We, the Government
By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer
We are often asked questions about the Save Mussoorie Society (SMS) even though we never were its members.
The Society was formed with Princess Sita of Kapurthala as the Chairperson, our late mother, Mrs Maisie Gantzer as the Hony Secretary, Ms.Mai Badhwar as a Founding Member, along with some of their friends. The three ladies have died and, to the best of our knowledge, the SMS no longer exists.
Here are details of the SMS drawn from letters we wrote, from Cochin, to two national dailies, and published on the 7th of August 1974.
“The example set by the citizens of Mussoorie in fighting vested interests, needs to be emulated. If they can do it, any community can.
For years the roads of Mussoorie have been rutted by the passage of heavy dump trucks loaded with limestone quarried from the surrounding hills. The roads, not built for heavy vehicular traffic, became virtually impassable.
The people of Mussoorie waited for a long time for something to happen. They accepted the assurances of the Municipality that the trucks would be stopped, but the trucks continued to ply with impunity and the roads continued to be destroyed. And then, in the first week of June, they had had enough. The dump trucks approaching Gandhi Chowk, in Mussoorie, found themselves faced with a resolute barrier of determined men and women. The truck drivers laughed, argued, lost their tempers, and blustered, but the barrier did not budge. The trucks returned to Dehra Dun and reported the strange event to their owners. The quarry owners were surprised, but they dismissed the entire incident as a temporary inconvenience, easily removed: money, generally, removes most inconveniences.
But money did not solve this problem. Nor did appropriate pressure on the Municipality or even on certain sensitive spots in the state capital at Lucknow, for the movement had taken form and shape. It had become the Save Mussoorie Society embracing people from all walks of life, of all political colours, of all communities. A local paper gave prominence to the movement and received a threatening phone call. The next day it gave even wider coverage. The quarriers tried to bamboozle their way through a citizens’ meeting, and were dismayed by the logic and determination of their accusers. On one occasion the trucks tried to crawl past during the quiet hours but before they reached the Chowk, word of their attempt had spread and the citizens of Mussoorie were there, waiting for them. The trucks returned, unsuccessful. That was the last time they tried.
The movement is in its second month. It has been completely successful and totally non-violent. It is also unusually non-political and has been spearheaded by five citizens of Mussoorie, three of whom are women of over 60 years of age and with no political affiliations whatsoever.
We do not know how long the movement will last. The quarriers certainly have more money and more political punch than the SMS, and, possibly, money and power will win in the long run. It normally does.
But then, again, this is not a normal situation. To the best of our knowledge, this is the very first time in India that the citizens of a small town have challenged vested authority for no other reason than to protect a public utility. We hope it will not be the last.
The people of Mussoorie have lit a tiny civic candle. Are there any others willing to carry the flame?” –
That was about 45 years ago. The SMS had decided not to accept Membership or donations from anyone outside Mussoorie, any political party, or to have politicians or lawyers as Members. Mr Avdhash Kaushal of RLEK helped them to present their case before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court banned quarrying in this area and set up the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) to oversee all relevant eco-endangering activities. It permitted the SCMC to employ a small Secretariat to serve the SCMC’s administrative and clerical needs, and gave a non-renewable corpus to the SCMC to meet all such expenses independent of the Supreme Court. Those conditions still prevail.
This is what a determined We, the Government can do.