Block mountains

A 24 km hike through thick forests, mountains and streams

Deep in the Sainj Valley in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, a polling station that can only be reached after a strenuous 24 km hike through a track that crosses high altitude valleys, streams fed by glaciers and thick forests rich in wildlife and biodiversity, is worthy of grabbing the national spotlight.

The polling station is in Shakti, a remote and underdeveloped village located within the Great Himalayan National Park (PNGH) Wildlife Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for biodiversity conservation in the western Himalayas.

In addition to Shakti, the location of the most remote polling station set up by the Election Commission in the parliamentary constituency of Mandi, residents of two other adjacent villages (also belonging to the GHNP) will vote for the indirect ballot on October 30.

“This is just a polling station in Himachal Pradesh, a state with 100% electric coverage and mobile phone connectivity, which presents different challenges in conducting the polls. There is no electricity or internet connection at this booth, ”said state chief electoral officer C. Paulrasu.

Since the natives of three villages – Shakti, Maror and Sugad – had refused to leave the barely accessible sanctuary area despite the promise of proper rehabilitation elsewhere outside the GHNP, the government was unable to properly develop the infrastructure – build roads, install electricity lines or deploy social assistance schemes.

Deputy Commissioner Kullu Ashutosh Garg, who visited the village last week after running the 24 km, said Outlook that villagers admit their inability to reap the benefits of economic and social protection programs, but are still reluctant to relocate.

Fortunately, some young villagers who have completed their studies are now ready to help the local administration to end the isolation of the villages. One of them, Dharampal, 24, who was elected to a islet development committee, says existing rules in the Forest Conservation Law do not allow the construction of roads or other facilities. .

Rakesh Kanwar, Secretary (Finance), who had previously served as DC, Kullu, recalls trying to persuade the villagers to agree to a rehabilitation plan. “Because the people of Kullu have great confidence in their deities and their devtas, I also took it upon myself to convince a devta. But I failed, ”Kanwar recalls.

In the next by-election, the electoral party will travel the 24 km distance to set up a voting booth in Shakti, and the deputy commissioner has already made arrangements to ensure the participation of all eligible voters, numbering nearly 150, the October 30.

Not surprisingly, none of the candidates running could campaign in any of the three villages.

The eldest voter, Shari Devi, 108, recently died. She had exercised her right to vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

“The other three stalls in Himachal Pradesh that require long walks include Sat Kuthra in the assembly constituency Fatehpur in Kangra, Thansar in Jubbal-Kotkhai (Shimla) and Arki constituency in Solan district” , explains Paulrasu.