Himachal poised: Impressions of an NRI

By: Gaurav Sharma

India is rocking. India is poised. Poised to eject millions of people out of poverty. Poised to become a developed, modern country. I don’t know if we can eradicate poverty in one generation or we will lose the plot and miss the bus again. But there are clearly signs all around us that we are progressing fast towards destiny which we always believed was for ours to take.

Few dhiyaadi-daars

And so is Himachal poised. In small towns in Himachal the signs of new found prosperity are everywhere to see. Menial work is being done more and more by migrant workers from Bihar as locals don’t want to do menial jobs any more and they don’t have to any more. I am not saying that menial work is lower but it is just that it can be taken as an indicator of how economy in a region is progressing since when a society progresses economically, the menial works are the first to be outsourced to a cheaper migrant labour since local labour moves higher up the value chain. So whether it is helping in farms, or construction, or building roads, it is increasingly being done by workers from Bihar. Suddenly there are so many Biharis in the state that it has created a minor law and order problem for a state, which was always known to be most peaceful state in India.

There is rise in murders and thefts and the state police has taken a wise step in registering all the migrant workers to keep check on their floating population. In my district (Bilaspur), two cement factories in the vicinity and an industrial hub town has galvanised the entire economy of the region. In some villages, most of families own up to two trucks to transport cement, creating a veritable jam on one of the most used National Highway passing through the state.

Gobar vs chemical

Kol Dam is perhaps a better example of how to rehabilitate people displaced due to construction of dams and to create employment opportunities. Horticulture, which has tremendous potential in the state is being harnessed now, and this year massive quantities of flowers were exported to Netherlands. Farmers have moved big way towards organic farming and are growing off season cash rich vegetables in a big way. Tourism industry which is a mainstay of this hilly state’s economy has been doing consistently well over the years. A fledgling and nascent market of local music and movies is getting created and there are some Pahari movies made and circulated in local markets. Himachali songs and their videos are being aired on local cable channels something which never happened before.

Making cops of thullas

I happened to be in my home town in Bilaspur a couple of months back during my vacation, where Congress leader and the state Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh, was addressing a public meeting, and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by a rather rare apolitical (by our standards) and progressive speech he made. He was talking about the development that has happened in the state and (in country) and what has to be done in the near future. I particularly liked his ideas about major reforms in Police force (law and order is a state subject) to restructure police force around two separate groups, one for law and order and other for case investigations.

Himachalis by nature are known to be peace loving and gentle people and its police is also more friendly than what we are used to in other states, specially in neighbouring Punjab. But there is still a lot that needs to be done to make Police less a force when it comes to dealing with ordinary, innocent people who are scared of reaching out to it. Later I read that the state was on verge of replacing its 100 years or so old police act, which would enable major reforms the way Police force is governed in the state. It would become very difficult for politicians to transfer police personnel on will. This will go a long way in making police more neutral, non-partisan and effective in dealing with crime since it is a known fact that transfers are used by politicians as a tool of manipulation and exerting pressure for their own selfish goals. In one of other progressive steps, Director General of Police in Himachal passed the orders for discontinuing the practice from British Raj where policemen had to salute all vehicles bearing red beckons – a practice of Victorian times.

Meagre angutha chaaps
Even though most of the times I am not given to romanticising nationalism or “statism”. I occasionally take such liberty, especially, as I feel a connection with the hills and lives of people who live there and Himachal being my home state, its long strides in development makes me feel good. Himachal has undergone a rapid transformation from the most backward part of country around independence to one of the most advanced states now. Himachal is now fourth in India in terms of per capita income. Himachal has a glowing record in education and it is also perhaps the single most important factor for lifting the social and economic profile of the state. Himachal has one of highest literacy rates in India and in terms of women literacy rate has done better than other states in India, barring Kerala. District of Hamirpur is among the top districts in country for literacy. Education makes people aware of their rights, making them politically wise. Political aware people understand their role in democracy and their stake in political power, governance and development. (Some of the leaders of the state understood the role of education in economic and social development long back. While reading biographies of one of the royals of my home district, Raja Anand Chand, I was surprised to know that he had opened schools in some remote villages of district much before independence and he actively encouraged bright students and teachers alike).

Roads – Malaai maar ke
Another important catalyst of development in state has been the excellent road network. For a region which has some of most challenging mountainous terrain, the road connectivity was extremely vital for mobility of its people without which there could not have been any commerce related activity or development. Himachal at present has the highest road density among all the hill states of the country with one of the districts – Hamirpur having the highest road density in entire India. Roads are the veins in any region’s economy through which life blood of commerce and trade flows.

Things are not always though hunky dory. There are always darker sides, the bitter sides. Numbers don’t lie. Himachal has the largest density of buses per person of its population. So we have 22,000 km of roads in state now, but are they all really motorable? I have seen more roads in the state where the only motor you can drive is a tractor. Most of tarred roads in villages are of such poor quality that while driving you wish if they had been left un-tarred. Travel in one of those small mini buses operated by numerous private transporters can be a pain as they are packed to the hilt like a jar of sardines. It is not enough to have good highways connecting just the places of tourist interest. People in small towns and villages deserve same levels of comfort and facilities.

Tourism – International standard kahaan hai?
We have lot many tourists visiting the state now. But knowing the potential the state has, it leaves one saddened that only surface has been scratched in this aspect. We need to learn from countries like Switzerland or even Scotland. Couple of years back while travelling through Scotland, I could not but find similarities with Himachal in terms of natural beauty. Why that state doesn’t have a single international standard airport which can make Himachal accessible to lots of time deficient travellers! Himachal as tourist destination needs to be sold more aggressively to foreign and local tourists. Rural tourism is a big untapped opportunity in Himachal. Railway network is almost non-existent. Accepted that State has some of extremely challenging geographical conditions but there are various areas which can do better by connection through rail network.

Concrete jungle
I believe that a haphazard, unplanned development is not development because it creates problems of its own. It is a big mistake to take trees for woods and start jumping with joy. Most of towns in Himachal are growing rapidly and new constructions are happening but all the new architectures are creating eyesore in region where tourism will always be main industry. Town planning is being overlooked and garbage disposal is becoming a problem in tourist places. There is a danger that in zeal of development, the natural resources of state would be exploited and its environment could be destroyed. A development which is not scalable and sustainable become useless. Planned development needs to be future proof. A future which is happening faster than we think.

Kamal aur haath: Both development ke saath

An important thing to note about Himachal is that, it has always done well in terms of economic development in the last couple of decades, irrespective of which party formed the state government. Having a population of around 60 lakh, Himachal has negligible influence in nation’s politics and on the radar of national politics; the state would appear just as a blip. But its own politics has been rather straightforward with power transferred alternatively between Congress and BJP. Irrespective of vagaries of politics in India, which obviously has effect in the state as well, it can safely be said that both the political parties have always looked at development of state and could perhaps share credit for it. I often wonder why certain societies do well than others in terms of economic and social development!

Why do certain regions do well than others? Is it because of government policies? Should governance be the only factor to be blamed or credited? I am not an economist but I do believe that irrespective of various factors which govern economic development, the most fundamental factor is people itself. In democracy, people form governments, they chose their leader; they can influence what policies are implemented by political parties. Government is just the reflection of who it is governing.

Roti, kapda aur makan, overshadows Ram Ram

If Himachal has done well and is doing well, it is due to the fact that its people want to have better life. It is the collective will of people which translates into political will and then into policies which takes a state forward or backward. In the assembly elections of 2003, Hindutava resurged its face and BJP won massively in Gujarat. Narendra Modi, the firebrand BJP leader was the star campaigner of BJP in Himachal polls and it was hoped that Hindutava would sway the voters of the state to bring back the BJP government. But people of Himachal thought that there were other important factors to reckon with than one’s Hindu identity while voting for a government. In a predominantly Hindu state, where 95% of people follow Hindu religion, Hindutava plank failed in spite of high voltage campaign on issues such as cow slaughter and Ayodhya. In state where 95% of people are also literate, far above the national average, obviously majority of people of the state felt that issues of their day-to-day life like proverbial roti, kapada aur makan, education, roads were far more important than a certain brand of Hindutava. Congress won the election with whopping 40 seats in assembly of 65. It was a vote for development and progress.

Cross posted on: The Dark Side of the Moon .

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  1. Ravi
    Mar 30, 2007 - 03:38 PM

    Whatever Mr. Gaurav Sharma has written, it is Awesome,

    Stunning, Awe-inspiring and Marvelous. Even with a high profile software engineer he is a wonderful writer too. I am amazed how he got time to collect this bulk of data from his busy schedule… Its very nice……

    Reply
  2. Digvijay Singh
    Apr 02, 2007 - 06:53 PM

    Views as mentioned by Mr.Gaurav Sharma are required to get an overview of the development happening all around us in this 'age of information and convergence' to illuminate the path that we are walking as an individual,society,state and humanity to leave a much healthier and peaceful future for our children! The value of Himachal Pradesh, Uttranchal & J&K will reveal strongly within next 10-15 years wrt to its natural floura, fauna & hydro potential when the irrefutable issues facing the humanity would be 'Global Warming' & 'Urban Pollution' and the right steps taken now would pave the way for a better tomorrow!

    Reply

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