permanent capital for the state.

In its report submitted in 2008, the Commission had pointed that Gairsain -

- Did not have a rail head

- It was not easily accessible by road

- It has no air connectivity

- It is located in a high seismic activity zone

- Gairsain would face a water scarcity if the population pressure increased there

Jay Singh points out that in its final recommendations, the Commission had rejected Gairsain as a possible capital while recommending other places.

Its first recommendation was Dehradun. It had pointed that being an interim capital, it has the distinct advantage of having a very good infrastructure ranging from roads and water supply to an airport. It is well connected by road, rail and air with the national capital. In addition there is availability of land to further strengthen the existing infrastructure.

The Commission had also focused upon Ramnagar-Kashipur belt. Located in Kumaon, this area has immense scope for development as it is easily accessible and there is availability of large tracts of land.

The Commission had also concentrated on the IDPL area in Rishikesh that has the advantage of being well connected to Delhi by rail and road. The Jolly Grant airport is also in close proximity.

It is a well known fact that the bureaucrats in Uttarakhand are also not keen on the state capital shifting out of Dehradun, particularly to Gairsain as it does not have required infrastructure that could motivate them to shift their families.

They also point to the huge cost involved in this exercise which this small state can ill afford.

Veteran political observer Vinod Pande from Nainital point out, "What difference would it make even if the capital shifts to Gairsain now? Gairsain was not envisaged as a capital comprising only a building and infrastructure. It was a concept where the capital and the administration would be easily accessible, there would be no VIP culture, it would be honest governance for honest hill people and the concept would encapsulate everyone from Chaukhutiya to Karan Prayag and other remote areas. All this is nowhere to be seen now."

Despite the fact that the politicians would be raising the issue of Gairsain as the state's permanent capital to the hilt, by the looks of it, there is no solution to the matter coming soon.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 18 November 2016, 5:11 IST