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Agenda for the new state of Uttarakhand

By Suresh Nautiyal

A people with a satisfactory literacy rate of over 70 per cent, a good percentage of them with higher education, do not deserve for themselves the impoverished conditions just because they are placed in a difficult topography and are compelled to bear the hostile geographic characteristics.

Even the formation of a new state of Uttaranchal in November 2000 and the BJP dispensation at the helms of affairs in the hill state have failed to effect a spin in the local economy. Also, efforts have not been initiated to address the failures of the past ruling dispensations that in the name of democracy, economic development, and social justice grossly exploited the poor masses and bothered the least to harness their inherent strength for the creation of a prosperous Uttarakhand based on social equity, despite the fact that this has been the primary aspiration of all democratic forces in the forefront of the Uttarakhand Movement that obligated the ‘mainstream’ political monoliths and the ‘mainland’ people to accept the Movement as a reality and become agreeable to the formation of a separate state for the hill people and those migrated from other parts.

Because of this, the larger sections of people in the new state feel betrayed and think that their aspirations would remain unfulfilled “as the interim government headed by a person with the least sympathy for the Uttarakhand Movement was just unaware about the real issues”. Adding to their woes, the political system in the country has fashioned Uttaranchal state in the mould of the predecessor states. Truly, all this came with little fanfare among many Uttarakhand citizens who continue to remain rather pessimistic about prospects for a brighter future under the present set-up. For them, the government has failed to take-off not even with their preciously acquired aircraft.

The fact is that the functioning of the BJP government in the state of Uttaranchal has become the most remarkable for its unproductiveness and lack of positive realistic vision. The ministers of the ‘Swami Nityanand’ government have nothing but fine sounding words to offer to those who had sent them to the Uttar Pradesh assembly in 1996. But, can the hollow words fill the empty stomachs?

Till date, the aircraft-trotting government has not been able to come out with the clear-cut policies on

the issues that have been dogging the larger population in the state. The interim government seems to be committed to the adhocism only and therefore has not bothered to respond to the people’s demand on the crucial issue of delimitation of the 70 seats of the state assembly as proposed in the Uttar Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2000.

The people as well as the regional political parties like the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal and the Uttarakhand Jan Vikas Party have been demanding that the geographical area ration should be taken into consideration while delimiting the assembly seats. They site large-scale migration from the state and difficult geographical conditions as reasons for such a formula of delimitation.

Also, the government has done nothing as regards the burning issue of permanent capital of the state. Instead, efforts are on to make Dehradun as the permanent capital despite the fact that there is unanimity among regional political organisations and the people at large that the seat of governance has to be established at a nondescript place called Gairsain in Chamoli district, as the place is geographically in the middle of the state and a hill station with great future possibilities. Besides, the place holds strong symbolic and historical significance as a uniting central point in the new state.

Would the Swami government change its dillydallying and ambivalent stand on the issue? The one-man commission constituted by the state government to look into the issue of permanent capital has already quit in disgust. Then there is the question of Article 371 of the Constitution that the people want to be implemented immediately so that the natural resources and lands are not sold to the vested interests and the mafia at throwaway prices.

People across the state are also questioning the veracity, the basis on which the name of the state has been christened as Uttaranchal. They ask: “If the BJP-led government is serious about Sanskritisation of names, why the names of other two contemporary states, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, have not been changed?

The government has also failed to protect the rights of the state. Its natural resources continue to be exploited by the parent state of Uttar Pradesh and the new state with little in its coffer merely plays a silent spectator in a noisy football match. What the government has done for getting back the rights over its natural resources including water and the electricity generated within the state? Does the government have an answer to it? The point is for how long the new state’s resources will remain under the control of the hegemonistic parent state? Isn’t it the same colonial mindset which we claim to have shed?

And then there is women’s demand to declare the state as nashamukta or dry state. Unfortunately, this demand has also been ignored despite the chief minister’s commitment that liquor would not be sold in the state and despite the fact that the women are the mainstay of the hill economy. Even the political organisations have been demanding that the state’s liquor policy should be framed in a way that keeps at bay the liquor mafia if not the infirm males. And, what about the large-scale smuggling of the forest produce and the natural wealth worth Rs 6,000 crore a year?

The new state, therefore, poses a unique challenge. The region remains largely impoverished despite the fact that it is rich in human resources. Isn’t it a typical case study in developing economies where short-sighted priorities and the consequent lack of opportunities have miserably failed a largely hill population and continue to systematically deny opportunity for minimal development and local participatory democracy?

In the words of Mark Annand, a development concept designer from New Zealand and with wide experience of working in the hills of Uttarakahnd, what we see in the state is a drip feed of development controlled by the political and bureaucratic elites. Pathetically, small benefits are being doled out in exchange for political patronage. One can see the pathetic pace and discriminatory application of development in essential services such as water, education and marketing facilities and particularly scarce public sector jobs. This is not to mention the gross and heavy-handed interference in enterprise.

Today, one of the most fundamental rights that are being highlighted is the right to development but this is a right that has been consistently denied to most of the people in a neglected region like Uttarakhand. Annand is right when he says that there is the virtual absence of anything resembling a modern economy in the new state. Does not it give an impression that development is something that is reserved for the privileged, the powerful and the influential middle class, and for certain social groups?

In fact, a nexus of ruling political, bureaucratic and socio-economic elites, continue to conspire to deny meaningful development to the people. If this continues for a long time, nobody can stop the local people from complete alienation from the mainland. The sole answer is in bestowing the resources on the people-controlled Panchayats, which in turn can be used for the benefit of the entire community. The point is that in a much claimed democratic set up, why the State be allowed to appropriate all economic resources and not allow people to exploit them for their own development?

Besides, the government must prepare itself for bold economic experiments and sideline the babudom by creating special economic zones in the state. Let the government be out of business and let the business take a leading role. And, in order to grow the state, it has to have consumers and to have consumers it has to have a literate and informed populace who have freedom of choice, choice of job, enterprises etc.

The economic development process in Uttarakhand holds many lessons. The Movement had its genesis in the very failure of the process to bring any substantive improvement in the lives of the rural poor. Therefore, any discussion on the economic revitalisation of the new state has to address fundamental issues. Present administrative arrangements must recognise that the forests and natural resources of the land belong to the people only.

And, the people need to empower themselves and take the responsibility of planning and executing programmes to improve their living standards. The failures of the old economic and political system have to be taken as lessons. Also, the marginalised and the most vulnerable sections of society like women, lower castes, and tribals ought to be made an integral part of the process of integrated development, which is vital in a participative democracy. The prejudiced traditionalism must also give way to fresh approaches to governance and economy.

Tourism as a traditional wealth generator has not fulfilled the people’s needs. Derivative economic benefits have bypassed the locals as well as most of the tourist agencies, hotels, buses, and shops have been run by non-Uttarakhand people. A policy of hiring indigenous labour should be promoted to better serve the native hill residents. In addition, the trend towards tourism that is hostile to the people and the natural environment must be halted and ecological and cultural sensitivity inculcated in all pilgrims and travellers.

A huge and vibrant forestry industry could be established in Uttarakhand. Till date, it has been prevented as it might create wealth for the village people and upset the balance of power. The forest policy has always been a key issue and indicative of how it was treated by the various governments. In old times, the people lived relatively harmoniously with the environment, cutting terraces into the hills and modifying nature without supplanting it and humanising nature in a careful and sophisticated manner. Also, saving the Himalayan environment should be given top priority.

Regulated exploitation of mineral wealth is another potential avenue of income but the means of excavation have to be safe, not disruptive of the geology or ecology. Other types of revenue-generating projects could include concluding new arrangements that better utilise the natural bounty of the region, which has a lot of water that goes to the plains. The new state should charge a royalty for the water that goes to other states. The same must apply to hydro-electricity. With the energy generated by these mini-hydro plants, the less damaging forms of economic growth could be promoted in lieu of sole dependence on natural resources.

Schools could be established throughout the hills to train the students in intellectual growth industries such as information technologies and telecommunications. The relatively clean air, cool climate, and proximity to Delhi are factors that could favour jobs.

Above all, the people in the hills do not want run-of-the-mill governance structure. In view of this, the new state should start the process of innovative governance by empowering its people and by putting in place a consensus-based system with representation from all sections.

The government should evolve a mechanism so that the people can meet and decide for themselves what form their government should take. For its successful functioning, a democratic system of governance must ensure that its policies, strategies, and methods are in tune with the needs and aspirations of the people it represents. The system must understand what actually it wants to deliver and how does it develop its strategies and how does it synchronise them with the people’s aspirations.

Therefore, e-governance needs to be made an integral part of the policies and programmes meant for the people. However at the same time, e-governance has to be evaluated, prioritised, and monitored to provide consistent results and allow for adjustment as necessary.

At the same time, the state will need to preserve and apply local traditional knowledge to solving her problems, which are being aggravated by the very same modernisation processes afflicting other hill regions. With a new state as a first step towards realising the long cherished goals of self-governance through e-governance. For sure, a new Uttarakhand may hold the fate of India in her hands. If it fails and becomes a replica of other impoverished, corrupt and strife-torn states, the prospects for the country’s future could be irreparably diminished. But if the new state emerges as an activist state with power in the people’s hands, then the country will awaken to a new hope.

To achieve this, the unholy alliance among the corrupt politician, the powerbroker, and the plump bureaucrat has to go, tomorrow if not today. Only this way, a smaller state in the hands of elected local representatives would not only be appreciative of the development of the neglected and deprived hills but also sensitive to the diversity of local cultures.

What probably are most needed in Uttarakhand are a renewal of democracy and the reinvigoration of the institutions of people’s self-governance as it represents a highly distinct geographic, cultural, and economic region as well as the diverse cultures, religions, languages, tribal and ethnic differences, racial variations, besides historical, geographical, and political divergences with all its complexities. These characteristics have to be preserved with great degree of tolerance.

The social movements, which have arisen to combat the influence of the mafias i.e. land, liquor, lumber, and leesa, have to be liberated from marginalisation by the penetration of state agencies by these criminal elements. The new state, if continues to be controlled by such elements, will only hasten the social and environmental disintegration not only in the state but also in the whole Himalayan region.

Yes, in such a situation, the people of Uttarakhand would feel bound to take care of the BJP in the forthcoming assembly elections due early next year. The people would most likely forget the BJP’s strongest USP that it created the state. And if they do not forget their USP, how can they forget those who had for the first time launched the agitation for a separate state and who have an agenda for meeting their aspirations.

Written in the year 2001.



  1. Paper submitted by Rajiv Rawat at the Workshop on the Governance and EconomicTransformation of Uttaranchal/Uttarakhand October 27-28, 1998

  2. Presentation by Mark Annand at the Uttranchal Development Seminar at India International Centre, New Delhi on 30 September, 2000.

  3. Suresh Nautiyal: An Ideal Case for Electronic Governance, 2001

  4. Mark Annand: Legacy of Neglect, 2001

  5. Several other articles, papers.

01/01/2001 – 00:00


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