Uttaranchal's growth push discounts long-term concerns

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- ever since India recognised the need for smaller administrative units by breaking up big states, beginning with the linguistic reorganisation of 1956, the clamour for a wider process of miniaturisation has grown increasingly strident. Some of the demands have been accommodated in the recent past -- with the creation of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal in 2000. Others, like those for a Harit Pradesh in western Uttar Pradesh, Telengana in Andhra Pradesh, Kamtapur in north Bengal and, very recently, a state for Bhojpuri speakers, are still doing the rounds. Creating smaller states is not a bad idea, especially when they are underpinned by forces of social and cultural solidarity, because from the practical point of view it benefits people by bringing seats of governance closer to them.

But division into smaller states is not an unmixed blessing.Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have all been guilty of rushing headlong into a process of competitive industrialisation, a game of catch up that they probably cannot win. That by itself is not the point, however. What is, is the fact that in the haste to industrialise, 'develop', these states have shown an alarming disregard for environmental concerns, issues relating to people's rights and, most grievously, the need to follow principles of democracy, decentralisation and civil rights.

Uttaranchal is a good case study. With its new industrial policy of 2003, the state embarked upon a process of aggressive industrialisation. The private sector was encouraged to make a big push with attractive concessions and help in acquiring land, often fertile, on the cheap. The forms of industrial activity that were promoted were often ecologically destructive -- mining being a favoured enterprise. It is true that the increased intervention of the market has resulted in windfall gains for those in the possession of land, on a small or a big scale. But this has to be offset by the consideration that the gains thus being made are over the short term. In the long run, ecological damage, loss of soil fertility and related phenomena are bound to compromise the livelihood security of small farmers, who are preponderant.

The Uttaranchal government is probably heedful of John Maynard Keynes's celebrated dictum -- that in the long run we will all be dead. But that might prove very chilly comfort to future generations.


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