Colonial Impact on Uttarakhand: A Historical Perspective

Budox 48 Min Read

Uttarakhand (given to the people as Uttaranchal on 1st August 2000 and is now the twenty seventh state of Indian republic), which lies in the Himalayan heartland, is victim of over-exploitation of its natural resources and of ‘development’ resulting in socio-economic dislocation.

This region has witnessed alienation of the village people, increasing workload on women and children, and cultural encroachment endangering the folk heritage and indigenous lifestyle under colonial and post-colonial systems.

Due to these compulsions the people continuously protested against the colonial and post colonial state. In the recent history of the region many everyday forms of protest as well as much participatory movements can be traced.

In this paper a new look is being thrown on state, society and natural resources during colonial and post colonial times. Uttarakhand, situated in the central sector of the Himalayan belt and spread in 53,119 square Km with 8 million population (1999), is well described in Indian mythology and less in history. Historical ethnic migrations spread over different periods, pilgrimage and trans-Himalayan trade also connected this region with Tibet as well as with the north Indian plains.

Tibet lies in the north, Nepal in the east and the Indian State of Himachal Pradesh in the west of Uttarakhand, which touches the northern fringes of the Indo-Gangetic plains – Uttar Pradesh – in the south. From the Terai-Bhabhar-Duns and the outer Himalaya, the region rises to the great Himalaya up to 7816 m above sea level and trans-Himalayan region touching the Tibetan plateau.

Uttarakhand is an unique wilderness area and very rich in bio-diversity (Atkinson 1882-86). With two divisions, Kumaon and Garhwal and thirteen districts-Pithoragarh, Champawat, Almora, Bageshwar, Naintial, Udhamsingh Nagar, Chamoli, Rudra Prayag, Pauri, Tehri, Uttarkashi, Dehradun and Hardwar and more than 45 tehsils and 95 blocks in all, Uttarakhand lives in 15,669 villages and more than 77 towns scattered between the populated Terai-Bhabhar-Dun belt and seasonal settlements in higher Himalaya.

Chhota Kailas, Panchchuli, Rajrambha, Nandakot, Nandadevi, Trishul, Kamet, Mana Parvat, Dhaulagiri, Chaukhamba, Kedar Dom, Shivling, Bhagirath, Bandarpunchh and Swargarohini are the prominent peaks touching down numerous glaciers giving birth to different rivers.

These rivers make the three water systems – Kali-Saryu, Bhagirathi-Alaknanda and Yamuna-Tons – of the region. With hundreds of sacred places, temples, monasteries, confluence, caves, lakes and river origins, Uttarakhand has many pilgrim centres like Yamunotri, Gangotri-Gaumukh, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Hemkunt Sahib, Jageshwar, Punyagiri, etc.

The present pilgrim route to Kailas-Mansarovar goes through the eastern part of Uttarakhand. Different shades of Hindu religious beliefs find expressions in different shrines-temples, caves, peaks and passes of Uttarakhand.

They include the vaisnavite, the saivite and the shaakt cults, which exist side by side with different folk traditions (Pathak 1988:97-110). Roorkee, Kashipur and Rudrapur in the Terai; Tanakpur, Haldwani, Ramnagar, Kotdwar, Hardwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun in the Bhabar-Dun; Pithoragarh, Almora, Ranikhet, Gopeshwar, Pauri, Shrinagar, Tehri, Uttarkashi, Mussoorie and Nainital in the main Himalaya and Dharchula, Munsyari, Joshimath, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, Hanumanchatti and Mori in the higher Himalayan region are the major towns of Uttarakhand.

Different Indian empires touched this region in different historical periods and had many local dynasties reigning at the same time in different parts of Uttarakhand. In this ‘abode of Gods’ many micro-societies and cultures co-exist with different forms of subsistence living and folk expressions (Dabral 1965-1992; Pathak 1988).

Before the coming of the colonial system different local communities with partly agrarian, partly pastoral and partly barter trade economies had open access to all kinds of natural resources. The colonial system, which initiated the process of opening of the Himalaya, was also responsible for making the natural resourcesas state property.

 The colonial rule, which worked in Uttarakhand for nearly 13 decades, first under East India (British) Company and later on under British Crown, was a new oppressive system. The Industrial Revolution had radically altered the priorities of British colonialism in India and exploitation took on new forms. In Uttarakhand too, the impact was duly felt. Although in the surface it looked as though the colonial system had put an end to feudalism, yet in reality the new system carried within it many of the characteristics of the old system.

As a clever operator the colonial system also introduced schools, roads, hospitals and helped in the emergence of press (Pathak 1991-263). Apart from the administrative bureaucracy, the colonial system introduced the survey, forest, excise, archaeology and many other departments. T

he so-called ‘scientific’ state forestry was introduced. Different laws regarding land, property, forests, excise, etc. were also framed. The colonial government may be seen as liberal in imperial framework. It knew the art of exploitative management. The colonial administrators were popular among the masses, as they showed respect for many of the ‘indigenous systems’.

The bureaucracy was small and was under the powerful commissioners (Heber 1828:208-09; Tolia 1994:1-146), who initially worked as ‘guardians’ and then as ‘rulers’ (Mason 1985:304). Tolia has divided the thirteen decade British rule in Uttarakhand into four periods –initial two foundation decades under Gardener and Traill, next two reformation decades under Lushington and Batten, next three consolidation decades under Ramsay and the last six general decades under seventeen Commissioners (Introduction to Whalley’s British Kumaon: 7).

Within the 70 years British rule in Uttarakhand, the antithesis was visible in the form of local press, organizations, participation of a few in the sessions of Indian National Congress (Pathak 1987a: 124-31, 1991:263-64). This can be termed as awareness from above. This process was lead by the bhadralok of Uttarakhand.

The second part of this development emerged in the form of scattered anger against the inhuman coolie begar system and oppressive forest policy. This was part of the protest from the below. By the first two decades of 20th century the awakened bhadralok and protesting peasants came close to each other. The birth of Kumaon Parishad in 1916 was the expression of mountain society’s mood of overall protest, a mood channelized by the newly emerging local press.

The protest movements were provided organization and leadership by the newly emerging middle class. The ‘begar’ and forest movements, which had started as local/regional movements, finally merged into the national struggle.

During these years, a new multi-dimensional leadership, with representatives from different sections of the local society, emerged. Most of them had been educated in Christian missionary schools and had come under the impact of Indian renaissance, British liberalism and had been influenced by the nationalist leadership as well (Pathak 1987a: 214-20; Guha 1989:62-137).

After twenties, the people of Uttarakhand participated in all expressions of Indian struggle, which is very interesting and inspiring story itself. (see for detail-Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna: A Visual Hisotry of Freedom Struggle in Uttarakhand, 1998). The post-colonial scene started with independence and the partition of India. Even then the people were hopeful and had much expectations from their own rulers.

It was ironical that almost all the freedom fighters, except Gandhi and a few others became the part of new ruling class, with initially little possibility for a democratic opposition emerging in the country. Like many other far-flung or peripheral areas, Uttarakhand was brought under all India or all N.W.F.P./United Provices or Uttar Pradesh rules/regulations.

Though the provincial government did not introduce the Zamindari Abolition Act in the hills, yet the region had long lost the status of a ‘non-regulation province’. The political leadership at the centre and the province was busy in “more important works” and had no time to understand the Himalayan problems. The new democratic set up was built upon colonial laws of land, forest, excise, crime, etc. So it was really difficult to work differently and originally.

The national forest policy of 1952 emphasised on ecological and social aspects of forestry and the National Forest Policy Resolution, 1988 also categorically stated that the principal aim of the forest policy must be to ensure environmental stability and maintenance of ecological balance including atmosphere equilibrium, which are vital for the sustenance of all life forms. But the spirit of the Act of 1927 remained alive in all forest legislations. After independence a form of internal colonialism emerged in the ‘silent regions’ of the country with native democratic apparatus.

The local/regional protests in different parts of India were not given due importance so as in Uttarakhand. An endeavour to understand them may have been educative for the new rulers and also for Indian democracy (Alam 1995: 55-65).

Exploitation of the natural resources, socio-economic dislocation of the people and destruction of folk culture increased rapidly under our own system. After independence under the so-called ‘development’, schools, hospitals, block development offices were built; roads and canals were constructed (specially after the Indo-China conflict). A part of the money, which came for the development works, also reached the local people.

A few islands of prosperity and plenty emerged in the hill society. The cities and towns became larger, encompassing the neighbouring villages. After 1960 the out migration as well as migration from villages to the towns within the region increased (Khanka 1988:1-226, Bora 1996:1-195 and Chand, 1966 in Uttarakhand Today:). In 1991, if around six million populations was in the region, more than five million Uttarakhandis were living in  different parts of the country.

This is a very complex demographic reality and needs further explanation. The post-independence bureaucracy was neither sincere nor honest. It used the  shortcomings of political leaders and did as they wished. The leadership lacked clarity regarding development strategy and it was but natural that the bureaucracy failed the people.

A special feature, which emerged in post 1947 Uttarakhand, can be identified as the politician-bureaucrat industrialist- mafia nexus. This nexus was so powerful that individual citizens always failed even to highlight the matters.

Naturally, this situation paved the way for social protests. Apart from numerous protest movements in post-independence Uttarakhand, the following three are worth mentioning: (1) The movement against the use of alcohol in the local society and the excise policy at large; (2) The movement for the conservation of forests and restoration of villagers’ natural rights upon forests; and (3) The movement for the creation of Uttarakhand, the following three are worth mentioning: (1) The movement against the use of alcohol in the local society and the excise policy at large; (2) The movement for the conservation of forests and restoration of villagers’ natural rights upon forests; and (3) The movement for the creation of autonomous Uttarakhand state2 (Mishra and Tripathi 1978; Pathak 1985a, b; Nautiyal 1994). Whatever the government have done in this region is a fallout of these movements. The Indo-China conflict also motivated the government of India to pay some attention to the northern borders.

In this way whatever is being done in the hills was never decided as  natural long-term policy. Pressures from below and above shaped the government decisions. The pressures form above may have come from border conflicts with China and Pakistan, IMF, World Bank and Indian industrialist class. Due to above mentioned movements the annual budget for Uttarakhand region increased and was made equal to Himachal Pradesh’s annual budget (Kaushik Committee Report 1994).

Some districts or parts of the districts were made ‘dry’ (under probibition); a few forest concessions were given and there was a statement from the central government to make the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 more liberal.

Social Transition in Uttarakhand  With the coming of the company rule to Uttarakhand in 1815, the feudal rulers were replaced by the officers of the Company.

The British introduced a few new things and followed many practices of feudal system including the oppressive begar system3 and a few customary laws (see, Panna Lal 1921). They introduced new land regulations and, later on, forest settlements. Recruitment in the British Indian army started and new cantonments and hill stations were developed.

By the year 1857 the colonial system was reasonably established in Uttarakhand. Except for the present districts of Uttarkashi and Tehri (during the colonial period – (1815 – 1949) this area was known as Tehri State or Tehri Riyasat ), the entire Uttarakhand was under the East India Company, with districts of Kumaon and Dehradun formed earlier and districts of British Garhwal, Almora, Terai and Nainital formed later (Pathak 1987:-14-16).

Initially, society in Uttarakhand was changing slowly in the vicinity of new towns during the early decades of colonial rule. The impact in the distant regions was minimal. The traditional society was divided into the upper and lower strata and there were also a few pockets of tribes. With the recently introduced recruitment in army and nominal out-migration, the subsistence economy was pastoral-agrarian.

But within 100 years of the colonial rule, with increasing migration, ‘money-order-economy’4 became dominant. While the base of traditional pastoral-agrarian society remained intact, the younger folk started to migrate to other areas in search of jobs. Some people got jobs in different government offices, construction works, and army, survey or ‘shikaar’ expeditions.

Initially, the people welcomed the colonial system as they had been much oppressed by the Gorkhas between 1790 and 1815. It was rather difficult for them at that time to understand the exploitative intricacies of the new system.

The British started introducing new l nd tenure system, forest laws, education, services, etc. The Positive results of the colonial system were appropriated by the upper strata but a little also percolated to the lower strata in different forms.

With the land settlements initiated by Traill (1828), Batten (1851), Ramsay (1874), Bakcet (1874), Pauw (1896) and Ibbotson (1925), the history of individual land ownership started and developed in the hills. Colonization of Terai and Dun regions was also started. Before 1815, all natural resources were symbolically the sole property of the ruler, though people had natural rights upon land.

The forest settlement made by Stiffe and Nelson (1911-1917) was seen by the local people as interference in their lives (Guha 1989: 105-06). This was the major and immediate cause of the forest movement (also known as forest satyagraha) during the colonial period. The colonial system also introduced new means of communications in the hills.

New roads were made, old ones were repaired and rivers were bridged. Cart roads were also built from the foothills to different outer Himalayan settlements. In the last quarter of 19th century, the railways also reached the foothills (Pathak 1987a: 247060).

This development in communications helped to shape up the colonial system increasing the exploitation of the forests, resulting in the destruction of wildlife and the out-migration of the local people. In the cultural sphere the process of modernization started. It accelerated the process of ‘sanskritization’ (Sanwal 1976: 175-76; Pathak 1986: 97-111).

Local protest movements and the Indian renaissance also brought the region within the ambit of the broader national consciousness of the 19th century. The tribes maintained their unique folk cultural heritage but modernization through education and jobs also started to influence them. The Shaukas of Johar valley had already lost their language in this process (Pangtey 1922: 105).

Conversion to Christianity also started in the region though at a slow speed. A small section of the lower stratra opted for Christianity. A few individuals from upper castes also became Christians though with less influence on others (Pathak 1986: 97-111).

After the different social movements, nationalism from below and above started playing its role. After the First World War, the colonial system did little new except the suppression of the different streams of the Indian national movement and local protests.

The colonial apparatus, which was developed in the last century, continued to work till the partition of India. After 1947, with a few fresh dreams the Uttarakhand society continued living under all major colonial institutions inherited from the British in the new democratic state.

The old pro-colonial dominant section of the society became less important. A few among them became new nationalists or Congressites overnight.

All freedom fighters including the ‘prajamandalees,5 became part of the new ruling class in Uttarakhand. Many silent sections like the Shilpkars, Tharus, Boksas, Banarjis and Jaunsaris of Uttarakhand society still remained on the periphery of this new fragile freedom.

The new ruling class started feeding the political leadership, the administration and the press. The immigrants from Punjab and Bengal came into the area after the partition of the country. They settled inthe Terai area and also in the different hill towns.

Under the colonization of Terai, much forest wealth was lost, though the agony of partition was never fully erased from the faces of many refugees. Slowly, the migration to Bhabhar from the outer Himalayan villages and, after 1960, the migration to the summer settlements in the higher Himalayan valley was also minimized. Partial nomadism remained a part of life.

The Shaukas, i.e., Bhotias, who were deprived of the advantages of the Indo-Tibetan trade, were given the status of scheduled tribes. The educated section of this community got jobs in the government and private sectors, though the scheduled castes, who were having reassured quotas since the inception of the Indian Constitution, got jobs slowly as they were not able to educate themselves in these decades.

The hunter-gatherer Banarjis of Kumaon had been forced to change their old lifestyle. From caves and huts they have shifted to smaller houses (Sherring 1906: 9-18; Joshi 1983: 38-80, Askot Arakot Abhiyan 1974:84-94). The tribes of Terai, Tharus and Boksas, also lost their land and social-cultural way of life under the new compulsions (Jalal 1992: 51-58). The population of Uttarakhand, which was around one million in 1820, reached 6 million in 1991.

In the post-1947 Uttarakhand, out-migration and the volume of ‘money-order’ economy increased. Many ‘developmental’ works were started under Five-year Plans, though not all were successful. Simultaneously exploitation increased.

This was the beginning of the socio-economic dislocation of the local people. The Indo-China war may be seen as a major event in the post-independence Uttarakhand. This event forced the central as well as the provincial government to look at the Himalayan mountain and its inhabitants from a new angle. But again things were done merely for defense purposes.

The real first line of defense, the mountain people, was again neglected, though emphasis was given to the building of roads and communications. Three new border districts, Pithoragarh, Chamoli and Uttarkashi (known as Uttarakhand division), were formed.

The Indo-Tibet Border-Police (ITBP) was raised as a special organization for the defense of India’s northern borders. The sepoys from Uttarakhand had shown their bravery in the 1947-48, 1962, 1971 and 1999 (Kargil) wars and hundreds of them were killed or had become POWs.

The defense concern of the Indian government was natural, since the ‘Panchsheel’ of Nehru, and “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” of Zhou en-Lai proved shortlived, but the government was unable to think of making a real defense line of the people living in the region. The ‘development’, which was, as already mentioned, introduced in the region for defense purposes, also had a few positive impacts.

It gave importance to the local problems. Uttarakhand division made up of the three newly created districts provided for the special care of the border districts. The constructions of the roads and the growth of the district, tehsil and block headquarters also resulted in the destruction of forests and wild life. 

The most fertile agrarian land was taken over by these new constructions at Pithoragarh, Gopeshwar, Uttarkashi, Purola, Barkot, Ukhimath. In the Terai-Bhabhar and Dun regions the rich forest areas were transformed into agricultural fields. G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology was established and expanded in the Terai region.

It must be remembered that the neo-rich class also started emerging during this period. Absentee landlordism minimized in the hills but big and absentee landlords emerged in Terai area (Sanwal, Report of the Terai Lands Committee, Nainital Samachar, August 15, October 1 and 15, 1978).

The process of ‘modernization’, which had already started during the British period, got additional impetus. Alcoholism became a serious problem in society, with crimes increasing in the mountains (Pathak 1985a:1360-65).

The workload upon women increased in alarming proportions (Pathak 1985a : 1363, 1985b: 15-20).The plunder of the forests, increasing alcoholism and the rise of neo-rich added new dissensions to the society and different protest movements started forming.

First, the people organized themselves against alcoholism (Pathak 1985a: 1362-65, Pathak 1985b: 1-41) and later on started struggling to put an end to the destruction of forests, and restoration of the forest rights of the people (Bhatt 1992: 11-14; Guha 1989: 152-85; Bahuguna 1987: 238-48).

These were the important mass movements of post-independence Uttarakhand. These social movements also made the way for the creation of Uttarakhand State. Exploitation of Natural Resources The natural resources of the Himalaya are categorized as non-renewable, renewable and specific advantages.

Rocks, mineral and hydrocarbons are non-renewable; forests, pastures, bio-diversity and water are renewable resources and beauty, wildness, tranquility, climate, wide open spaces and sacred places are specific advantages (The State of the World’s Mountains-A Global Report 1992:105).

The opening of the Himalaya in the early 19th century was the beginning of exploitation and destruction of Himalayan natural resources. Exploitation for the benefit and expansion of the empire started. The colonial period was often marked by the inception of the conservation policies, even though these policies reflected the needs of the state rather than any strong concern for the welfare of the local population (Pouchiepadas 1995: 2059).

Even the conservation considerations were motivated by the need to ensure a continuing supply of timber for imperial needs. The first victims of this process were the forests and wildlife. Initially, the sal (Shorea robusta) forests of Terai-Bhabhar, and after coming of the railways to the Indian subcontinent, the deodar (Cedrus deodar) forests of higher Himalaya were exploited for the expansion of the railways. Growth in agriculture and tea gardens also resulted in the clearing up of the forests near the villages. In different travels and shikaar expeditions, thousands of birds and animals were killed.

Trade in animal skin, bird feathers and musk also increased rapidly (Mountaineer 1860). The destruction of wildlife and forests must also be seen as factors contributing to the emergence of ‘man eaters’ in the region. There was over encroachment into the natural habitat of tigers and leopards (Corbett 1944, 1947 and 1952). Due to the exploration, mountaineering and trekking expeditions there was considerable pressure upon a few higher Himalayan valleys.

Pilgrimage continued as a two-way participatory activity among the pilgrims and the local villagers. Modern tourism has yet to reach the Himalaya. Mining activities in the region were restricted in those days and the traditional mining of iron and copper was later on stopped (PMR: Kumaon Division, MLR: S-1, Vol-7, 1816-1: 197-201; Vol-32, 1826 I:13-41; Vol 61, 1839 II: 435). Before 1850, 42 mines most of them extracting iron ore, were operational in Kumaon (PMR: Vol 61, 1839 II: 435-36). Stone and slate mining continued for construction purposes.

The British never constructed a big dam in the mountains. A few micro hydels, irrigation canals and a few small dams were built, specially in the Terai region. The process of urbanization was slow in the region. The coming up of hill stations like Nainital and Mussoorie, and cantonments like Landsdowne, Chakrota and Ranikhet was important aspect of colonial rule in Uttarakhand. One can trace a number of cases of earthquake (1803, 1880, 1905, etc), flood (1864, 1880, 1894, 1924) and soil erosion in this period but most of these were totally natural expressions.

The human and cattle population was within the reach of natural resources. In the initial stage the exploitation had little visible consequence and the Himalayan wilderness remained more or less intact. But the seeds of destruction were there in this beginning.

Before the advent of colonial rule Uttarakhand was rich in natural resources and was sparsely populated. This state of affairs continued for many years after 1815. The villagers had unchallenged traditional right over the natural resources and their economy as well as existence depended upon the biomass. The British set into motion a process of exploitation of natural resources for commercial purposes, thereby gradually limiting the rights of the people.

The process gained fresh momentum with each land settlement and Forest Act/law. Even before 1815, the East India Company had started dealing with resin for commercial use, and by 1850 the forests of Terai had been exploited for British ships and building construction, and after 1850 for the expansion of Indian Railways (Guha 1989: 35-61; Pathak 1987c: 50) One must stress at this point that down the ages the mountain people have been largely dependent on the forests for their agriculture, rearing of animals, traditional medicines, agricultural-pastoral-trade equipment, cottage industries, fodder, firewood, manure, etc. Furthermore not only soil conservation and protection of water resources were related with forests (Atkinson 1882: 845-83), but even the expression of some of the folk songs was possible in the particular ‘conditioning’ of the forests – ‘neoli’ songs, for instance, in the oak forests.

In Tehri state, located in the north-western part of Uttarakhand – the present districts of Tehri and Uttarkashi – a businessman named Wilson had taken to the exploitation of forests and forest resources around 1850. By 1860 the provincial government had taken over this business.

In 1864 the initial format of the forest department was decided on. The chronology of the gradual decline in the rights of the local people was as follows: Between 1815-78 the colonial rulers gave a great deal of attention to the forests of Terai and Bhabhar. Although the demarking of forests in and around Almora, Nainital and Ranikhet towns started by this time.

It has no direct impact on the rest of the forests of Uttarakhand. Between 1878 and 1893, particularly under the Act of 1878, the forests were declared as ‘reserved’ while the forests, which had been given over to the iron companies were also deemed to be ‘protected’ or ‘reserved’.

In 1893 ‘District Protected Forests’ were formed. They consisted of all the unclaimed land of the villages along with those forests, which were already ‘reserved’ (Pant 1922: 28-92; Guha 1989; 35-61). Thus, land surrounded by forests, snow bound areas, rocks, shops, roads, meadows, pastures became part of the protected forests, in 1894, eight species including sal, fir and deodar were declared to be protected.

Rules relating to the procurement of timber for construction, fodder and firewood were formulated and the villagers were forbidden to deal commercially with any forest produce. In 1903 the district protected forests were divided into ‘open’ and ‘closed’ civil forests.

The closed forests were reserved for regeneration and protection. In the open civil forests villagers were given certain rights. In 1911 the sphere of district protected forests was widened and were made reserved forests. Between 1911 and 1917 forest settlement of Kumaon (by Stiffe) was carried and 3000sq. miles of the forests were declared as protected (Guha 1989:45).

Because of protests at many levels, the British were forced to grant partially grazing and fuel fodder collection rights to the villagers. Up to 1892 one can trace that while the villagers struggled to retain and restore their rights, the colonial state did its utmost to take away or modify these rights. The forest movement during this period was the natural reaction to the colonial forest policy, and finally, this movement merged with Indian struggle for independence (Hardiman 1992: 46-49).

After 1947 the mountain society and the Indian state continued to hold different views as far as the ownership and use of the forest produce were concerned. While the government viewed the forests as the ‘source’ of revenue and ‘raw’ for the industry, the villagers turn to them in order to fulfil the necessities of life. The new forest policy of 1952 did little to change the state of forest which is under national parks, sanctuaries and biosphere reserves.

The rare medicinal herbs, which can transform the local economy, are also threatened. Smuggling of herbs and wildlife is going on. Sometimes there are news items in the media regarding the involvement of influential persons and political leaders in such activity. Destruction and over exploitation of biomass has increased.

Many species of flora and fauna had reached the point of extinction (Pahar-2 1986:86-89). At many places the priceless oak forests were replaced by apple orchards (Singh 1991: 1143). Exotic species like eucalyptus were introduced in oak, pine and sal regimes, and pine in oak regimes. It was done without visualizing the grave consequences of such destruction.

After 1960 unregulated mining has been allowed in the name of ‘development’ in some sensitive areas and no laws have been framed for mining in the mountains. The queen of the hills, Mussoorie, is partly destroyed by mining, and border town Pithoragarh and surrounding villages are suffering from mining and nearby magnesite factories.

In the rural areas at Jhiroli, Matela, Chhana, Bunga, Hartola, Chaurasthal, Kheerakot, Kanda in Almora district; Sabli, Guriyali, Paturi, Khatyad, Chandak, Bakarkatya, Chhana, Develthal, Raiaagar in Pithoragarh district, villages of Hewalghati in Tehri district and neighbouring villages of Mussorie, the impact of mining is obvious in the form of silting, drying up of the water resource and water and air pollution (Pathak 1987n: 18-21).

Drinking water is still not available in the villages in a region with abundant water resources (the towns of Almora, Pithoragarh, Ranikhet, Pauri, Mussoorie, Chamba have acute water shortage in summers) and hundreds of villages are waiting for electricity.

Tehri dam, even after the nature’s warning in the form of 1991 earthquake, is being built and no importance is being given to mini-micro hydels. (Valdiya 1993: 1-37; Gaur 1993: 1-52). Though the region still has a wilderness space, which will be of much importance in 21st century, that too is being destroyed by overexploitation of the forest resources, big and unregulated tourism, and over mountaineering. The floods of 1966, 1970, 1977-78, 1991, 1993 and 1995, and the earthquakes of December 1958, June 1969, October 1991 and March 1999, are major natural calamities in the post-independence Uttarakhand.

Except the earthquakes, the other calamities cannot be termed as totally ‘natural’, as they were in the colonial period. The destruction of biomass in the mountains has multi-dimensional consequences for the region as well as for the life down-stream.

The right over common resources and nature of its utilisation has rested with the state for the last 150 years. With the decline in the hereditary rights of the villagers, the political and economic supremacy of the colonial rulers increased by leaps and bounds, and the common man could no longer continue to be self-reliant.

In spite of achieving independence, things have not changed perceptibly. Thus, even after many years, the state has not been able to develop a plausible policy for the protection, conservation and proper utilisation of our natural resources.

The colonial policy of commercial forestry did not take into account matters dealing with the interrelationship of forests with agriculture, animal husbandry, folk culture and socioeconomic needs of the people. The policies of different Indian governments after independence followed the same path and made the same mistakes.

To conclude, the scarcity of the natural resources, which results in social and political tensions, is often the outcome of the monopoly of certain groups over natural resources. This has been highlighted time and again during the last three decades. Natural scarcities are often the result of sheer shortsightedness and some basic flaws in the economic, social and political structure.

Therefore, any change in the politics of the environment must necessarily entail a corresponding change is the environment of the politics. The pre- and post-1947 protest movements in Uttarakhand Himalaya compellingly show the unjust attitudes of the state system.

Through different protest movements the society may be trying to systematize itself and to restore the ecological balance of the region.

After the creation of Uttarakhand state much depends on the wisdom of the leadership and  peoples’ tremendous pressure on the leadership. Otherwise the new state may repeat the political culture of Uttar Pradesh.


  1. The colonial system treated many far-flung regions as ‘extra regulation tracts’, also known as ‘nonregulated province’, Kumaon was such a region (See Whalley 1870)
  2. The deepest wave of the struggle for the creation of autonomous Uttarakhand state continued in the hills for the last five years. Around 45 people have been killed by the rulers of Uttar Pradesh state. The people, who were extraordinarily participating in a non-violent movement, were killed at Khatima, Mussoorie, Dehradun, Kotdwar, Nainital and Muzaffarnagar.
    For the first time the women were killed in the hills by police and were raped and molested at Muzaffarnagar, when they were en route to Delhi to participate in the October 2nd (1994) rally. The provincial and central governments almost made the way for Kashmir, Punjab or north-east India like situation in Uttarakhand.
  3. Begar generally implies unpaid forced labour, extracted either by landlords or the state. In the agrarian system of British Kumaon, dominated as it was by peasant proprietors, begar meant forcible extraction, by the state, of labour and/or produce without any payment, or with nominal wages.
    In some respects, begar in British Kumaon was the continuation of a practice followed by earlier states. Prior to British occupation, the hill districts of Kumaon had been briefly under Gorkha rule, from 1790 to 1815. Although the British did abolish slavery, in other matters which predominantly included the practice of begar, they maintained the prevalent customs.
    Indeed, under company rule the system of begar was regularised by associating it with land settlements. Every family have to pay begar (Chuli, coolie, i.e., one coolie from each family)
  4.  ‘Money Order Economy’ means subsistence economy partially sustained by the money sent by the family members working outside the region. This process began during colonial period but the term was coined in post-1947 period. MO Economy shows alarming out-migration from Uttarakhand. Now there is need to analyse the term more critically
  5. Indifferent Indian native states, ‘prajamandals’ were formed against the atrocities of the native rulers. The first prajamandal was established in Baroda state in 1916. The Tehri prajamandal was formed in Dehradun in 1939. It started working inside the state after 1940.

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Shekhar Pathak is a retired Prof. of History from Kumaon University. He is a Padma Shri awardee and active in all social campaigns and a regular writer. He is based in Nanital, Uttarakhand.     The article has been taken from: U T T A R A K H A N D:NEED FOR A COMPREHENSIVE ECO-STRATEGY EDITOR-R.P. DHASMANA, CO-EDITOR-VIJAY LAXMI DHOUNDIYAL Published by the Convener, SADED, Mr. Vijay Pratap DA- 9A. D.D.A. Flats, Munirka, New Delhi.

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