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Unexpected Challenge

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There are some problems that cannot be resolved by just expressing good intentions or using force. Long brewing trouble – the ongoing tragedy in Joshimath and the large scale encroachment in Haldwani – has emerged as a major challenge to the present dispensation in Uttarakhand. The roots lie in immediate opportunism, with government officials looking the other way when illegalities were taking place. Even those that need to function on a longer timeline because they need to get re-elected after five years, failed to grasp the enormity of the problem. It is the common people who have ended up paying the price.

Solutions will have to be found by rising above short-term interests, particularly political ones. The Supreme Court did the right thing by staying the eviction orders of the High Court in the Haldwani case. Why is it that such actions are sought to taken in the winters or monsoons, when those affected would face threats to their lives? People who have lived in some place for as long as fifty, even a hundred years, have rights even if they are technically in the wrong. In fact, in an earlier such case in Dehradun regarding Malin Bastis, then CM Trivendra Singh Rawat had brought an ordinance to protect the affected.

Encroachments of this kind require innovative solutions based on the corporate approach. If it is important for the Railways to get its land back because it is valuable or is required for further expansion, it should calculate the potential value. If it is, say, Rs 100 crores, it should offer to fund a rehabilitation package amounting to Rs 50 crores. Coupled with other government housing development schemes, it would result in better living conditions for the evacuees, if properly planned. Not only would the Railways get its land back, it would be Rs 50 crores richer than before.

In Joshimath, the alternative of prefab housing is already being reportedly considered for those who need shelter. It is clear that this township that came up on what was originally a rockslide can no longer continue with its present model of development. Its perilous state has also brought a halt to a number of road and hydel projects in the area. The cost to society, the state and the nation is incalculable. It will now be for the Dhami Government to find a way through this mess, but it will come at a massive cost. If a solution has to be found, politics has to be set aside and all should consider matters from the really long term perspective.