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Development Challenge

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The Pushkar Singh Dhami Government is looking to the people for inspiration on measures to take Uttarakhand forward. It has invited suggestions for a better budget. Intrinsic to this has to be a general development philosophy for the state and an understanding of what has been achieved thus far. Also, the reasons for why, despite the potential in many fields, many aspirations of the people have not been met. Some facts are already pretty evident and are a matter of public record – its per capita income has almost doubled from a little over Rs 1 lakh in 2013 to over Rs 2 lakh in 2020. Its GDP growth rate is among the highest; it has managed to overcome many challenges with resolve and fortitude; and it retains, more or less, the image of a forward looking society.

However, its difficulties are also well known – the income disparity between the hills and the plains; the difficulty of terrain which makes taking development to the remote areas a major challenge; and an excessive rate of migration to the plains and elsewhere. There is a much greater need to balance the needs of development and the environment than in other states, as much of the state is forested. It being a border state also adds the strategic dimension to everything, as does the existence of major river systems.

While overall development requires a major consensus on a number of issues, about which the argument continues, time is passing by and the people’s needs cannot be overlooked for too long. In some matters, governments have felt constrained to push forward, particularly with regard to major power and road building projects, while in others, restraints have been imposed by the courts and tribunals in response to lobbying by various groups. Owing to the failure of agreement, much of the initiatives remain in the private sector, are unplanned and, though at the small and medium levels, have a cumulatively large impact.

There is also the issue of governance. Given the quality of human resource, there is great potential to provide better than average government services. Unfortunately, visionary leadership is wanting and that should be Dhami’s primary focus. While a CM like ND Tiwari could draw upon decades of experience at the national level, most others have been found wanting. This is why completing a full term has been a difficult task for the CMs. Last mile delivery of services remains deficient, even in the more hospitable plains. The political culture is much too self-serving, right down to the grassroots. An exploitative culture has developed that has damaged almost all institutions of the state. As a result, it is not necessary that faster growth and higher incomes actually benefit the people as they should. These are the anomalies that need to be adequately addressed.