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Looking Back, Looking Forward

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By N Ravi Shanker
It is twenty years since the State of Uttarakhand was formed. It is the right time to reflect on what the state has achieved, and focus on the path ahead.

To my mind the commencement of work on the dormant Tehri Hydro project signalled the resolve to be an Urja Pradesh. The credit for that should rightly go to the political executive of the early days. That foresight paved the way for CPSUs [THDC, NTPC; NHPC & SJVNL] evincing interest in developing several hydro power projects in the State; and the policy on PPP participation being put in place. Power availability at economic cost was the pre-requisite for Industrialisation of the State.

The setting up of the SIDCUL Industrial Estates in Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar was facilitated by a friendly Industrial Policy (as applicable to the Hill States). This ensured Investment and employment generation.

Infrastructure – specifically Road Infrastructure is an enabler of economic activities. The construction of bridges on the Haridwar–Najibabad NH and acceleration of activities on BRO maintained roads along with upgradation of state highways and district roads, facilitated the development of Tourism.

Tourism – the mainstay of Uttarakhand gained prominence through adequate marketing. Char Dham Yatra acquired a flavour all its own. Investment for Ardh Kumbh and Kumbh propelled the importance of the Haridwar – Rishikesh corridor as a year round wellness-spiritual- religious destination. Adventure tourism and Eco-tourism gained ground as separate entities. Corbett and Rajaji attracted nature lovers; the Bugyals and snow clad mountains and trails were the favourites of trekkers; and river rafting occupied a special place for the young and energetic. Mussoorie and Nainital and other hill towns had an influx of tourists in summer. Winter Tourism is slowly gaining attention.

Life in the hills is not easy. Rather, it is arduous. Monsoons bring their own share of destruction – affecting roads and agriculture fields. Handling the ravages of nature is the main challenge for people of the hills. The Kedarnath tragedy and its aftermath were a setback to the State in more ways than one. There is now a heightened awareness for sustainable development.

Education and Health – the twin social development indices have seen a skewed process of growth. The social infrastructure has developed well in the plains (significantly in Dehradun) and less so in the hills. Consequently, there has been downward migration from hills to plains. Efforts to expand livelihood opportunities in the hills areas through Horticulture and allied activities has had some effect, but not significant enough.

When I look back at the twenty years gone by, my feelings on the State’s development are – “Thoda hai, Zyada ki zaroorat hai”.

Looking ahead for the next twenty years, my suggestion is for the State to focus on big ticket items. Some of them are within the realm of the State Government, but many require the support of the Central Government. My suggestions are:

(i) Build the Pancheshwar Dam Project. It will be a harbinger of Indo-Nepal friendship.
(ii) Build a State of the art Fab (Fabrication facility for Semiconductor) in Ranibagh, Haldwani. This is to spur an Atmanirbhar Bharat in the Electronics sphere.
(iii) Build a Defence Electronics Hub in Ranipur, Haridwar.
(iv) Construct the “Himalayan Highway” connecting J&K to Arunachal Pradesh through Uttarakhand and Nepal. This will be a security infrastructure for the country.
(v) Position Rishikesh as “Vishwa Yoga va Arogya Nagar”. [AIIMS Rishikesh, Jolly Grant, Wellness activities, Yoga Ashram et al can be synergised for it]
(vi) Position Tourism as the mainstay of the Hill economy and integrate livelihood opportunities (Forestry – Horticulture – Animal Husbandry – Agriculture – Handloom & Handicrafts). This multitude of opportunities is to make them economically secure and thereby stem outward migration.
(vii) Position Uttarakhand as an Education Hub:–

(a) Focus on Teacher Training at all levels.
(b) The Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas, the Rajiv Gandhi Navodaya Vidyalayas and the proposed Atal Adarsh Vidyalayas be developed harmoniously to match the premier Public Schools standards in the State.

(N Ravi Shanker is a former Civil Servant. Currently, he is Chancellor of DIT University)