(Published in the Garhwal Post on December 5, 2010)
Predictably press and media covering the tenth anniversary of the founding of Uttarakhand are presenting various assessments of its achievements and failures, both from the experts and common citizens. Without doubt there are some assessments which are essentially a reflection and comment on the present state of affairs rather than an over-all evaluation, and few others which indeed tend to compare its evolution vis a vis a few other states which also took their bow near about the same time as Uttarakhand. And yet there are some who even question whether it was even worth separating from a giant of a state called Uttar Pradesh, getting in bargain only a political emasculation ! Which ever way one looks at it there seems a near unanimity that if socio-economic backwardness of the hilly regions of Uttar Pradesh was a rationale for the call for its separation, that objective has certainly not been fulfilled. On the contrary the disparity between the mountainous regions and the low-lands has only been aggravated and the existing divide has further widened.
Demand for Packages
Of late a new trend also seems to be emerging, namely demanding various packages from the Central government. A package for 'keeping the state green' i.e. compensation for managing forests; or a package for 'being a state amenable to various hazards and natural calamities '; or a package for not being allowed to complete hydro-power projects like the Lohari Nag-pala etc., on environmental grounds and thus a package for 2,000 MWs of power in lieu, and so on. These demands get rephrased as 'Green Bonus', or compensation for delivering eco-system services and so on. As such demands for various packages keep getting multiplied by the day and with no light being visible at the end of the dark tunnel one wonders whether such arguments or political posturings are really going to make any impact and solve the ever-growing requirements of Uttarakhand in a highly competitive world.
Observers who have followed the on-going debates on the problems of the mountainous regions of this country, be they in the far North-eastern parts of the country, the Seven Sisters and Sikkim, or the state of Jammu & Kashmir, find the problem of their perpetual and perennial problems of development somehow linked to their being both Himalayan and Mountainous. Keen observers of the mountain ecosystems of the world would appreciate here that only ten of the twelve mountainous states of this country are really Himalayan too. The other two are partially mountainous and certainly not a part of the Himalayan chain. However, this fact is besides the point here.
Being Himalayan necessarily involves getting involved in some international border issue or the other. The position of Jammu & Kashmir is acknowledged even in our Constitution and about the North-Eastern sector, we continue to have our un-ending border talks with the Peoples Republic of China. In the North-eastern sector the states which do not have a border-problem, they have what is now known as the 'mountain specificities', their physical isolation, fragility, marginality and so on.
The Indian mountain states have had a series of Working Groups and Task Forces having been constituted to examine their specific problems, right from 1982 onwards. Names like Dr M.S. Swaminathan ( 1982 ) and Dr. S.Z. Qasim ( 1993) and several other experts have pondered over their plight and come out with a series of recommendations during the last three decades. These Working Groups and Task Forces certainly have helped in improving the insight of the country's planners and decision-makers but seem to have failed to provide real succor to the mountain people. If the implementation, or the want of it, of these recommendations of various expert groups have been able to prove anything, seems to have been the fact that small efforts would be of no avail and mere increases in 'outlays', of annual plans from year to year, is not a solution to this problem of Himalayan scale. Nothing less than a strategic shift or change would do, and the same must be tried.
Look East Policy of North-East
In the North-East, as is now well known, it was only after a North East Council ( NEC ) was created and back-stopped with a full-fledged Department of Development of North Eastern Region ( DoNER : 1993 ) was created in 1993 that there was some change in the manner in which the North-Eastern states; problem were understood and really addressed. And it was finally a Look East Policy which started looking to an outing towards the South East countries like Myanmar, China and Thailand and engagement with the ASEAN countries that the North East states could some reprieve. This dual relief of ( i ) a dedicated Department, later upgraded to a Ministry for DoNER, backed with a North East Council, and ( ii ) a forward and startegic shift policy of Look East, which has really stemmed the rot. A look at the Annual Report of the Ministry of DoNER and the various Sectoral Summits, special dispensation provided by all Central Ministries, would make us realize here in Uttarakhand, what is missing in action here.
Look North Policy for Western Himalaya Development ?
Does it follow that nothing short of a Look North Policy for the Western Himalayan states, as has been done for the North-States already, do ? Have we heard our Parliamentarians informing the people of Uttarakhand or Himachal Pradesh inform that China is about to commission an aerodrum at the bottom of Kailash-Mansarovar in 2010 itself, or that all Indo-Tibet Autonomous Region ( TAR ) border points stand linked with all-weather roads across the Himalayan border, or that the entire Ngari Prefecture and the Tibet Autonomous Region is criss-crossed by excellent roads, in many tiers of roads, or that the foreign travellers are going to cross a million mark soon there ? Well, even if our MPs have not considered it necessary to inform all these facts to the residents of the Western Himalayan states, or they themselves do not consider to assimilate the significance of these happenings across the border, the fact remains that these are all well known to the outer world. Thanks to Google and the assorted sites on the web, these are no more secrets to be guarded any more.
So, what seems left only to be demanded by these Western Himalayan states from the Central Government, is a bold and forward looking Look North Policy, matching what China has already done in the Tibet Autonomous Region for the development of Western Tibet. The entire world knows how a rail-link was provided to Lhasa, over hundreds of miles of perma-frost ! Hope our Railway Ministry id aware of such engineering feats and they are also planning something to match. Cis-Indian mountain states mercifully have no perma-frost tracts, only rocky mountains to negotiate to reach a Bageshwar or a Srinagar in Garhwal Himalayas.
Constituents of a Look North Policy
It does not take much to suggest what should, rather must, constitute a Policy called Look North. The following suggest themselves:
Link all international border-points, closed after 1959, with all weather roads and maintain them by our Border Roads Organization and designate them Strategic Roads, immune from resource scarcity,
Lipu-lekh, Milam, Niti and Mana must be linked by 2012 as already announced, and these be fast-forwarded with the help of inter-Ministerial co-operation,
Include restoration of traditional border-trade, stopped after 1959/62, and re-negotiate the terms of the MoU for trade and include pilgrimage and tourism,
As western Himalayan sector has no contentious border-issue the Chinese should also encourage freer passage to Indian tourists and pilgrims as has been allowed to foreigners in Western Tibet today,
Construction of a Himalayan Highway, linking Lohaghat in Uttarakhand with Leh, in Ladakh; with openings into western Nepal; this was announced in 2006 and was expected to be constructed by the National Highways Authority of India ( NHAI),
Efforts like Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh who have been permitted to construct as many as four Ashrams ( guest houses ) on Nepal-Kailash-Mansarovar route and also on Kailash Parikrama route to be encouraged, on both sides of the Himalayas, and
The Char Dham Yatra be up-graded to Panch Dham Yatra by inclusion of Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra, once the routes of Mana, Niti, Milam and Lipu-lekh are linked with regular roads. This will provide a big boost to pilgrimage, trade and tourism for millions of persons and ensure bridging the present isolation of te northern mountain districts. Western Tibet is the most natural and traditional market for Uttarakhand region, with spin off effects in the central Himalayan tracts.
It is learnt, as was shared during the recent ICIMOD Governing Board's meeting, held at Mussoorie, that a Kailash Sacred Landscape Cultural Initiative ( KSLCI ) has already been agreed upon amongst China, India and Nepal governments under the joint aegis of ICIMOD and IUCN. Kailash – Mansarovar Sacred Landscape Initiative has the potential to administer the much needed calming balm that is required to restore back the badly fractured cultural heritage that used to once provide a strong bondage between the sacred places of this Centre of the Universe ( Meru and Jambu Dweep).
According to informed observers of the mountain scenario of India, it is only such a bold and forward looking Look North Policy which can provide the much needed injection to the Himalayan region, in the western Himalayas, to catch up with the rest of the world. Mere tinkerings here and there, a few hundred crores worth of sops, now and then, for this or that, is not what is needed any more but a bold Strategic Policy push, like a Look North Policy by the Indian Government, to be demanded from the Centre by all well-wishers of the region, that is the need of the hour.