ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Uttaranchal : Facing New Challenges

While the birth of Uttaranchal was the culmination of people’s long search for identity, their aspirations will truly come to light with the adoption of a decentralised model of governance – when decision-making powers devolve to the panchayats, accompanied by an adequate representation of women, and where employment generation activities focus on the new state’s own natural resources.

It was only after a long struggle waged by the people of Uttarakhand that the state of Uttaranchal was carved out from the state of Uttar Pradesh on the political map of India. It was an outcome of the people’s assertion and conviction that the government at Lucknow could no longer fulfil their expectations and aspirations. They preferred a model of governance wherein the people themselves governed with government support and not vice versa, as is in practice. In their model of governance, the vein of politics would be in the hands of the people. In other words, power would remain in the hands to whom it belongs. Else de facto power remains in the hands of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen who rarely want the masses to have their say in governance. It will not be incorrect to say that most of the ills affecting economy and society are due to the concentration of power in the hands of handful politicians. Hence, there should be public awareness about the ills of concentration and the benefits of decentralisation in order to generate assertion among them for the latter. If the awareness is absent the common man would continue to remain at receiving hands. It is appropriate that intellectuals and voluntary organisations have a continual dialogue with the people of the Uttaranchal in order to know their expectations from the new state and their hopes and doubts from their leaders and representatives. The expectations that the people have from their leaders and representatives can then be put forward before policy-makers for their consideration and actions. With this, in mind the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) of Uttar Pradesh in collaboration with ‘Pahad’ organisation has started a debate as to who should govern the state – the people or politicians. A team comprising social scientists D K Giri and N K Bhat, journalist Rajendra Dhasmana, and human right activist Chitranjan Singh and the writer, under the convenorship of Ravi Kiran Jain, the president of the Uttar Pradesh PUCL addressed various seminars and public meetings in Haldawani, Nainital, Betalghat Berrinag, Almora, Bagaswar and Pithoragarh in the Kamaou region of Uttaranchal recently. The main issues that emerged from this exercise are relevant matter for the new state as they pertained to the location of the capital, leadership choice and priorities, and dissatisfaction among the people.

A unanimous opinion among the hill people prevailed that the more than half a decade long agitation for a separate state was an expression of their opposition against centralisation and for decentralisation. Hence, it is in the fitness of things that the polity and economy of the new state should be based on decentralised model of development where the common people have a say in the governance. For adoption of such a model of polity, there is a need to fully implement in letter and spirit the 73rd and 74th amendments acts by way of creating strong panchayats and urban bodies so as to enable them to prepare plans for economic development and social justice in their respective areas including the 47 subjects listed in the 11th and 12th schedules of the Constitution. Besides, seeing the importance of forests, land and water in the state’s economy as well as the role of tradition and collective wisdom of the people in their life, extension of the Provisions of Panchayats (extension to schedule Areas) Act 1996 appears appropriate in this area. If the leadership at the helm of affairs fails to create such a type of legislative framework for these institutions it might not fulfil the aspirations of the people. Generally people here are assertive and comparatively well educated and women are not far behind their male counterparts. Elected women panchayat leaders ask block development officers and other officials connected with panchayats that what they say do not conform to the State Panchayat Act. Instead of listening to officials they argue with them. This provides a fertile ground for experimentation of real decentralised governance in the state.

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