By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 1 Jun: A strong return of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister again has opened doors for greater opportunities for Uttarakhand. Though, Uttarakhand is a small state that sends only 5 MPs in Lok Sabha, but it has generally remained an important state for the BJP. Earlier, it was under the Prime minister ship of Atal Bihari Vajpayee that Uttarakhand had seen rapid growth in road connectivity in the state. Of course though, Uttarakhand was somewhat underrepresented in Modi Govt 1.0, some good projects still came to Uttarakhand, primarily because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attachment to the state. He has visited the state several times after he became the PM. Char Dham All weather road projects, Rishikesh-Karnaprayag Railway line, Dehradun- Delhi and Haridwar- Delhi four lane highway projects are some of the infrastructure projects that were awarded to Uttarakhand by the previous Modi Government.
Now that Uttarakhand has been given a very prominent representation in Modi’s cabinet in the form of new HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, the state should aspire for greater benefits in all the sectors that are crucial for rapid development in the state. However, a lot will depend on the level of planning and persuasion by Trivendra Singh Rawat Government. The good thing is that CM Rawat has a good personal equation with BJP President and now Home Minister Amit Shah and hence is in a position to pursue with the Centre. Added to that, Uttarakhand has now got Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank who has now built good bridges with the present BJP leadership and who can be an effective lobbyist and advocate for Uttarakhand’s cause even when Rawat and Nishank are not known to be personally close to each other, but the state’s interests should overrule this personal problem.
But let us first discuss the education sector in the state. With Nishank at the helm of HRD ministry in Modi Government, one can hope to get more central institutions as well as more grants under various categories for the state. In addition, the issue of shifting of NIIT campus from Srinagar (Pauri) to Jaipur in Rajasthan is the one hanging by fire. It may be recalled that NIIT was set up in Srinagar mainly due to efforts of Nishank who was then CM of Uttarakhand. However, in these years, the successive governments could not award land in and around Srinagar for construction of permanent campus of NIIT and the lack of required infrastructure and facilities at the temporary campus of NIIT had led to agitation by the students forcing the Centre to announce shifting of the campus to Jaipur in Rajasthan. Even the courts had directed the state to award suitable land for the campus at the earliest but the government has failed to ensure this. Now that Nishank is the HRD minister, one can hope that the issue is resolved at the earliest in favour of Uttarakhand.
Education is on the concurrent list of subjects in the constitution and therefore the state should hope for grants under various categories for betterment of school as well as higher education. Efforts must be made by the state for greater grants for schools as well as for establishment of more central schools and even reopening of Clement Town located Central School. In addition, the state should pursue the Centre for establishment of more schools on the line of Navodaya Schools for children living in remote areas of the state. It is of utmost importance that the condition of schools in the hills and in particular in remote areas is improved significantly and faculty appointed for them on urgent basis. This apart, vocational training should be made mandatory to impart self employment skills in the students which can arrest the large scale migration to some extent. In fact, help can be sought not only from the HRD Ministry but also from Labour &Employment, and other related departments to get funds for this. This will depend on the state government to a large extent, how far it is willing to pursue the Centre for this.
As far as Higher Education is concerned, at least one more Central university should be set up in the state, particularly in Kumaon now. Efforts should also be made to set up, with the help of the Centre, a Himalayan university and a law university in the state.
Besides the education sector, Central aid and funds are required in almost all the sectors in order to propel growth and development. For example, above 65 percent of state’s land falls under the forests. Uttarakhand has a large top heavy forest administrative setup. Still, it lacks funds and infrastructure to even control spread of fire in the forests and every year thousands of hectares of forests are lost to fire in the state. Yet, the state does not possess any modern equipment and tools or choppers to deal with forest fires. The state must pursue with the Centre for more funds towards this. Union Ministry of Forests & Environment needs to be approached for this. Better skills and training are required to manage the forests and therefore training centres or institutes must be set up in the state for better management of forests and wildlife.
Road and rail connectivity need to improve considerably as roads are lifeline for the hill folk. Work is in full swing on Char Dham all weather roads and has also started on Rishikesh-Karnaprayag Railway connectivity. But the state government needs to pursue the Railway ministry frequently in order to push the pace of the project.
Urban development is another sector where central funds are crucial to ensure better urban infrastructure in Uttarakhand. Uttarakhand lacks resources to ensure better urban development. Dehradun, in spite of being the capital city, lacks local public transportation and a metro. Nothing much is being done by the state government towards improving this. Unfortunately, the urban development has been dealt by relatively junior bureaucrats and the state has been unable to take full advantage of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM ) earlier in UPA era and then Amrit schemes in Modi government. This is shameful for a state dependent on central funds to have missed out the benefits. It would be better if the department is given in charge of senior bureaucrats who can ensure better planning of projects and persuasion at the centre for funds.
Not only this, a city like Dehradun requires many more flyovers in order to deal with every increasing traffic woes and without the help of the Centre, nothing can happen to mitigate the traffic woes. The state also needs to aggressively plan and pursue funds under the SmartCity project since Dehradun is one of the chosen cities under the project.
Tourism has great potential but the state has dearth of funds and therefore proper viable projects should be conceived and planned and then central funds sought for their execution. Health Sector also is in bad shape. Without the help of the Centre, it is almost impossible to improve the condition of health services in the state and in particular in the hills. There are many central schemes in the health sector, but proper planning can help getting the funds under the schemes. Agriculture is yet another sector, where Centre has to play a major role in Uttarakhand. With most agriculture land holdings being small and marginal, only greater technological interventions can improve commercial viability of farms in Uttarakhand. With the exception of Dehradun, Haridwar and US Nagar, most of the farms and in particular the hill farms depend on rainwater for cultivation. Greater funds can ensure greater utilisation of meagre water resources and raise the profitability of farms. Technological interventions such as sprinklers and drips as well as polyhouses in the hills can go a long way in reducing water requirements for crops. In addition, central funds for rejuvenation of old natural springs and water sources will also be useful in making horticulture a more profitable venture even on small farms. However, so much depends on the state government as how far it is able to pursue with the new government.