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Nine Years of Statehood

Is Uttarakhand in need of a new direction?

Dr Nitin Pandey


Birthdays are a time to celebrate, but when they are of states or nations, they also are a sombre occasion to pause and think. To reflect upon what we have achieved so far and what we could achieve in future. It is also a time to reflect on our assets which we must build upon; and our weaknesses, which we should try and overcome.

Without doubt, the biggest assets we have today are those bestowed on us by nature. The snow capped mountains, the pristine fresh mountain air, the green forests and the meandering rivers. Very few states in India can boast of the enchanting beauty of the Uttarakhand Himalayas. If this beauty is preserved and facilities created in harmony, with the involvement of local people, tourism can be a money spinner for our state. Tourists would pay anything if we could give them the service and the environment. Himachal Tourism Department even though much smaller, puts Uttarakhand Tourism to shame. Building helipads for tourists and looking for tourists how will pay one lakh for a tour of Uttarakhand, as Mission 2020 envisages, has the basics wrong. The basic is the human being who welcomes you to the hotel. And the welcome an average tourist receives in GMVNL/ KMVNL hotels is more than a put off. Building huge concrete dams, tunnelling our rivers, converting lush green mountainsides into huge landslides by blasting, the disappearing jungles due to illegal tree felling, the melting glaciers & the rising temperatures, besides ensuring a doomed future for our State, will also hit tourism hard.

The second most important asset our State has is its people. Simple, hardworking, educated and honest, the average citizen of Uttarakhand, whether he or she is from the hills or the Terai or Dehradun, is second to none in these qualities. Unfortunately, here too, we are on the verge of loosing this asset. The highly skilled and educated workers migrate to Metros and other countries as appropriate jobs and salaries are not available in Uttarakhand, while the unskilled but educated men from the hills migrate to plains in search of jobs. The State looses on both counts. With tax holidays as the only incentive, there has been a failure in attracting high quality industries (not BPO’s) in the State on account of lack of political vision and basic infrastructure. And with developmental activities decreasing with increasing distance from the Dehradun, reaching near zero in remote unconnected villages, there is mass migration of able bodied men from such villages to the plains, in search of employment. Ghost villages, post order village economies and “men-less” villages are a blot on our society.

The biggest weakness of our State is the politician. Both the National Parties have ruled our State and are no better than the other. What Uttarakhand lacks is a leader of tall stature who does not have to worry about retaining his “gaddi”. With Chief Ministers involved in day to day struggle to survive, taking a long term view of administration has become a casualty. Because of the excessive focus on self preservation, institution building, a must for any nascent State, has been relegated to the background. In fact, most institutions have been subverted to gain immediate political advantage. Populist schemes are given priority over long term planning.

Even as alarming vacancies exist in Police force, government departments and even the Dehradun Municipality, as there is no money to pay personnel at the existing salary levels, the government in all its wisdom implements the 6th Pay Commission and decides to give lifelong pensions of Rs 3000/- per month to those who spent even one week in jail during the Uttarakhand Agitation. (Is there no other way of showing respect to the agitationists?) Even as policing suffers due to lack of manpower and equipment, civic amenities in towns suffers due to shortage of staff (as the government cannot employ the authorized strength leave alone enhancing the authorized strength) is it wise to spend money this way?

Some recently announced Government schemes seem equally baffling. Instead of improving the Government schools and colleges and providing poor children with quality education, the government now plans to force private schools to reserve 20% of their seats for poor children sponsored by the government under the so-called “Dev Bhoomi Muskan Scheme”. Will this not give rise to widespread corruption in securing admissions? Are there any private schools in the remote regions, where the need is most acute or is the focus on “creamy” schools in cities? Since the government is going to pay the fees of these children, even though it will be a subsidized one, is it not better to spend that money on improving Government schools in remote areas? Is this State building or a short cut?

Similarly, instead of ensuring that all Government hospitals provide free quality medicines to the poor, the Government plans to open chemist shops inside hospitals, where “poor” can buy medicines at a discounted price, the discount coming from the government directly buying the medicines from the manufacturer bypassing the normal procedure, resulting in, among other things, the State loosing the excise duty. If that is acceptable, why not let all Chemists obtain their supplies directly from the manufacturer? That way many more “poor” people will be benefited as all chemists can then sell at a discount. Is this not another short cut, hiding the inability of the government to ensure its dispensaries work properly and will it not increase corruption manifold?

Uttarakhand has the potential to develop into a model developed state, with prosperous people, if only our leaders place the State before everything else. Would it not be much more befitting if Mission 2012 was to link the remotest Uttarakhand villages with road by that year, instead of wining elections?

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