Uttarakhand Election 2017: From migration to pollution, the key issues that may determine polls

Migration, unemployment, women and child health, ecological disasters, depreciating tourism, water conservation, man-animal conflict, illegal wildlife trade, ill-conceived hydropower projects, forest fires and deforestation are all serious issues concerning Uttarakhand voters

Namita Singh February 04, 2017 19:27:18 IST
Uttarakhand Election 2017: From migration to pollution, the key issues that may determine polls

"Gaad-gadhere, koda-jhingora ki rajniti" is how Pahadi voters refer to the upcoming Assembly elections in Uttarakhand, and the key issues they would like to be highlighted. It simply means the emergence of gaad (rivers), gadhere (springs) and koda-jhingora (cereal), things which are crucial to the hilly regions of the state, and therefore, things that may determine which way the elections swing.

However, politics has changed its course in Uttarakhand despite local sentiment being in favour of these topics. With just over one week to go before the state casts its vote on 15 February, no major political party has highlighted any of these issues.

It was on 9 November, 2000, that Uttarakhand came into being as a separate state, to exert emphasis on its own geopolitcal needs. But rather than becoming a hub for sustainable development, it has transformed into a centre for political drama. It has green pastures and the ground is rich in metallic and non-metallic minerals such as limestone and copper. But these are used more by the mining mafia, often hand-in-glove with politicians.

Uttarakhand Election 2017 From migration to pollution the key issues that may determine polls

The cloudburst of 2013 flattened large parts of Kedarnath. PTI

Migration, unemployment, women and .child health, ecological disasters, depreciating tourism and traditional farming, water conservation, man-animal conflict, illegal wildlife trade, ill-conceived hydropower projects, forest fires and deforestation are all serious issues concerning the Pahadi voters everyday.

These issues appear particularly stark since the 2013 cloudburst disaster hit the Kedar valley, badly breaking the state's tourism industry, its economic backbone. Even today, nearly four years after the cloudburst, the state is trying to restore normalcy. A huge flood ravaged Kedarnath, claiming many lives and leaving behind a painful situation.

Rivers in spate have always been a problem in Uttarakhand, frequently claiming huge loss of property, and even ruining the state and pushing it to the brink of hopelessness. Destroyed homes, overflowing rivers, dismantled bridges, broken roads,
dilapidated shops, and top it all, missing people. The last three years have been a tale of unending woe for Uttarakhand. People are still waiting for compensation, roads and bridges which were damaged are yet to be repaired, and corruption has only spread further.

Here's a look at the key electoral issues ahead of the Assembly polls:

Environmental Issues: Uttarakhand is synonymous with lush green mountains and natural beauty, but the state is a major victim of negligence by people sitting in power. Environmental issues are ignored and the state is paying the price time and again. Floods, landslides and earthquakes are all taken place due to improper policies on the part of the government.

Unsustainable development: Big dams on the state's rivers are the biggest threat to the environment, as more than 170 hydel projects are sanctioned, many of them already in existence. Underground tunnels are making the mountains fragile and prone to landslides. Huge reservoirs of water are harming the ecology by changing the habit and habitat of marine animals. Construction and operation of dams and hydel projects have made the state even more vulnerable. Construction of hotels and houses on the banks of the rivers have added to the pollution.

Forest Fires: Hundreds of hectares of forest land are destroyed by forest fires, causing loss of human as well as animals lives. People in the hills do this to ensure the grass grows better and cattle get fodder. But it also causes a lot of problems.

Increasing pollution: Excessive tourism brings non-degradable pollution, as packets of eatables, plastic water and soft drinks bottles are seen scattered everywhere. Drainage by hotels situated on the banks of rivers are releasing effluents into the water, creating health hazards, not only to humans but also to the aquatic animals in these rivers. As per media reports, the water of the Ganges river is not drinkable after Rishikesh. Many fish species in these flowing rivers are extinct.

Water conservation: Uttarakhand is home to many mighty rivers, but scarcity of water is still a major problem. Agricultural land remains barren because of a lack of irrigation facilities, while water is not even available for everyday household chores. In villages, women have to walk for miles every day to fetch water.

Forest protection: Unregulated collection of forest material and alleged encroachment of forest land are the main reasons for deforestation. The state's 'van sampada' (forest wealth) is on the verge of depletion because of tree cutting. Illegal trade of medicinal plants is also making the hills deprived of its natural wealth. Illegal wildlife trade is rampant to get fur, bones, tusk, feather and glands from animals. But despite this, animal poaching hasn't been curbed, resulting in several species of animals being included under the endangered category.

Men verses wild: Many wildlife corridors have been choked and many man-animal conflicts reported due to unplanned development. Incidents of leopards attacking humans and their pet animals are common news in the newspapers of Uttarakhand. Lack of shelter and food causes animals to move out of their natural habitat.

Illegal mining: Being rich in metallic and non-metallic minerals like limestone and copper, this state is favorable for mining.
However, geographical and seismic sensitivity does not allow it. Uttarakhand is watching a scramble by mining companies and real estate big fish, who are digging sand and material to build high rise buildings in eco-sensitive zones, causing landslides and floods.

Migration: A lot has been written about migration away from Uttarakhand's villages, and governments have paid significant attention to vacated ghost villages. But youth in Uttarakhand's hills are clueless about their future, and wish to migrate to the plains. Mountains have nothing to offer them. The average land holding per farmer in the state is about 0.68 hectares, which is very less in comparison to the national average of 1.16 per farmer.

As per the 2011 census, 1,053 out of of Uttarakhand's 16,793 villages have no inhabitants. When a village has nobody living in it, it results in complete degredation of land and resources. Nearly two decades after it came into being, Uttarakhand's growth is restricted to the three plain districts, while the 10 districts in the hills are denied any hopeful growth.

A survey conducted by the National Institute of Rural Development suggests that about 88 percent of households in 18 sample villages in Pauri Garhwal and Almora districts had at least one member migrating to the plains for employment. 90 percent of all migrants are subject to long term and permanent dislocation. Migration from the border areas is also a threat to the security to nation, as inhabitants in the border regions keep an eye out for movement.

Roads and infrastructure: Out of 5,852 km of roads that have been built between 2011 and 2015, almost 4,000 km were built in rural areas of Uttarakhand. However, lack of roads and bridges means life isn't very comfortable in the hills. Most of
the hospitals are located over 20-100 km away, and it's difficult to provide medical facilities instantly, because they are not
approachable by road. Education is also a far cry due to accessibility and lack of infrastructure.

In the last 16 years, 95 percent villages are electrified, but a shortage of electricity is a major concern. In all, 1,966 villages are still deprived of electricity. The state has claimed it produces 3,500 megawatt of electricity, but many villages see no lights.

Barren agricultural land: Hilly regions have their own challenges, as farming becomes impossible and land keeps turning barren. As per records, in the total estimated area, cultivable land has decreased to 7.01 hectare from 8.15 hectare. While 3.10-hectare land is in the plains and 3.90 is in the hills, only 0.38 can be considered from the hilly regions, as the rest don't have irrigation facility. The government's negligence and lack of proper planning has relegated agricultural production to the bottom of the priority list, and in turn, it is one of the major causes of unemployment and migration.

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