Uttarakhand Election 2017: The status of Gairsain still a divisive factor, 17 years later

In the late 1990s, when the statehood demands for Uttarakhand were being considered, the town of Gairsain in Chamoli district was envisioned as the future state's capital. However, when the state was officially formed in November 2000, Dehradun was declared temporary capital until the decks can be cleared for building a new city. And Dehradun is still the capital city, 17 years later. However, demands for Gairsain to be given the status of permanent capital have never really gone away.

Surprisingly though, the issue has not lost its relevance. Even today, political parties are using Gairsain's status as a poll plank. According to a report in The Tribune, the question of the permanent capital of the state has never been settled, and it was former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna who revived the Gairsain card after the defeat of his son Saket in the Tehri Lok Sabha by-election in October 2012.

Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat. PTI file image

File image of Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat. PTI

The report also said that a commission headed by Justice (retd) Virender Dixit to decide upon the suitability of a place for permanent capital of Uttarakhand looked into the feasibility of five places — Dehradun, Gairsain, Rishikesh, Kahipur and Ramnagar — on several parameters, including geographic conditions, population, accessibility, transport system, proneness to earthquake or landslides and security.

The commission found that Gairsain was less viable.

However, nobody really wanted to go against this choice, as Gairsain had been an emotional choice among people who were the original agitators for statehood to Uttarakhand.

After Rawat took charge in 2013, he made Gairsain his priority. Even today, Rawat insists he is working for the infrastructure development of state. According to The Hindu, both parties — Congress and BJP — decided that Gairsain must either be declared the state's permanent capital or its summer capital. However, both parties remain ambivalent.

"If the Congress government is not clear about the status of Gairsain, then it is wasting public money (by constructing the Vidhan Sabha building at Gairsain)," said Uttarakhand BJP president Ajay Bhatt, although chief minister Rawat said the Congress proved its stance by having the Vidhan Sabha building constructed there.

While it cannot be denied that both parties are in favour of a capital at Gairsain, it cannot be easy to have this in place. Hindustan Times reported that out of the 13 districts in the state, more than half are located in the four districts of Dehradun, Haridwar, US Nagar and Nainital. These districts — all located in the central plains — play a pivotal role in deciding which direction the state politics will move. The high population density in the plains districts seems to be one of the reasons why the Rawat government has back-tracked from its earlier plan.

SS Pangati, a former Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officer told Hindustan Times that neither party will follow through with this plan. "Even the caretaker BJP government in 2001, constituted the Dixit Commission to suggest names of cities that could be declared as the capital. The commission suggested a few names, including Dehradun and Gairsain, and the report tabled in the assembly by the then BJP government. The then BC Khanduri government did not act on the report," Pangati said.

Updated Date: Feb 09, 2017 18:41 PM

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