118 years of Trust THE TRIBUNE

Chandigarh, Saturday, July 25, 1998
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.Features in detail

A powder keg about to explode?

By A. S. Prashar

THE future of a small strip of land just 14 km wide and 175 km long called Udham Singh Nagar district in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh has become a serious headache for the BJP government in UP and the Badal government in Punjab. It is also threatening to upset the delicate balance of power at the Centre.

Bandhs, strikes, rasta roko, chakka jam, demonstrations and rallies have become an almost daily affair in a district which is dominated by Punjabi settlers. They came here in the early 50s in response to the invitations from the UP government to develop the Terai region which was then covered with a thick jungle teeming with wild beasts. During the British times, the region was reserved as a hunting ground for the Queen.

What has sparked off unrest in the district is the government move to create a new state, Uttaranchal, consisting of the hill areas of Uttar Pradesh. Udham Singh Nagar district is to be a part of the new state. But the inhabitants of the district, of whom the Punjabis are the most vocal, want the area to stay as a part of Uttar Pradesh. This has become a bone of contention between the Akali and the BJP leadership in UP and at the Centre and led to sharp polarisation between the paharis and people from the plains.

Udham Singh Nagar was a part of Nainital district of Uttar Pradesh till September, 1995, when the then Mayawati government carved out a new district with Rudrapur as its district headquarters. It consists of seven blocks — Jaspur, Gadarpur, Kashipur, Bazpur, Rudrapur, Sitarganj and Khatima. It has a population of about 10 lakh and is spread over an area of 3,372 square km.

The district is of a irregular shape, looking very much like a gun and lies on the southern rim of the Himalayas. It is bounded on the north by Nainital and a portion of Pithoragarh district, on the west by Bijnor district, on the south-west by Moradabad district and on the south by Rampur, Bareilly and Pilibhit districts. On the east, it forms an international boundary with Nepal, the dividing line being the Sharda river.

The earlier history of this Terai and the plain tracts is associated with the powerful empires of northern India. During Mughal rule, the Terai region consisting of Kichha, Sitarganj and Khatima tehsils was always disputed between the rulers of Kumaon and those of Rohilkhand. Ain-i-Akbari mentions Sarkar of Kumaon.

Kashipur was founded in 1639 by a representative of Rudra Chand, Baz Bahadur Chand, who died in 1698. He gained Terai through the intervention of Shahjahan. Kalyan Chand swept Rudrapur and Kashipur in 1730 after prolonged hostilities with the Rohillas and an attack on him by the Nawab of Avadh.

The general appearance of the tract is that of a plain gently sloping towards the south-east. Topographically, the region is akin to the plains, having good forests and jungles or savennahs of grass and reed. There are damp and marshy tracts also due to heavy rainfall averaging annually from 1371.6 mm to 1625.6 mm.

This region is very fertile. In the upper portion of the Terai, the soil is a light sandy loam. Further south, however, the soil contains more alum and less silica and lower down a stiff clay is found which occurs everywhere in the depressions. The western Terai has a soil which is unlike that in Punjab, fairly dark consistent loam but towards the east the soil is light.

Cultivation is the main occupation in this district. The most important crop is wheat followed by paddy. Sugarcane and potato are cash crops of the district. More than 80 per cent land of the total area is cultivable, of which 66.75 per cent, 73.19 per cent, 34.79 per cent and 27.31 per cent are irrigated in Kashipur, Kichha, Sitarganj and Khatima tehsils respectively.

The irrigation network of the district includes canal and tubewells. The canal system of the district consists of a big canal head at Ban Basa at the Sharda river which irrigates a large area of the Terai. The reservoirs at Dhaura and Kichha, Begul and Nanak Sagar in Sitarganj and Tumuaria in Kashipur strengthen the canal system in the district.

The industries of the district are basically agro-based. Extensive cultivation of sugarcane in the district led to the setting up of as many as six sugar mills..

The fear of being uprooted has always been uppermost in the minds of the Punjabis settled out of Punjab. More than a decade-long phenomenon of terrorism in Punjab has not helped matters in any way. As a matter of fact, extremists from Punjab found easy sanctuaries in the Punjabi-dominated Terai region when things became too hot for them in the border state. This in turn made life difficult for the Punjabi settlers and made them suspect in the eyes of the local population. But it goes to the credit of the Punjabis in the Terai that they fought shoulder to shoulder with the authorities to rid the area of the scourge of terrorism.

But it was the "Dalit onslaught" on Terai aided and abetted by the Mayawati government last year which unsettled the Punjabis. Thousands of Dalits were allotted pattas or gram sabha lands on lease under a drive launched on the plea of undoing the past injustice. The hue and cry raised by the Punjabi farmers forced the Badal government in Punjab to send a two-member ministerial team comprising the Finance Minister, Capt Kanwaljit Singh and the Food Minister, Madan Mohan Mittal. Mawayati refused to relent on the issue but the drive ended with the fall of her government in September last year.

Punjabi settlers here say that they have struggled hard and lost a generation to develop the area and turn it into a granary for Uttar Pradesh. But now they face an uncertain future. If this district is transferred to the proposed hill state, their land holdings would disappear in no time as there is already talk of lowering the land ceiling to 3.5 acres and putting a ban on purchase of land in Uttaranchal by non-paharis.

Similar sentiments are expressed by other Hindu traders, Muslim businessmen, Bengali farmers and agricultural labourers.

An attempt is being made by the protagonists of Uttaranchal to project the demand for retention of Udham Singh Nagar district in Uttar Pradesh as that of the Punjabi Sikh settlers alone who are keen on safeguarding their large land holdings. The fact that the Akalis alone have so far been espousing the cause of Udham Singh Nagar district has, unfortunately, strengthened this impression.

But the situation is not as simple as it seems. The pressure on the Vajpayee government for inclusion of Udham Singh Nagar district in the new hill state is enormous. The Uttar Pradesh state assembly has passed resolutions on three different occasions during the past seven years for the creation of a separate hill state comprising Kumaon and Garhwal divisions. Udham Singh Nagar district is still a part of Kumaon division. All the four MLAs representing Udham Singh Nagar district want the district to be part of the new state. A U.P. Cabinet subcommittee headed by the PWD Minister, Kalraj Mishra, has also recommended that Udham Singh Nagar district should be a part of the new state. In other words, there are not many, other than the Akalis and now the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav, who want Udham Singh Nagar district to be retained as a part of UP.

The agitation in the district is threatening to touch off a counter agitation in the hills. Hill leaders have started talking in terms of counter bandhs, strikes, rallies and demonstration to press for the inclusion of the district in the proposed hill state. So far, the agitation has remained peaceful, barring minor incidents. But if the situation turns volatile, things could go out of hand.

Punjabi settlers argue that if certain other districts from the plains are also transferred along with Udham Singh Nagar to Uttaranchal, it would ensure a proper balance in the new legislative assembly and put an effective check on any measure by the hill government against the residents of the plains.

Badal farm sold off

While the Punjabi settlers here are in the thick of battle for the retention of Udham Singh Nagar district in Uttar Pradesh, the Punjab Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal, has disposed of his sprawling farm here.

The farm is located about one km from Bazpur town on the road to the famous hill resort of Nainital. The farm was acquired by the Badal family in the mid-50s. It was being looked after by a manager and remained on lease to the local farmers for cultivation. Badal’s visits to the Terai have been few and far between. His family had been trying for some time now to dispose of the farm which, according to the Akali Dal sources in Bazpur, he owned along with his brother, Gurdas Singh Badal.

The farm has been sold off in small portions and the last transaction relating to its disposal is yet to be formally registered. The going market rate for agricultural land in the area ranges between Rs 1.30 lakh and Rs 3 lakh.

In a bid to cash in on the reputation of the Punjab Chief Minister, an enterprising property dealer of Kashipur, who has apparently purchased a portion of the Badal farm, has put up a big hoarding on the Bazpur-Nainital road announcing the sale of plots ranging from one acre to 10 acres in the "Parkash Nagar Badal Farm."

The disposal of his farm by Badal has apparently demoralised some of the Punjabi settlers in Udham Singh Nagar district. "It has sent a wrong signal", admits an Akali leader on condition of anonymity. But others are trying to put a brave front and say that the farm was not the only link Badal had with Udham Singh Nagar district. "He is linked to us culturally, socially, religiously, politically and, above all, morally. He is the only political leader in the whole wide world to fight for our cause at every political fora. We are beholden to him for all that he is doing for us."

The UP government is keeping a close watch on the developments in Bazpur and other parts of Udham Singh Nagar district. Last year, the UP police broke into the Badal farm and took photographs. A couple of weeks ago, SDM of Bazpur summoned all land revenue records relating to the Badal farm following complaints that the Punjab Chief Minister had disposed of more than 1200 acres of agricultural land. Apparently, he found that there was no substance in the allegation. — ASP


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