Raising the Bar

Call it a sheer coincidence or the opportunity that only a place like Munsyari, almost at the  end of the beyond, can provide one, that one is able to read simultaneously about, what came to be classified as the Simla Hill States, after the East India Company wrested them from the Gorkhali empire in 1815, and a “success story” called Himachal Pradesh in 2015, spanning a period of exactly 200 years !  The Simla Hill States and the modern day Himachal Pradesh, are two names describing a single state, Himachal Pradesh, with some difference. The Simla Hill States commenced their modern day journey in 1815, when R. Ross took over as the Assistant Agent of the Governor General, even before the Treaty of Sigauli was ratified formally by the Court of Nepal, just as Commissioner Edward Gardner was ‘taking guard’ in our very own turf, Almora, then headquarters of British Kumaon. As this writer was wading though books and Gazetteers trying to compare  and contrast the trajectories followed by British Kumaon, the native Tehri Raj as well as these Hill States of what now constitutes our neighbour Himachal Pradesh, the evening email made him available ‘Scaling the Heights : Social Inclusion and Sustainable Development in Himachal Pradesh’, A World Bank Group Study carried out by Maitreyi Bordia Das, Soumya Kapoor-Mehta, Emcet Oktay Tas and Ieva Zumbyte ( IBRD / The World Bank: 2015 ).

Scaling the Heights

As Uttarakhand administration is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that the traditional opening of its piece de resistance Kedarnath and Badrinath Temples takes place in time, notwithstanding a highly unusual fort-night of April which has found  access to these temples still buried under six-feet thick sheets of snow, the World Bank of Himachal Pradesh study examines whether an infrastructure-led development will exacerbate traditional forms of exclusion, will it be environmentally sustainable, will benefits be shared equitably, whether such growth will respect institutions or assist in building new and effective ones and finally, whether citizens will have a voice in decisions about timing and location of infrastructure. In short, will an infrastructure-led growth be “inclusive” ? Well, while there are no grounds to compare the levels of development achieved by these two western Himalayan states, as their autonomous status as sub-national entities are at variance on a time scale, the questions that are being raised about our neighbouring state remain as relevant for this highly disaster-prone mountain state.

‘ Scaling the Heights, Social Inclusion and Sustainable Development in Himachal Pradesh’, the study under discussion, has been presented as a macrosocial account of Himachal’s achievements over the past few decades. As an interdisciplinary examination it is an attempt the understand confluence of factors that have resulted in allowing Himachal to move towards social inclusion and sustainable development. It certainly would be instructive to the social scientists, the bureaucrats of not only Uttarakhand but all other mountain states of India, as well as the public representative to go through the findings of this important study and reflect on whether the course that each of them is presently pursuing is likely to result in a similar scenario, and if not, what all they must do, of course in context of their development journey so far, to under-take any course correction, if one is required. If a majority of the 11 Indian mountain states tend to agree with what this study concludes then, for all of them – the bar has certainly been raised !  

Key Questions  

The report focuses on three main questions based on ( i ) Looking back, ( ii ) Understanding why, and ( iii ) prognostication, as the research-quartet puts it. Firstly, they examine whether the success achieved by Himachal Pradesh in reducing poverty and its progress in social and human development outcomes noteworthy enough to generate confidence in its track record of delivery ? Next, what have been the policy and institutional foundations of HP’s outcome and why has this state achieved relatively better outcomes ? And, finally, what are the likely issues for sustainability of social and human development and for environmental outcomes as the state ramps up its infrastructure-led growth trajectory ? Further are the previous correlates of success likely to remain robust to the rapid churning taking place across Himachal Pradesh ?

The Key Questions, some may justifiably argue, lose much of their salience in respect of majority of the North-eastern mountain states, as in  as recent as 2014 study a Planning Commission Study Group, headed by BK Chaturvedi, concluded that there clearly exists an infrastructural-deficit in almost all North-Eastern States, which had resulted in retarding the growth and for this primarily the environmental-restrictions that apply on forest-dominant regions, have been responsible. Even a cursory examination of the infrastructure-development in Himachal Pradesh, primarily in the fields of road-connectivity and laying of electrification-lines, took place when all the forest-related restrictions were no where in sight. The early head-start that Himachal Pradesh enjoyed in this respect normally does not get factored-in, in most of the studies of comparative progress of mountain states in particular, and smaller states in general. It would be a matter of great academic interest to find out, going by the latest logic of measuring ‘real wealth’, to what extent the reduced forest-capital of Himachal Pradesh contributes towards its ‘Inclusive Growth’ ( Inclusive Growth Report : UNEP: 2014 ) ?

As estimated by the National Institute for Public Finance & Policy ( NIPFP), assessed from Infrastructure Deficit Index ( IDI ), which takes into account deficits in major infrastructural sector viz., power, road, telecommunications, aviation, ports and railways, the  seven North Eastern States and the two Western Himalayan Sates of Jammu & Kashmir and Uttarakhand are far behind Himachal Pradesh, even as all mountain states have been assessed as suffering from infrastructure deficit, calling for special measures , if the mountain states are to be made to fall in-step with the fast developing states. Excepting Assam, Himachal Pradesh was found far ahead of all other mountain states. Obviously, therefore the key questions that have been posed for Himachal Pradesh in this study lose much, if not total, salience, for other mountain states of the same size.    

In –reverse, this study highlights the justification for immediate implementation of the recommendations made by the Planning Commission ( 2014 ) when a recommendation of at least 2 % of then Gross Budgetary Support ( GBS ) was made in favour of the 11 mountain states, during the remaining four years of the Twelfth Plan. This recommendation has repeatedly been brought to the notice of the Central Government, during the past ten months of the present Government. 

Key Messages & Lessons for Others

This infrastructure-led development, in conjunction with two ‘interrelated domains’ that the study group terms as ‘markets’ and ‘services’, have been examined from the point of view of ‘social inclusion ’. It is averred that individuals and groups seek to be included in as many as three ‘interrelated domains’, markets, services and spaces –which form the microcosm of their lives and represent both, barriers to and opportunities for, inclusion. Even though it has been accepted that it is not easy to measure ‘inclusion’ or ‘social inclusion’, which was also a major issue before the drafters of the Twelfth Five Year Plan this study group relies on a definition given in another World Bank study, Inclusion Matters ( WB, 2013b). For ‘markets’ this study focuses on land and labour, which certainly are two key areas of ‘exclusion’ for disadvantaged groups, as the study rightly assumes, in the Indian context.

Closer home, the recent decision of Chief Minister Harish Rawat, ( i ) to regularise the unauthorised occupants of Class 4 category lands, ( ii ) swap lands in the Turai for the ‘forested’ or ‘waste-lands’ in the high mountain reaches, to address the shortage of land, has to be understood. Various land-related decisions e.g. Consolidation of Land-holdings, in which various options are proposed to be included in order to ensure that all available and cultivable lands are made productive, usable by those who live in the villages etc has to be viewed critically. That as many as 300 plus revenue villages have become unfit for habitation, forcing them to migrate elsewhere, the very high density of population in the high Himalayan reaches, are several land-related issues that have been postponed for final decision; and these have now exacerbated the availability of land for settlement, infrastructure development, even for agricultural operations. Stalled consolidation of holdings operations, in a few Tehsils of Udham Singh Nagar, most fertile and in terms of ownership dominantly held by the most-disadvantaged sections of the society, the Tharus and Boxas, today has become a most contentious political issue.

This writer has exemplified several cases, where the tribal lands have been alienated, against all laws and soft-padalled by the local revenue officials, and these could well be just the tip of the ice-berg, which indeed it is. Unless these issues are faced upfront, it is unlikely that the inclusion of marginalised section, could ever be made a hall-mark of equitable development. Uttarakhand is fast losing time and this agenda has assumed a priority which can only be deferred at peril to political sustainability. Deferred decisions or in attention to land-related issues has very seriously compromised the ‘inclusion-agenda’ so very important for an ‘inclusive development’. This is apparently where Himachal Pradesh has not been found negligent. The inclusion in the labour-market, as also the participation in labour, has so many manifestations of regression, in so far as the local population is concerned that in Uttarakhand development, when measured on these parameters, indeed can be very seriously faulted.

 In ‘services’, the study has focused on education, sanitation, health and infrastructure, all of which according to the study have witnessed fairly dramatic improvements. Further, the study reveals that a sharp decline in poverty heralded the greatest change towards social inclusion in Himachal Pradesh. Poverty reduction has benefited all social groups. Comparatively speaking, Uttarakhand has to pull up its socks, set the entire poverty alleviation architecture and take even this major agenda with the seriousness that it deserves.

In Conclusion

Interestingly while the study admits that Himachal Pradesh’s formal and informal institutions have remained robust to change, yet literature that can help understand WHY it has had such a trajectory is lamentably sparse.

Are its development outcomes merely a coincidence of history and culture, or are there actions that can be replicated elsewhere ? Can one predict whether good outcomes  will sustain in the wake of change and in a new phase of infrastructure – driven growth ? Round one of infrastructure-driven growth phase has brought Himachal Pradesh at the very top of the heap, as it were, of developed states, big and average size, where does it see itself when almost all states are now furiously competing with each other, thanks to the slogan of Co-operative Federalism, adopted as a national strategy, in a NITI Aayog era ? It is only logical that each state will have to have its very own strategy and set of priorities, based on its past experience. This realisation makes this author go back to the very beginning, both of the Simla Hill States as well as a closure study of Uttarakhand, harking back to 1815.


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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