SHIMLA: The Himachal government too seems to have got onto the SEZ bandwagon with a number of such zones being announced for different regions of the state. The state has already got permission for setting up special economic zones in Kangra, Una and Solan districts, and is now planning more such SEZs. What exactly are we aiming at by earmarking certain areas for hyper economic activity?
Development of the state, of course, but at a certain cost. Though it is too early to comment on as to what extent these SEZs would contribute to the economy of the state, there are certain things that the government should take into consideration before deciding on setting up SEZs. We should understand our local realities rather than blindly imitate other states. As such, SEZ projects in Punjab and Haryana have run into rough weather before even coming into existence. The primary reason being land acquisition problem. And such problems are bound to happen in Himachal too as has been seen in other infrastructural projects such as setting up of an international airport. The HP government has still not been able to find enough land to build an airport as local people are quite averse to give up there land. Another example is the government’s ambitious plant to come up with a new township near Waqnaghat in Solan, where farmers whose land was to be acquired raised a protest. Similarly, various hydro-electric projects too are facing the wrath of local people owning to land acquisition and compensation problems.
The bigger question that we should ask ourselves is – what model of development we should follow? Do we need isolated pockets of developed areas, which will lead to more urbanisation, or development spread across all areas of the state, following the rural upliftment model.
There is no point blindly following other states, as socio-economic and geographic realities in Himachal are different being a hill state. More so, at a time when countries like England have started talking about measuring development in terms of happiness and not just quality of life. The belief that development is a never-ending process seems quite misplaced if we are aiming harmonious living.
In this context, the idea of having special economic zones only reaffirms our shortsightedness. Inviting heavy industry to the state has not been too successful in the recent past, and SEZs are just an extension of that offer. To say that Baddi-Barotiwala experiment has been a booming success is quite a misnomer. It has benefited industrialists from outside the state rather than helping the state. Uncontrolled industrialisation will do more harm to the state than benefit its population. What we need to do is to understand our potential in tourism and service–related activities that gel with the ecology of the state and benefit the whole state rather than just ‘special economic zones’.