In its short, 21-year history, the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand has seen power alternate as much between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress as amongst the claimants to the top seat, a trend that began with the very first chief minister, Nityanand Swami, displaced by a rival faction within his party, the BJP. In all this toing-and-froing for the loaves and fishes of office, it is the state and its development that has taken a beating. With yet another round of assembly elections looming, it comes as no surprise that the voter is exasperated and exhausted, and yet to really see something worthwhile on her plate despite years of agitating and struggling to break away as a separate unit from erstwhile status as a part of Uttar Pradesh and far from the seat of power in Lucknow.
Thus, the number of “ghost villages” whose residents have migrated to the plains in search of a viable and secure future continues to grow. If there has been development, it has largely been lopsided and favouring areas close to the three or four large towns in the state. Even something as basic as a permanent capital—Dehradun was anointed as an interim solution—continues to evade the rulers of the state who have yet to take a call on shifting away from the lures and bright lights of the present centre of power to Gairsain up in the mountains. Politics has played a part in this decision too as it is midway between the two dominant hill districts of Kumaon and Garhwal. To placate the public, lip service continues to be paid towards making Gairsain the permanent centre of power without much being done about it on the ground.
In all of this give and take, problems continue to mount and the 2013 Kedarnath disaster that took an untold count of lives thanks to a lack of planning and infrastructure was repeated in February this year when flash floods and landslides along the Alaknanda, a tributary of the Ganga, killed over 200 people. Also ignored is Uttarakhand’s strategic importance, bordering as it does an aggressive neighbour in China. And as, when and where development does happen, there is a clear lack of balance between catering to growth and caring for nature.
The bold declarations on reducing emissions and attempting to cater for an overheating Earth, made at COP26, the climate conference in Glasgow, were quickly diluted with major polluters like the United States, Europe and China either unwilling to stump up the cash required to initiate major changes in emission levels, or towards reducing them over a manageable timescale. Lip service continues to be paid towards the cause of the environment but the next generation of Earth’s inhabitants, the youth, are clearly far from satisfied at what the “leaders” of the planet have proposed thus far.
In like vein, we present a snapshot of lopsided development, of the Blue Mountains or Nilgiris of Tamil Nadu which fell victim to misplaced attempts at development and to political expediency, and where now efforts are geared towards redressing the balance. While much has been achieved, a great deal remains to be done in an area that can provide a roadmap to restore other fragile and ecologically rich micro-environments.