Having achieved much of what it was established for, Uttarakhand is now at the point where it has to consider adoption of policies suited to the coming decades. The much too regular reminders from Nature about the environmental threats the state faces – from earthquakes to floods, glacial outbursts, landslides and subsidence – require intelligent responses from the powers that be. Having almost tripled the per capita income of its people, the challenges are more about sustainable practices that will consolidate the gains made. There are too many examples of poor regulatory practices and ill-considered investment. Now, that a major push is being made to attract investment, it is expected of the authorities that this is done after having learned from the experience thus far.
One of the particular areas of concern, as Uttarakhand completes 23 years of its formation, is its pattern of urban development. Districts like Dehradun and Udham Singh Nagar, for instance, have served as check-dams to migration. Many of the young people who left for the big cities and abroad in search of better prospects are being retained by the development in the state’s plains. The extraordinary vision of the late ND Tiwari that put into place policies on industrial development and social welfare played a major role in this regard.
A side-effect of this phenomenon has been an increase in not just the population of the state’s cities, but also a parallel growth of infrastructure. It has not just been to meet the needs of the migration from the hills, but also those coming from places like the NCR states to settle down here. Improved connectivity has also given a boost to tourist and pilgrim arrivals, which is becoming increasingly difficult to manage. There is also the pressure to cater to the lifestyle aspirations of a growing consumer class.
It is in this context that the state government’s plan to attract investors from across the globe seems to be directed towards the more sustainable sectors in the hills, such as natural farming, horticulture, bee-keeping, adventure sports, hospitality, village homestays, traditional artifacts, etc. Care should be taken, however, not to take short-cuts merely because these are affordable. All the funds that are expected to be available should be invested in developing infrastructure based on the best technology and latest engineering practices. It should be ensured that the primary objectives are kept in mind rather than just spending money merely because it has been made available for a particular project or activity. Everything has to fit into the larger plan and move in the appropriate direction based on lessons learned from the mistakes of the past.