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Lots of challenges on the way forward

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22 years of Uttarakhand

By Arun Pratap Singh

Dehradun, 8 Nov: It has been twenty-twp years since Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh as a separate state on 9 November, 2000. The state was created with a lot of hopes, aspirations and dreams. It was one of the few states created as a result of people’s agitation and sacrifices for statehood.

While there are some good achievements for the state, the challenges are far too many. These twenty-two years have been a mixed package for the state. The governance in general has been mediocre, many hopes have been dashed and the potential of the state in certain sectors remains largely unrealised. The biggest achievement for the state, especially since the year 2014, has been a tremendous boost in the road network and other infrastructure development. This has set the stage to take the state into a new trajectory of growth.

When the state was part of undivided Uttar Pradesh, the remote and hill areas had poor road connectivity which was a major impediment for faster development. However, the state has focussed rightly on improving road connectivity as a top priority, especially after the Modi Government took over at the Centre in 2014. As far as the road network is considered, the state is now at a stage where it is almost saturated. Whichever villages are still not connected by roads, efforts are being made to cover them under the PMGSY scheme in two or three years.

For the first time since independence, there is actual progress in laying a railway network in the hills. In the form of Rishikesh-Karnaprayag Railway Line, it would be for the first time that the dreams of a railway network in the hills of Uttarakhand are on their way towards realisation. Work is progressing at a satisfactory pace and all the obstacles regarding land acquisitions and environment clearances have been dealt with and the physical work is rapidly under progress. Railway connectivity in the hills would certainly boost the economy in a major way.

The all weather Char Dam road is another major infrastructure project that is seeing rapid progress. On this 885 kms long road project, work on 645 kms length is in the last stage. This project will certainly prove to a major boost to the tourism and pilgrimage sectors in the state. Reconstruction of Kedarnath has boosted pilgrimage and, this year, a record number of pilgrims have visited Kedarnath. The plan for reconstruction of Badrinath will boost tourism in that region too. The ropeways to Hemkund, Kedarnath and several other places, including between Dehradun and Mussoorie, are bound to increase tourism. These projects have been launched under the Parvatmala Project with the help of the Centre.

The state has also been able to attract a reasonable amount of investment by implementing the single window system to clear the proposals, particularly after the Investment Summit was addressed here in Dehradun by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018. However, a large portion of MoUs have not actually turned into functional units as of now. Some projects got delayed on account of Covid, while some others were just forgotten. However, the state government has renewed its efforts to attract greater investment. A significant number of start-ups and MSME projects have also come up in the state. However, much more needs to be done in order to consistently attract even more capital to the state even as other states are also gearing up for the same and thus creating greater competition. On the positive side, between 2015-16 and 2021-22, the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) expanded at a CAGR of 7.8 percent to reach Rs. 2.78 trillion.

According to the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), cumulative Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflow stood at about USD 710 million from April 2000 and June 2020. Between October 2019 and December 2021, FDI inflow in Uttarakhand stood at USD 123.91 million.

Uttarakhand has doubled its exports in the past five years. In 2021-22, the total exports from the state stood at USD 1.73 billion. Major items exported from Uttarakhand are products made of zinc, drug formulations, agriculture and food processing, organic produce, aromatic-medicinal plants, biotechnology, handicrafts and flowers.

Some of the sectors with huge potential but having failed to live up to the potential are hydropower, IT and horticulture.  Horticulture data as released officially has been challenged by many within the system itself. An independent audit is required to come out with real data so that planning and execution of horticulture schemes and projects could be done on a realistic basis.

Dehradun and Roorkee are education hubs, and with many good universities to boast of, Uttarakhand has been producing a large number of IT professionals who are employed by top IT companies of the country. However, no top IT company actually operates from Uttarakhand. The state has simply failed to attract major capital in the IT sector, so far, despite the potential.

Uttarakhand is home to the fragile mountainous region of the Himalayas and has witnessed a series of natural disasters over the last 20 to 30 years. In June 2013, Uttarakhand suffered one of its worst natural disasters which claimed the lives of thousands of people and animals. Nine years down the line the reasons that caused the disaster and amplified the damage remain as is. What is alarming is that instead of addressing the causes that led to the disaster or increased its magnitude, the Uttarakhand government continues to allow or seek more dilutions to the stringent green laws. More than 300 villages await relocation due to their vulnerability but nothing concrete is being done about it apart from casually seeking Central funds for the same.

Unplanned urban growth also is a major challenge in the state and urban laws have not been strictly implemented. Dehradun and Haridwar are two big cities and both suffer from unplanned growth and illegal constructions and as a result are choking. As far as the issue of the state capital is concerned, it remains largely a political one and not a people’s concern.

Unemployment and the resultant continued migration pose a great challenge for the state. The unemployment rate is nearing 11 percent as per the official records, though unofficially, the figures could be much higher if underemployment is also taken into consideration. Migration from the hills may be a natural phenomena due to increased urbanisation but, in Uttarakhand’s context, it is also because of lack of enough schools, dearth of teachers actually posted in the hills in government schools, lack of good hospitals and poor road connectivity in the hills. Of course, the road network has improved considerably in the past few years but the other two issues remain major issues yet to be dealt with effectively despite tall political claims of commitment to tackle them.

Political instability has been a key feature in Uttarakhand politics in the past twenty-two years. In these years, Uttarakhand has already seen nine Chief Ministers and, with the exception of the last assembly elections, every government has lost elections mainly on account of mediocre governance. If the BJP was able to retain power in 2022 elections, it was more due to Centre’s generosity with funds for infrastructure development in Uttarakhand than due to the performance of the last BJP Government in the state.

However, the new CM, Pushkar Singh Dhami, has generated some aspirations among the youth of the state and, despite losing his own personal election in the assembly elections, he was able to steer his party towards retaining power for the first in the state. He needs to continue being easily accessible to the common person and stay grounded if his promise to make Uttarakhand one of the leading states in the next decade is to become a reality.