IT’S a capital waiting for a government, a poll promise that’s yet to be fulfilled. More than 17 years after Uttarakhand was formed, and nearly 15 years after its first election, what was supposed to be the state’s “permanent” capital is still an under-construction assembly building and a few vacant apartments on a hill in Chamoli district.
Construction started on a Rs 110-crore capital project here in 2014, but with infrastructure and facilities yet to come up, Gairsain today looks more like a mini-recreation centre with the snow-capped Dudhateli hills of Kumaon on one side. And this, when government records still list Dehradun as the “temporary capital”.
Gairsain has been a key poll promise by the BJP and the Congress, ever since the first assembly elections were held in 2002. But, with barely a month to go for the next round, both parties continue to blame each other for the delay, while the company building the capital is waiting for additional funds and local residents complain about how the state’s hill region remains neglected.
“When the state was made, they (BJP) had their government. They have ruled for seven years. Why did they not do it?” asks Surendra Kumar, chief spokesperson of Chief Minister Harish Rawat.
“When we were in the Opposition, we brought a resolution to make it the capital, but the Congress got it defeated,” says Ajay Bhatt, BJP chief, Uttarakhand.
“The project was scheduled to be completed last October, but the work is stalled as the government has not released fresh funds. We submitted a revised estimate of Rs 50 crore more. But now, the funds will be released only after the new government takes over,” says Narendra Lakhchura, general manager, VKJ Projects Pvt Ltd, which was sub-contracted by the PSU, National Buildings Construction Corporation Ltd, for the project.
Apart from the assembly building, the project includes residences for the governor and chief minister, and 138 apartments for MLAs, ministers and officials at Bharadisain village in Gairsain block.
At the site, large portions of a hill have been flattened. But there’s still a long way to go, as was evident when Rawat held an Assembly session for one-and-a-half days last November.
At the time, the walls of the under-constructed building were yet to be plastered, and carpets were spread out to cover the lack of flooring. Two months later, little has changed.
“It’s all a drama in the name of the capital. They came for a picnic and returned,” says Virendra Rawat, a local resident. “What is the point of having an Assembly building? A capital needs to have all amenities. This has nothing. This Assembly is a joke on us,” he says.
Gairsain is located at the border of the Garhwal and Kumaon hills, and is a nearly 250-km, seven-hour drive from Dehradun. It is part of a district, which boasts of Badrinath and the Valley of Flowers as major tourist attractions.
And yet, residents allege, Gairsain has been neglected by the political class in favour of the real estate opportunities available in the plains of Dehradun and Hardwar.
“We did not get anything from this Vidhan Sabha project. Even the labourers were hired from outside,” says Puran Singh Negi, a shopkeeper in Diwalikhal, the nearest settlement, 5 km away.