Twenty years after its formation, Uttarakhand has come a long way. And, of course, it has a longer way to go before it achieves the objectives behind its formation as a separate state. Its greatest advantage is the quality of its human resource, which is why it has almost as large a Diaspora as it has people living within the state. It has not yet achieved the objective of providing an even spread of education to its people – the hills remain deprived in many ways – but the overall quality of schools is good. Since its formation, a large number of universities and colleges have been established, making it no longer necessary to obtain admission elsewhere.
The per capita income has increased to around Rs 2 lakhs, but income inequality remains – particularly between the plains and the hills. The migration from the hills has adversely impacted life in many ways, limiting the opportunities to transform the traditional lifestyle in a positive way. In turn, the remittances sent home by those working in other cities, states and countries have boosted the local economy. While pilgrimage and tourism have been the main sources of income, attempts have been made to diversify through developing non-polluting industries, promoting information technology, creating education hubs and, of late, organic farming. Some success has been achieved, but still lacking among the youth is the entrepreneurial spirit that would take the state into altogether another league. The culture is still that of seeking salaried, secure jobs – preferably in the government or the armed forces. Also, thriving working class mores still needs to be developed so that gaps in the workforce, created by the sedentary mindset, can be filled.
The distances and the tough terrain make it difficult for government to provide the basic essentials in the hills, one of the primary reasons for migration. One of the advantages of forming a separate state, however, has been that the development in the districts of the plains has acted as a check dam – retaining a larger number of the workforce. Still, electricity has been provided to almost all homes, while road connectivity is gradually being built up. The Atal Ayushman Yojana has come as a major relief and, if conducted successfully, could prove a game-changer in the quality of life. The ongoing programme to provide tap water in every home, as well as internet connectivity, will reduce drudgery and add value to people’s work. Another important challenge is that of maintaining a balance between development needs and conservation of the environment. With a growing consumer culture, waste management so that the rivers and nature are not polluted is becoming an imperative that government and the people need to focus on even more. The Covid-19 crisis has given an opportunity to reconsider priorities and reshape the future. State Formation Day needs to be celebrated keeping all these issues in mind.