We, the Citizens
By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
In his first tenure of office, the Prime Minister promised “More Governance; less Government.” He assured us of more attention to people’s problems and less bureaucratic bossiness.
Obviously, the message has not reached the netas of Uttarakhand.
On New Year’s Day, 2021, we asked some Mussoorie people: “What’s the most pressing problem in Mussoorie?”
1. “Water! The shortage is getting worse and worse!” The matter has been raised by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee with the state government, repeatedly. Two survey reports for lifting water from the Jumna have been paid for by successive state governments. No Jumna water has reached Mussoorie’s citizens as yet! The Jal Sansthan has acknowledged that it cannot meet the water needs of Mussoorie. In spite of this, it stubbornly refuses to install bulk meters at the input and outtake points of all reservoirs and so it is unable to know exactly how much water is pumped into the reservoirs from the natural springs, and how much leaks out during storage in our reservoirs. Most of these concrete tanks were build pre-47 on our subsidence-and-tremor prone limestone hills. Water-meters installed in private houses were removed post-Independence and the water consumed by them from the civic water supply is based on a notional figure independent of actual usage thereby enhancing shortages. Shortages are fertile grounds for corruption.
2. “Parking! We want tourists in Mussoorie, but parking facilities are grossly inadequate!” A concrete and covered parking lot was built into the hillside below Kincraig, a former bus terminus. This became a white elephant and was later palmed off as a widening of the motor road even though the strangeness of this claim would have struck any unbiased observer. A second, and much larger, parking lot was sanctioned and, with many fits and starts, is apparently almost nearing completion. Since it is far from both ends of town its viability is still to be tested. The pragmatic proposals to restrict the entry of visitors’ vehicles into Mussoorie to those who have parking permits issued by property owners in the hill town, and have all other visitors’ vehicles restricted to a secure parking facility built by the MDDA at Kothal Gate, has fallen on deaf ears. One consequence of this insensitivity is an increasing risk for cars parked on our narrow, winding, mountain roads being plundered and vandalised.
3. “Our narrow mountain roads have become increasingly congested with larger, and still larger, cars and motor-cycles, scooters and scooties.”This congestion will be enormously multiplied if hundreds of day-tripping visitors are unleashed on Mussoorie by the ill-conceived Ropeway scheme. If, in addition to allowing these sightseers to wander in litter-spewing groups across Mussoorie, they are entitled to free transportation down the Mall on electric buggies, our little town could well become the most accident prone hill-station in India. Will we be happy to reside in the Queen of Kill Stations?
4. “Nine unauthorised slum colonies have come up in Mussoorie. No hygiene or sanitation laws are enforced on them thereby endangering everyone in our town: both residents and visitors.” People move into slum colonies because of the availability of jobs. They become our essential human capital. The heartless eviction of the poor dwellers in “Siffan Court” will be a moral blot on the consciences of all who engineered this despicable act. It would be a partial compensation to those cruelly displaced families if this area was converted into a landscaped low-cost housing colony with facilities for skill development.
5. “In the past we went to the City Board for all complaints about Mussoorie’s Civic Services: Water, Electricity, Roads, Buildings, Hygiene, Forests, Stray Cattle, even the Licensing of Pet Dogs. Who do I go to now?”Our netas want to give us a cable-car spewing gawking day trippers; a tunnel through our fragile, seismically-active, limestone hills; venerable old heritage buildings illuminated in unusual ways. This is all delectable icing on the civic cake, but we need something more substantial for our tax-payers’ money!
Give us more Governance. Respond to our needs. Don’t give us top-down Government as if you were all-powerful, Gurus. If you’re deaf to your voters now, then when it’s time to vote, they’ll be deaf to you!
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)