Mountain Cities : Engines of Economic Growth

By R S Tolia • Third Innings • 25 Feb 2014

Urban areas, acknowledges India’s Twelfth Plan document, are engines of economic growth. According to it urbanisation will be central to India’s strategy of achieving faster and more inclusive growth because agglomeration and densification of economic activities and habitations, in urban agglomeration stimulates economic efficiencies and provides more opportunities for earning livelihoods…urbanisation also increases avenues for entrepreneurship and employment compared to what is possible in dispersed rural areas.

Indian Mountain Initiative ( IMI ), which began with the first Sustainable Mountain Development Summit ( SMDS  I ) in Naini Tal in 2011 has been trying to change the paradigm of planning and development for mountain states both at the national and state level. It was at the very next Summit, SMDS II in 2012 at Gangtok, Sikkim that issues regarding the emerging urban scenario in our Mountain States engaged the attention of the participants. Dr K.C. Sivaramkrishnan, key note speaker and Chairman Centre for Policy Research underlined the issues that are unique to our mountain cities. All of these are obviously a by-product of mountain specificities like topography, slope, altitude, restricted space etc. As the third SMDS held at Kohima, Nagaland  in September 2013 also could not accommodate any time for it a decision was taken to hold a National Workshop on Mountain Urban Cities early in 2014. Mussoorie, the Queen of Hills in Uttarakhand was selected as the venue, for this major event to be held on 19-20 January, 2014. Mr PD Rai, Member Parliament, Sikkim took upon himself the responsibilities of the Convenor and the Centre for Public Policy, Doon University, agreed to be the local host. The National Centre for Urban Management ( NCUM), LBS National Academy of Administration, NIAR and the Municipal Board, Mussoorie constituted the other co-hosts of this inaugural event. For the IMI it also became a new venture of holding a stand alone event on a major sectoral theme, outside its annual SMD Summits and intervening Meet of the Mountain States, held in New Delhi after every annual Summit.

The National Workshop divided the theme into Planning, Water and Sanitation, Urban Transport and financing of these physical and social infrastructures. It was not a usual Workshop in the sense they are ordinarily organised as the event was preceded by a research mounted by Arch. I., a Delhi based urban development consultants, who spent considerable time visiting various offices in Mussoorie town and offices like the Mussoorie Dehradun Development Agency ( MDDA ), utilities dealing with public services e.g. water, sewrage, electricity, sanitation etc and eliciting views of various stakeholders like district administration, town planners, local citizens, schools, private transporters and so on. Mussoorie town is historically under strict review of a Monitoring Committee ordered by the Supreme Court of India, and a Carrying Capacity study had already been undertaken in early 1990s. This advance filed research was converted into a 3 D model of Mussooroe Hill Station which became the focus of attention, triggering an intensive discussion during the two days of the Workshop.

Participants consisted of representatives of Ministries of Urban Development, Science & Technology ( Climate Change Programme ), representatives from capital cities of Jammu& Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Uttarakhand, Members of Parliament, Mayors, Chairmen, Municipal Commissioners, state officials belonging to various related departments etc. ICIMOD, GIZ, ADB and other regional mountain bodies and funding agencies also sent their representatives. Organising and event of this size, during the peak winter season in a Hill Station, presented great challenges and as it happened the participants experienced all possible contingencies, as it were in more than full measure.

Originally the participants were expected to arrive in Dehradun by road, by air and by train from all corners, from Leh-Ladakh in the extreme west to Shillong and Gangtok, in the North East India. On the 18th night it snowed and snowed breaking 19 year old record and the 30 km road stretch between Dehradun and Mussoorie got chocked both by very heavy snow and all kinds of vehicular traffic, carrying tourists, merry making youth-converging on Mussoorie, from far and wide. Plan B, that had been made by the local organisers, came handy and participants had to be housed in alternate accommodation, in as many as three alternate locations in Dehradun itself ! After five hours of anxious wait it was decided to commence the inaugural plenary at Aketa Hotel in Dehradun itself. All participants converged at Aketa Hotel, where Ms Vandana Chavan, Member of Parliament and former Mayor of Pune, delivered a highly emotive and thought-provoking Inaugural address. Around 6.30 PM assisted by local authorities the participants moved in a convoy towards their destination, the National Academy of Administration, in Mussoorie, barely 30 kms away.

The entire length of the Hill road was choc- a- block with small private cars, taxis full of inquisitive and festive tourists and sight-seers and an unprecedented number of two-wheelers, driven by young merrymaking riders each with 2 to 3 pillion-riders, shouting hoarse in a merry-making mood ! Four wheelers and two-wheelers were moving dent to dent both ways, district authorities forced to strictly regulate the two-way traffic through-out the night. Last 15 kms of stretch had piled –up snow, 2 to 3 feet high, barely allowing passage of taxis towing the participants. The record heavy snow had struck besides the snow-piled roads, making traffic impossible the electricity had been disrupted in the entire city, including the hostel and the main venue of the Workshop ! With roads laden with 3 feet high snow, regular electricity somehow substituted with generator-lighting arrangements, arrival, accommodation and dinner arrangements of the participants, pressed and stretched the arrangements into their ultimate extreme. It was late into night that participants could settle into their make-shift, some last minute night-rest. Originally planned reception by the Chairman Manmohan Singh Mall, at the Board Room, and introductory meeting with local citizens, had to be postponed due to highly inclement weather !

 The Workshop proper, on the 20th January, however, opened in a bright sun-lit morning, at the state-of-the art Convention Centre of the LBS National Academy of Administration, Gyan-shila. Participants were welcomed by Manmohan Singh Mall, Chairman Mussoorie Municipality, and the Inaugural presentation by Dr Akhilesh Gupta,  Advisor, Department of Science & Technology, Climate Change Programme, exposed the participants to the rolling out of the National Mission on Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystem ( NM SHE), one of the eight National Missions of the Climate Change architecture. Dr Akhilesh Gupta shared that this Mission has to involve all eleven mountain States and Sustaining Urban Habitat was one major part of this Mission and he looked forward to engaging with many stakeholders who had assembled in this Workshop. Ms Patricia Mukhim, a renowned environmental activist from Shillong raised many a doubts regarding the way the official roll out of these Mission take place and how far removed are common man even from the jargon that gets deployed in official communications ! She urged for use of simple and lay man language and better understanding of mountain habitat related problems and issues. Mr Kush Varma, DG, National Institute for Administrative Research ( NIAR ) welcoming the participants shared his own experience and looked forward to mainstreaming the learnings of this National Workshop and its follow-up by the IMI. Inaugural Plenary generated a charged exchange with participants welcoming this initiative and underscoring how the problems and issues of small and medium mountain cities get ignored both by the state governments and marginalised due to non-implementation of the 24th Amendment to the Constitution, specifically aimed at empowerment of the urban local bodies.

The 3 D Model and Case Study developed by Arch.I. and led by Mr Anna generated huge interest among the participants and the post Inaugural plenary session, which attempted a future vision for this 33.600 population Hill Town, created a very appropriate back-drop for the three planned break-out sessions, on Governance & Finance, City Planning and Architecture and Public Utilities and Services. The break-out sessions allowed participants to exchange views and experiences of various towns, experts, officials, public representatives, town planners and concerned citizens. Arguably, such a cross section of people, drawn from governments, Central Ministries and mountain States, institutions, utilities and town-planners had taken for the first time, in a small mountain city like Mussoorie. Not only the issues related to the Flagship programme of urban development, namely the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Revival Mission ( JNURM) and another National Mission, Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystem, were shared for the first time, in context of small mountain cities, but a realization was driven home that the mountain cities receive the same treatment as do the mountain issues on the national canvas of policies.

The valedictory plenary, guided by Ms Bharti Ramola and Sushil Ramola, in which the insights gained in the three break-out sessions were discussed after presentations, showed that a the participants had been exposed in a fair measure to the main issues and agendas that require to be attended to, on a high priority, at various levels in multiple forums, from grass –roots right into the national policies levels. Heavy snowing, near intractable transportation, over-stretched carrying capacity of a small Hill Station like Mussoorie, damaged and disrupted public utility like electricity and water and a near absence of any planning or future plan provided a made-to-order backdrop for this inaugural workshop on a highly neglected public policy, urban development in mountain regions, as distinct from the burgeoning cities in the plains region –the latter, a high priority both for the mountain states and the Urban Development Ministry. Participants and the local organizers, among others, especially thanked the Convenor Mr PD Rai, the Academy and the Doon University Volunteers, who braved all possible odds offered by the Nature.

Participants of Mountain Cities 2014

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