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Opposition pushes Ministers on backfoot with queries

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Question Hour

By Arun Pratap Singh

Dehradun, 27 Feb: PWD, Tourism and Irrigation Minister Satpal Maharaj was today pushed on the backfoot by members of the Opposition in the House during Question Hour today. Forest and Technical Education Minister Subodh Uniyal was a little more fortunate that his questions came up when the Question Hour was about to be over.

It was the turn of PWD, Tourism and Irrigation Minister Satpal Maharaj and Forest & Technical Education Minister Subodh Uniyal to respond to the questions related to their departments during Question Hour.

As soon as the proceedings of the second day started, the opposition continuously asked questions one after the other. In response to a starred question by Congress member Gopal Singh Rana from Nanakmatta constituency (US Nagar), Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj stated that the Government is making sincere efforts to develop and promote the Nanakmatta Gurdwara as a major tourist destination in Kumaon. Maharaj added that Nanakmatta Gurdwara has been chosen for infrastructure development under the second phase of the Manaskhand Mission launched to develop and link 48 temples and other places in Kumaon under a tourism circuit. In addition, Nanakmatta has also been included as part of the Sikh Circuit along with the Hemkund Gurdwara. However, in response to a supplementary question by Rana, Maharaj could not state whether a DPR has been prepared for the project or not. He informed the House that, in the first phase, 16 temples including Kasar Devi, Katarmal, Jageshwar Temple, Golyu Devta temple and Nanda Devi temple have been included and are being redeveloped.

In response to another starred question also by Gopal Singh Rana, Maharaj disclosed that the government has a plan to develop Nanak Sagar Dam as a tourist site. Licences have also been issued for boating in Nanak Sagar Dam. However, he clarified, that this water body is presently under the ownership of Uttar Pradesh Government and its Irrigation Department and that permission has been sought and taken from Irrigation Division of district Bareilly in UP for the boating and sporting activities.  Maharaj was unable to respond whether the boating licenses were issued by Uttarakhand Government after a due tender process or not. In response to a supplementary question by BJP’s Munna Singh Chauhan, Maharaj declared that the income from boating and other activities in Nanak Sagar Dam will accrue to Uttarakhand Government and not to the UP Government. An amount of Rs 30 lakhs is being provisioned for development of sporting activities in the Dam.

In response to another starred question by Gopal Singh Rana, Irrigation Minister Satpal Maharaj revealed that, under the Nanakmatta Canal, a total area of 1105 hectares in Kharif cropping season and 2405 hectares in Rabi cropping season in Nanakmatta constituency is currently being irrigated. In response to a supplementary question, Maharaj said that lining of the Nanakmatta canal had been completed in the past and irrigation is already being done to its peak capacity and, therefore, there is no scope for expansion. However, currently lining work is underway in Jhankat Minor in Khatima constituency which, once complete, will increase the irrigation area by up to 220 hectares.

MLA Ravi Bahadur sought to know from the Irrigation Minister about the action taken in respect of the scam in centrally funded scheme of construction of Jwalapur Subhashgarh Irrigation Canal. He said that the whole amount of Rs 7 crores has been spent but the construction is not complete. Irrigation Minister Satpal Maharaj conceded that the construction was incomplete and the funds had been diverted to another project. He was unable to respond who permitted the diversion of funds from one to another project and why no action has been taken against the officer. Maharaj said that an inquiry has been ordered in this respect and no guilty person will be spared. Pritam Singh said that the scam is related to 2018 while the investigation is going on since 2021, but it has not been completed till date. He also sought direction from the chair to ensure early action in this regard on which Maharaj assured that the inquiry would soon be completed. Maharaj also said that he will complete the construction work after getting NOC from the farmers.

In response to a starred question by Congress’s Adesh Singh Chauhan, PWD Minister Maharaj claimed that most of the roads under PWD in Jaspur constituency of US Nagar district had already been repaired by the department while some of the reconstruction works were in progress. In response to a starred question by Sumit Hridayesh of Congress, PWD Minister Satpal Maharaj stated that work was continuously underway to make all the roads in Haldwani constituency pothole free. Some of the roads were under the jurisdiction of the Municipal Corporation and it is its responsibility to make these roads pothole free.

BJP’s Vinod Chamoli asked the Minister what were the parameters to decide which roads could be made pothole free and which needed to be reconstructed. Maharaj was unable to respond adequately to this, leading to some protest by the Opposition members. Maharaj claimed that he will personally inform the members as this is not directly related to the original question. BJP’s Munna Singh Chauhan also agreed with Chamoli and said that a proper description and classification of parameters is necessary in this regard.

In response to a supplementary question by Hridayesh, the PWD minister said that while the people could register complaints regarding potholes on an app launched by PWD, the work to make the roads pothole free was a continuous process and it also depended on available budget.

Congress MLA Mamta Rakesh appeared unhappy with the response of Irrigation Minister Satpal Maharaj and claimed that repair of only one tubewell in her constituency Bhagwanpur against more than 30 non-functional tubewells was grossly inadequate and against the interest of farmers. Maharaj said that the repair of more tubewells would be done based on availability of the budget.

Forest Minister and Technical Education Minister Subodh Uniyal had a relatively easier time during Question Hour as, when he was responding to one of the questions regarding the forests, the question time got over. In response to one of the questions by Brij Bhushan Gairola, Forest Minister Uniyal stated that Secure Himalaya Project is being run by Uttarkashi Forest Division towards conservation of snow leopards and other endangered species of wild animals. Steps like greater monitoring to prevent poaching, and to create conducive conditions like preservation of prey animals and water holes are also being undertaken under this project. In response to a supplementary question by Gairola, Uniyal informed the House that it has been decided to set up a Snow Leopard Conservation Centre near Bhaironghati in Uttarkashi besides launching a project for which Rs 1.23 crores have been sanctioned and released. He added that, in addition, for the construction of a building and Deodar Café, an amount of Rs 4.87 crores has been sanctioned.

444 persons have died in human-wildlife conflicts since 2017: Subodh Uniyal

By Arun Pratap Singh

Dehradun, 27 Feb: In response to a very important starred question by Congress’s Sumit Hridayesh, MLA from Haldwani, Forest Minister Subodh Uniyal revealed that 444 persons have died since 2017 due to human-wildlife conflict in Uttarakhand. Uniyal said that, while there was a provision of payment of compensation in case of death, injury or loss of animals or property in the past, too, but the amount has been hiked significantly vide rules amended earlier this year. As per the Distribution of Compensation for Relief for Human-Wildlife Conflicts Regulations 2024, compensation has been hiked and provision has been made to ensure early distribution of the compensation. For this a fund has been set up by the forest department.

Uniyal added that from 2017-18 till December, 2023, an amount of Rs 21.38 crores has been distributed as compensation in such incidents.