As Politicians Dither on Uttarakhand's New Capital, Gairsain Residents Swing Between Hope and Despair

Locals say shifting the capital and state assembly to Gairsain would bring more funds and create more job opportunities.

Work in progress at the assembly complex in Gairsain. Credit: Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

Work in progress at the assembly complex in Gairsain. Credit: Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

Gairsain (Chamoli District): At Parwadi village, located barely a kilometre from the main entry gate to the new sprawling Uttarakhand Assembly complex being built on atop a hill, Congress flags flutter from almost every rooftop while posters of the party candidate from Karnprayag constituency line the main walls of most houses. The coming of the assembly complex in the area remains the most emotive issue and people credit sitting party MLA Anusuya Prasad Maikhuri for bringing the long-promised new capital closer home.

The residents of this village, whose lands have gone into the construction of the entire complex that they hope will ultimately also house a number of government officers, have not received a penny in compensation. Most had in the 1980s “donated” their land to the Animal Welfare Department from which is was transferred by the state government to construct the new “summer capital”.

Parwadi resident Jaman Singh said land had been donated by a hundred families several years ago. “I had given 204 acres to the government department in the hope of having greener surroundings. But now they have cut all the trees and shorn the hill of all its vegetation to construct wide concrete roads and buildings. The only benefit that has come to the village is that some youth have got jobs as construction workers.”

Another resident, Chand Mohan Singh Negi, rued that even these jobs have been few and far in between. “It is because this place is very cold and the labourers they bring from outside do not want to remain here for long. So they hire locals to work at the site.” He said only about 20% of the project work had been given to the locals.

Negi said land from other villages falling in Bharadisain Gram Sabha has also been taken for the project and all these villages hope the new capital shifts to Gairsain. However, the nearly 10,000 residents of surrounding areas have been swinging between hope and despair ever since the project was conceptualised.

“We are hoping that with the government shifting here the land prices will rise, we will get a new hospital as right now we have to travel nearly 15 km to Gairsain town for even the most minor of medical needs, and youth of the area will get more employment,” Negi said.

Residents’ hopes peaked in 2015 when the Harish Rawat government had announced that the winter session would be held in the new assembly building. Although the two-day session was held, the building construction has been delayed and a visit to the site revealed that it would take at least a year more for the work to be completed.

Gairsain was chosen for the new capital because the fight for the new state of Uttarakhand was primarily led by the hill people and it is located almost in the middle of the state in a mountainous region. Though Gairsain is in the Garhwal division, it is located barely 30 kilometres from the border of Kumaon division.

Jaman Singh, who had donated land to the government in 1980s, sits next to a Congress election poster. Credit: Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

Jaman Singh, who had donated land to the government in 1980s, sits next to a Congress election poster. Credit: Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

The future of the region, however, hangs in the balance for a variety of reasons. While the constituencies are equally distributed, with there being 34 in the nine hill districts and 39 in the four districts in the plains, about 70% of the population now resides in the plains of the Nainital, Udham Singh Nagar, Haridwar and Uttarakhand districts, and they do not want the capital to shift to the hills.

The people in the region know that the BJP does not necessarily favour shifting the capital to Gairsain. The party has this time fielded Surendra Singh Negi who had won as an independent in the 2002 and 2007 elections but lost in 2012 to Maikhuri by just 227 votes.

Realising that the vote of the hill people, who had voted en masse for the Congress in 2012, was crucial for its prospects, the Uttarakhand BJP, in its vision document released earlier in February, declared that it would make Gairsain the summer capital and declare the new assembly there the permanent one. Earlier, the Uttarakhand high court was shifted to Nainital to appease the voters of Kumaon.

The impact of the promise is, however, only being seen farther away from Gairsain. As one moves away from the hill, the number of BJP flags and posters increases. For the time being, it appears the party will have to do more to convince the local population of its intent.

This is primarily because in the past the B.C. Khanduri government of the BJP had not accepted the recommendation of the Dixit Commission, which was constituted to suggest cities for the new state capital. The panel had recommended Gairsain alongside that of provisional capital Dehradun.

Incidentally, Rawat too changed tacks during the assembly session in November 2016 and refused to commit to making Gairsain the capital of the state.

The flip-flop over the issue is making the locals anxious. As tea-seller Gosain Singh said: “Nobody comes to this high region without a reason and there is hardly any business here. The new assembly will bring with it hope of a better tomorrow for the entire region that is suffering due to large scale migration of youth due to lack of employment opportunities.”

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