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After 16 Years Of Talks, Why Hasn't The Uttarakhand Capital Shifted To Gairsain?

On paper, Dehradun is the temporary capital.

10/02/2017 1:48 PM IST | Updated 10/02/2017 2:12 PM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Here is a question that could figure in the next season of Kaun Banega Crorepati: which state in India has two capital cities, only one of which is functional, and has two Assembly buildings in the making?

Phone a friend for help? Here is clue that could help; the famous "Valley of flowers" is near one of the capitals. Well, the answer is Uttarakhand.

Besides, Dehradun, the current capital of Uttarakhand, there is Gairsain - the capital that has been coming up for the last 16 years. Dehradun, on paper, is the "temporary capital" of the state.

And, recently Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat declared that in addition to Dehradun and Gairsain, the assembly and secretariat would be shifted to Raipur.

Raipur lies in outskirts of Dehradun, and the state is in the process of acquiring land to build the new seat of government. The congestion of Dehradun was shown as reason to justify the move.

Preparation to make Gairsain the capital city started in 2014 at a projected cost of ₹110 crores.

Interestingly, if there is anything that both the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP agree upon, it is shifting the capital from Dehradun to Gairsain. Both have said that Gairsain will be the capital of the state but neither seems to live up to the promise. It is a kind of political carrot that always figures in the poll manifesto, but always falls through the cracks once the elections are over.

Ironically, the Congress and BJP blame each other. "The BJP should answer. Why doesn't Uttarakhand have a permanent capital when - Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand formed at the same time as Uttarakhand in 2000- have?" questions Kishore Upadhyay, the president of the Uttarakhand Pradesh Congress. The BJP claims that Congress blocked their efforts.

Gairsain, situated next to the Dudhatoli hills of Kumaon, is picturesque, almost picture postcard perfect. It is only 250 km from Dehradun. But it takes about eight hours to reach. The road connecting Gairsain to Dehradun is an easy cruise although it passes through land-slide prone areas. Stretches of the road does get occasionally washed away.

"Neither the Congress nor the BJP is serious about shifting the capital to Gairsain. Dehradun has real estate opportunities which political parties don't want to let go"

Gairsain, in Chamoli district, lies between Kumaon and Garhwal — the two most prominent regions of Uttarakhand, famed as much for their natural beauty as they are for their political, and cultural rivalry. But unlike Dehradun, Gairsain is easily accessible from both Garhwal and Kumaon. In a way it is the bridge between the two regions. Therefore choosing Gairsain was a kind of compromise — an effort to bury the hatchet.

The Assembly building is as gigantic as it is imposing. And, yet it has the feel of a city that has been deserted halfway. Besides, the assembly residences for the governor, chief minister are also coming up. In addition, there are 140 odd apartments for MLAs, ministers and officials coming up. Water supply, however, is still uncertain. "Gairsain is a sentiment, that is difficult to fulfil as yet," a senior Uttarakhand bureaucrat said. "Just an assembly building, MLA hostel won't help. Where will ordinary people who come to petition the Government stay?" he asked.

The decision to make Gairsain the capital was unanimous, and an outcome of the long agitation for a separate state. For years now Gairsain is waiting for a government. Preparation to make Gairsain the capital city started in 2014 at a projected cost of ₹110 crores.

"Where are the amenities, the infrastructure, the assemble session held at Gairsain is more a joke and the joke is on us."

Every since the Uttarakhand Government declared its intention to shift the capital, cabinet meetings had been held at Gairsain. And since 2014, two-day Assembly sessions have also been conducted at Gairsain. The first Assembly session was held in a tent.

"Neither the Congress nor the BJP is serious about shifting the capital to Gairsain. Dehradun has real estate opportunities which political parties don't want to let go. Till you move the bureaucracy and government to the hills, how can one expect infrastructure in the hill districts to improve," Samar Bhandari, CPI General Secretary, who is also contesting from Badrinath, told HuffPost India.

With main stream political parties reluctant to make good their promise on Gairsain, it is up to smaller political parties like the CPI and the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) to push the agenda. "Politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen all have stakes in Dehradun, they don't want to move," says Kashi Singh Airy, one of the senior most leaders of UKD who was also associated with the Uttarakhand movement.

Designating the Gairsain as the capital goes back to the 1900s. "Chandra Singh Garwhali – of Royal Garwhal Rifles who led the Peshwar revolt of April 1930 - first called for the capital to be moved to Gairsain," says author, activist and veteran journalist Charu Tewair and adds "Gairsain is at the core of Uttarakhand. But commercial interests of politicians in the plain areas are too strong to be overcome."

Locals, meanwhile claim, just buildings won't turn Gairsain into a capital. "Where are the amenities, the infrastructure, the assemble session held at Gairsain is more a joke and the joke is on us," said a local.

Gairsain encapsulates the story of Uttrakhand. It is a land of immense value, beauty and possibilities that is waiting to be fulfilled.

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