A member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since his college days, Pushkar Singh Dhami is currently serving as the chief minister of Uttarakhand. He was elected as MLA in Uttarakhand Vidhan Sabha from Khatima in 2012 and 2017. He was appointed chief minister for the first time in 2021. Born in Tundi village of the Pithoragarh district, Pushkar studied till Class V in his native village before moving to Nagla Tarai Bhabar, Khatima along with his family. He graduated from the Lucknow University in Human Resource Management & Industrial Relations and pursued LLB.
In 2001, Pushkar Singh Dhami served as an adviser to Bhagat Singh Koshiyari while Koshiyari was the chief minister of Uttarakhand. He started his political career in the year 1990 with Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the BJP. He also served as the state president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha until 2008. During this time, he was credited with compelling the state government to reserve 70 per cent of opportunities for the local youth in industries of the state. On 3 July 2021, Dhami was sworn in as the 10th Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, after the resignation of Tirath Singh Rawat.
In an exclusive interview with Anjali Bhatia of The Statesman, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami spoke about his government’s policies and programmes for the all-round development of Uttarakhand and tide over the crises arising from migration and the impact of climate change bedeviling the hilly state.
Following are the excerpts from the interview:
Q: Migration is a major problem for the hills. As families are increasing people have no clue as to where their share of land lies. Will your government work for this consolidation to address the issue?
A: Our government is very alert and serious about the issue of Chakambadi. We are continuously encouraging the public for this. As you know, by approving the Uttarakhand Mountain Holdings Consolidation and Land Management Rules in 2020 itself, our party’s government had taken steps towards compulsory consolidation in the mountains. In view of the consolidation already being implemented in the plain areas, this manual was approved by the cabinet for the hilly areas. Presently, we will implement it in mission mode. Under this, now the scattered holdings of the account holders will be consolidated on the basis of mutual consent. Also, apart from updating the land records, the shares will be added to the round accounts. The important thing is that like in the plains, now in the hilly areas too, land can be exchanged on the basis of mutual consent. A consolidation committee will be constituted in the village under the chairmanship of the village head. Whichever Gram Panchayat proposes to consolidate more than 50 percent of the land, a notification for compulsory consolidation will be issued.
Q: There is an encroachment on the government and railway lands of Uttarakhand, there is a lot of noise over this. What’s more, people are occupying the forest lands of Uttarakhand by making tombs. What do you think about this?
A: We all know that the issue of encroachment on government land is serious. As per the orders of the Hon’ble Courts, from time to time, the administration conducts a campaign to eliminate the encroachments. The general public is also getting full cooperation in this direction. In future too, the issues of encroachment on government land will be taken seriously and equitable action will be implemented. Proceedings on this subject will continue as per the orders of the judiciary.
Q: In Garhwal, Uttarakhand, all-weather roads have been built for Chardham, and the cities of Dhams, Jageshwar, Om Parvat, Haat Kalika, are being transformed while the Kumaon pilgrimage sites are still awaiting development. There are many places of pilgrimage where the roads are narrow. Are you going to do something in this direction?
A: Our government is working for a balanced and equitable development of all areas, believing in the basic mantra of inclusive development and balanced development. On the lines of Kedarnath and Badrinath, work is being done on an action plan of the Mansakhand Mandir Mala Mission to make the mythological temples of Kumaon grand. A lot of work has been done to improve the road connectivity of Tanakpur-Pithoragarh. Approval has been given to convert Majhaula to Khatima route into a four-lane road and Sitarganj to Tanakpur motorway into a four-lane. It has been agreed to approve the Pithoragarh to Askot motorway (about 47 km) as an all-weather project. Now, we can say that unprecedented work is being done in the field of connectivity and development of pilgrimage centers in the Kumaon division as well.
Q: You talked about Uniform Civil Code before the elections. You said that Uttarakhand will be the first state from where the implementation of this law will start. What is the opinion of people about this?
A: Uttarakhand will definitely be the first state to implement the Uniform Civil Code, there is no doubt about it. A committee is conducting a survey on this. The general public is positive on this subject. We are getting the full support and cooperation of the public on this issue. If there is any kind of doubt anywhere, efforts are being made to remove it.
Q: Bureaucrats have had a problem in Uttarakhand, they can make a government of whosoever they want, and spoil the game of whomsoever they want. What is your experience?
A: I do not agree with this. The government and the bureaucracy or the administrative machinery are not two opposite poles or competitors at all. They complement and help each other. Our government has full faith in its talented and dedicated officers and personnel. For this, we keep on encouraging the officers to do excellent work by honouring them from time to time. We are promoting good governance in the state. The administration is doing its work with full promptness and sincerity. Our government’s mission of making Uttarakhand the leading state of the country will be accomplished only by a piece of effective, efficient, and loyal administrative machinery here.
Q: One problem that has also been seen and heard is that whenever criminals are dealt with stringently in UP, they escape to Uttarakhand and hole up in their hideouts in the plain districts adjoining UP.
A: We are happy that our state has been maintaining its place among the best states of the country in terms of law and order. We are fully alert to save our plains districts from becoming a refuge for criminals. Our police and intelligence system is very serious in this matter. Special vigil is being kept by the Uttarakhand Police in sensitive districts. We are determined not to allow the state to become a haven for criminals. Instructions have been given by the government to take strict action against criminals.
Q: A big question has emerged regarding the increasing population imbalance in Uttarakhand. Muslim population has increased here the most after Assam. In four plains districts, it is going to reach 30 to 40 per cent. The new census is going to have a 16 per cent Muslim population. Your Kumbh area is surrounded by Muslims. Rohigyas and Bangladeshis are also infiltrating here. How will you or your government be able to contain it since it is a sensitive border state?
A: We are well aware about the geographical location and strategic importance of the state. We understand our responsibilities. Uttarakhand is a peaceful state with a cordial climate. Instructions have been given to take cognizance of the issue of demographic change and take strict action. The police administration has been instructed by the government to closely monitor and verify suspicious people coming from outside the state.
Q: A question related to this is that the youth of Uttarakhand had started a campaign on social media “Uttarakhand should demand strong land law”.
A: Our government gives paramount importance to public sentiments. The feelings and aspirations of the people of Uttarakhand are the biggest guidance and order for us. We constituted a high-level committee for land law in the state which has submitted its 80-page report. The government will soon study the committee’s report in-depth and consider the recommendations of the committee in the larger public interest and the interest of the state and amend the land law.
Q: It is believed that Uttarakhand first became Dev Bhoomi, then the British made it a hub of education, and after that, it became a tourist center. Don’t you think that more work needs to be done in the field of education and tourism at this time?
A: We understand very well the importance of education and tourism in the state. Education is the main deciding factor for stopping migration in the state and for the overall development of the state and for the economic health of the tourism state. Tourism is the backbone of the state. We are continuously striving to improve the quality of education and education infrastructure in the state. New initiatives are being taken in the field of education. With the launch of Bal Vatika, Uttarakhand has become the first state in the country to launch the new National Education Policy 2020. To promote online education, virtual classrooms have been set up in central studios and 500 schools in all 13 districts of the state. New efforts are being made to improve the infrastructure for the development of the tourism sector. Many development works are in progress with the help of the center for the facilities of the tourists. Soon we will see these results benefiting the state.
Q: You are young. Youth have a lot of expectations from you. While some of them go to the army, many cannot afford to do so. What are the employment prospects for them in Uttarakhand state?
A: Youth is the real strength of the state. Our government is dedicated to the welfare and progress of the youth. We understand the aspirations and challenges of our youth. Along with job opportunities in government service, all the formalities are being completed in one place by setting up camps for the convenience of self-employed youth applicants. Foreign Employment Cell has been constituted in the state to provide employment opportunities to the youth of the state outside the country. Various programmes for skill development are being conducted in the entire state. There is immense potential in the state for self-employment opportunities based on local products and handicrafts, and tourism. We are working sincerely to provide ample opportunities to our talented youth in every field.
Q: One question regarding the future of Joshimath? How safe is Char Dham Yatra? How much do you trust?
A: There is no doubt that Chardham Yatra is completely safe. We are 100 per cent sure that this year also the Chardham Yatra will be successful. As far as the future of Joshimath is concerned, it is bright, pleasant, and full of hope. The government has full responsibility for the safety, housing, and future of the residents of Joshimath. This is a short-term challenge that all of us have to face together with courage and courage.