A Mountain of ‘Mountain Agendas’

Arun Jaitley’s first Annual Budget ( 2014-15 ) has been presented in the Parliament and the news print and electronic media is as usual busy debating its final import and impact on various segments and sectors of the society. Being the third year of the Twelfth Plan ( 2012-17 ) it also happens to be Mid-Plan year and thus it could as well be looked at as the Third Annual Plan of the Twelfth Five Year Plan. In the usual course it is always towards the latter half of this financial year, as the practice has been so far, time to undertake a Mid Term Plan Review. While a few decisions that touch Uttarakhand in particular and the Indian Mountain States in general have appeared in the local editions of major newspapers and few concerns have also found their place among editorials ( Dainik Jagaran on absence of any imprint of Green Bonus, for instance ) by and large informed opinions are yet to appear on various agendas relevant for mountain regions, cumulatively making it a Mountain of Mountain Agendas. Even after more than 12 rounds of central planning and more than six decades of centralised development a national realization is yet to sink in that merely tinkering and juggling with Programmes and Schemes, big ticket or otherwise, major issues related to peculiar physical features like the ‘Mountain Regions’, or for that matter those of the ‘Western Ghat’s, or ‘Coastal Regions’ are unlikely to be resolved. Each of these would need dedicated administrative architectures with inbuilt provision for storing ‘institutional memory’ and highly flexible but substantive administrative and financial response mechanisms. These three unique climate change sensitive regions deserve national attention on a scale as has not been thought of before. ‘Namami Gange’ could be taken as a good pace-setter but the former challenge is far more complex, much more urgent.    

Highlighted by Climate Change Concerns

Thanks to the impending threats that the Climate Change related studies are now highlighting a beginning has been made when as a first step the three Western Himalayan States of J&K, Himachal Pradesh and the eight North Eastern Mountain States ( The Seven Sisters plus Sikkim ) have now been listed as two of the Four Most Sensitive Regions, the other two being the Western Ghats and the Coastal Regions. In this so called 4×4 Sensitivity Analysis, while the 11 Indian Mountain States, get highlighted for the immediate attention that they deserve, especially in the Agriculture, Water, Forest and Health ( the second 4 of the 4×4 Analysis ) sectors. Similarly, as far as this business of highlighting the importance of both the Mountain Regions and all the Four Thematic areas is concerned, which also got suitably reflected in the eight National Missions, one of them being exclusively dedicated to the Himalayan Ecosystems ( NM Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystems ), on the awareness front no better beginnings could have been imagined. However, when it came to taking these agendas forward it could safely be concluded, even at this early stage, that all 11 Indian Mountain States have not been able to apply the kind of pressure they were expected to wield within each individual state as well collectively, as a lobby. This small piece is no place to elaborate on this very glaring failure but it can safely be said that the kind of concerted action which was expected did not come about because there was no Common Platform through which these eleven states could have leveraged the opportunity provided by the Climate Change discourse. True, there are supposed to be Union Ministries and administrative institutions and even R & D development organizations which have been set up during the past three decades or so, but each of them has been singularly either silent on the need to move forward quickly, if not been even inimical to the developmental interests of these mountain states. One could straightaway name some of these administrative structures who should have taken the kind of initiative that is being discussed. The Ministries of Environment and Forests ( MoEF ), Development of NE Regions ( DoNER ), North Eastern Council ( NEC ), Science and Technology ( S&T) and GBP Institute of Himalayan Environment & Development ( GBPIHED), Almora. The multiplicity of these administrative and development institutions and organizations have led into a situation where the various ‘mountain issues’ have been over-shadowed by either the sectors with which they have been very unfortunately coupled , e.g. ‘environment’ with ‘mountain development’, in the case of MoEF, or purely channelizing of resources DoNER and North East Council (NEC). If there is one consensus among those who are aware of these sets ups is that they have singly and collectively failed to bring forward effectively a range of mountain agendas to the attention of either the Parliament or the highest decision making body, the Union Cabinet and the Prime Ministers. Consequently, mountains and their amazing natural resources remain unharnessed, unutilized and pressed into the service of the nation, in general and the mountain populations, in general.

Private Bill on a Ministry for Mountain Development

Parliamentarian Ramesh Pokhariyal ‘Nishank’ has done a yeoman service to the highlighting of this over-delay that has already taken place by taking a salutary lead, if one goes by the news item that has appeared in some newspapers i.e. precipitating  a discussion through moving a Bill for creation of a dedicated Ministry for the eleven Indian mountain states ( some prefer to make it twelve, including the Darjeeling Hill Council of West Bengal ). This writer has always consciously refrained from calling this proposition as a Ministry for Development of Himalayan States, for at least as many as four states in the North East are not covered by or are a part of the Himalayan range of mountains. Naming it so would clearly be a misnomer and let us not begin with disclosing our historic ignorance ! For a change let Kavi ( poet ) Kalidas of the Meghdoot vintage be given a rest and allowing him to be replaced by our modern-day Scientists, Prof. Khadga Singh Valdiya of the ‘Making of India’ fame ( a book by the eminent Professor on Geological Origin of India ), making a modest beginning by scientifically understanding of our great mountains rather than just worshipping them as Gods and demi –gods, we already have done enough damage to them by doing so ( Namo Gange !).

What the Lok Sabha is reported to have discussed the other day via a discussion on a Private Member’s Bill, has its origins in a number of Expert Body’s Reports, Task Force Reports commencing from early 1980s, when a Planning Commission body under the chairmanship of Dr MS Swaminathan looked at our uniquely endowed mountain ecosystems. If any one was looking for justification of dedicating an administrative architecture to systematically and comprehensively address its multi-dimensional problems today there is no dearth of the same. Diagnostically speaking not only there exists a series of informed documents which have logged its uniqueness and importance, as said, now the Climate Change discourse have also highlighted how criminally has it been ignored in terms of its scientific and socio-economic understanding. UNFCC, IPCC, 4×4 Sensitivity Assessment, the eight National Missions have now driven the point home and the time has come to take the bull by its horns. Mountain Development and sustainable development of the eleven mountain States of India has to be given the priority it had always deserved but pushed hitherto under the huge carpets of ‘Environment & Forests’ or alternately ‘Science & Technology’.

Re-structuring existing National Mountain Architecture

This Private Member Bill, which according to the news-item, received open support from several other Members of Parliament, across political affiliations, including Saugat Roy of Trin Mool Congress, Ninang Ering of Indian National Congress, PD Rai of Sikkim Democratic Front etc now can be taken as a national consensus on the need for such an official national platform. In the absence of any inputs in respect of how such a Ministry dedicated to sustainable mountain development is to be constituted the following suggestions are offered for further consideration, which also takes into account what all one has been hearing right from the run up to the General Elections for the constitution of the new Lok Sabha, particularly focussing on ‘Modi-speak’, rather ‘Modi Uvach’ :

1.       Upgrade the existing Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region ( DONER) and name it as Ministry of Mountain Development, by including the three remaining North Western States of J & K, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, under its ambit. While doing so it would not be inconsistent with the NPA/BJP stand that there would be no further proliferation by creation of new Ministries and/or Departments; it should also be ensured that by doing so all existing major initiatives which have been taken up will not only continue but would also be further improved, expanded and implemented on top priority. While doing so a similar set of affirmative action should also be taken up for the newly added three North Western mountain states. These exists a case to thoroughly review the role and functioning of DONER and even NE Council as both these structures have not been able to enthuse peoples of the North Eastern States by their performance so far. Their rationalisation and manning calls for some clear thinking and empathy towards long-neglected NR region.

2.       Mountain Development so far has not been accepted as a subject and thus it would need to be included, following international nomenclature as ‘sustainable mountain development’ ( this expression now has a place in recently concluded Rio +20 Final Document, which has three paragraphs on sustainable mountain development ) now. This Constitutional Amendment would ensure a formal acceptance of a ‘subject’ and find a place in the Seventh Schedule ( Art. 246 ). Going by past experience it would be advisable to include it under List III, or the Concurrent List, so that it should not be difficult for the States as well as the Centre to formulate their own Rules and Regulations for its speedy and effective implementation. Let is not suffer the fate of say a subject like ‘Environment’, which remains a Residual subject, thus inhibiting any initiatives on the part of  the States and the PRIs, for instance ( cf. Twelfth Plan document on Environment ).

3.       By bringing the subject of ‘sustainable mountain development’ under the Concurrent List and under a dedicated Ministry for Mountain Development, the Rules of Business should also expressly put all organisations, institutions, administrative structures ever created for and in the name of ‘mountain development’ under the exclusive control and administration of this newly re-constituted Ministry. In the meanwhile, nothing prevents Government of India to transfer all subjects and structures existing in MoEF or anywhere else, e.g. National Mission on Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystems ( NMSHE), GBP IHED, Almora etc under the existing Ministry for DONER, which has more to do with these Missions and institutions than say MoEF or Mo Science & Technology. In fact, a thorough combing should be undertaken and all Ministries and Departments should be asked to inform the new proposed Ministry what all Programmes, Schemes and institutions will now stand transferred to the latter, and

4.      The uncertainties about the future of Planning Commission, admittedly not a Constitutional entity, is not very conducive, at least from one point of view. When it comes to the ‘institutional memory’ about the national development there is no denying the role this august body has discharged. It is the same body which handled the much-maligned Hindu Rate of Growth but it has also achieved a highly commendable growth rate of 9 per cent even when there was a global economic melt-down. Like every other institution it also requires a new make up but throwing the child with the bath –tub is hardly a prudent decision.  For example, as a sounding –box and as a resource centre, it has done a yeoman service to the progress of the country. Financial allocations to the Ministries and the States, which the Finance Ministry has done, is let it be appreciated is just the beginning of a process and it should not take an exceptional mind to suggest that its follow-up, monitoring and implementation, leave aside evaluation and course-corrections, is something which is far beyond the means and capacity of a single or even a set of Union Ministries. Planning Commission is to ensure what is conceptually called a ‘Going Concern’, a body to advise and later follow-up, both not really a role of a mere fund sanctioning Ministry. Come what may, the existing uncertain veil over the future of new Planning Commission should be removed, sooner the better.

Hasten but  Slowly

Possible pit-falls which may soon become an order of the day, as also examples of re-inventing the wheel, ought to be avoided most carefully. Take for example, the case of a set of recommendation already under implementation in most of the Ministries was made by none other than a Committee constituted by the Planning Commission ( BK Chaturvedi Committee, see Planning Commission website, Reports ) itself. BK Chaturvedi Committee had not only recommended drastic restructuring of nearly 160 odd Centrally Sponsored Schemes ( CSSs) to a set of barely 60 Flagship Programmes, Umbrella Schemes etc. This is what the new Modi Government would have learned first thing had it cared to even call a meeting of the outgoing Planning Commission or its permanent body of Advisors . By overlooking the Planning Commission, and what it had been trying to reform, what FM Arun Jaitley Budget announces is a set of some 200 plus New Schemes ! If one announces 200 plus New Schemes how will that be harmonized with the stated objective of cutting down or rationalising the number of existing Union Ministries and Departments ? The small States should also heed this advise.

Space constraints does not allow further elaboration except to specificly mention that two new Schemes announced for the development of the North East, one on Organic Farming is indeed neither new or forward looking as a National Centre for Organic Farming already exists within a few miles radius of where such bright New Scheme was being conceptualised. Having said that implementation of Rakesh Mohan Committee recommendations, constitution of a dedicated Road Development Corporation for the NE is certainly a welcome move but the point remains that all these would need a body to continuously monitor and co-ordinate what all these so-called new initiative entail. Why not learn from successful examples of all States e.g. HP or UK ?

Finally, what deserves to be also stated is also the need to get all the existing set ups like the NEC, DONER and even the Ministries, present and proposed for mountain development, manned by persons who have worked in these regions, well acquainted with the development issues and concerns of these regions. This writer strongly advocates the subject of ‘sustainable mountain development’ being constructed as a new subject, under the Concurrent List, made over to a Ministry of Mountain Development, will be able to create a critical mass of politicians, as eventual Ministers in Union Ministries, and especially a body of bureaucrats who will look up to their past successful track record in serving in one of these eleven or say twelve mountain States, as an appropriate qualification for manning a Ministry exclusively dedicated to the development of our mountain regions.

A Final Practical Take

Today, this absence does not encourage our present and future civil servants, or technocrats and scientists, in excelling in subjects related to mountain development, simply as there exists no incentive in doing so. As a consequence, we have disinterested senior civil servants staying back in these mountain states, just marking time, or holding on to Resident Commissioners posts in various mountain States’ Bhawans in New Delhi, awaiting ‘kripa-drishti’ of one of the prized Union Ministries, Corporations etc, avoiding postings in remote mountain districts and states and become known as the ‘Brief-Case Bureaucrats’, as their families either live permanently in Delhi, or in some other cases in Kolkota, as used to be known during this writer’s service tenure ( the expression ‘Brief-Case Bureaucrats’ means the officials are ready to move, as their families are not with them in their place of posting and they live by their brief-cases, containing a few articles of their daily need !) Till such time civil servants are not encouraged to look up to their successful career in these mountain states, right from the beginning of their all India career, as civil servant or a technocrat, or a scientist, nothing will change, come which Government.

A healthy ‘vested interest’  has got to be created among the civil services, and technical and scientific professionals,  where they look up to their positive field experience or acknowledged performance and excellence in their respective disciplines of work,  in difficult mountain regions as a stepping stone to building their future careers, both within these States and at the Centre, not much is likely to change. To wit, a Secretary of the Ministry of Mountain Development, or the NE Council, will be picked only from amongst only those senior and eligible civil servants who have held relevant posts in one of the eleven mountain States. This is perhaps the most important and  practical significance behind bringing in a subject called ‘sustainable mountain development’ or just ‘mountain development’ and anchoring it in a Ministry also dedicated to this theme, if our mountains are to be salvaged from the present neglect. Gaining ’mountain development’ experience has to earn ‘browny points’. Amen.

R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

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