Uttarakhand Development Report : A case of ‘ Once More of the Same’ ?
Come November and we all in Uttarakhand will be celebrating what could well be called a Decade of Uttarakhand, each one in his or her own way. Already the academic institutions are busy organizing sessions discussing the terms of reference they have issued to various research scholars and the approach the latter wish to follow. Then there are various funding agencies who are taking up sectoral studies for assessing the potential areas for negotiating long term lending programmes to this state and finally unknown to many there are individual scholars who are sizing up progress Uttarakhand has made in a comparative sense, as there were two other states also born about the same time. It is quite on the card that one is going to come across a whole host of books, articles and studies being published during the ensuing months. One is certainly looking forward to sharing this welcome addition to the literature on Uttarakhand, both by the Uttarakhandis themselves and others, fiction or non-fiction, physical science or social science, stand alone articles or encyclopaedic, you just name it.
New vrs More of the Same
What one is certainly not looking forward to this time over is what could be called More of the Same or Old Wine in new Bottle, in this case that is. Re-prints of all time classics like G.R.C. Williams' Memoirs of Dehradun, second time over by Natraj, certainly was most welcome and cannot be said to belong to that 'No-No category'. However, such reprints always affords one an opportunity to improve the understanding of the over-all context of the origins of such 'classics'. Taking this very example to its logical end if it could also have been shared that GRC's Memoir was in fact a part of a pair of books which got published as an official study to review and examine the laws which were applicable in the then Doon, a district of the Meerut Division, which had had a chequered administrative history from 1815 onwards. The other book of this pair had already out under the name of P. Whalley, who had covered examination of that part of present day Uttarakhand, what was then known as the British Kumaon, in 1861. The inputs provided by these two books were used in notifying what came to be known as the celebrated The Scheduled Districts Act, 1874 ( An Act to accommodate all the laws which came into being in all the Non Regulation areas ). Let me hasten to add the idea behind suggesting this is not to take away the credit which is due to Messers Natraj Publishers who are among the doyens of publication world in this part of the country ( and who also happens to be this writer's publisher ).
In the same vein it is the most fitting occasion to undertake re-prints of all other all-time classics like, Dr. Shiv Prasad Dabral 'Charan' in Hindi, the celebrated 16 volumes of Uttarakhand Ka Itihas, various Settlement volumes like E. K.Pauw's celebrated Tenth Settlement of Garhwal, J. O. Beckett's Settlement of Garhwal and Kumaon in a single volume, S. D. Pant's Economic History of Kumaon and so on. Does some one in the government has the time to read the articles which appear in the Garhwal Post, I really wonder ? It is about time that the state government also woke up to consider supporting such endeavours of writers, printers and publishers as they add so much to the cultural heritage of a new state like Uttarakhand. This writer remembers a few commendatory letters he had written in the past to officials responsible for supporting the efforts of the likes of erudite scholars like Prof. D. D. Sharma, perhaps one of the few, if not the only one, philologist living and still writing in this state. I guess, I have already digressed a lot and would like to stop here.
SDR for Uttarakhand
A welcome addition to the developmental literature on Uttarakhand is the State Development Report ( SDR ) published by the Union Planning Commission, under the Central Plan Scheme '50the Year Initiative for Planning', under which similar SDRs are being brought out for all States of India. SDR for Uttarakhand has been brought out as Uttarakhand Development Report and has been prepared with the assistance of National Council of Applied Economic Research ( NCAER). This report published by Academic Foundation came out in 2009 and given its background must indeed form the basic back-ground paper for al future studies and publications. Serious students of Uttarakhand's development trajectory of growth will certainly consider it as a basic condition that any future study must factor in what already exists in the public domain courtesy this SDR. If no other back-ground paper surfaces before end of October 2010 the issues and recommendations made in this SDR ( henceforth UDR) must become the issues and recommendations to be discussed and debated.
This writer is not aware what the Planning Commission of Uttarakhand is doing presently by way of triggering informed discussions on various issues germane to the future development of Uttarakhand as one has not heard any such effort taking place of late and reported for public consumption. Given the official nature and purpose behind bringing out the SDRs of each of the state one would think that taking up the issues flagged in this SDR should have been a most logical step which out State Planning Commission should have taken by now. In the context of the Tent Anniversary celebrations of Uttarakhand perhaps nothing could be more important than to trigger a series of discussions, seminars and group discussions on the issues raised in this SDR and examine the worth of the recommendations which form part of this Report.
However, having suggested the above one would also hasten to add that adequate care and planning must take place before the same is kick-started and just holding of seminars and workshops must not become an end in themselves ( as they most often do !), without any follow-up and accountability towards the outcome and products of such academic rounds of academics.
A Critique of the UDR
While publication of the Uttarakhand Development Report is welcomed by this writer as the first authoritative back-ground paper which has the stamp of approval by the apex national planning body it must also be observed at the very outset that this report can at best be considered as an authoritative statistical Hand book only. In so far as one was looking forward to this SDR , and the Planning Commission of India, providing some altogether new insights or approaches to development of mountainous states of India, which on its own admittedly are suffering from scores of structural and infrastructural problems, the report very sadly falls far short of any such expectations. In that sense it certainly becomes yet another instance of being 'Once More of the Same'.
Easily the most serious reservation about this SDR is the fact that it simply fails to acknowledge an internationally acknowledge peculiarity of this, and other mountainous states, which now go under the rubric of 'mountain specificities'. Much water has indeed flown in all Himalayan rivers since the world at large accepted that it is these set of 'mountain specificities' which distinguish any mountainous region from the rest. India is one of the eight regional countries who some 25 years ago joined an inter-governmental organization to address its Himalayan concerns, namely the Inter national Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, ICIMOD in short. Easily one of the major achievements of this institute has been its advancement of a conceptual framework for understanding not only what ails any mountain region but also what needs to be attended to as a priority. This understanding neither gets acknowledged nor applied in making recommendations for a state which arguably is predominantly mountainous in its character.
Nearer home, the SDR simply fails to draw or even acknowledge any new insights from a series of Task Forces and Committees which have been constituted over the last three decades primarily either to understand, analyze and recommend remedies for the mountainous parts of the country. What is more significant is the fact that most of the times all these Task Forces or Committees have been set up either by the Planning Commission itself or through them. All these previous Task Forces which had been set up have also been mentioned in the latest in this series under the chairmanship of G. B. Mukherjee, Secretary in the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. It would be most interesting to know that this Task Force on Hill Area Development was set up on the direction of none other than the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, at the time of the 54th Meeting of the National Development Council in the year 2008. It is an interesting commentary in itself that a State Development Report of a major Himalayan state like Uttarakhand published in 2009 does not mention the fact of appointment of a Task Force on Hill Area Development in April 2008, set up to "look into the problems of hill states and hill areas".
No 'mountain immersion'
This Task Force report ( 2010 ) also recounts the fact that the mountain issues have been examined in the past by the Backward Area Commission ( 1981 ), Task Fore on Eco-development in the Himalayan Region ( 1982 ), Working Group on Hill Area Development ( 1985 ), Action Plan for Himalaya ( 1992 ), Expert Group on National Policy on Integrated Development of Himalaya ( 1993 ), Commission on Transforming the North-Eastern Region ( 1997 ), Task Fore on Mountain Eco-systems ( 2006 ), Himalayan Mission under National Action Plan on Climate Change( 2008 ) and Governance for Sustaining Himalayan Eco-system ( 2009 ). All these reports represent a chronological development of a growing awareness about the complex mountain ecosystems of the Himalayan and mountainous regions and a reading of these would suggest that any development report on a Himalayan region can ill afford not to factor in the insights thrown by them. Some one who has been closely following the national and international scene in so far as the mountainous regions of Asia and the world would rate this deficiency in this SDR as a major one, almost rendering it highly irrelevant at the macro-level.
It is about time that India's national institutions like the NCAER, Dhan Foundation, Wapcos, Development Corporation for Handicrafts, IDFC, IHD, NCAEPR, NIPFP, all mentioned as " partner agencies " by the Planning Commission also undertook some amount of serious "mountain immersion", before contributing their so-called insights to our national planning institutions like NCAER and the Planning Commission. A look at the Core Committee and members of the Project Team which undertook this undertaking shows that these do not have individuals who could be said to be familiar with developments which have been taking place in the regional and international level in so far as the understanding of the complex mountainous regions are concerned. This could be considered as the most serious flaw which erodes this reports very relevance and credibility as " a high quality document, focusing on development and related issues at both the micro and macro levels." The much publicized " Glaciergate " of the Copenhagen fame also occurred due to lack of a similar "mountain immersion" on the part of various scientific organizations and institutions which have been established in the Himalayan region and which have received serious neglect of the related authorities, be they belong to MoEF, CSIR or DRDO. What indifference one observes in the physical science world in regard to the Himalayan studies gets further accentuated in the social sciences arena.
Next Steps for Uttarakhand
The foregoing preliminary remarks might sound rather harsh and even uncharitable to some but the fact remains that the Uttarakhand Development Report deserves to be taken very seriously by the Government of Uttarakhand and all those who have been working in the mountain regions for many years and the recommendations made out in this report have to be discussed thread-bare, sector –wise, both at the macro and micro level, in the light of the regional and international experience of development issues of the mountainous regions, drawing more from the experiences of the other ten mountainous regions which constitute the North Eastern States and the Western Himalayan states, and not mix up the issues which dog the mountain regions with the issues relevant for the peninsular India, a mind-set which one thought we had left behind soon after we got separated from Uttar Pradesh. We have first to un-learn what we learned in Uttar Pradesh and start learning quickly from the successes and failures of the other mountainous regions of India and the Hindu Kush Himalayan ( HKH ) region.
Planning Commission of Uttarakhand and all those who are battling with some research study or the other, big or small, would be well advised not to undertake what might be ultimately labeled as 'Once More of the Same', and undertake something different which the people of Uttarakhand have been expecting since November 2000, and are still waiting. Time permitting, this writer will certainly take up sector-wise what Uttarakhand Development Report has prescribed and makes some sense and also where it just does not. May I add in passing that this Development Report mentions this writer in its report as many as three times but did not deem it necessary to consult even once, that is an illustration of the 'due diligence' part of the project team.
Are we really serious about what use is made of these SDRs by the government concerned or the 'concerned citizens and institutions' ?