How Uttarakhand is carving a new identity?
Devbhumi Uttarakhand, the “abode of the Gods”, is coming of age in myriad ways.
In a complete makeover, Uttarakhand is shedding its image of a languid, mountain state and taking bold strides to position itself as an attractive destination for business and investments. It’s a new trajectory, the like of which has not been seen before in the mountain state. The state is all set to host its first ever Investor Summit, branded as Destination Uttarakhand, on October 7 and 8. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi slated to inaugurate the summit and a battery of central ministers and corporate chieftains like the Ambanis, Tatas, Adanis and many others in tow, the summit will be a closely watched event for corporate and political India.
Mountain states in the Indian Himalayan Region have lagged behind in industrial growth for a variety of reasons — shortage of land, environmental concerns and lack of opportunities have been cited as the usual suspects for low investments. The relatively high cost of doing business and the absence of the ubiquitous corporate culture have dampened the investment scenario.
With hyper-competitive federalism at play in India, large and aggressive states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and others have walked away with the lion’s share of new investments.
With an overall low business sentiment across the country, mountain states have not been on the radar of investing companies. The dilution of tax holidays and emergence of GST has forced states like Uttarakhand to watch the phenomenon of business growth largely as mute spectators.
The Modi government has strategically chosen to put its attention on Uttarakhand which shares its borders with China and Nepal in the northern part of the country. Work is progressing at a rapid pace on the 889 kilometer Char Dham all-weather road-network which links the holy shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been personally monitoring the reconstruction of Kedarnath, the abode of Shiva — which was reduced to rubble in the June 2013 disaster — through drones and regular follow-up meetings with the Chief Secretary of the state. Next on the anvil is the 125 kilometre Rishikesh-Karanprayag rail line. With a target completion date of 2025, PM Modi and the BJP-led government in Uttarakhand have given ample evidence of the interest that the Centre is taking up the affairs of the Himalayan state. With a blend of issues enveloping national security, the allure of Hinduism and Modi’s tilt towards Uttarakhand, the Investor Summit is attracting national attention.
In preparation for the Summit, the state government in association with Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) held several roadshows across the country. The summit is focusing on 12 core sectors, and these include tourism and hospitality, food processing, horticulture and floriculture, herbal and aromatic industry, wellness and ayush, natural fibre, pharmaceuticals, information technology, biotechnology, automobiles, renewable energy and film shooting.
Tourism has for long been one the most important contributors to the state’s economy. With that in mind, the state government has given it an industry status and investors can benefit from incentives offered to micro, small and medium enterprises, as well as mega industrial policy. Similarly, the film fraternity will also be offered incentives when they shoot in Uttarakhand.
In the hill state of Uttarakhand, land use is of prime concern; and yet the state’s hilly regions are ideal for certain sectors such as wellness, natural fibre, horticulture and floriculture, as well as tourism and hospitality. Development of industrial sectors in the state began with the setting up of State Industrial Development Corporation of Uttarakhand Limited (SIDCUL) in 2002 under the leadership of former Chief Minister ND Tiwari.
SIDCUL encouraged companies such as Ashok Leyland, Bajaj Motors and Tata to invest in the state. The state has failed to capitalize on the initial investment euphoria and growth has been haphazard with the plain districts of Udham Singh Nagar, Haridwar and Dehradun bagging the majority investments.
Uttarakhand and the mountain states remain unknown enigmas for most of India.
Unemployment is rife and agitations are frequent. With its fiscal balance in tatters, the financial health of the state is a matter of concern. Inequalities between the plain and mountain areas have expanded in recent years. With nine chief ministers in 18 years, the state has been marred by political instability. Yet, the human resource from the state is one of the finest in the country.
The likes of Ajit Doval, Modis’ goto man for issues of national security is from Pauri. Other distinguished names from the state include the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. Bipin Rawat, Rajendra Singh, the Director General of the Indian Coast Guard and Ashwani Lohani, Chairman of the Indian Railway Board. Ironically, they are the byproducts of the migration and the well known ghost-village phenomenon of barren and dilapidated villages in the hill state.
It is in this backdrop that the Investor Summit presents a golden opportunity to Trivendra Singh Rawat, the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand and his crack team of bureaucrats as they go about launching fresh policies and wooing investments in the state. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to carve out a niche and present a Himalayan, mountain centric model of development for the country.
The stakes are high with Modi in the picture and his government putting its might to ensure that the summit and its outcomes are a success. The dice has been cast – time alone will tell if the Rawat government will go down in history as having crafted the second industrial revolution in the state or if the initial gains just get frittered away over a period of time.
(The writer is a Founder Chairperson of a Dehradun based think-tank, Gati Foundation. This article was originally published in DailyO)