The demand for a separate state of Uttarakhand in the hills of Uttar Pradesh has been voiced off and on since 1952. The proponents of Uttarakhand believe that all the developmental problems of the eight U.P. hill districts (Pithoragarh, Almora, Nainital, Tehri, Uttarkashi, Chamoli, Pauri and Dehradun) would be solved if they were welded together into a separate state.
The people of the hills of Garhwal and Kumaon scarcely need to look beyond their own villages to see how little they have gained from the process of development. About 70 percent of the population lives below the official poverty line.
In their own lifetimes, people have seen the hills being denuded of tree cover and the forests of Kumaon and Garhwal converted into a hinterland for the plains’ timber industry. The degradation of forests has also meant the destruction of the peasant economy, crucially dependent upon woodlands.
About 72 percent of the agricultural operational holdings are less than a hectare in area and agricultural land itself is quite limited. Terrace farming on these marginal holdings continues to be the primary source of livelihood for a majority of the population. Clearly, the income from agriculture is not sufficient and the household economy would collapse but for the male-migration to the plains and the consequent money-order economy.
Villages are thus conspicuously deprived of their able-bodied men, who have gone to join the army, work as dishwashers in small restaurants and to other forms of “fourth-class” employment (peons, chowkidars and the like). A common Garhwal saying is — If a Garhwali does not die of hunger at home, he dies in the army.
Things have changed somewhat over the years, though not significantly. Only those who cannot hope for any other job join the army. A fair number of industrial training institutes churn out diploma holders. The spread of education and increased tourism into the region has also led to an upsurge in people’s expectations. But there is little economic activity that offers gainful employment to the educated youth.
The problem is lack of investment. Of late, there has been some investment in tourism-related activities, but not quite enough and it has tended to help only those living along the main motorable roads. With the official policy tilting towards five-star tourism and the plan for building two airports in the pilgrim routes, the economic benefits accruing even to these people are likely to be limited.
When the per capita plan expenditure on these hill districts is compared with that in the hill states of north-eastern India, the extent of their neglect by the central and state governments becomes apparent. The average per capita expenditure in the various five year plans for the U.P. hills has been less than half that for the hill states of Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Manipur. The total annual outlay for the Uttarakhand districts is less than one-third of what they contribute to the total income of U.P. In any case, a sizeable portion of the budget allocation in the hills is spent on transport which raises all costs and reduces the efficiency of what little investment is made.
Moreover, the nature of these investments has not been best suited to use of local resources. More than two-thirds of the U.P. forests lie in Garhwal and Kumaon, together accounting for 80 percent of the timber produced in the state Deodar and Chir, found exclusively in this region, alone contribute 60 percent of the state’s total timber production. Besides timber, more than 60 percent of bamboo and cane (ringaal) in U.P. is produced in this region. Yet, there is no timber processing industry in the hills. Similarly, though pine-resin from Chir worth about IRs13 crores per year is produced here, the state government transports more than 90 percent of it down to Bareilly for processing.
There is no effective forum for the airing of specific grievances. Thus, disgruntlement has found expression in a number of agitations, including Chipko, which questions many aspects of development. But Chipko never pitched itself against the state, and is yet to become an effective pressure group for its demands.
Today, there are two organisations that profess to represent the region’s true interests — the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal and the Uttarkhand Sangharsh Vahini. But neither group seems to have a development plan for the U.P. hills. Indeed, not even a critique of the excessive tourism-related development exists. It is easy to talk of not cutting any trees and saving the environment or to scream other slogans. What is needed, and is sorely lacking, are alternative development strategies that take into account social, political and environmenal concerns. Merely calling for development contributes nothing.
For a development strategy to be successful, it must be backed by local political will. A local leadership that can tackle complexities can only develop slowly. A good beginning would be to create the opportunity to address clearly and convincingly where the problems of these hills lie. Perhaps the degree of autonomous authority enjoyed by a hill development council, akin to the one for Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong, is what it takes to sort out the true priorities for the development of Kumaon and Garhwal. Such a structure would have the potential to change the social, political and economic scenario of the hill districts of U.P.
Bhushan is Delhi-based editor for the Times of India
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