After a year of Covid-19, Chief Minister TS Rawat, who also holds the Finance Portfolio, could not have presented a better budget. However, in objective terms, it lacks what is fundamentally required – purpose, and an understanding of what the state’s economy direly needs. In that sense, it is little more than a statement of accounts. The problem becomes exaggerated when looked at in the perspective of the last four years. The dominant philosophy seems to have been social welfare rather than economic development. Even here, however, the failure of administrative follow through has left a lot undone. In fact, the Congress alleges that barely 40 to 50 percent of the allocations were spent, therefore undermining the CM’s claims on what has been achieved.
Uttarakhand’s economy poses a challenge because of its greatly disparate nature. There is first, of course, the hills and plains divide, each region needing an entirely different set of policies. The plains depend on industries, agriculture and certain service oriented enterprises. The hills have an entirely different type of agriculture, as also tourism and pilgrimage as sources of livelihood and earning. The quality of life is challenging, particularly owing to lack of essential services. The potential is great but, except for ND Tiwari’s term, no breakthrough initiatives have been forthcoming under any party. So, at best, a government can only hope for an increase in overall revenue and expenditure.
One of the major shortcomings is the lack of skilled human resources from the bottom to the top. Even though the state has some excellent educational institutions, better prospects elsewhere inevitably leads to the potential ‘doers’ seeking greener pastures. Even high quality institutions like Pantnagar University have been allowed to stagnate, in fact are ‘raided’ whenever land is needed for some project. Nothing has been done to develop institutes of Management and Entrepreneurship of the required standard. The state’s traditional businesses have not been given due importance, or encouraged in any way. The role models for society remain professional politicians and it is only their fortunes that have seen a rise in the past twenty years.
Worse, even traditional money-earners such as pilgrimage and tourism are being stifled through increased bureaucratisation. The creation of the Devasthanam Board, for instance, is a misstep that will take divinity out of pilgrimage. This is not out of the box thinking, it is putting things in a box. There is need to put focus on the youth, instead of depending on the tired old approach of ‘reputed’ thinkers belonging to the socialist model of yore. Uttarakhandis are reaching the pinnacles in other parts of the country and abroad – their skills need to be utilised in preparing the state’s economic model for the future.