By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 8 Nov: On the occasion of the State’s Foundation Day tomorrow, Chief Secretary Om Prakash had an exclusive interaction with Garhwal Post on the achievements of Uttarakhand as a separate state in the past 20 years, and the challenges before it. He believes that the biggest achievement of Uttarakhand in the past few years has been the tremendous boosting of the road network and other infrastructure development. This, he feels, has set the stage for rapid growth overall to take the state into a new trajectory of development.
“The biggest achievement in the past twenty years of Uttarakhand’s existence as a separate state has been a tremendous improvement in its road network,” the Chief Secretary asserts. “When the state was part of undivided Uttar Pradesh, the remote hill areas had poor road connectivity, which was a major impediment to faster development. However, the state focussed rightly on improving road connectivity as a top priority. Especially after the new governments at the Centre and the State took power, the road network has improved and we are now at a stage where it is almost saturated. Whichever villages are still not connected with roads, efforts are being made to cover them under the PMGSY scheme by the year 2022.”
He adds, “As far as infrastructure development is concerned, work is rapidly under progress on the Rishikesh-Karnaprayag Railway Line. It would be for the first time that the dreams of a railway network in the hills of Uttarakhand are going to be realised. Work is progressing at a faster pace than scheduled. All the obstacles regarding land acquisitions and environment clearances have been dealt with already and the physical work is rapidly under progress. Railway connectivity in the hills would certainly boost the economy in a major way.”
According to him, the all weather Char Dam road project is another major infrastructure project that is seeing rapid progress. On this 885 km long road project, work on 645 km road length would be completed by March 2021. Under the present state government, the work related to this project has progressed far more rapidly and has been accorded top priority. When asked about legal hassles affecting the project and especially the road width, he conceded that some PILs had affected the project, particularly on road width and said that had the originally planned project not been affected by PILs, it would have proved to a game changer in boosting the hill economy. He added that, as there were some Supreme Court decisions in this regard, it would not be appropriate on his part to comment any further but still emphasised that, even under modified shape, the Char Dham Road project had the potential to boost the economy of the hills to a great extent!
Another major achievement, according to him, is the reconstruction of Kedarnath. After the natural disaster that struck Kedar Valley in June 2013, the devastation was massive and it had become difficult to predict when the Char Dham Yatra could be resumed. As all are aware, the Char Dham Yatra is a major source of livelihood for people living along the route. However, Kedarnath reconstruction was taken up at a massive pace and priority after 2014 and the first phase of the reconstruction work would be completed by December this year. Only some work related to the Shankaracharya Samadhi remains to be completed. The footfall this year at the Char Dham sites was significant despite the limitations and restrictions due to the Corona pandemic.
He emphasised that, during the past 20 years, focus had been on creating and augmenting basic infrastructure across the state. The next phase would be of maintaining the infrastructure and taking up some other major infrastructure projects.
Yet another major achievement in the state has been in the industrial sector, says Om Prakash. He adds that at the time of the state’s formation, there was hardly any major industry here. Now the districts in the plains have become industrial hubs. The Pharma Industry is a major gain for Uttarakhand. He points out that about 80 percent of the hardware side of development – infrastructure creation – has been achieved so far by the state and the remaining would be completed over the next five years. Now the state needs to focus on the software side of development from an economic perspective, which is largely beneficiary oriented such trade and business activities. The state has also achieved a lot regarding project clearances and single window clearance of business proposals. Uttarakhand currently ranks at number one position among the hill states in this regard.
He also conceded that the new GST regime had resulted in some revenue loss for the state as Uttarakhand is not a consumer state. However, that could be compensated by focussing more on the services sector. Tourism has been among the most badly affected sectors of the state’s economy as a result of the Corona pandemic. But indicates that there are signs of the situation improving. There is greater footfall of tourists and Char Dham pilgrims as compared to two months ago, but it will certainly take time for the state to return to pre-Covid situation in tourism. He asserts that the tourism policy needs to focus on three types of tourists in order to cater to them effectively. One category of tourists is high end tourists; the other is common tourists; and the third is religious tourism.
The Chief Secretary further points out that there have been significant achievements in the rural development in Uttarakhand. One major achievement is setting up and boosting of 104 growth centres in the state. These centres have acted as growth hubs for serving the rural people. The state is focussing on granting access for every household to the basic services. The Jal Jeevan scheme has been launched with the objective of taking tap water supply to every household in the state. This will be a game changer in the rural areas as it will also reduce women’s drudgery and save up to six hours of their time everyday, which they can utilise in undertaking cottage industry activities. The state would provide some skill training in selected cottage industry products to increase the overall rural productivity. Employment generation at rural level also needs to be focussed upon more. Some schemes have been initiated with this objective.
Om Prakash has served as Secretary, Agriculture, and Principal Secretary, Agriculture, for a long time and has a keen interest in agriculture and allied sectors. He feels that Uttarakhand being largely a hill state has the major limitation that majority of land holdings are small or marginal and even scattered. This limits the potential for a significant growth of typical agriculture activities in the state. However, the majority of the rural people and economically poorer sections of the society rely on agriculture for their livelihood. For this, focus on agriculture needs to be given due priority. It remains an institutional challenge to make agriculture economically sustainable for the farmers in the state who are mostly in the small or marginal category. This requires cluster farming to be adopted. Uttarakhand also needs to constitute Farmers’ Producer Organisations (FPOs) in order to be able to collectively bargain for better prices for agriculture or horticulture produce, as this would eliminate middlemen. The state must focus on identification and formation of clusters for every produce in agriculture. Of course, greater focus on organic farming can create a niche position for Uttarakhand in the agriculture sector and ensure premium prices for agriculture produce.
Om Prakash also feels that, with the return of a large number of youth due to pandemic driven factors, agriculture activity stands to gain in the hills, where there had been a large scale absentee landlordism in the case of agriculture land. He adds that an integrated approach needs to be adopted by merging agriculture activities with animal husbandry and horticulture. Uttarakhand also should focus on the Ayush and Yoga (Wellness) sector and tourism sector and for this it is rightly focussing on promoting home stay facilities to attract high end tourists. The planning should be more decentralised and inclusive of micro-planning and perspective planning and at the same time create a balance between the top-down approach as well as bottom up approach for the future needs of the state.