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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Election over, fix Uttarakhand’s lopsided development

Rajendra P Mamgain writes: Task for new BJP government is to address out-migration flow, bring jobs and infrastructure to hill region.

Written by Rajendra P Mamgain |
Updated: March 12, 2022 10:27:37 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami (PTI/File)

The BJP will form the government in Uttarakhand for the second consecutive term. Hopefully, the new government will fulfil its promises to the electorate and work towards fulfilling the long-cherished dreams of those who sacrificed much for the creation of the state.

Uttarakhand has recorded greater economic growth since its foundation. There has been considerable improvement in connectivity and access to basic amenities. However, the development trajectory is marked by a widening disparity between the hill and plains areas of the state. The per capita income (district domestic product) in the hill region is less than half of that of the three plain districts. This has been largely due to the over-concentration of economic opportunities and quality social infrastructure, particularly healthcare services, in the plains.

Out-migration from the hill areas continues unabated despite the creation of the Migration Commission. The main reasons for out-migration — lack of employment opportunities, quality education and health facilities — have not been addressed. Unprecedentedly, unemployment has more than doubled, from 1.39 lakh persons in 2011-12 to 3.23 lakh in 2020-21. Over 54 per cent of this is in the hill districts. The youth in the hill region face a higher rate of unemployment (24 per cent) compared to the plain districts (16.4 per cent).

Economic growth has not led to the creation of remunerative jobs. Forty-seven per cent of the population is employed in agriculture, which contributes less than one-tenth of the GSDP. In the hill areas, dependence on agriculture as a source of employment increased between 2011-12 and 2019-20. In contrast, in the plains region, the non-agricultural sector is the dominant source of livelihood.
Public healthcare remains a challenge as the lack of special care facilities, including specialised manpower, forces people to seek healthcare in the plains. The state ranked15 among 19 states in its health development index. The CAG report 2019-20 also indicated the extremely poor condition of the state’s healthcare sector. Although the Covid-related health shocks presented an opportunity to strengthen public healthcare, a long-term, sustained strategy is yet to emerge.

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The promises made in the BJP’s Uttarakhand Drishti Patra 2022 and the Congress’s Uttarakhandi Swabhiman Pratigya Patra 2022 are largely around issues of employment, infrastructure development, stopping migration, empowerment of women, agricultural development and social safety nets such as minimum income support to poor households and free electricity. None of the election manifestos spoke about the resource mobilisation strategies for financing these promises.

Similar promises made by the two major political parties in previous elections largely remain unfulfilled. Testimonies are of increasing out-migration and unemployment among the youth and the persistence of poor healthcare facilities. Covid-19 has added to the woes. The need for the development of infrastructure has been flagged, but realistic concerns about environmental degradation, floods and disasters are hardly discussed.

What needs to be done? Keeping in view the genesis of the state and the progress so far, it is morally crucial to adopt a hill area-centric development strategy. This will only be possible by permanently shifting the capital to Gairsain, a long-pending public demand. This will accelerate the development process with an impactful outreach. The next important step would be to implement the Uttarakhand Vision 2030 prepared by the state government in 2018, which identified high-value agribusiness-based livelihoods, tourism, green energy, eco-services and forestry as major drivers of employment and economic growth. This necessitates government spending to enable technology support for developing livelihoods and related credit and marketing support on a large scale, particularly focussed on mountain-centric development. A hill development policy needs to be prepared to create balanced regional development. This will include developing block headquarters as growth centres by providing quality infrastructure such as roads, electricity, water, housing, healthcare facilities, sanitation, waste management, service centres, workplaces, etc. Private investment is also needed for supporting infrastructure development, including micro, small and medium enterprises and ensuring the local youth participation.

The industrial policy of the state needs to be rejigged to promote private investment in employment-intensive light industries and services in the hill region. Many of the schemes for self-employment generation and skill development need to be redesigned and pooled together to create sustainable livelihoods. For improving access to quality healthcare and educational services, the immediate focus should be on preparing a dedicated cadre of doctors, nurses, other paramedical staff and teachers for the hill region, with incentives such as better salaries, living conditions, education facilities for children. Medical colleges need to be established in all districts.

Much will depend on how the new government prioritises its development agenda in terms of resource allocations, efficacy in implementation of policies and ensuring balanced yet dignified hill-centric development in the coming years. Visionary political leadership and dedicated bureaucracy, developed through targeted training are needed to transform the migration-prone hill region into a destination of employment and prosperity for the local youth, particularly women.

This column first appeared in the print edition on March 12, 2022 under the title ‘A plan for the hills’. The writer is professor of economics, Doon University, Dehradun

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