Why a grouchy no to Nathu-la?

Many in Uttarakhand are objecting to the proposal for an alternate route to Kailash Mansarovar


Rajshekhar Pant | October 1, 2014

“Sheer Parochialism,” said my father instantly when I read to him the statement of Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat on the opening of the Nathu-la pass in Sikkim as an alternate route to Kailash Mansarovar. Munching the fresh pear avocadoes which he had planted in the early eighties at our orchard in Bhimtal my father said, “Won’t it be absurd if we start protesting the propagation of avocadoes in foothills with the argument that it will affect the sale of our produce in the market?”     

Stretched from Kathgodam railway station in the foothills of Nainital to the border of Tibet and dotted with at least ten camps, the route to Kailash Mansarovar via Kumaon hills, entailing a march of around 70 km, undoubtedly is not as coy and pleasant as the pulp of avocadoes. Yet I had an instant feeling that my father, an avid reader with his well pronounced concern of hills, had made quite a meaningful point while drawing an analogy between opening a new route to Kailash Mansarovar and propagation of avocadoes. 

As per the headlines in the regional press the CM, whose grumbling over the proposal of opening an alternate route to Kailash Mansarovar is well known, is alleged to have said that a pilgrimage via Nathu-la pass is not in accordance to the scriptures. Besides announcing that all the MPs from the state would press hard before the centre to review the decision of opening an alternate route he, as per the regional press, has exhorted the religious-minded people to become vocal on this issue.

Sorry to remind you, CM Sir, but if one proceeds by this logic then the uniformity of the criminal code and the right to equality as guaranteed by the constitution are also not as per the stipulations of the holy scriptures. It is further understood that quite a few other organisations in the state have also joined the voice of the CM. A multitude of grievances – right from its being “sacrilegious” to an apprehended “snatching of bread from the mouth of hundreds in hills” – are being attributed to this decision. Hundreds of those inhabiting the inner reaches of hills were rendered jobless when in compliance of the Forest Act 1981 felling was banned or the quarrying of the flag stone was made illegal; or when climbing the Nandadevi and quite a few other peaks in the region was stopped following the formation of the Nandadevi biosphere reserve.

I am sure even those seeking solace under the cover of these rambunctious arguments must be well in the know that insistence on maintaining the status quo leads to the jamming of the cog wheels of progress. Isn’t it the high time to bid a goodbye to the shibboleths of regional politics that have been allowed to thrive in order to seek and increase a political sinecure for the supporters?

The nodal development agency of the region, Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) with its HQ at Nainital, helps in organising this yatra every year. This year it had a record number of 910 participants. Of a few thousands applying for the pilgrimage a total of 1,200 may be selected annually. Sources in KMVN reveal that the agency earns around Rs 3 to 4 crore annually from this organisation. A few union leaders from the region while projecting the opening of the alternate route “as a ploy to snatch the morsel from their mouth” are threatening to fight “a decisive battle on streets”. Otherwise also, fighting decisive battles on streets even on issues like suspension of a clerk or worker on the alleged dereliction of duty has become more of a cult in Uttarakhand.

With the advent of the winter season, when the mellow sunshine outside the dingy and cold rooms of the office becomes more inviting, consciousness towards the abrogation of rights and alleged injustices becomes more receptive in hill stations like Nainital. Instead of blowing hot and cold over the alternate route these leaders would have served the region better by way of projecting new tourist destinations and engagements in Kumaon hills. It would not only have ensured better round the year occupancy in the huge network of tourists rest houses they have all over hills but would also have relieved the oversubscribed Nainital of its miseries.

Regional myopias for short-term gains reflect but a sense of insecurity. Those who have to follow the ancient pilgrimage route said to have been described “in detail in Skand Purana” will do it voluntarily. Rest assured that the holes already there in the coffers of the state exchequer, thanks to the blasé attitude of our bureaucrats and leaders, are not going to get larger by the opening of an alternate route.



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