An open and shut case for Uttarakhand

As someone emotionally involved with the Uttara¬khand agitation, I have followed, with interest the articles and correspondence published in the last three issues of Himal. I was born in Uttarakhand, and after a long career with the Government of India have now, for the past 20 years, been living in my ancestral home in Almora. Several people have asked me to pen down my thoughts on the Uttarakhand agitation; I refrained. I think I should do so now.

Six months ago, an agitation erupted in Uttarakhand, following the announcement of a 27 percent reservation for people from Other Backward Castes and Classes (OBCs). The agitation was immediately dubbed anti-social, anti-reform, unprogressive, pro-high caste, pro-manu-wdi, backward looking, etc.

This propaganda, unfortunately, did not take into account the fact that the people of this region had played an active part in the independence movement and various other social reform movements. They did: not oppose OBC reservation just for the sake of opposing it. What the students, and later the teachers, government employees, ex-servicemen, etc. demanded was that reservation reflect the region´s population ratio. The OBC population in Uttarakand is estimated to be not more than two percent.

Twenty-Seven Percent
Why was 27 percent reservation so vehemently opposed here, especially when earlier, the hill people had supported reservation for scheduled caste and schedule tribes? No attempt, I feel, has been made to understand this. Unlike in other parts of rural India, agriculture does not provide even basic sustenance in Uttarakhand. Land holdings are meager and fields are actually narrow terraces in steep hills. If high mountains and steep hillsides are not considered, and only agricultural land taken into account, the density of population per hectare is even higher than in eastern U.P. And what are called canals in the hills are actually a misnomer for drains.

It is a rare family in the hills which has food for more than six months from their land; most get even less. But {oT&tewatta-chakkis and saw mills, and that too in the Tarai, there are few employment opportunities in Uttarakhand. As soon as a male child becomes 15, he migrates down to the plains; other members of his family back home survive on what is called the "money order economy". A large number of households have only their old and very young living at home. There are many villages where the entire population has moved out and many fields lie abandoned as there is no one to cultivate them.

If migration is the only solution for survival, preparation for it is necessary, which means a basic education to enable the migrant to obtain suitable employment outside the region. This the new reservation policy denied the local youth because people from outside the region, at the expense of people living here, could benefit from the reservation quota. When all this was building up, the State Government announced that it was not possible to have a separate reservation for this region. The demand for a separate state gathered momentum.

The formation of a separate Uttarakhand is a very old demand. Even before Independence, it was made at the time of the Second Round Table conference and again when Cabinet Mission visited India. It was also raised before the States Reorganisation Commission in the 1950s and was endorsed by Sardar K.M. Panikkar. Unfortunately, he was overruled by the other members, on the grounds that the area would develop better if it remained part of the bigger state of U.P.

Comparisons started to be drawn with neighboring Himachal Pradesh, where conditions are similar. The OBC population there is also very small and reservation for them is, accordingly, only 10 percent. Thus, when the Uttar Pradesh State Government said that a separate quota would not be possible for Uttarakhand, the demand for a separate state gained momentum.

Separate but Unequal
Even before Independence, Uttara-khand has been treated differently from the rest of U.P. For example, while the Mitakshara system under Hindu law prevailed in U.P. and most of India, it was the Dayabhag system that prevailed in Uttarakhand. Even this was modified by special custo¬mary laws applying to "khasa" families. And among several communities their customary law had precedence over the Hindu traditional laws.

The revenue law was also different. There was no zamindari system as in the plains. Thus when the Zamindari Abolition Act of 1950 was passed by the U.P. legislature, it did not extend to Uttarakhand. A separate and very different law was passed for this area in 1960, which came into force in 1966. The police system is different even today. The village revenue officials have police powers of registering and investigating. In addition to these, over the last 20 or more years, a separate hill department has been created in the U.P. Secretariat with a separate Minister-in-Charge.

There are separate heads of various departments—education, health, agriculture, etc.—for this region and there is now a separate additional Chief Secretary, and a separate budget for the region sanctioned by the Planning Commission. Thus, for all practical purposes, while the local government of U.P. (and even the Govt. of India through the Planning Commission) recognised this region as separate, on the reservation issue it was not considered so.

At the same time, two separate governments—the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1991 and the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in 1993, supported by all other political parties including the Congress—adopted unanimous resolutions for the creation of Uttarakhand by adopting the necessary amendments under Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. The boundaries of this proposed new state were also clearly defined in the resolutions.

The Government of India, however, has not heeded this demand. Unfortunately, legitimate and reasonable demands do not seem worthy of consideration without an 5 agitation. Acceptance of such demands, it is said, will lead to similar demands elsewhere in the country.

There is, however, a clear difference. In no other case are there two resolutions by different governments unanimously adopted by the state legislature. In other places, there is no such agreement among different political parties. Secondly, administering large states with big populations is becoming an impossible task. Progress made by small states like Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh corroborates this.

Sometime in the near future, in five years or less, a second States Reorganisation Commission should be (or will have to be)set up to examine the whole question of state boundaries de novo. This commission can also consider other cases such as those of Vidharba, Telangana, Chattisgarh, etc. But Uttarakhand need not wait for this just as other states (Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, etc. in the Northeast and the states of Goa and Pondicheny) did not have to wait for a new States Reorganisation Commission.

Part of India
Demand for a separate Uttarakhand is also labelled secessionist or divisive. This argument is also totally without merit and does not take into account the strong historical ties of this region with the rest of India. From Vedic times, to the days of Mahabharat and Kalidas, right up to the present, this has been an integral part of India. Even today, for example, the chief priest of the famous Himalayan shrine of Badrinath is a Namboodri Brahman from Kerala—a custom that has been in place for the last 13 centuries.

A question often asked is whether a separate Uttrakhand will be an "economically viable" entity. In the classical sense, the answer is "no". But then, which Himalayan state is economically viable in that sense? In any case, formation of states is not based on this criteria. Many factors, some enumerated earlier, have to be taken into account. One has also to consider the fact that even the states not so well endowed at the time offormation have prospered subsequently.

The very unsatisfactory development of this region in the 40 years since Independence also supports this demand. Before 1947, this area was the most advanced in all of the Himalaya. It had advanced horticulture, veterinary and other institutions. But recent data points out that this region has lagged behind. Comparison of data for Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand illustrates this well. Special consideration was given to the needs of local people even in pre-independence days, in. forest laws, agriculture, land tenures, etc. New restrictions have now been placed on peoples´ rights and privileges. These developments have belied the expectations of the last States Reorganisation Commission.

The new state of Uttarakhand will be larger in population than Himachal Pradesh and almost equal in area, larger than all other Himalayan states except Jammu and Kashmir. This will enable the formation of a responsive Government, and lead to quicker and better growth—as those incharge will then live and work here and understand the people better. They will go through the changes of seasons, and not pay a merely passing visit during the months of May and June or October— or merely be on a pilgrimage to the holy shrines.

This area has long been considered "back of the beyond" by modern elites—whether scientific, technical or administrative. The hills lacks even basic health and educational facilities, transport, communications, and so on. To overcome these handicaps and to achieve the formation of a separate state, the people of Uttarakhand are prepared to make whatever sacrifices necessary.

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