We, the Government
By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
We listened very carefully to the PM’s keynote speech to the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF). Judging from his expressive body language, it was also directed at a domestic audience.
Here are two quotes from the speech: “Development has to be human-centric” and “The Poor have to be protected.”
Interestingly, even while our PM was speaking, things were going horribly wrong in Mussoorie. The full might of Uttarakhand’s netas, babus and “law enforcement “ officials was engaged in uprooting the poor from their houses in a place now referred to as ‘Shifan Court’. These 84 families had, according to news-reports (in the absence of official statements) lived on this government land for many decades. What, then, was the hurry to evict them in the midst of a drenching monsoon at the height of a global pandemic? According to the local Congress Committee, “The protocols of Covid 19 were grossly violated”. Another news-report, in a national daily, stated “In 2010, (Mussoorie Municipal Council) land on Tehri by-pass road was taken by the administration to construct 90 flats for financially weak people under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). However, by 2015-16 only 40 flats could be constructed. Among those 40 flats, only about 25 were fully constructed and the remaining15 were left in semi-finished condition……. Currently all 40 flats are occupied.” But, according to another report, the Municipal authorities assert that none of the flats have been handed over to them.
What has happened to the other 50 flats for which land had been acquired? Did no one in our UK Cabinet take the PM’s words seriously? Is evicting the poor more important that protecting them?
The story gets even more bizarre when we read a report in the Garhwal Post on 29th August headlined ‘Mussoorie Municipal Council favours rehabilitation of Shifan Court evacuees’.
So, if everyone is in favour of rehabilitating those poor people, then which neta/netas/babus are behind this heartless eviction?
There is a strong rumour that this is all being done to rush through the construction of the Mussoorie Terminal Station of a proposed Ropeway from Purukul to Mussoorie. That, however, gives rise to a number of questions.
1. Which is this mysterious ‘French company’ who got the contract for the ropeway?
2. What other ropeways have they constructed, where and when?
3. Has there been an international tender for the ropeway?
4. What are the details of their proposed contract?
5. Have the opinions of local experts, like the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, been sought on this project?
6. Ropeways over valleys, as this one is, are endangered by winds swaying the cars. In Switzerland, ropeways are shut down automatically when this happens. Has this safeguard been built into this ropeway?
7. Have feasibility reports of this project been made, such as a Cash Flow? This is particularly important in the prevailing global and national financial stress.
8. Who is going to maintain this project? The CPWD has not covered itself in glory after their mishandling of the Mussoorie-Dehra road over the last few weeks!
9. Will the Ropeway users be allowed to bring luggage in the cable car? Or are day-trippers being preferred?
10. If day-trippers are likely to be the major users of the Ropeway, then how will they be transported around Mussoorie?
Finally, has our Cabinet completely abandoned the Jamuna Water Scheme, after two expensive surveys? Is our Cabinet not aware of the grave urgency of this drinking water project for the people of Mussoorie? Under the principle of Collective Cabinet responsibility, every member of the Uttarakhand Cabinet must accept the consequences of every delay in the Drinking Water Scheme and the suspicious haste in pushing through the curious Ropeway Project. You cannot shrug off your responsibility by shifting the blame onto one, well-meaning but, over-enthusiastic ‘developer’!
Dear Ministers, do remember that the PM told the world on the 4th of this month that “Development has to be human-centric” and “The Poor have to be protected.” Do you really believe that in our digitally-webbed world such black events as the cruel Shifan Court Eviction can be hidden? Delhi is just a click away. Time has deleted the phrase Dilli door ast.
(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 33 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.)