Kedarnath Temple in Uttarakhand (Vinay Santosh Kumar/Hindustan Times via GettyImages)
Snapshot
  • Under Trivendra Singh Rawat, Uttarakhand has made sure-footed progress in several areas, which has helped the state to drive out the ghosts of 2013, and start recovering.

Uttarakhand was created as a new state of the Indian Union, along with Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, in 2000, after a long and bitter struggle. The intention of creating smaller states was to enable better local governance with proper representation for the native population. While the objectives of creating small states were achieved, Uttarakhand never really got the central support required to develop as a ‘standalone powerhouse’.

As per the 2011 census, the state had a population of approximately 1 crore, which, at a 19 per cent growth rate, would reach approximately 1.25 crore in 2019. Roughly 70 per cent of this population lives in rural areas. The gender ratio is 51:49 in favour of men. With 80 per cent literacy, Uttarakhand has a tradition that places tremendous importance on learning and writing in native languages, Hindi, and the state language Sanskrit. The state is also largely untouched by caste-based shenanigans which plague large parts of the country.

Uttarakhandis have a disproportionately high representation in the Indian armed forces among the population. Awards for bravery and coffins from the border – both routinely turn up in the state. In the recent years though, rampant denudation of the Himalayan green cover, the dire shortage of water, subsequent reluctance to pursue agriculture (just 11 per cent of the population practises agriculture), and the unending migration to the plains in search of jobs, has negated the positives of a strong, hard-working, literate, and a very progressive society. These issues have also forced the Uttarakhandis to take a hard look at their political choices.

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept Uttarakhand in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, a year after the 2013 Uttarakhand flash floods. These floods claimed about 6,000 lives. The botched rescue operations, and the illegal construction and environmental degradation that led to the landslide, the shameful state of the holy pilgrimage site of Kedarnath even a year after the floods, built resentment against the Congress government.

The BJP repeated its strong performance in the 2017 state elections. The party won 57 out of 80 seats in the state assembly to form the government under Trivendra Singh Rawat. Under Rawat, the state has made sure-footed progress in several areas, which has helped the state to drive out the ghosts of 2013, and start recovering.

Agriculture And Water Management

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The state has nearly 16,599 villages of which almost 700 in the remotest rural areas were depopulated and have remained ‘ghost villages’, according to a report by the Rawat-constituted Uttarakhand Migration Commission. The surest way to control migration is to encourage people to stay back in their villages and take to profitable farming again. Agriculture is being perceived as non-lucrative, and the key reason why the current generation is leaving the villages.

To encourage people to take up farming, the Rawat government started giving farmers a bonus of Rs 20 per quintal of wheat sold, with immediate payment for wheat purchased from them. Other measures included 80 per cent subsidy on purchase of farm equipment from farm machinery banks, no interest on agriculture loans, and loans to farmer cooperatives of up to Rs 5 lakh. All dues of the state’s sugarcane farmers have already been cleared.

A far-reaching transformation may be achieved by promoting organic farming. The proposed Organic Agriculture Bill will give legislative support to the Rawat administration’s plan to develop organic farming in the state. Private parties will have to register themselves under a law prohibiting the use of chemicals in an organic farming area. They will provide seeds and plants to farmers, who will have to get their produce certified as ‘organic’. This will pave the way in building a ‘Brand Organic Uttarakhand’ which would signify great quality.

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The proposed Nursery Management Bill will penalise any company duping farmers with non-organic saplings and non-heritage seeds. The Rawat administration aims to develop 10,000 organic clusters under the central government funded Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana that will benefit up to five lakh farmers. Eventually, this would lead to the establishment of an integrated organic village model, which will have facilities like cold-storage units, sorting-grading units, and farm machinery banks, much like the clustering in textile producing villages.

The Reliance Foundation, that does a lot of work in the region owing to the owners’ personal belief in Badrinath, organises water conservation and management workshops in different villages. Recently, the Almora district won India’s top conservation award for its Kosi River Conservation and Rejuvenation project, which sought to increase the flow of the river – a lifeline for more than 350 villages and towns. As part of the project, 1,67,755 saplings were planted in the catchment area of the Kosi River, led by Chief Minister Rawat personally, to improve the ground water level.

Infrastructure, Power And Connectivity

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Uttarakhand has been blessed with great road infrastructure, thanks to Bhuvanchandra Khanduri, the Minister for Roads in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Under the Narendra Modi government, the state has overshot its targets under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY). Uttarakhand constructed 1,839 kilometres of rural roads as against a target of 1,500 km set for the year 2017-18. It connected 207 habitations with roads against a target of 172.

The infrastructure projects underway in the state include the Rs 12,000 crore all-weather road project, the Rs 12,000 crore Bharat Mala project and the Rs 16,000 crore Rishikesh-Karnprayag Rail Project. Various National Highways are being built in the state at a cost of Rs 9,000 crore. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari has also kickstarted several projects under the Namami Gange programme. Gadkari has also inaugurated 20 ghats and 16 crematoria at various places in Uttarkashi, Rudraprayag, Tehri Grahwal, Pauri Garhwal, Haridwar and Chamoli districts.

The Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project was conceived under the Mahakali Treaty between Nepal and India in 1996. Apart from generating electricity, the project will provide irrigation facility to 0.13 million hectares of land in Nepal and 0.24 million hectares of land in India, and incidental benefits like flood protection. After resolution of differences between the two countries earlier this year, works estimated at Rs 33,000 crore are underway. The Lakhwar Project, conceptualised in 1970s, has finally started to take shape under Nitin Gadkari. This project is located on the Yamuna near Lohari village in Dehradun. Besides generating hydroelectricity, it will cater to the drinking water needs of the national capital and five northern states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. About Rs 4,000 crore have been invested in the project thus far.

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Border Security And Connectivity

India is focused on scaling connectivity and infrastructure along the China border. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has set a target of three years to complete all strategic road projects along the northern frontier. Work has started on the Bharat Mala project, and includes Baijnath-Tharali-Karnprayag Marg, Ascot-Dharchula-Malpa Marg, Kapokot-Munasari, Seraghat-Joljiwi Marg, Mana-Musa Water-Man Pass and Joshimath-Malari Marg.

Kedarnath Rehabilitation

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This was an emotive issue, which the BJP took up strongly both in the Lok Sabha as well as during the assembly election campaigns. The number of pilgrims visiting the Hindu holy shrines had dropped from 300,000 in 2013 to just 40,000 in 2014. In 2018, the number of pilgrims went up to a record 700,000. This figure should go up further once Mussoorie and Kedarnath are linked by ropeway. Pilgrims are also an important source of revenue for the state.

Tourism

Uttarakhand’s new tourism policy, formed after 18 years of its existence, has clear aims – promote reverse migration, and give entrepreneurship opportunities to locals through village-centric tourism.

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The Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board (UTDB) will set up investment centres and single window clearance in 670 panchayats of the state. Such growth centres have been started in more than 100 places so far. Besides creating land banks, the sector’s newly awarded industry status will ensure that in 28 allied areas, investors would avail benefits for setting up micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME).

Entrepreneurs who set up commercial projects in the hills would be entitled to 10 per cent of the capital subsidy or a maximum financial grant of Rs 1.5 crore. Those who prefer the foothills, would get 10 per cent of the capital subsidy or a maximum financial grant of Rs 1 crore. Large, mega and ultra-mega projects would also be entitled to 30 per cent, 50 per cent and 50 per cent reimbursement for state goods and services tax (SGST). The state government would bear the registration fee for acquired land and grant 30 per cent of financial aid or a maximum financial grant of Rs 50 lakh, to set up effluent treatment plants (ETPs).

The state aims to drive the message that it is a safe and tourist friendly destination. Apart from targeting the wellness, adventure, spiritual and family traveller segments, Uttarakhand is also leveraging its myriad temples and shrines to create spiritual economic zones. The state wants to position itself as a year-round tourism destination which also brings regular income to the locals. The “13 Districts, 13 New Destinations” project, the International Yoga Festival in Hrishikesh, and opening of 5,000 homestays are quick first steps with which the Rawat administration hopes to create 20,000 jobs in a year. The government is also actively wooing movie makers to shoot in the scenic locales of the state.

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Education
Next to tourism, the state is known as an education powerhouse right from the time of the British. Besides the famous legacy hill schools like Doon and Welhams, the education sector has seen learning centres and colleges flourish and attract students from other states. These students, enrolled in state-run colleges affiliated to regional universities, would be provided free-of-cost health insurance cover. Besides IIMs, IITs and AIIMS in the state, the establishment of CIPET and the National Law University, complete the higher education ecosystem. Model colleges, vocational colleges are being set up in rural areas, and a science city is being planned.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

The biggest issue for most Uttarakhandis is jobs. The BJP came to power promising jobs, inheriting a state administration with a depleted treasury, fraught with corruption in transfer postings, hydel projects that have sapped the strength of all of Uttarakhand's major rivers and left vast tracts of river beds dry.

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The Rawat administration declared 2019 as Rozgar Varsh, or the Employment Year, with a singular focus on correcting some of these ills and fostering a robust economic environment which creates jobs.

At the first ever Uttarakhand Investors’ Summit held in Dehradun in October 2018, the Adani Group announced an investment of Rs 6,500 crore, while Mahindra Group planned to invest Rs 600 crore. Amul announced plans to assist farmers in the state for higher milk production. In toto, MoUs involving an investment of Rs 70,000 crore were signed. The summit also saw the presence of leading industrial groups such as Reliance, ITC, JSW and Patanjali among others.

The state expects to realise almost 35 per cent of the MOUs within one year, which would result in Rs 20,000 crore investments in the state. This is a big figure – the state has seen Rs 40,000 crore of investments in total before the Rawat government took over. This government aims to get 50 per cent of the historical aggregate in just five years.

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IIT Roorkee introduced two incubatees, Fermentech Labs (Bio-tech) and Zunik Energy (Clean Tech), in the Uttarakhand Investors Summit. These startups are incubated at their TIDES Business Incubator. IIT Roorkee also acts as the nodal agency for Startup Uttarakhand and provides incubation support to non-IIT founders as well. They are fostering startups in wide-ranging domains, from nanotechnology to machine learning.
The state government believes that this slew of measures will help address the jobs deficit significantly in the next few years.

Healthcare

Inspired by Ayushman Bharat, the central government healthcare programme, Uttarakhand has launched the Atal Ayushman Uttarakhand Yojana, making the hill state the first in the country to offer universal health coverage. The Chief Minister had lost his own mother to poor medical facilities in his village, which he says doubled his resolve in providing universal healthcare. Each household in the state will be able to avail medical treatment of up to Rs 5 lakh annually. This will benefit 23 lakh households and cover 1,350 critical diseases. Ninety-nine government and 66 private hospitals have been selected under the scheme. An estimated 14,000 people have already availed the scheme, at a cost of Rs 13 crores to the state. An MoU with private hospitals could soon mean free outpatient treatment for children and the elderly. A dedicated air ambulance service is also operational. The Rawat administration is confident that telemedicine and teleradiology will soon reach remote areas of the state.

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Battling Social Issues

Uttarakhand has been in the grip of drugs and alcoholism menace for a while now, especially Dehradun and Haridwar with 50 per cent of the residents suffering alcohol abuse. This rising trend of alcoholism among women (28 per cent) and men (72 per cent) in the peak earning age group of 30-49 years is alarming. Social stigma prevents people from accessing de-addiction centres.

In February 2019, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand (the United Provinces Excise Act, 1910) (Amendment) Bill, 2019 to curb the menace of spurious liquor in the state with tougher penalties, imprisonment, adding to the non-bailable offence. In 2018, the governments of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Rajasthan decided to set up a common secretariat and evolve a joint strategy against drugs overcoming all political and regional divides.

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Without Uttarakhand's famously hard-working women, the state would have long entered a negative economic spiral. Under the Devbhog Prasad Yojana in Kedardham, women self-help groups are making a living selling prasad and puja samagri made of organic materials. The state government has also provided interest-free loans especially to women entrepreneurs. The Sakhi E-Rickshaw scheme is being run for single women, while a Panic button helpline has been introduced for women's safety.

The Rawat government had tackled all the issues facing Uttarakhand head on. During the Lok Sabha election campaign, he will surely have enough to talk about. For the first time in 20 years, Uttarakhandis can vote in an election judging the gap between delivery and promises. This will be quite an improvement from the constant deriding of lost potential of the state.

The ‘Devbhoomi’ is finally getting its rightful due.

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