Home Dehradun Opp protests Govt refusal to answer questions on highways

Opp protests Govt refusal to answer questions on highways


Question Hour

By Arun Pratap Singh

Dehradun, 29 Nov: During the Question Hour on the first day of the Winter Session of the Uttarakhand Assembly, which began here today, it was the turn of Forest Minister Subodh Uniyal and PWD, Irrigation and Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj to answer questions which had been put before the House.  On some questions, even the ruling party members Munna Singh Chauhan and Preetam Singh Panwar appeared to corner the ministers, while on behalf of the Opposition Leader of the Opposition Yashpal Arya and senior Congress MLA Pritam Singh took the lead in seeking clarifications.

In addition, Congress members were also angry at the fact that two starred questions asked by Sumit Hridayesh and Mayukh Mahar had been postponed on the pretext that these were concerned with the Union Government.  Leader of the Opposition Yashpal Arya urged that the Speaker add these questions as well and seek responses to them from the minister. He claimed that these questions had been cancelled on the basis of being central subjects but, in reality, road and transport are not on the Central but on the concurrent list under the constitution and, therefore, the state government ought to answer them. The questions (one regarding construction of a ring road in Haldwani and, the other, a road project in district Pithoragarh) were very much about roads in the state, the Opposition claimed. To which, PWD Minister Satpal Maharaj said that the questions were about the National Highways, which are under the Government of India. When the Opposition members persisted, BJP member Munna Singh Chauhan raised a point of order that a detailed debate was not possible under the rules on postponed or cancelled questions.

Some important questions were asked and responded to by the ministers on the first day.  In response to a short notice question by Sanjay Dobhal of Congress, Forest Minister Subodh Uniyal conceded that hundreds of workers had been working on daily wages in the forest department across the state for many years and that they were also engaged in risky tasks such as firefighting in the forest, protection of humans from wildlife, and ensuring safety and security of forests. The question was whether the government is considering regularisation of their services, in response to which, Uniyal said that the government’s hands are presently tied due to a writ petition filed in the Uttarakhand High Court by Narendra Singh and others in the year 2018. Because of this, the process of regularisation of services was presently on hold due to interim orders of the High Court. The minister further stated that no further orders had been issued by the Uttarakhand Personnel and Vigilance Department in this regard.

In response to a question posed by Anupama Rawat of the Congress, Subodh Uniyal said that, earlier, grazing and lopping permits were issued to Van Gujjars but in view of decreased availability of fodder in the forests in district Haridwar and that over 1393 Gujjar families had already been relocated and rehabilitated outside the forest area, fresh permits were not being issued. On some remaining families yet to be relocated, a case was already pending in the High Court.

In response to another question by Sanjay Dobhal, Forest Minister Uniyal responded that the Van Gujjars had not been given any privileges or special rights to forest resources. Dobhal had pointed out that, while the Gujjars are on constant on the move and spend months every summer in the Bugyals of the hills to graze their animals, the native forest dwellers and tribals had no such rights. He further said that no commercial activity was permissible for native forest dwellers in Bugyals (meadows or grasslands in the hills). To this Uniyal said that, under the new Forest Rights Act, the rights available to native forest dwellers who had been living in the forests for at least 3 generations or 75 years were secured while others had no rights. Bhuwan Kapri claimed that the additional forest dwellers such as Van Rawats were being harassed in Kumaon by the forest officials and prevented from collecting even fuel wood, to which Uniyal said that he could get it looked into if any specific case was brought to his knowledge.

In response to a starred question by Furqan Ahmed, Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj informed the House that, in the state, there are presently 5427 home stays registered, of which 4592 are functional.  He also stated that, under the scheme, any house owner who resides in that particular property could get his property registered as a homestay. Availability of a minimum of 1 room and a maximum of 6 rooms are the conditions.

In response to a question by Virendra Kumar, Irrigation Minister Satpal Maharaj stated that a canal project had been proposed in Iqbalpur to benefit around 75 villages of the area by making available over 665 cusecs of water. However, a significant part of the canal area fell under the jurisdiction of the UP Irrigation Department and that the Uttarakhand Government is in touch with the authorities in UP to get the land transferred to Uttarakhand so that the state government could take up the project.

In response to a question by BJP member Preetam Singh Panwar, Languages Minister Subodh Uniyal disclosed that, to promote the local dialects such as Garhwali, Kumaoni, Jaunpuri-Jaunsari, the Uttarakhand Folk Languages and Dialects Academy is being established under the overall jurisdiction of Uttarakhand Bhasha Sansthan. He added that grants are being proposed for publication of books in these dialects to which Panwar pointed out that, while grants had been proposed, no budget provision had been made for procurement of books for local libraries. Munna Singh Chauhan asked if the government is mulling including these languages in the curriculum so that they could be promoted and kept alive, to which Uniyal said that the government would consider this suggestion for implementation. Vinod Chamoli wanted a government initiative for their inclusion in the Eighth Schedule.