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Meet, Greet and Entreat

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We, the Government 

By HUGH AND COLLEEN GANTZER

Mussoorie has gained a great deal from the recently held Conclave of Himalayan States. Although the deliberations lasted for only six hours, our little hill-station reaped an enormous cosmetic advantage. Our safai-wallahs were made to work overtime to remove every scrap of garbage littered by visitors. The unruly branches of our Himalayan oak trees, brushing against our electric transmission lines, were allowed to be “trimmed”. We may now get an uninterrupted supply of electricity even when the wind blows! Then, the eyesore of tangled wires, that once dangled ominously overhead, got a long overdue tonsure. And finally there’s that delightfully aesthetic touch: baskets of begonias bought, reportedly, from a revered nursery, were hung at strategic spots. We recall how an earlier government had planted a row of date palm saplings in Dehra to greet a senior neta. They had withered and died after the neta had departed, but then that’s the story of life: out of sight, out of mind! With a little bit of luck, some kind- hearted person will give these beautiful begonias a good home before it’s too late! So that’s as far as our face-lift was concerned, but what was the real object of this exercise? According to a large advertisement, carried in a national daily, we got these civic gifts because of the Conclave of the Himalayan States. The invitees to this gathering, according to the same advert, were the Finance Minister, Govt. Of India; Governor, Jammu and Kashmir; Chief Ministers of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttarakhand; Chairman, 15th Finance Commission, Govt. of India; and the Vice Chairman, NITI Ayog, Govt. Of India. Not everyone listed actually arrived, but the attendance was impressive enough to earn plaudits for our CM, Trivendra Singh Rawat, the prime mover of this Conclave. Having said that, there is this dicey statement attributed to the CM. He reportedly said that “most of the country’s rivers originated in the Himalayas”. This could be challenged, because none of the northern rivers cross the ridge of the Aravallis and, therefore, none irrigate our great peninsula. For that matter, both the Indus and the Brahmaputra have their sources in Tibet, a trans-Himalayan land. But we will let these glitches pass and move on to the more substantive issues covered in the Conclave. The much promised “Green Bonus” seemed to have the netas and babus of the Himalayan states drooling in anticipation of a bonanza. Strictly speaking, however, a bonus is given to employees to improve their performance not for something which occurs naturally. Agricultural workers cannot demand a bonus for a good monsoon! Similarly, before we can claim a bonus we should prove that the state governments worked really hard to preserve their forest wealth. They should be able to establish that, but for their dedicated efforts over and beyond their normal duties, an enormous number of trees would have been felled. No one deserves a bonus for doing what he or she is expected to do: that’s covered by salaries. Bonuses are earned for doing more. How many Himalayan states can pass this test? Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman rightly emphasised the importance of the role of panchayats in the grass-roots development of Himalayan states. The easy availability of cheap power is a prime necessity in such progress. The melting snows of the Himalayas could provide an endless source of power. Panchayats should be trained to install and manage their own Run-of-the-River mini-hydel projects, feeding any excess power generated into a central grid. Also, we have to rid ourselves of a reluctance to identify crop predators, such as simians and wild pigs, as vermin. Secondly, we should obtain an Appellation of Origin for products including foods and handicrafts produced in specific regions of the Himalayas. Thirdly, we should concentrate on growing Spices, Herbs and Aromatics in Himalayan regions because they are high-value speciality crops, easily packaged, transported and marketed, and of increasing demand in India’s growing gourmet segment. Finally, we must preserve our diverse and endangered Himalayan culture by creating a Himalayan Virtual Museum (HimVM), located in Dehradun, tapping the speciality resources of our state capital. These are the views of some members of We, the Government.