U'khand: majority govt, no governance

The result of the 2017 assembly election in Uttarakhand was unprecedented — the BJP not only secured an absolute majority, with 57 seats in a house of 70, it also ensured that there was no effective opposition. The people, subjected to long inaction and inefficiency, heaved a sigh of relief that the “double engine of development” would run at a fast pace, with the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre and a majority government in the state. It was expected that since there were no hurdles in the assembly, there would be a rapid improvement in sectors like education, employment, health and infrastructure. And that “development” would stem migration from the hills to the plains and urban areas.

But almost as soon as the BJP was elected, it became apparent that things were not heading in that direction. A considerable delay in finalising the names of ministers and their portfolios indicated that all was not well, even in a party that had secured an overwhelming majority. The pressure politics, issues of proximity to the central leadership, and the process of accommodation of party stalwarts and former Congress leaders not only delayed this process further but also incited internal dissent and dissatisfaction. The agenda of development was initiated with great difficulty after the formation of the government.

The education sector was targeted to bring about a total change in the culture and mindset of students and teachers by making a dress code compulsory for both teachers and students, hoisting the national flag every morning and evening and singing the national anthem. In view of absentee students, teachers and faculty, particularly in the remote and inaccessible areas, biometeric attendance system was introduced.

Some 900 posts of assistant professors were advertised for recruitment. But the issue of accommodation of guest teachers working in colleges since long had the potential to derail the process. A major issue indicating the unresponsiveness of the state government was over the shifting of the National Institute of Technology (NIT) from Srinagar Garhwal to the plains. Doing so would confirm people’s belief that the hills were seen as distant and low-preference areas.

Under the “double engine”, it was expected that there would be drastic changes and reforms in the health sector. To provide better health services to people and stem migration in search of medical facilities, it was declared that the medical colleges of the state would be taken over by the armed forces.

But the many rounds of talks and high profile inspections that followed made no sense since the army simply refused to enter into any contract to run these problematic colleges. The health sector is still running on ventilator mode, facing a paucity of specialists, doctors and other medical staff. Newspapers are often filled with reports of women dying during childbirth.

New body, no action
A new village development and migration commission has been appointed, headquartered in Pauri Garhwal, one of the most migration-hit districts. The commission’s mandate is to identify the problems associated with migration and suggest how to tackle the issues of “Pahar ki jawani” (the youth of the hills) and “Pani pahar ka kaam nahin aati hain” (water does not serve the hills). It clearly underlines the importance of these issues, but the formation of yet another commission seems to be a ritual, since various scholars have stud-ied these at length and have writ­ten reports on the causes and suggested measures to solve them.

Access to quality education, health and market facilities, promotion of agriculture, horticulture or area-specific produce and its easy transportation to markets, generation of employment, village tourism, physical safety of crop and human lives from wild animals and natural disasters could stop migration and make the abandoned villages liveable again. This does not require another commission to say it, but action. So far, the “double engine of development” has failed to move.

The allocation of Rs. 50 crore for the “Apple mission” is the right step to promote horticulture. But even after 17 years of Uttarakhand’s inception, Harshil apples — one of the finest varieties in the country and grown in Uttarakashi district — are still packaged and sold as Himachal apples.

The coverage of Uttarakhand under the all-weather roads plan for easy transportation of men and materials shows the state’s strategic importance as it shares borders with China, but Uttarakhand being environmentally sensitive, caution has to be taken in such projects.

In the six months of this government so far, corruption has not been reported. But development, too, has taken a backseat, which confirms that even a majority government faces pulls and pressures. BJP president Amit Shah’s visit to gear up Uttarakhand BJP for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections though endorsed the Trivendra Singh Rawat-led government’s functioning. But the slow pace of developmental activities in the hill areas is causing growing frustration with increased paperwork and growing crimes against women. The rising dissent within the party could hurt the BJP in 2019.

(The writer is Professor of Political Science, HNB Garhwal University, Uttarakhand)
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