Advantage Mountain States

By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 19 Feb 2015

Past two months have been witness to many events which if followed –up systematically can go a long way towards ensuring financial sustainability of this new mountain state in particular and all eleven mountain states in general. These events and developments have taken place both at the national and local levels. These changes have been of two kinds; firstly, major changes in administrative architecture at the national level and secondly, in the sphere of improvements in the planning –process of the states to leverage the changes in their favour.

NITI Aayog for Transforming India

The much awaited round-table Conference of the Chief Ministers took place in new Delhi on the 7th December 2014 heralding the National Institution for Transforming India, or the NITI Aayog. It is time that Uttarakhand which for various reasons could not do much to put in place its planning architecture now closely follows the developments that are taking place at the Centre on the one hand and link-up with the other ten mountain States, for learning  from the best-practices that have worked successfully there, on the other. The NITI Aayog Has been set up ‘ to be a catalyst to the developmental process, nurturing an over all enabling environment, through a holistic approach to development going beyond the limited sphere of the Public Sector and Government of India’. This has to be built on the foundations of  ( i ) an empowered role of States as equal partners in national development, operationalizing the principle of Cooperative Federalism’, ( ii ) a Think Tank offering domain knowledge as well as strategic expertise to all levels of government, and ( iii ) a collaborative platform facilitating implementation, by monitoring progress, plugging gaps and bringing together the various Ministries at the Centre and States, in the joint pursuit of developing goals. Here the emphasis is as provided in the NITI Aayog website ( February 8, 2015 ).

An empowered role of States obviously calls for a slew of actions which would enable each State play an effective and productive role in transforming India and better serve the needs and aspirations of the people of India. Even though Uttarakhand is the latest and arguably the last mountain state of India much is expected from it given its great lineage of ‘administrative experience’ as one of the oldest ‘mountain regions’ that experienced the benefits of modern-administration albeit as a part of erstwhile Uttar Pradesh. Among all present eleven Indian mountain states it was part present day Uttarakhand ( minus the Tehri Raj ) that experienced early taste of modern administration ( British district governance ) exactly 200 years ago ( 1815 ) ! Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal principalities were to join the Dominion of India in 1947, with Assam, and all others much later. As the birth place of ‘forest conservancy’( 1860s with Commissioner Henry Ramsay as the first Conservator ), Van Panchayats ( Community forestry, 1920s ) and a highly cost-effective, two-in-one, community-supported revenue –police ( Patwari police ) Uttarakhand became a virtual crucible of innovations in governance. Even during its UP days ( 1815-2000 ) this region has spawned and demonstrated successful implementation of rural development projects like Swajal, a World Bank funded rural drinking water and sanitation project, nurtured and developed at UP Academy of Administration, Naini Tal, which even today enjoys the status of a Mentor Training Institute, when the Swajal approach gets mainstreamed in as many as four major Low Income States, eastern UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odissa. Initiatives such as Organic Framing, Organic Certification, Certified Seed production via PPP mode ( TDC ), Embryo-Transplant technology mainstreaming and Aromatic Plants are some of lesser publicized achievements that sets Uttarakhand apart as a pace-setter, among all mountain states. Uttarakhand is again reputed to have been the host state of some of the most innovative Non Government Organizations ( NGOs ) e.g. CHIRAG, CHEA,HARC, RULEK, INHERE, HESCO, PSI, INHERE, GRASSROOTS etc which continue to contribute innovatively in capacity building, innovation incubation and providing quality human resource support to many externally funded projects in the field of forestry, watershed development, rural drinking water etc. What is required is to re-visit most of these semi-official and CBOs in providing lead in newly emerging fields, especially in the field of Poverty Alleviation and Agricultural revival- the two last being two major thrust areas identified at the national level.

Uttarakhand has in it the necessary man-power and knowledge –resource that has the potential of being up-scaled and also shared with most of the mountain states of India. What is immediately needed is to systematically document each of these past achievements and present them as up-scalable Schemes and Projects. A modest beginning has been initiated as Contemporary Uttarakhand  : Development and Administration ( 2000-2015 ) which will attempt such a documentation and all that is required is help from the concerned organizations and departments, as well as the NGOs. This obviously requires full government support. Needless to add that much needs to be done to present and capacitate Uttarakhand as a major player among the comity of States to play its expected role in ushering in the new age of Cooperative Federalism, particularly in highlighting the important role that all resource-rich eleven Indian mountain States and Mountain Ecosystems can play. A civil society initiative, the Integrated Mountain Initiative ( IMI ), has recently come into existence to provide such a platform that would reflect on this new agenda for the States and challenge. Already as many as three Sustainable Mountain Development Summits ( SMDSs ) at Naini Tal ( Uttarakhand ), Gangtok ( Sikkim ) and Kohima ( Nagaland ) have been held and disseminations christened as Meet of the Mountain States ( MoMSs ) have also been held at New Delhi, from 2011 to 2014. Promotion of Cooperative Federalism via the eleven Indian Mountain States is a growing agenda that is expected to be further explored through this IMI. Readers of Garhwal Post are a major source for suggesting practical steps to further forge this Cooperative Federalism in India, which has to be forged via several levels and knowledge-domains.

Uttarakhand Policy Planning Group

On the pattern of NITI Aayog, especially its role of providing a Think Tank, Chief Minister Harish Rawat has taken a pro-active initiative by constituting a 22 member Policy Planning Group on December 24, 2014 and it has already held its first meeting on 30th January 2015. In its very first meeting as many as 40 important suggestions have been received by the state government. These 40 odd suggestions cover the fields of Science & Technology, Regulation of Higher Education, including in Medical and Technology, emphasis on Skill development among youth, resource mobilization from the private sector, measures to retain the industries that have been established in the state through improved industrial relations and climate, leveraging of Natural Capital of the state, innovation in agriculture and development of Smart Villages/Village Agglomerations etc. As many as Six Sub-Groups are to be constituted within this Policy Planning Group to further flesh-out time bound action-points for effective implementation.  How to effectively leverage existence of several institutions of excellence available in the state through collaborative action with them, is also going to be a major approach that would be followed by Uttarakhand.

Governing Council and Regional Councils

NITI Aayog is slated to be a lean organization and is to comprise of a Governing Council, comprising the Chief Ministers of all 30 States and Lt Governors of Union Territories, with Prime Minister as its Chairperson. Regional Councils, the other tier of organizations, are to be formed later to address specific issues and contingencies impacting more than one State or region. Significantly, Strategy and Planning in the NITI Aayog is to be anchored from State-level. These Regional Council, their constitution, functions and priorities as well as their mode of engagement with various central Ministries will also require great attention of the eleven mountain States, as in the recent past the States have not had mechanisms whereby they could periodically and effectively interact with these major organs of Union Government. For the eleven Indian mountain states ( hereafter, IMI States ) , not only constitution of these Regional Councils but also their agenda setting and follow-up action, is going to be a major area of attention, as hitherto  majority of important Union Ministries like Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Water Resources, Science & Technology, Rural Development etc have not had any mechanism for regular interaction and consultations. This is a major paradigm shift in so far as the ushering in of Cooperative Federalism in India is concerned. To begin with the States will have to put in place a dedicated mechanism to respond to this major change.

Follow-up, speedy follow –up, of the decisions of the Governing Council of the NITI Aayog, and later those of the Regional Councils, which are to be set up, suggest that the States quickly re-visit their entire administrative mechanisms which evolved  particularly over the past seven decades, some even ante-dating even to the immediate colonial past. One major change that appears on the horizon quite clearly that the task of Agenda-setting gets shifted to the States. The existing mechanisms, the Departments, Directorates and various Agencies were nothing but response –mechanisms to what was initiated by one Ministry or the other, over the years. The task of Agenda –setting is far more pain-staking and time-consuming than one of responding to an initiative by another agency or party, i.e. a Central Ministry or a Constitutional agency e.g. courts or tribunals. Agenda –setting consists of considerable amount of home-work, research and pro-active action, including policy-work. The States will have to reconfigure their departmental architecture, as well as job-descriptions of various tiers from this revised roles and priorities. Departmental and sectoral priorities obviously will vary from State to State and such a SWOT ( Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats ) analysis will have to be undertaken by each of the States precede  reconfiguration of their existing administrative structures. This is a major and time consuming exercise and will require considerable amount of consultation and external over-sight.                                                                                       

Re-structuring of Departments and Response Systems

Premier Narendra Modi’s oft-repeated emphasis on three Ss, namely Scale, Skills and Speed, has been manifest in the inaugural Governing Council meeting of the NITI Aayog held on  held on 8 February, 2015, which was attended by as many as 31 States and Union Territories. Reports covering the NITI Aayog’s first Governing Council Meeting cover, as in the past, various suggestions that were read out by the participating Chief Ministers and Lt. Governors. Chief Minister Harish Rawat reportedly suggested ( i ) constitution of a Central Himalayan Council on the lines of the North Eastern Council of the eight NE States i.e. the Seven Sisters and Sikkim; ( ii ) award of 2% of GBS for the remaining four years of the 12th Plan as recommended by the BK Chaturvedi Committee to the eleven mountain States, ( iii ) continuation of the Special Category Status to Uttarakhand and other mountain States, ( iv) withdrawal of Bhagirathi Eco Sensitive Zone Notification of 2012 unilaterally by the MoEF, ( v ) construction of a Trans Himalayan Highway, linking all international border States through a Highway, ( vi ) Rehabilitation of 337 disaster-affected villages and several other infrastructures. Other Chief Ministers also raised issues and matters related to their respective States, as in the past National Development Council ( NDC ).

Three Sub-Groups and Two Task Forces

Major decisions taken at this inaugural Governing Council meeting consisted of the three Sub-Groups of Chief Ministers, respectively on ( i ) Rationalisation or Re-structuring of the existing 66 Centrally Sponsored Schemes ( CSSs ), identified to be transferred to the States, withdrawn or continued; ( ii ) Human Resource Development through Skills Development, suggest activities of skills development and appropriateness of skills to be emphasized and ( iii ) Clean India Campaign, suggestions on mechanism for the State, selection of appropriate technology and help to state for adoption of technologies. The States have also been asked to set up two Task Forces, one each on Poverty Alleviation and the other on Agricultural Revival in the State.

Restructuring of Centrally Sponsored Schemes ( CSS ) had been undertaken preparatory to the preparation of the 12th Plan ( 2012-17 ) under the chairmanship of BK Chaturvedi, a member of Planning Commission. The 144 CSSs which existed during the final year of the Eleventh Plan ( 2011-12 ) were categorised into three categories, namely ( i ) Flagship Schemes, ( ii ) Sub-Sectoral Schemes, and ( iii ) Umbrella Schemes. The existing 9 Flagship Schemes were to be continued and the National Rural Livelihoods Mission ( NRLM ) was to be added to them, making it as 10 Flagship Schemes. Next, 99 CSSs were restructured into 39, as Sub-Sectoral/Umbrella Schemes; and remaining 38 CSS were restructured into 11 Additional central Assistance or ACA/CSS. BK Chaturvedi Committee report reduced the number of CSSs from  147 CSS to just 59. These 59 during the first two years of the 12th Plan increased into 66 CSSs. Besides reducing their number from 147 into 66. The Committee also recommended “Flexi Funds” in CSS, Flexibility in Norms, modification in Funding Pattern. These recommendations have already been shared at the Kohima( Nagaland ) Sustainable Development Summit, in September 2013, and also circulated among all eleven mountain states. The Centre for Public Policy, Doon University, has also shared its Monograph as Policy Makers’ Dialogue, with all members of the Policy Planning Group, before the first Policy Planning Group meeting held on the 30th January, 2015. 

Synchronization : NITI Aayog and PPG Approaches

Given the decisions taken at the NITI Aayog on the 7th  February 2015 and those taken at the first PPG meeting of the 30th January, 2015 there is an urgent need to synchronize the approaches being followed by these two set-ups. For example, instead of the Six Sub-Groups that were decided to be set up after the PPG meeting, the same need to be grouped into the three Sub-Groups that is being constituted with Chief Ministers, on three above-stated agenda-items and the Two Task Forces, one each for Poverty Alleviation and Agriculture respectively. Clearly all existing departments of the State, some 58 plus, need to quickly put their acts together and complete work of the Restructuring of the 66 CSSs. On this agenda of restructuring all the eleven mountain States will have more in common than those which do not have mountain regions. Here perhaps the 5 Western Ghat States might also have some schemes in common with these eleven mountain States. Re-structuring of the existing 66 CSSs marks a historic transition, as far as the mountain States are concerned, which may be considered as the single most important change in the relevance of development schemes and resources that will ultimately be allocated for each of them. Secondly, there ought to be a near complete unanimity among the mountain States in respect of the CSSs that they would like to get transferred to the mountain States. Prima facie, all the schemes that fall under the subjects that are covered by the State and Concurrent Lists in the Constitution, might receive a priority in so far as transfer of CSSs to the States are concerned.

Once the list of CSSs which are recommended for being transferred to the States is finally approved by the Governing Council, the next important task would revolve around finalizing their funding patter norms and their final adjustment with various administrative architectures which were purveying them to the States. As this is going to be the single biggest decentralization, which also might involve various adjustments between the Ministries concerned and organs dealing with them, the States must immediately put in place a High-powered Committee to address this single biggest change-over. While the States undertake this major exercise it would be highly advisable to put in place a consultation mechanism between all related departments of all eleven mountain States. On-going and on-line consultation among all eleven mountain States will also be helpful to each other as well as collectively for the Sub-Group constituted at the NITI Aayog level. As co-ordination and collaboration among all eleven mountain States would require a major effort perhaps the Resident Commissioners of various Bhawans located at New Delhi may have major role to play in facilitating this process. Further, for forging collaboration among all the eleven mountain States the offices of the Resident Commissioners in these State Bhawans may also be suitably strengthened and activated. Even a periodical meeting among all eleven mountain States, before future NITI Aayog meetings, in one of the State Bhawans, may also be found as quite helpful. A Central Resident Commissioners Secretariat, of all eleven mountain States, suitably strengthened jointly and anchored in one of the State Bhawans, may also be helpful for future collaboration among these States. A beginning in this direction may also be initiated by Uttarakhand.

Regional Cooperation & Regional Councils

One of the major roles that the NITI Aayog has envisioned for itself is promoting cooperative Joint ventures among two or more neighbouring States. Nothing has pleased this author more about the new Union Government initiative than this aspect of Regional Councils, that is what joint collaborations that two or more States might consider in taking together. Its something like an Indian version of SAARC countries entering into Joint Ventures, even among continguous SAARC Countries. This writer, during the closing months of his Chief Secretary-ship ( 2005 ), had got approved a proposal by the then Chief Minister Narayan Datt Tewari, on the same lines !  After one of his tours to neighbouring Himachal Pradesh he had recommended Joint Venture by Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh in a few promising areas. Some of these areas of collaborative actions covered, ( i ) Tourism & Adventure Tourism, ( ii ) Horticulture & Fruit Processing, ( iii ) Civil Aviation and ( iv ) Agriculture. A Committee of Chief Secretaries was also suggested and promptly approved by the Chief Ministers. This proposal was sent to Himachal Pradesh Government and a formal approval from that state was also obtained. The basic idea was that several economic activities when taken by either of the States may not prove very attractive or financially viable. For example Tourism or Adventure Tourism, or for that matter Civil Aviation. But taken jointly, with joint infrastructures, destinations and seasonal options etc that idea of proposing Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh becomes far more attractive and viable. Both States could evolve SOPs for joint collaboration and action. Similarly, when we consider the fruit volume and fruit-processing facilities available in both the States jointly the utilization of existing capacities, seasonality, range of products availability and man-power offers tantalizing possibilities, besides controlling of markets, domestic and abroad. Jointly, organization of Investment Meets, on several economic sectors, become that much feasible. Possibilities are immense and highly viable. This is easily the best transformation of regional economies as a gift of federal cooperation between these two States, supported by the Union Government.     

However, no meeting between the two Chief Secretaries could take place as his counterpart, Mr SS Pawar, went on a long leave in connection with the marriage of his daughter ! It was during these dying days of his Chief Secretary-ship that he had got approved establishment of an Institute of Adventure Sports, at Auli, using the existing GMVN infrastructure, the Skyiing infrastructure etc, converting it into a round the year Centre of Adventure Sports, utilizing the base-support of the offices of as many as 9 Adventure Sports Officers, who had been recruited and appointed during that period. Even today Auli has the potential of being converted into a regional Institute of Adventure Sports, conducting various courses and holding adventure sports events.

 Tail-piece: Brand UHP

However, as was destined, this important initiative of 2005 namely proposal of Joint Ventures by Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, in as many as five sectors, proved  rather premature for its consideration and implementation and got buried in some files. This writer had even contacted Everestor Bachendri Pal, hailing from Uttarkashi to be considered for heading the proposed Institute for Adventure Sports, at Auli ! With some effort those approved Notes via RTI application perhaps, might be resurrected now , and taken forward , now that the NITI Aayog has also mooted the very same idea !

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