A Brighter Diwali for Mountain States

By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 9 Nov 2015

Munsyari.  The festivities of Diwali every year become special, for some reason or the other. As far Uttarakhand is concerned, this Diwali brings quite a few reasons, to increase happiness for its citizens. On  the  9th November the state completes its 15th year as the 27th state of the Indian Union. There are indications that the ensuing weeks would bring forth reflections, individual and collective, by way of a SWOT analysis, of its Strengths discovered, Weaknesses that have become very apparent, Opportunities which now have to be leveraged and finally, the Threats that loom large.

Strengths

Although many may not agree but a certain kind of political stability has come the way of this new state, when viewed in context of the other two contemporary states of Jharkhand and Chattisgarh in particular, and the other 29 states in general. A two-party kind of political polarisation is evident, and both the major political players have had an innings each completed, of course, the first full timer nearly completing its second innings. Its a different matter altogether whether within each of them they have been able to obtain the kind of democratisation and party –discipline, which is so essential in a running democracy. True, its a mirror reflection of each of them, in this state as well, how both seem to operate at the pan-India level. Parallel to the political executive the permanent executive, namely the state bureaucracy, which suffered very badly from a relatively lesser studied phenomenon, namely the Small State Syndrome, in its formative years, now seems to be stabilising. However, the Small State Syndrome’s another aspect, namely a politician-civil servant nexus, seems to be developing gradually that would soon require to be addressed. Here, the civil society, and especially those citizens who have had an experience of political life and bureaucracy will be required to play a role that will have to act as a counter-weight to this negative feature. Finally, the role of the so-called Fourth Estate will also require a counter-weight that can only be provided by a recourse to more transparency in the media-government relationships.

Weaknesses

Some of the developments, which have been listed up as Strengths have also a potential of turning into a Weakness. The Small State Syndrome is simultaneously a set of negative attributes which are inherited as a legacy of a bigger parent state and which with some effort could be turned into positive ones. A major question- mark that is often posed against any proposal of re-organizing an existing state into some parts relates to its financial stability, its ability to generate resources that its needs both for its maintenance and future development, both socio-economic, particularly infrastructural development. This natural resource –endowed state has ironically earned reputation as one state which has consistently opposed harnessing of its natural resources, in particular its abundant forest-wealth and after its creation, its hydro-power. Gradually it has acquired a reputation of a NAY SAYER STATE. Saying NO to any suggestion, arguably is the easiest thing to do, and so far all such NAY SAYERS were never subjected to hard questioning, e.g. scientific –evidence of what they have been advocating, leave aside being asked a far more embarrassing set of questions, like where from the resources would be forthcoming even to meet their b very own requirement of energy, fuel, fodder and such like, as the state had so far remained primarily agrarian, according to some a sub-sustenant economy. Moreover, the solutions that had been forthcoming were in the genre of ‘more of the same’, ‘bad-carbon copy of irrelevant solutions’ and so on. At the national policy level none of the mountain states ever felt a need to question major of national policies which were being pronounced, one after the other, which either had no relevance to the mountain states, if not altogether were inimical to their interests. The NAY SAYERS, alluded to, if ever, took recourse to very generic set of solutions which of course, no one took seriously as these were suggested after any due diligence of the existing schemes or programmes. So, these NAY SAYERS, were shown due courtesies, given a publicity which was far from reality-check, and that was that. On record, there is not a single contribution, other than of course repeated dose of DONTS, that could be ascribed to any of these worthies. Now, researches that have been conducted, establish that some of the negative decisions that got operationalized in 1970s and continued all the past three decades, failed to establish that these have resulted in any positive gains! Some of these have been quietly abandoned without connecting the harm that had been caused to the economy of this state ! That Tehri-Hydropower project saved two down-stream cities of Rishikesh and Haridwar, as reported by an Expert Committee, appointed by MoEF, has not been thrown at any of these worthies, is nothing short of a public discourse scandal ! This is quite akin to the embarrassment caused by the alarmist call of what became notorious in academic circles as ‘The Himalayan Dilemma’. The only difference being that while the projected sedimentation of rivers would have caused unprecedented floods in the Gangetic plains, its antithesis  – a High-Dam Hydro-power project ( Tehri Dam ) has reportedly saved cities of the size of Rishikesh and Haridwar, from unprecedented rains in the rivershed of Bhagirathi and its tributaries, in 2013 ! Himalayan Embarrassment, Round II.

A second cycle, if it may be so called, seems to have commenced with a new generation of NAY SAYERS who have commenced opposing any scientific harnessing of yet another natural resource, the abundant hydro-power potential of this state. Going by the experience of round one it is time that this time over this particular set of NAY SAYERS are made to first be responsible. Easily, this weakness when uninformed opposition to development goes unchallenged by those who should have challenged such negative trends has been arguably the biggest weakness of this state and its time that such a weakness is now nipped in the bud itself, lest it again blights this states’ economic development. Uttarakhand is infrastructurally one of the 11 worst developed states, one of the major cause of out-migration from the hilly regions. It is this silence that has made some of the informed citizens of this state to join hands with similarly concerned individuals from the other ten mountain states and create a forum that has now come to be formed as a civil society movement, batting for informed dialogues on each of these major policy issues, that impact on the mountains and its people. Named, IMI ( Integrated Mountain Initiative ) , this takes up advocacy of all positive moves and works to clear air when such uninformed and negative ideas are generated by some interested quarters.

Opportunities

Creation of Uttarakhand in 2000 in itself completion of a cycle which had commenced from 1950 itself, when the Indian Constitution, took over the role of a planner and devolver of national resource. The Federal structure of the Indian policy was conceived as a federation of states but the states never got to play a role which they were expected to. At Independence the country was threatened by centrifugal forces and the need of the hour was consolidation of India, as a country. A strong Centre was the need of the hour but the sagacity of the Indian planner could visualise the unseen and yet un-known problems of certain states, which later got to be identified as mountain states. The number of such mountain states increased from just three at the time of the beginning of the Indian planning and by the time Uttarakhand joined the polity of states, it was a redoubtable group of eleven states. However, the planning sagacity manifest as the celebrated Gadgil Formula saw to it that these highly fragile, both economically and geologically, and politically sensitive ( Nagaland, Manipur and Jammu & Kashmir, and Sikkim, in particular ) mountain states felt politically ‘wanted’, financially ‘cared and attended’ and strategically well-protected.

As time proved, from being a ‘financial–burden’, ‘strategic concern’ even at times and politically ‘international inconvenience’ these states have now emerged as India’s ‘environmental saviours’,’ bio-diversity hotspots’ and a major ‘store- house of several natural capitals’ ( Inclusive Wealth Report ), verily India’s bulwark and show-piece of ‘sustainable development’ ! Former grounds of weaknesses are now perceived as the Opportunities ! Uttarakhand has often been justifiably credited with proper identification of several of these opportunities and taking early steps in leveraging those despite its nascent origins and critical shortage of man-power and organizational competencies. Indeed many of these were achieved even without the existence of formal institutions which would have taken care of some of these. Unprecedented Industrialization leading to phenomenal increase in its GDP, peaking in 2005, Voluntary Fiscal Discipline in 2005, unprecedented increase in tourism, several initiatives like Organic Farming, Bamboo development, Floriculture and Food processing ( SAFAL ), Tea-cultivation, electrification and power generation, women –empowerment, record organised sector employment creation, successful holding of two Kumbh-Melas, Law & Order management, scores of achievements in sports, mountaineering and in cultural fields are no small or mean achievements, once these are perceived in context of a very acute man-power shortage.

The unprecedented Kedarnath Floods of June 2013, catching the state in a state of unpreparedness by its sheer size of which many term as ‘disastrosphere’ ( impact over a geographic spread by way of its human tragedy, as almost all Indian states and even Nepal populations were affected ), has been handled in a manner that still deserves a fair assessment. While what the CAG Report has pointed as the weak-aspects of handing disasters are yet to be fully appreciated not only by Uttarakhand alone but perhaps all the eleven Indian mountain states, there could be no two opinions in the manner the state has handled the post-disaster relief and rehabilitation. If the statements of Union Water Resource Minister Uma are any indicator the Uttarakhand administration has certainly demonstrated that it has the will and resilience to achieve the fastest recovery that the affected mountain families always deserved from a sensitive state. That Disaster Risk Reduction is a theme that would deserve a priority of a very high order has been truly recognized by the mountain states has also been demonstrated amply by mountain states, in which Uttarakhand has also played its expected role. And, it is here that certain news brings that cheers up the ensuing Diwali celebrations.

Chief Secretaries’ Conclave at Itanagar Summit

It is exactly a month ago that at Itanagar, in Arunachal Pradesh, the eleven Indian mountain states held their Fourth Sustainable Mountain Summit ( SMDS IV ) where they deliberated on Disaster Risk Reduction ( DRR ), as its main theme and in particular the sharing of experiences of Kathmandu Earthquake, Sikkim Earthquake, Uttarakhand Kedarnath Floods and the Kashmir valley Floods. Held during 7-9 October, 2015 besides the Disaster Risk Reduction the community of eleven Indian mountain states also shred their experiences on Mountain Agriculture and Forestry Issues, a theme of abiding importance. This time of special significance, besides its Legislators Climate Change discourse, was a Conclave of Chief Secretaries of the eleven mountain states. Under IMI the deliberations are now focusing on the nitty-gritty of governance and the advocacy of mountain agenda has been taken to a different level altogether. For example the financial concerns of the mountain states, a matter of constant concern for each of them, were put into a clearer perspective via  a Status Paper on Financial Status of the Mountain States by an acknowledged expert on development finance, Dr NC Saxena, former Member, Planning Commission. His Technical Paper makes it very clear how the funds were being devolved during the Planning Commission era and how a change is being effected which might be inimical to the interest of the mountain states. Prior to this in the Kohima Summit of IMI ( 2013 ) the mountain states were informed about how the proposed re-structuring of the Centrally Sponsored Schemes was going to impact on their individual plan financing and how the 12th Plan was going to be different. The IMI has thus emerged as a Discussion Forum where for the first time the Indian mountain states are deliberating exclusively on the issues that are relevant to them. The Itanagar Summit Chief Secretaries’ Conclave was thus a major initiative in the history of Indian mountain development.

The Fourth Sustainable Mountain Development Summit ( SMDS ) at Itanagar thus informed policy makers’ who had assembled from all eleven Indian mountain states, and belonged to various tiers and hues of policy makers, namely, Parliamentarians, State Legislatures, Speakers of Assemblies, Chief Secretaries and other senior most civil servants, academics and economic-planners, the changes that have been and being constantly affected in the economic planning of the country and how these might impact on the mountain states. It also shared what the individual states have done to influence the national planning process. Members from the top policy making institutions like the NITI Aayog, National Disaster Management Authority etc also registered not only their presence but actual participation in deliberations held at various locations, on various aspects of governance. Attended by some 260 plus participants from outside Arunachal Pradesh alone the Summit marked a major get-together on the Indian soil for the first time stake-holders who ranged from UNDP, FAO, ICIMOD, GBPIHED, WWF etc to all eleven mountains states’ Parliamentarians, Chief Ministers, Speakers of State Assemblies, NITI Aayog, NDMA, development functionaries, development funding agencies, NGOs and civil society organisations, media and press as also working in various development fields. Nepal and Bhutan representatives made it an international mountain get-together.

Itanagar Sweeteners for Diwali Celebrations

This piece shares with readers all over the mountain states happy tidings that should certainly bring cheers on the faces of all those who care for mountain ecosystems and mountain-peoples. The much awaited funding pattern of Centrally Sponsored Schemes has finally been decided and these have been conveyed to all Union Ministries of Government of India on 28th October 2015. It would be recalled that a Sub-Group of ten Chief Ministers had been constituted by the NITI Aayog to consider Rationalisation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes. According to this decision the funding pattern of as many as 7 schemes would continue to remain, as earlier, and these include Flagship Programmes like MGNREGA , National Social Assistance Program, Umbrella Programs for STs and SCs,  those for Differently Enabled and Minorities as well as the Backward Classes and Vulnerable Groups. This sets at rest certain doubts that had been raised and a national consensus now has seemingly evolved now.

The happiest news is, as far as the eleven mountain states are concerned, that in as many as 17 Core Schemes, a new nomenclature given to these Schemes by the Sub Group ( SG ),that indeed formed the core part of the National Development Agenda, the sharing has now been firmed up at  60:40 ( as against 70: 30 earlier )between the Centre and the States. However, it has been retained at 90:10 for the Eight North Eastern and Three Himalayan States. The latter indeed has been the number of eleven states that went by the name of the Special Category States. The Special Category States were indeed another name for the eleven Indian mountain states, as they got increased in number since the beginning of the celebrated Gadgil Formula days. The internal proceedings of all proceedings National Development Council and indeed even the Sub Group meetings would prove that in all these meetings Chief Ministers of the mountain states have constantly batted for and strongly advocated retention of the liberal financing pattern of the Central Plan assistance and they have also advocated further devolution of funds in favour of the States. Drastic reduction in the number of the CSSs has also been a constant refrain of mountain state Chief Ministers, and Chief Ministers representing other smaller states. These CSSs include, subjects like Agriculture, Irrigation, Livestocks & Dairy Development, Sanitation, Rural Drinking Water, ICDS, Mid Day Meal, Housing for All, Urban Rejuvenation ( AMRUT ) and Smart Cities, National Livelihoods Mission, National Missions on Health, Education etc.

Other than the Schemes listed above, under the new dispensation, have now been termed as OPTIONAL  Schemes an while the sharing pattern between the Centre and States is going to be 50: 50, this also has been made more liberal for the eleven Indian mountain states , and kept at 80:20 for the Centre and the States. National Skills Initiative/Skill Development Mission under the Umbrella of Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna is now to be run as a Central Sector Scheme form the next financial year. These Instructions from the Union Finance Secretary Ratan P. Watal thus finally sets at rest the uncertainties which were up in the air about the new financial architecture for the eleven mountain states. After their Diwali celebrations thus sweetened doubly, Uttarakhand adding those meant for its 15th Anniversary, time now for heads down at work and re-adjusting the financial projections for the remaining part of the year and much beyond.

Tail-piece: As the ‘foot-in-the-mouth’ disease has been rampant of late due to heightened political activities in a state that has been in the fore-front of claiming a ‘Special Category State’ status for it, the specific identification of the beneficiary states of the new 90:10 dispensation under revised CSS funding pattern now, perhaps demise of the Planning Commission, has proved a blessing in disguise, according to an informed politician. However, to say so publicly or not, he is still in two minds.

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