Politics plays spoilsport to first world war soldier’s dream

Dehra Dun : It was the night of Nov 23-24 1914. The first battallion of the 39 Garhwal Rifles, representing the allied forces, was engaged in a do-or-die battle during the First World War at Festubird in France and were at the receiving end.

Naik Darban Singh Negi showing rare courage rose to the occasion and changed the fortunes of the battle. His bravery and valour displayed on the occasion was sent in dispatch by Field Marshall Frank to the British government. The London Gazeteer of 7 Dec 1914 announced that the brave Naik Negi had been awarded the highest decoration of war – The Victoria Cross.

On return home after the war, the then Viceroy of India asked Naik Darban Singh Negi for anything that he wanted in lieu of the chivalty and rare courage that he had shown against tough odds and turned sure defeat into victory. Perhaps any other person would have asked something for himself and his family, but Negi having seen the importance of railways during his campaign in Europe asked the then Viceroy to link the Karanprayag area to which he belonged with a rail road. In 1916, the first survey of the Rishikesh-Karanprayag line was done by the then British government in India and the second was done in 1923.

However, the proposed railway line, could not materialize and the project went on the back burner till Satpal Maharaj, Lok Sabha member from Garhwal became the minister of state for railways and in 1996, a full 80 years later another survey was got done for the line. The reason was that the earlier surveys were for laying a narrow gauge line and the need was for laying a broad gauge line. Incidentally, Maharaj had also made the announcement of the Rihikesh-Karanprayag line in his election manifesto.

And just when it seemed that the brave soldier’s dream of getting a rail road link to his native Karanprayag area will be fulfilled, with the Railways giving a nod to the project and the amount also having been sanctioned, and all set for AICC chairperson Sonia Gandhi laying the foundation stone on Nov 9, the project seems to have been caught in a political quagmire. Had it not been for the Uttarakhand vidhan sabha elections due in February next year, perhaps there may not have been so much politics to the project.

Realising that the railway line could throw the dice in the favour of the Congress in the vidhan sabha elections, the BJP government in Uttarakhand has started putting up hurdles. First was opposition to Sonia Gandhi laying the foundation stone and now, which could throw the very project into doldrums, the state government claiming that the Railways has not acquired the land for the project. The state government has not even received a request from the Railways to lay the railway line and set up the railway stations along the route claimed revenue minister Diwakar Bhatt.

While the Railways maintains that the state governments normally acquire the land and give it for laying the railway lines, but if a formal request is required they will send it at the earliest. And while the ball is hit from one court to another creating controversy and uncertainty, it is the common man who stands to benefit the most once the railway line is laid, who stands to lose the most. Not to mention of the brave son-of-the-soil, Naik Darban Singh Negi whose soul will be feeling so let down by our modern day politicians, hell bent on political gains.

A journalist with over 40 years of experience, Jagdish Bhatt is Editor Hill Post (Uttarakhand). Jagdish has worked with India's leading English dailies, which include Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer and several other reputed publications. A highly acclaimed journalist, Jagdish is a recipient of many awards, latest being the 2011 Development Journalism Award. He lives in Dehra Dun.

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