'Tourism cannot mean we harm the environment': Uttarakhand CM Dhami

Dhami is the only incumbent of the post to enjoy a second term

34-Pushkar-Singh-Dhami Pushkar Singh Dhami | Pawan Kumar

Pushkar Singh Dhami, 48, rose from student politics to become chief minister of the state and is the only incumbent of the post to enjoy a second term. He has represented Champawat in the Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly since 2022, and was previously the representative from Khatima (2012 to 2022). Excerpts from an exclusive interview

Q/ Uttarakhand, like the other hill states, stands as a geographical barrier and rich resource pool for the country. Yet, it makes news only when tragedy strikes.

A/ Uttarakhand is ‘Dev Bhoomi’ (land of the gods). The hills and jungles are its heart. For us, both the plains and the hills are of equal importance. The young, the soldiers, and the farmers have played an important role in its development. After its separation from Uttar Pradesh (in November 2000) the state has seen great development. It is getting constant recognition for the development works initiated under the guidance of the prime minister.

As regards tragedies, those are natural and our state is extremely prone and sensitive to them. The only way to deal with such disasters is to take a proactive approach so that the damages can be minimised. This is our focus.

Q/ You are from Pithoragarh, which is at an altitude of 1,627m, and would have seen at close quarters many challenges peculiar to the hills. How has that impacted your manner of functioning?

A/ Be it Pithoragarh or any other district, convenience and ease to the public are priorities. I have faced the difficulties of those who live in the upper reaches of the mountains. However, finding joy even in the most challenging situations is the hallmark of hill-dwellers.

Q/ Please elaborate on your concept of ecology-economy.

A/ Under the leadership of the prime minister, the country is constantly establishing new records. By 2025, we will be a $5 trillion economy. The double engine government of Uttarakhand is working under the NaMo vision to create a new state. Under this, we are committed to a balance between economy and ecology. A vision document, with inputs from the public, for turning Uttarakhand into a model state is being developed. We are turning it into an attractive destination for employment, trade and investment. We are fully committed to developing this with complete balance.

Q/ It is easy to criticise the unbridled growth of tourism in the state when the sector is the main revenue earner. It is important, however, to strike a balance with environmental concerns.

A/ Tourism cannot mean that we neglect local society or harm the environment. Uttarakhand is constantly attracting more tourists. They increase the income of both the locals and the state. We would definitely want those who come from outside the state to understand that they have to contribute to the protection of the environment.

Q/ It has been 10 years since the Kedarnath tragedy. This year, Joshimath was in focus. Are not these tragedies an indication that we are not doing something right?

A/ All the Himalayan states are extremely sensitive. There is not a single year when Uttarakhand does not face a tragedy like earthquakes, landslides, cloud bursts or forest fires. This harms humans and other life forms. It is difficult to stop these disasters, but what we can and are doing is responding immediately with relief and rescue measures. I agree that the Kedarnath tragedy caused widespread loss. It was a learning experience for the government. We started paying special attention to disaster-prone areas. We also strengthened communication systems, health facilities, roads and other infrastructure, besides building helipads.

Q/ There is a constant rise in migration from the hills to the plains. This is both economically and socially disastrous.

A/ We have a special focus on village-centric schemes. The emphasis is on increasing employment opportunities and disseminating information about the schemes of the Central and state governments for such populations, while also making all their benefits available to them. We are committed to fully stopping migration by providing employment and business opportunities in villages. It is for these very purposes that we have a Rural Development and Migration Prevention Commission. In addition, women self-help groups are ensuring that women find employment.

Q/ What was the need for the four-lane Char Dham highway when the army and numerous expert committees had opposed it on various grounds?

A/ The all-weather road is being constructed as per norms. We are paying complete attention to access and safety of transport. There is constant monitoring, especially at places where there is the slightest difficulty.

Q/ This state gave the world a unique movement to protect the environment (the Chipko movement), yet why does it now seem that the relation between the people and nature has ruptured?

A/ The environment and human life cannot be separated. Without greenery, this life is nothing. The government is making numerous efforts to build awareness about protecting and enhancing natural resources. The citizens of this state are guardians of the environment. It was this way earlier and it still remains so.

Q/ How much time will it take to restore Dev Bhoomi to its original pristine state?

A/ The purity of Dev Bhoomi can never be lost. We only have to ensure clear intent. Work cannot be defined or confined in months or years. Whatever time one gets is always too little. We are constantly working towards development while keeping our antiquity intact. The latter is crucial.