Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Himachal Diary - A state of Development

India is rocking. India is poised. Poised to eject millions of people out of poverty. Poised to become a developed, modern country. I don’t know if we can eradicate poverty in one generation or we will lose the plot and miss the bus again. But there are clearly signs all around us that we are progressing fast towards destiny which we always believed was for ours to take. In small towns in Himachal the signs of new found prosperity are everywhere to see. Menial work is being done more and more by migrant workers from Bihar as locals don't want to do menial jobs anymore and they don’t have to anymore. I am not saying that menial work is lower but it is just that it can be taken as an indicator of how economy in a region is progressing since when a society progresses economically, the menial works are the first to be outsourced to a cheaper migrant labor since local labor moves higher up the value chain. So whether it is helping in farms, or construction, or building roads, it is increasing being done by workers from Bihar. Suddenly there are so many of Biharis in state that it has created a small law and order problem for a state which was always known to be most peaceful state in India. There is rise in murders and thefts and state Police has taken a wise step in registering all the migrant workers to keep check on their floating population. In My district, two cement factories in vicinity and an industrial hub town has galvanized the entire economy of region. In some villages, most of families own up to 2 trucks to transport cements creating a veritable jam on one of most used national highway passing through the state. Kol Dam is perhaps better example in how to rehabilitate people displaced due to construction of dams and to create employment opportunities. Horticulture which has tremendous potential in state is being harnessed now and this year massive quantities of flowers were exported to Netherlands. Farmers have moved big way towards organic farming and are growing off season cash rich vegetables in a big way. Tourism industry which is mainstay of hilly state’s economy has been doing consistently well over the years. A fledgling and nascent market of local music and movies is getting created and there are some Pahari movies made and circulated in local markets. Himachali songs and their videos are being aired on local cable channels something which never happened before.

I happened to be in my home town a month back during my vacation, where Virbhadra Singh, the Chief Minister of Congress led state government was addressing a public meeting and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by a rather rare apolitical (by our standards) and progressive speech he made. He was talking about the development that has happened in state and (in country ) and what has to be done in near future. I particularly liked his ideas about major reforms in Police force (law and order is a state subject) to restructure police force around two separate groups, one for law and order and other for case investigations. Himachalis by nature are known to be peace loving and gentle people and its police is also more friendly than what we are used to in other states, specially in neighboring Punjab. But there is still a lot that needs to be done to make Police less a force when it comes to dealing with ordinary, innocent people who are scared of reaching out to it. Later I read that State was on verge of replacing its 100 years or so old police act, which would enable major reforms the way Police force is governed in state. It would become very difficult for politicians to transfer police personnel on will. This itself will go a long way in making police more neutral, non-partisan and effective in dealing with crime since it is a known fact that transfers are used by politicians as a tool of manipulation and exerting pressure for their own selfish goals. In one of other progressive steps, Director General of Police in Himachal passed the orders for discontinuing practice from British raj where policemen had to salute all vehicles bearing red beckons, a practice of Victorian times.

Even though most of the times I am not given to romanticized nationalism or "statism", I occasionally take such liberty specially as I feel a connection to hills and lives of people who live there and Himachal being my home state , makes me feel good. Himachal has undergone a rapid transformation from the most backward part of country around independence to one of most advanced states now. State is now 4th in India in terms of per capita income. Himachal has a glowing record in education and it is also perhaps single most important factor for lifting the social and economic profile of the state. Himachal has one of highest literacy rates in India and in terms of Women literacy rate it has done very well. Districts of Hamirpur is among the top districts in country for literacy. Education makes people aware of their rights, making them politically wise. Political aware people understand their role in democracy and their stake in political power, governance and development. (Some of leaders of state understood role of education in economic and social development long back. While reading biographies of one of royals of my home district, Raja Anand Chand, I was surprised to know that he had opened schools in some remote villages of district much before independence and he actively encouraged bright students and teachers alike). Another important catalyst of development in state has been the excellent road network. For a region which has some of most challenging mountanineous terrain, the road connectivity was extremely vital for mobility of its people without which there could not have been any commerce related activity or development. Himahcal at present has highest road density among all the hill states of country with one of the Districts Hamirpur having highest road density in entire country. Roads are the veins in any region’s economy through which life blood of commerce and trade flows .

An important thing to note about Himachal is that, it has always done well in terms of economic development in last couple of decades irrespective of which party formed the state government. Having a population of around 60 lakh, Himachal has negligible influence in nation's politics and on radar of national politics; the state would appear just as a blip. But its own politics has been rather straightforward with power transferred alternatively between Congress and BJP. Irrespective of vagaries of politics in India which obviously has effect in state as well, it can safely be said that both the political parties have always looked at development of state and could perhaps share credit for it. I often wonder why certain societies do well than others in terms of economic and social development! Why do certain regions do well than others? Is it because of government policies? Should governance be the only factor to be blamed or credited? I am not an economist but I do believe that irrespective of various factors which govern economic development, the most fundamental factor is people itself. In democracy, people form governments, they chose their leader; they can influence what policies are implemented by political parties. Government is just the reflection of who it is governing. If Himachal has done well and is doing well, it is due to the fact that its people want to have better life. It is the collective will of people which translate into political will and then into policies which takes a state forward or backward. In sate elections of 2003, Hindutava was resurgent and BJP had won a massive victory in State of Gujrat. Narendar Modi, the firebrand BJP leader was the star campaigner of BJP in Himachal polls and it was hoped that hindutava would sway the voters of state to bring back BJP government. But people of Himachal thought that there were other important factors to reckon with than one's Hindu identity while voting for a government. In a predominantly Hindu state, where 95% of people follow Hindu religion, hindutava plank failed in spite of high voltage campaign on issues such as cow slaughter and Ayodhya. In state where 95% of people are also literate, far above the national average, obviously majority of people of state felt that issues of their day-to-day life like proverbial roti, kapada or makan, education, roads were far more important than a certain brand of hindutva. Congress won the election with whopping 40 seats in assembly of 65. It was a vote for development and progress.

Things are not always be hunky dory. There are always darker sides, the bitter sides. It is said that numbers don’t lie. Himachal has largest density of buses per person of its population.. Ok, so we have 22,000 km of roads in state now, but are they all really motor able? I have seen more roads in state where only motor you can drive is a tractor. Most of tarred roads in villages are of such poor qualities that while driving you wish if they had been left un-tarred. Travel in one of those small mini buses operated by numerous private transporters can be a pain as they are packed to the hilt like a jar of sardines. It is not enough to have good highways connecting just the places of tourist interest. People in small towns and villages deserve same levels of comforts and facilities. We have lot many tourists visiting state now. But knowing the potential the state has, it leaves one saddened that only surface has been scratched in this aspect. We need to learn from countries like Switzerland or even Scotland. Couple of years back while traveling through Scotland, I could not but find similarities with Himachal in terms of natural beauty. Why is that state doesn’t have a single international standard airport which can make Himachal accessible to lots of time deficient travelers! Himachal as tourist destination needs to be sold more aggressivley to foregin and local tourists. Rural tourism is a big untaped opportunity in Himachal. Railway network is almost nonexistent. Accepted that State has some of extremely challenging geographical conditions but there are various areas which can do better by connection through rail network. I believe that a haphazard, unplanned development is not development because it creates problems of its own. It is a big mistake to take trees for woods and start jumping with joy. Most of towns in Himachal are growing rapidly and new constructions are happening but all the new architectures are creating eyesore in region where tourism will always be main industry. Town planning is being overlooked and garbage disposal is becoming a problem in tourist places. There is a danger that in zeal of development, the natural resources of state would be exploited and its enviornment could be destroyed. A development which is not scalable and sustinable become useless. Planned development needs to be future proof. A future which is happening faster than we think.

Added on March 30 ,2007: This article was featured in Http://himvani.com . read here


Ravi Deep said...


Digvijay said...

Views as mentioned by Mr.Gaurav Sharma are required to get an overview of the development happening all around us in this 'age of information and convergence' to illuminate the path that we are walking as an individual,society,state and humanity to leave a much healthier and peaceful future for our children! The value of Himachal Pradesh, Uttranchal & J&K will reveal strongly within next 10-15 years wrt to its natural floura, fauna & hydro potential when the irrefutable issues facing the humanity would be 'Global Warming' & 'Urban Pollution' and the right steps taken now would pave the way for a better tomorrow!