Angst in Uttarakhand: is it worse off than Himachal Pradesh?

Is Himachal Pradesh more stable and more developed than Uttarakhand? Both states have similar size of population and area. Both have sought to exploit hill and religious tourism but...

A view of the holy river Ganga in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand.
A view of the holy river Ganga in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand.

Amitabh Srivastava

Is Himachal Pradesh a more stable and more developed state than Uttarakhand? Both states have similar size of population (HP 75 lakhs and Uttarakhand 1.4 crore) and area (53,000 & 55,000 sq. km, respectively). Both have sought to exploit hill and religious tourism. But while HP’s size of the economy is estimated to be Rs 1.8 lakh crore, Uttarakhand’s GDP was estimated at Rs 2.8 lakh crore in 2021.

But the prevailing perception is that Uttarakhand is languishing in comparison. While some blame the political instability in Uttarakhand, others point to HP becoming a state in 1971 compared to Uttarakhand which came into being in 2000. Others believe HP benefitted for having been a part of Punjab, which had better bureaucrats and better systems in place while Uttarakhand suffered because it remained a ‘carbon copy’ of UP.

But even as the state is set to elect a new legislature on February 14, Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD), which had spearheaded the struggle for a separate state appears to have been disintegrated with the BJP, Congress, AAP and BSP fighting for the honours. BJP, which has ruled the longest, has changed the chief minister eight times. Indeed, last year the state had three chief ministers in as many months. In any case, point out critics, half of BJP in the state comprise Congress deserters.

Suryakant Dhasmana laments that in 21 years the state has failed to address issues like runaway unemployment, exodus from villages, dissatisfaction among the youth and basic health and education besides drinking water facilities.

Healthcare in the state is in such bad shape that people travel to Delhi for even minor surgeries. A former chief minister went to Delhi to get his gall bladder removed, he exclaims.

Anoop Nautiyal, founder of Social Development of Communities (SDC) Foundation, conducted a survey on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, asking people to list issues of common concern. Virtually all respondents listed out migration, deforestation, unemployment, boozing and rampant corruption as electoral issues in the state.

Significantly, Gairsain as the state capital figured in alternate comments. The state had set up Birendra Dixit Commission in January 2001 to recommend a permanent capital. The report tabled in the assembly in 2018 ruled out Gairsain for practical and financial considerations.

But the issue has remained alive. Some politicians want to make it the summer capital; others have promised to make it the permanent capital. There are also those who want the state to have three capitals.

Gairsain remains in contention because people of this tiny state remain divided between their loyalties to the two regions of Garhwal and Kumaon. Gairsain being almost equidistant between the two regions, people seem united on it. But the state has far more serious concerns. Ghost villages remain a major issue as people have steadily abandoned villages, some of which are now inhabited by only three or four families.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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