January 18, 2020
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Towards A Solution

A calculated 'package' aims to bring back peace in the region

Towards A Solution
When nothing else works, revert to that time-tested measure of dealing with regional aspirations—work out a 'package' for the disgruntled populace. That has been the thinking within an influential section of the Congress party for quite a while now vis-a-vis the Uttarakhand agitation, and the imposition of President's rule in the state has given them just that opportunity. But the various pro-Uttarakhand organisations are a worried lot as they seem to have caught on to the government's plan which would take the heart out of the demand for a separate state. "Serious attempts are on at reviving the agitation and taking it to the pitch of a year ago," said a Mussoorie-based activist.

Uttar Pradesh Governor, Motilal Vora, in coordination with the Prime Minister's Office, is believed to have prepared a package for the state's hill regions in an attempt to take the wind out of the sails of the agitation. The consequence has been that the Uttarakhand leadership called for an indefinite bandh from December 3 in all the hills districts to press for their demands before the general elections.

What has really shaken the agitationists is the basic components of this package which is in keeping with the Centre's desire to "redress the genuine grievances of the people within the present framework". To this end, three core areas have been identified by the state administration—employment, development and education.

Perhaps the most significant move in this respect are the plans being formulated on the employment front. Sources disclosed that a decision has been taken to remove the appointment of medical workers, doctors and teachers in the hill regions from the ambit of the Public and Subordinate Services Commission, and to make ad hoc appointments from mainly among Uttarakhandis instead. It has also been decided that Class III and Class IV government employees in the hills will be drawn exclusively from the local population. According to a state official: "This is a move that will provide employment to thousands. While a beginning has been made, we are also looking at a comprehensive reservation policy for the region's people."

 Another important component of the package is the emphasis on development. A principal secretary-cum-development commissioner has been appointed along with a finance secretary for the region. "The aim is to ensure that plan and non-plan expenditure is accounted for properly. Also, the 900-odd villages in Uttarakhand will be the focus of the Rs 100-crore Gandhigram scheme for development in villages," said Vora. In addition, various grants have been announced, such as the Rs 5-crore grant for development in the Pithoragarh division.

As for education, Vora has already declared a 27-per cent reservation for non-SC/ST students belonging to the region for admissions to the Pantnagar Agricultural University. But plans are afoot to extend this arrangement to cover all educational institutions in the region. "To this end, we are studying the relevant judgements of the Supreme Court and the Allahabad High Court which classified the region as backward on socio-economic and educational criteria," confirmed Vora.

Vora has also tackled the most emotional issue of all. In late November, he sanctioned the prosecution of the officials found guilty for the firing and rape at Muzaffarnagar by the CBI.

A significant fallout of the proposed package, however, seems to be the ascendancy of the "Vora line" in Uttar Pradesh which basically aims at winning back the hills to the Congress fold and sending out a message to the rest of Uttar Pradesh. In fact, the attempt seems to be to win back at least a portion (the upper castes and the SC/ST) of the traditional Congress constituency while simultaneously trying to woo the Dalits and Muslims. Which would also explain why Vora is working on the formulation of a separate plan for the SCs by using funds provided under the Special Component Plan.

While this package is to be implemented in a piece-meal fashion rather than in the form of a major announcement, the question of an administrative body for the hills still hangs fire. According to sources, the Governor's office is thinking of an 'advisory council' as a last resort but is ruling out any form of institutionalised autonomy in the form of a hill council. Said a senior official: "It will result in multiplicity while the idea is to appropriate." Officials are also hopeful that the indefinite bandh will not last long as the divisive infighting among the Uttarakhand leadership comes to the fore.

Already, a worried Kashi Singh Aeri—a prominent Uttarakhand leader—has put on record the "appreciation" of the populace for the various measures announced by Vora while "remaining firm" on the demand for a separate state. But opinion remains divided on whether the battered people of Uttarakhand will compromise on their undoubted desire for statehood, in lieu of the benefits they will get from any 'package'. 

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