State of limbo

Published : Oct 10, 2003 00:00 IST

Uttaranchal's preoccupation with the October 1994 police firing on pro-statehood activists stands in the way of the State moving ahead and tackling real issues facing it.

in Dehra Dun

ON October 2, 1994, activists who were on their way to Delhi to attend a rally to press for the creation of a separate Uttarakhand State were fired upon by the Uttar Pradesh Police. Ever since, the incident is put to use on its anniversary by politicians, particularly those of Uttaranchal, the State formed with almost the same areas as were sought to constitute Uttarakhand.

The ritual has got added impetus this year with the Uttaranchal High Court quashing on July 22 the charge of culpable homicide, among others, against Anant Kumar Singh, who was the District Magistrate of Muzaffarnagar at the time of the firing. The facts of the case, which have been meticulously recorded by the High Court in its order, indicate that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress(I) have their share of responsibility for the turn of events.

However, the two parties are blaming each other for the officer's acquittal. BJP leader and Union Agriculture Minister Rajnath Singh, who was the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh from October 2000 to March 2002, refused permission to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in November 2000 to prosecute A.K. Singh, a fact that had a bearing on the High Court's order. But the BJP demands an apology from the Congress(I) for "not handling the prosecution properly".

The order has come at a time when there is a Congress(I) government in Uttaranchal, but that has not prevented the Congress from demanding Rajnath Singh's dismissal from the Union Council of Ministers. The State unit of the Congress plans to hold a rally in Delhi on October 2 and present a memorandum to the Prime Minister with 15 lakh signatures, demanding Rajnath Singh's dismissal.

The firing incident seems to be etched in the State's collective psyche. On the night of October 1-2, 1994, busloads of Uttarakhand activists were stopped at Rampur Tiraha on the Muzaffarnagar bypass road for checking their vehicles because the Union Home Ministry and the Delhi Police had sent instructions to the U.P. Police that the activists be prevented from entering Delhi with weapons. The activists reportedly resisted and pelted the police and officials of the administration with stones.

According to the First Information Reports (FIRs), the activists also damaged public property, burnt shops and vehicles and tried to force their way through the barricades, forcing A.K. Singh, who was present at the spot, to order firing. Six activists were killed and several others injured. There were also allegations that women activists were molested by policemen in the melee that followed.

Although the State government, then headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav, ordered a judicial inquiry by a retired judge, Justice Zaheer Hassan, the Allahabad High Court ordered the CBI to conduct another inquiry. The judicial inquiry submitted its report in June 1996 with the verdict that "the use of force was just and reasonable". The CBI, for its part, came up with a different analysis, which was recorded by the Uttaranchal High Court in these words: "The case of the CBI in the charge-sheet is that the petitioner and other police officers under the garb of checking tried to stop the rallyists from going to Delhi, provoked them to resort to violence and when they dispersed after the use of rubber bullets, the remaining few protesters were unnecessarily shot dead."

The Bench, comprising Justice P.C. Verma and Justice M.M. Ghildiyal, however, remained unconvinced by the CBI arguments, and said that the CBI had left many questions unanswered. For example, if the administration had first tried to disperse the mob by using mild force, why would it then resort to killing once the mob started dispersing, the Judges asked. They also wanted to know how the CBI could describe the situation as "normal" when it had admitted in its own charge-sheet that the rallyists had pelted the police and other officials with stones and were trying to force their way through the barricades, refusing to be checked.

That, especially when there were already reports from districts such as Saharanpur, Hardwar and Dehra Dun that they had resorted to violence, broken barricades and snatched policemen's rifles, could not be described as a "normal" situation, the Judges noted in the order. Besides, the Judges said, the CBI had not challenged in any court of law the November 2000 refusal of the U.P. government to prosecute A.K. Singh under Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). The order said the State government had refused sanction for prosecution "after coming to a decision that action taken by the petitioner was in discharge of his official duty and no offence was committed by him... The High Court has categorically observed that the action taken by the District Magistrate was in good faith."

The Judges also noted that the order "taking cognisance by the Special Judicial Magistrate is without jurisdiction and bad in law and its continuance will be an abuse of process of court".

The order, predictably enough, resulted in an uproar in the State. A string of dharnas, demonstrations and bandhs followed. Succumbing to public pressure, the State government filed for a review of the order. This resulted in the High Court recalling its own order. "Ours is a popular government, and so public sentiments have to be taken into account," explained a senior official of the State.

The emphasis on October 1994 has meant that public attention has been deflected from the non-performance of the government, which was elected to power one and a half years ago with a clear mandate. What makes the non-performance more glaring is the fact that the government is headed by N.D. Tiwari, who is described as " Vikas Purush" for the remarkable results he produced during his stints as the Chief Minister of undivided Uttar Pradesh.

"There are schemes galore, no doubt. They came to power with big promises, riding the anti-incumbency factor. But the promises have remained just promises. They have not even begun to be translated into reality," noted a senior political observer.

Senior State government officials, though, reel off names of projects "on the anvil". The "char dhaam" tourist circuit, seeking to improve the infrastructure of the four important pilgrimage centres of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri; an international ski resort complex in Dayara Bugyal in Uttarkashi; the development of the historic "George Everest" estate in Mussoorie; and ropeway projects at key tourist destinations are just a few of the projects proposed in the tourism sector, which the State hopes to develop as a major industry.

Besides, a tourism policy that would allow residents to keep "paying guests" in their houses, among other things, is being planned.

On the cards is also a new education policy, with emphasis on Information Technology. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been signed with Microsoft Corporation for imparting computer education. This scheme, however, has incited much ridicule, with BJP leaders chuckling that expensive computers are being transported on mule backs to remote areas where there is no electricity or other infrastructure. The BJP has gone to the extent of demanding a CBI inquiry into the "computer scam".

State Congress(I) leaders admit that there are no funds to implement the plans. "The State is facing a resource crunch. The Centre has not given us a penny of the package it had announced for the State earlier," said Surendra Kumar Agrawal, State Congress(I) spokesman. Besides, he said, the Congress(I) inherited from the BJP a State that had no administrative machinery in place. "Even administrative departments were not there. We are first putting a system in place," Agrawal explained. The State government has demanded Rs.50,000 crores from the Centre as a special package.

The irony of the situation is that the BJP is also caught in the Muzaffarnagar syndrome and is unable to raise other issues with any conviction. All it talks about is an apology from the Congress(I) for failing to get justice for the people of Uttaranchal. There have been no dharnas or demonstrations by the BJP demanding employment schemes or roads or drinking water for people in remote rural areas. The BJP is still struggling to find its feet in this State, which it had inherited after the State's creation in November 2000. It is now reworking its strategy and planning a mass people-to-people contact programme. But the party is so torn with infighting that it remains to be seen how effective the programme will be.

Even as party spokesman Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank elaborated to this correspondent what the BJP was planning for the future, groups of BJP workers from different parts of the State were almost exchanging blows at the party office, over some election-related issues.

The BJP has failed to be an effective Opposition owing to its inability to highlight real issues, such as the controversial appointment of revenue officials (patwaris), in which large-scale corruption is alleged. Another issue is a land scam. It is rumoured that revenue land in prime locations has been sold off to private builders at throwaway prices. In the power sector too, there are allegations of corruption to the tune of Rs.50 crores. "I raised this issue in the Assembly, but the Chief Minister kept quiet. There has been no action, no inquiry, nothing," said Nishank.

Law and order is equally bad. A State once known for its peaceful environment is now no stranger to murders every other day. There have been 22 murders in the last eight months in Dehra Dun district alone. But there is nothing to suggest that the government is aware of the problem. "We don't feel safe even during day time now. It was never like this before. One could walk on Dehra Dun roads any time of the day or night even with crores of rupees and fearing nothing. Not any more," said a prominent businessman.

The problems that descended on this idyllic city, Dehra Dun, once it became the State capital - such as overcrowding on the roads, crumbling infrastructure and poor law and order - which the people thought would be handled better by the Congress government than the BJP, have remained as they were. "Having been the Chief Minister of undivided Uttar Pradesh, Tiwari shows little interest in Uttaranchal. This is reflected in his indifferent style of working," said a political observer.

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