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Uttarakhand Polls: Far from Atmanirbhar, Thapaliyalkhera Village Relies on Nepal for Water, Flour and Healthcare

Residents here say that only the polling booths arrive on time; development is still far behind. 
Uttarakhand Polls

It has been 22 long years since the formation of the state Uttarakhand. However, there are still many villages in the state who continue to be on the fringes – deprived of even the most basic facilities. One such village is Thapaliyalkhera which falls under the Champawat district, near the India-Nepal border. The village faces Nepal on three sides; on the fourth side is situated India’s Tanakpur dam. People from Thapaliyalkhera are reliant on Nepal for most of their basic facilities. While India may be a richer country than Nepal, the Nepali villages near Thapaliyalkhera are much more developed. The villagers here are left to wonder amid the thick rhetoric of development by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the Assembly elections  – whose development? And when, if ever, will their turn come?

When the NewsClick team landed in Thapaliyalkhera for the pre-poll coverage, they saw that the residents had to source everything they needed – from medicines and flour to water – from Nepal. People claimed that many generations have passed waiting for the roads to be constructed, but there is still no road connectivity. Thapaliyalkhera, unfortunately, is no exception; there are countless villages close to the international border or in hilly terrains who suffer the same fate in Uttarakhand. But the government has plastered images of developed and gleaming villages in its advertisements – far from the reality of villages like Thapaliyalkhera, which continue to bust the myth of development propagated by the ruling party.

One elderly Madhuri Devi, a resident here, told NewsClick, “We do not have roads here. We suffer a lot during the four monsoon months. We don’t have electricity either. Two years ago, they had tried to install solar panels for electricity, but that has been defunct for a year now. We are asked to go to the block headquarters to get it repaired. But we don’t know who can go, how will they repair this…”

Uttarakhand Polls

Madhuri Devi.

Residents from this village have to travel for about 10 km to reach the Tanakpur town to access government facilities. But there is no road that connects the village to the town. The villagers have to embark on a risky journey that involves crossing a canal and a forest to reach Tanakpur.

Anil Singh Mehra said that to get a gas cylinder and ration, he has to travel for about 8-10 kilometres. “Since there is no electricity here, there is no flour mill. We have to go to Nepal to grind our grains. We did have a diesel-run flour mill, but the diesel was getting more and more expensive. So, that was shut down a few decades ago. Even for irrigating our farms, we are reliant on Nepal. They cost us 200 Nepali rupees or 125 Indian rupees per hour for the water.”

Uttarakhand Polls

Anil Singh Mehra.

The government has installed a solar pump set in the village, but owing to the lack of sunlight throughout the year, it is rarely functional, the villagers said. The hilly terrain of the region makes the sunlight more irregular.

The residents of Thapaliyalkhera told NewsClick that for health-related issues as well, they have to go to a private hospital in Nepal. 

Naresh, a resident here, said that there is a primary school in the village, but it does not have a roof. Children were forced to study under the open sky. However, now the Sashastra Seema Bal has provided three sheds which are being used as a school by the children.

Uttarakhand Polls

Naresh from Thapaliyalkhera.

“When the BJP came to power in 2017, we were quite hopeful. But they haven’t done anything. We don’t even have drinking water. We are forced to drink the water from the handpump, which is not clean at all,” said Naresh, as he refuted the government’s claim of having made tap water available in every home. 

“The government says that the development work is not happening here because this is forest land. But this forest land can surely be used for a dam! And the electricity generated here goes to Nepal. Nepal, which is a stone’s throw away, has concrete roads and pucca houses. But we do not even have pucca roofs. How is this fair?” questioned Naresh.

The region also suffers from the issue of waterlogging. When it rains, children are often stuck if they go to school, and may have to wait in the forest until the water recedes.

Mehra said, “The government is talking about Swachcha Bharat elsewhere, but they have not constructed any toilet here, nor have we benefited from PM Awas Yojana.” 

The local newspapers here have quoted Tanakpur SDM Himanshu Kafaltia as saying that the development of the village is affected as is on the forest land. However, locals counter this claim by pointing to the canal from the Tanakpur dam that goes towards Nepal – which was also carved out of the forest land. 

Mohan Singh Mukhia, one of the leaders of the community here told NewsClick: “Political parties come here, make promises, but don’t fulfil those.” 

Uttarakhand Polls

Mohan Singh Mukhia.

Residents here echoed this view and said that only the polling booths arrive on time; development is still far behind. 

Champwat shares 128 kilometres of its border with Nepal. Due to the amicable relations between the two countries, there are no restrictions on people’s movement across the border. However, if the border is closed in the future owing to any geopolitical development, the fate of the residents of Thapaliyalkhera will hang in the balance.

Uttarakhand will go to polls on February 14, but people here do not hope for or expect any change. Some villagers even questioned the need to go for voting – exhibiting their absolute lack of faith in the political actors in the state. The state of Thapaliyalkhera also bursts the myth of atmanirbharata or self-reliance – propagated by PM Narendra Modi. When a village has to look beyond the national border and rely on a different country for the most basic facilities, the claims of self-reliance ring hollow.

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