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Unlike several statehood movements that had language as the principal rallying point, the demand for Uttarakhand was rooted in development and swaraj.
For more than a decade and a half after its formation, development was visible. Uttarakhand’s per capita income increased more than ten times – rising from Rs 13,516 in 1999-00 to Rs 1,38,784 in 2016-17. People expected the growth streak to gain momentum with BJP’s ‘double-engine’ government. As we near the election day, it is important to assess the present government’s development track record.
Uttarakhand’s per capita income has fallen below the 2016-17 levels and stands at Rs 1,35,819. The PCI growth rate in 2016-17 was a handsome 9%, one of the highest in the country. In 2020-21, it was -9%, the third-worst performing state. The growth and development of seventeen years are being reversed.
Uttarakhand’s gross state domestic product (GSDP) growth rate has fallen from a high of 9.8% (2016-17) to -6.5% (2020-21). It is not the pandemic alone that is to blame. The growth rate had nosedived to 1.2% in 2019-20. A worrying development is a sharp rise in debt, which has increased 64% in four years. By March 2021, Uttarakhand’s total outstanding liabilities stood at Rs 72,835 crore. A rough calculation tells us that the debt burden on every citizen in the state is Rs 63,334.
The economic mismanagement is stark, and people can feel the effect in rising prices and mass unemployment. From 2014 to 2017, the state’s inflation rate was always below the national average. This trend reversed in 2017-18 and has continued unabated since. In 2020-21, the average general inflation in the state was 8.1%, the national average was 6.2%.
A key characteristic of development is good quality jobs for the people, particularly the youth. In the last five years, unemployment in Uttarakhand has risen by more than six times, rising from 1.61% in 2016-17 to 10.99% in 2020-2021. The total number of employed people has fallen by 4.4 lakh in the past five years. Approximately, 10 existing jobs are being lost every hour. Youth unemployment rate is as high as 34.5%, for young women the number is 52.5%. A severe job crisis has engulfed Uttarakhand, leaving families with persistent anxiety about their future.
The number of workers in factories has reduced between 2016-17 and 2018-19 (the latest year for which data is available). A fall in formal sector jobs (like factory workers) means that job destruction is much worse in the informal sector.
Negative economic growth has found a companion in worsening social welfare.
In NITI Aayog’s latest Health Index, the state’s rank slipped from 14th to 15th position. Uttarakhand is one of the few states where the number of operational ambulances under the National Health Mission has reduced – from 248 in 2017 to 234 in 2021. It is inexplicable as to why the services should be reduced when there is a bipartisan consensus on strengthening access to healthcare, especially in the hills. This neglect of healthcare led to a sharp rise in the death rate during the peak of the pandemic. The COVID-19 testing scam only added insult to injury.
Education suffers from a similar abandonment. According to the 2020 ASER survey, every fourth government school student in Uttarakhand did not have textbooks at home for their grade. Another survey revealed that 4 out of 5 students had no access to online education.
While the government looks away, law and order has deteriorated. Under the BJP government, Uttarakhand has emerged as the most unsafe Himalayan state. The rate of crime against women has increased from 30.4 (2016) to 51.6 (2020). Children are most unsafe. There has been a 160% increase in cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The government’s delayed action in the Haridwar Dharma Sansad case raises troubling questions.
In the years preceding the state’s formation, there was a demand to check indiscriminate purchases of land by people from outside the state. The demand was borne out of economic anxieties and an imminent fear of demographic changes. In 2003, the then Congress government enacted legislation to limit the purchase of agricultural land by people from outside the state. Disregarding people’s sentiments, the BJP government revoked the limitation in 2018. The hard-won rights that people struggled to achieve for decades now stand diluted.
It was claimed that revoking the protections was going to bring in investments. The poor economic performance makes it amply clear that those assertions rest on shaky ground.
The government’s mistake is not only in poor policy but in veering away from the ideals that led to the state’s formation. Uttarakhand and its people have paid a heavy price for this lapse in the form of reversing economic growth, unsatisfactory social welfare, and lack of jobs. BJP’s self-proclaimed ‘double-engine government’ – from Delhi to Dehradun – has derailed 17 years of progress.
M.V. Rajeev Gowda is a former MP and chairman, research department, All India Congress Committee. Akash Satyawali is national coordinator, research department, All India Congress Committee.