Vibrant Gujarat Take-aways

By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 15 Jan 2015

Travelling by road to Uttarakhand Academy of Administration, Naini Tal to take Sessions in the 11&12 Foundation Courses of the PCS Executive Cadre and 25th Induction Course of the Deputy Education Officers allowed this writer a better part of 8 hours to reflect on the reports on Vibrant Gujarat event which appeared in various news-papers as well as discuss some of the do-ables with the concerned individuals and organizations. This, of course, was later built into the open discussion which this writer usually have for his inter-active sessions with these newly inducted officers, making them also to reflect on the current goings on in the country and their salience for Uttarakhand. This edition of Vibrant Gujarat has come soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi has had his round-table meeting with all Chief Ministers of the country on the 7th December 2014 and his subsequent announcement of the National Institution for Transforming India ( NITI ) Commission, including appointment of the first Deputy Chairman and other members.

Bouncing Ideas

In the post -Planning Commission days the very first message, loud and clear,  is that the States now not only have to Think Big, but also Think Differently and Think with and without the Government of India ! The first Idea that I discussed with some of the friends is what can we do with our existing institutions of excellence. The first institution that comes to one’s mind is the First Agriculture University of Asia, at Pantnagar. It has been the Trigger of the Green Revolution, it has as many as 9 Colleges of Excellence and the First Agro-Business School, very innovatively constructed and conceived. Rajiv Ghai, co-chair of the PHD Chamber, mentioned about the Farmers Meet. Usually, it happens twice, but it has not been scaled up over the years. If one adds up the Horticultural excellence of the two neighbouring states of Himachal  Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir, and add this up to what Pantnagar University has on offer, can this be developed into a major Regional Event, centred on Agriculture and Allied Sector event, with participants from all western Himalayan States, their Universities and Colleges, Buyers and Sellers Meet of agricultural equipments, Hybrid seeds and so on ? Add to this could the other Himalayan countries like Nepal and Bhutan etc be invited to participate in this major Regional Agro-Business Event ? In brief, the annual ritual of Pantnagar University event converted into a Regional Agro-Business Event to which all neighbouring countries could be invited. Thei Regional Event should not only be for show-casing what Uttarakhand has but now ought to be leveraged to attract business, services and placement opportunities. This Regional Agro-Business Event should result into development of the backward West Nepal districts, across the Kali. Prime Minister Modi has offered economic collaboration to our northern neighbour Nepal, during his two recent visits. If Uttarakhand and its two western Hiamalayan States, Himachal and Jammu & Kahshmir, can put their acts together, jointly they can help the Far Western districts of Nepal. This offer could be made to Nepal, with the help of Government of India, as an Economic Package; this could be a win-win proposal for all three western Himalayan States, and Nepal itself. It is bound to be cost-effective, as Uttarakhand and its western neighbours are closest to Nepal, just across the border, and their relevance and similarity conditions is apparent. Indi and Nepal have an open border so working across the Kali should come most naturally. Pancheshwar Mutli-pupose Hydro power project has made some head-way during the first visit of the Indian Prime Minister and before confidence building measures go to that stage, it would be better to offer such a technological help via the Pantnagar University together with a three-state Package. This core idea could be honed up further and may be Chief Minister Harish Rawat could make an exploratory initiative by first talking to the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh and the Governor of J&K, as there is a Governor’s rule there. If the Government of India gives a go-ahead via their External Affairs Ministry, up-scaling of a routine ritualistic Annual Farmers’ Fair into a mega Regional Agro-Business Meet of two countries and several states, could be a major development churner. Of course, organizing such a Regional International Agro-Business Meet would require close collaboration between states, two countries involved, Government of India in the Ministries of External Affairs and Agriculture & Co-operation, on the one hand, and establishment of a Task force consisting of various departments and Turai Seeds & Development Corporation ( TDC ), on the other. To me, the idea seems not only feasible but highly desirable if this state has to break-loose from the current state of stagnation and small-time thinking.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

The other USPs of Uttarakhand consist of some of its Development Boards, which have quietly transformed the thinking of several mountain states, particularly in the North East. There is no denying the fact that Uttarakhand today is way ahead in its innovative Organic Farming initiative. Records would show that Uttarakhand commenced its Organic farming initiative when the very idea was in its infancy, way back in 2003.  In terms of market-penetration the Organic Farming initiative has several browny – points which can be leveraged into expansion of organic farm related service sector. For example, its UOCB and Organic Certification Agency, the only one in government sector, has the potential to convert its existing certification activity into a major service sector training event, turning out Diploma and Certificate holders who can easily find placement in the fast growing Organic certification market, particularly in the North Eastern States. In the NE States, as this writer has found, many states are spending huge budgets in promoting organic farming which has potential for business for the State Certification Agency on the one hand, and its trained students, on a very large scale, on the other. As the organic farming grows the demand for trained personnel to certify various products would and is bound to increase, and here lies the chance to capitalise. As an early bird advantage Uttarakhand must put its acts together and reach out to these fast growing organic states, particularly, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Nagaland and so on. The Organic Training Centre at Majhkhali should be immediately upgraded to turn out such Diploma and Certificate courses, duly awarded by any of our existing Agriculture Universities.

Awaiting Up-Scaling

Besides Organic Farming the early advances that Uttarakhand has made in Tea Cultivation in the mountain regions ( some 600 plus hectares of organic tea), outstanding work done by the Livestock Development Board, its Semen- Production centre and Kalsi Farm ( Red Sindhi revival ), could be the envy of any state, only Uttarakhand officials are not aware of their singular achievements, as is its politically-cued media, each of which has the potential to turn into a production as well service sector trigger of employment, particularly service sector and primary sector production. Not far behind is an outstanding success-story in the shape of the Aromatic Plants Centre, at Sela Quin. In a short span of a decade this centre could prove to be major money-spinner for the state, using the abandoned culturable wastes of Uttarakhand into a veritable production centre of several aroma-centric products, in pharma, nutri and related sector. All that is needed is innovative Public Private Partnership models and unqualified support of the state government. In all these initiatives and small scale success modules lie the key to economic regeneration of our mountain regions, as all of these have direct significance, as each of them was commenced with the mountain regions as their focus. Time has come to take the bold next step, up-scale them as a joint venture with the private sector and with an organizational back-up from the state. What is most important, and that was a deliberate effort, that each of the initiative indicated is anchored in some institution or the other. The basic philosophy that was followed in the early days of the formation of this state was, what is or seems to be relevant for this new mountain state, must be anchored in an institutional set up. Hence, and Organic Commodity Board, a Certification Agency, Tea Development Board, Livestock Development Board or an Aromatic Plants Centre. In an new initiative is institutionalised there exist better prospect of success, that seems to have been established.

The Industrial Package, it would be also recalled, was also anchored in SIDCUL, and the results of industrial investments are there to see. What is normally overlooked is the fact, when Uttarakhand received its Industrial Package it was not alone, Himachal Pradesh, J&K and all NE States also were recipient. What is the result ? Critics forget that it was Uttarakhand which rolled out Tata Nano, when in West Bengal threw the Tata Motors out. Managing Director of Tata Motors, on record, stated and advised all states that they should learn from Uttarakhand how to welcome the New Investment ! Sela Quin, Haridwar, Rudrapur and several other small estates are testimony of what Uttarakhand is capable of, when it comes to attracting fresh investment, when there is competition.

What Went Wrong & Learning ?

What political parties which  get an opportunity to try their hands at governance need to learn, even from the example we have had in Uttarakhand, is that development is only INCREMENTAL. It is always given to some one to BEGIN, what is more important is to build on what you have inherited, than RUN DOWN all that your predecessor government had been able to do. This is a hard lesson that Uttarakhand has learned, paying great cost in learning it. Constituting Inquiry Commissions, finding faults with predecessor governments, will not take you far. You will in the bargain loose precious years which alternately could have been profitably spent on BUILDING ON what you were bequeathed. Our story of Industrial Development is a story of leaning of this harsh lesson. One only hopes that at least now we stand wiser and will not commit such mistakes again. From here, the big question in the Industrial sector is what next ? Where do we go in a post-package era ? As now the states have to be on their own we must now stop looking to Government of India for an extension or yet another Package. However, as this writer has already pointed out at the very outset we ought to look at what we have, like the Pantnagar Agriculture University, and the larger potential it becons at, an International AGRO-BUSINESS REGIONAL EVENT instead of a routine Farmers Festival, which is neither here nor there, in terms of aggregation in achievement.

The NEXT BIG Idea obviously has to come from what we have, a solid INDUSTRIAL BASE, all along the Turai-Bhabar belt, with the state-of-the art infrastructural facilities, booming building activities and a net-work of support-units. This made this writer look at a publication brought out by our CII, entitled, Suggestions for Agenda for Economic Development of Uttarakhand: Focus Growth, Employment & Livelihoods ( April 2014 ). Not many states in the entire North India can possibly boast of such a chain of Industrial pockets, As Uttarakhand has today. It is difficult to visualise what Sela Qui was in the year 2002-so much activity has been triggered. Dehardun-Chandigarh highway is difficult to be compared to be what it was in the year 2000 ! Chief Minister Harish Rawat would be well advised to look at the various suggestions that this excellent CII Document of April 2014 vintage has to offer. This writer would like to quote from this document, when the Industry sector very nostalgically recounts:

           “  In  its  early  days of inception, CII and Government of Uttarakhand  had constituted  a

             Joint Task Force Chaired by Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand and Co-Chaired by Chairman

             CII Northern Region…The Task Force did phenomenal amount of work..in facilitating …”.

Obviously, before anything else, the first task is to revive the Task Force, creating a platform for CII and the Government to work together closely. This writer learn that the scenario is quite dismal, to say the least. If that be the case how can the state expect the private sector to come and invest in the state, in an act of partnership. This document covers several constructive suggestions which deserve a an honest but hard try.

Next  Destination  Shanghai !

Even during the Package Days, if the Industrial Package years could be so named, this writer vividly recalls a visit of an investor who had come calling on a courtesy visit in 2005, accompanied with Sanjeev Chopra, Industry Secretary, that what an investor seeks is an environment of confidence, where he intends to invest his hard earned money. He mentioned that if an investor can meet as many as three heads, namely the State Governor, the State Chief Minister and lastly the Chief Secretary ( this writer ) in a single day, he will think twice before deciding not to invest in such a state. He just trashed the complaint that was made by several states, many of them ruled by the same political party as this state itself was, as according to him after Dehradun he was flying straight not to any other Indian destination, but Shanghai, in China. For the investor, he said, the world is now wide open, and he would invest only where there is an investment climate, visible efforts on the part of the state to attract fresh investment. This was in 2004 or 2005. World today is far more flatter, competition to attract fresh investment much more fierce, far more intense ! We must ask ourselves the question first, Do we have a Climate which is Investment Friendly ?

CII Suggestions for Agenda for Economic Development

Even a cursory reading of this CII document containing suggestions divided n as many as 12 sections is quite a starting point and post Planning Commission days it is time that Uttarakhand Government put it acts together and worked on implementing some core suggestions contained in this CII Document. One could even venture to say that this CII document contains what has been the collective learning of our Industry Captains, as CII has not neglected aspects like development of the mountain regions and the sun-rise sector, which will turn this state into an engine of regional growth. Above every thing else time has to look hard at Partners in Development, win their confidence and meet them more than half-way, as the competition for investment resources grows.

Lasting Images of Vibrant Gujarat

Media has reported, in passing, the capacity of Gujarat Government to have two major International Events, back to back; namely, the Pravasi Bhartiya Day followed by Vibrant Gujarat ! The visual of a huge International Conventional Hall, where both these mega-events took place, is difficult to overlook and forget ! Is Uttarakhand doing something on that scale ? The CII Document mentioned above does talk about and lists such a Convention Centre with a seating capacity of 2000, under its Tourist segment ( page 9 ) as also a Cultural Centre, for which a land has been already allotted. We can ill afford do delay working on this CII document, as far the Industrial development is concerned, in simultaneously in several other fields where we have our USP written on the wall.

Tail-piece : Biggest Applause

According to reports it was the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Tshering Tobgay, who stole the show at the inaugural ceremony of the 7th Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors’ Summit, when he introduced Bhutan as being one of the  Greenest Country, according more value to the Gross Domestic Happiness ( GDH) over Gross Domestic Product ( GDP), inviting investors to his country who believed in value-based business through their investment portfolios. Lest, our very own environmentalists draw conclusions which were quite different from what Prime Minister Tobgay intended to convey, and have their last laugh, let us recapitulate what he reportedly reminded all environmentalists also : He is stated to have said in Hindi : “Par dharmik yatra ke sath sath, aarthik yatra bhi bahut zaroori hai”.( But, for us along with religious pilgrimage, economic pilgrimage is also very important ). So, he is stated to have said, “ I have come to Gujarat on economic pilgrimage ”. Bhutan has more than 72 per cent of its geographic area covered with forest, far better than most of our mountain states, especially Uttarakhand. However, having excellent forest cover is not good enough, which addresses inter-generational equity, or care for future generation, as well. But, this inter-generational equity is rendered meaningless if intra-general equity, the stark poverty that stares the mountain state on their faces, is not simultaneously addressed. Coming from Bhutan, a country quite similar to Uttarakhand, a far more populous mountain region ( a state ), which has similar religious over-tones to every activity that gets conducted here, a “Dev Bhumi” for the majority Hindu population of India, Vibrant Gujarat conveyed this telling lesson. Pay adequate and equal attention to the economic well-being of teeming poor populations and while religion is important it is not more important than taking good care of the living being. In Hindi there already exits an saying : “ Bhukhe Bhajan na hoi Gopala!”. ( An empty stomach does not observe religious obligations). That is one major message from one Dev Bhumi ( Bhutan ) to the other ( Uttarakhand), a major take-away. Let us also chew it thoroughly.

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