Saturday, September 1, 2007

Highs of

Himachal Pradesh, today, is one of the leading states in the country, when it comes to the literacy rate, per capita income, primary health, infant mortality rate, electrification, drinking water facility and banking coverage. Pratibha Chauhan looks at the giant strides in development made by this small and once-backward hill state

FROM a fledgling centrally administered territory comprising 30 princely states in 1948 to its current numero uno status in the country on several parameters of development, the hill state of Himachal Pradesh has crossed many milestones in less than 60 years. The actual period of development is even lesser considering that the growth momentum picked up only after Himachal Pradesh attained full statehood in 1971.


Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh on the state’s progress:

  • Starting from scratch, the state has emerged as a leading state in several fields like education, health and infrastructure. What is more important is to maintain that numero uno position and further improve on it.

  • Besides power, tourism and industry, there is immense potential for growing off-season vegetables, floriculture and mushroom cultivation that can considerably enhance the earning capacity of people in rural areas.

  • One area where the state could have done better is in realising its vast potential in hydro-power generation.

  • The laudable progress that the hill state has made in 60 years of its existence is no less a tribute to its political stability and efficacy of administrative delivery in ensuring continuity of programmes and policies.

Long regarded as the poor cousin of its more illustrious neighbours — Punjab and Haryana — the metamorphosis of Himachal Pradesh from a backward hill state to one of the most developed states in the country has been truly remarkable.

Even in the worst of times, people inhabiting the Land of Gods would, perhaps, have scored highly on the happiness index. Nature's bounty manifest in mighty mountains and enchanting valleys has traditionally been more uplifting for the hill people than the lure of the lucre.

That the hill state has matched or bettered the best administered states in the country in terms of life expectancy, literacy rate, per capita income, per capita GDP growth, health, infrastructure and education is proof of its development in material terms too.

Development means different things to different people across the world. Despite adding the human element for measuring development by creating the Human Development Index (HDI) scale, renowned economist Amartya Sen was still not satisfied and termed it a "vulgar measure" owing to its limitations.

For want of a better yardstick, the HDI scale nonetheless remains an important signifier of human development. A recent survey by a reputed news magazine placed Himachal Pradesh as the number one state in the country on the HDI scale as far as the life expectancy at birth, literacy and per capita GDP are concerned.

The state recorded a growth rate of 9.3 per cent in the last financial year - a little above the national rate, and ranks among the leading states with the highest per capita income (Rs 36,783 according to 2001 census). Recently, the state has been officially declared as having 100 per cent banking coverage. Despite the mountainous terrain, Himachal Pradesh has achieved the highest per capita tele-density in the country.

Women self-help group members engaged in marketing jams and squashes in Kangra. The SHG movement has spread in a big way in the state
Women self-help group members engaged in marketing jams and squashes in Kangra. The SHG movement has spread in a big way in the state

Work in progress at a pharmaceutical unit in Baddi, which has emerged as an industrial hub
Work in progress at a pharmaceutical unit in Baddi, which has emerged as an industrial hub

Himachal has aganwadis even in its remotest parts
Himachal has aganwadis even in its remotest parts

Himachal is making efforts to tap its potential for hydel power
Himachal is making efforts to tap its potential for hydel power

Literacy is one parameter where the hill state can be truly proud. From a mere seven per cent recorded at the inception of Himachal Pradesh in 1948, the state has achieved a literacy rate of 77.13 per cent (2001 census) with the female literacy pegged at 67.4, which is much higher than the national figure. A concerted effort to ensure universalisation of primary education in the state has brought down the dropout rate at primary stage of education to 0.89 per cent.

To encourage enrolment and reduce the dropout rate, various scholarships are being given to practically all sections, including girls, wards of army personnel, OBCs, SCs, STs and the poor.

In the area of primary health, the country's leading state Kerala lost its top position to HP. Health indicators like infant mortality rate, male to female infant mortality, percentage of homes with tap water, doctors per lakh people, sex ratio and health spending have been amongst the best in the country.

The fact that the state had achieved cent per cent electrification and drinking water facility way back in 1987 and 1994, respectively, underscores the inclusive nature of development.

One of the most heartening aspects of Himachal's growth story has been public spending in the social welfare sector. Nearly 44 per cent of the expenditure in the current annual plan has been dedicated to the social sector. Social security cover has been provided to 2.12 lakh beneficiaries by way of old age and widow pensions and rehabilitation allowance to the physically challenged. Some of the new schemes launched for the welfare of the underprivileged and needy, especially women, include Mother Teresa Asahay Matri Sambal Yojna , Mukhya Mantri Kanyadan Yojna, and Indira Gandhi Balika Suraksha Yojna.

The state took the lead in the country by enacting a landmark legislation, making it mandatory for children to take care of their parents in the twilight of their life. "It is only after enactment of the HP Parents Maintenance Act 2001 that other states took similar steps. In that respect the hill state has shown the way to rest of the country", says Anuradha Thakur, Director, Department of Social Justice and Empowerment.

Industrial growth has shown a remarkable upturn even as its neighbours Punjab and Haryana cry themselves hoarse over the grant of concessions to the industry by the Centre. A clean and green environment coupled with uninterrupted power supply and industrial-friendly climate have beckoned big names like Ranbaxy, Proctor and Gamble and Wipro to the state. The state has made spectacular progress in the last four years by attracting an investment of Rs 21,821 crore and providing employment to over three lakh persons.

One of the indicators of progress in any society is the proactive role of civil society. In Himachal, the self-help group (SHG) movement has spread across the state and is now firmly established. There are 29,000 SHGs functioning in the state with help from the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment and other agencies.

The SHG movement was initiated by the Chinmaya Tapovan Trust, mainly in Kangra district in 1994. Within five years, the movement grew by leaps and bounds with NABARD requesting the Chinmaya Tapovan Trust to function as a resource centre for training bankers, volunteers and government functionaries from North India.

The Chinmaya Tapovan Trust has been functioning as a resource centre for Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal, "The single largest factor which gave a fillip to SHGs among women was the existing network of mahila mandals, which lapped up the opportunity for their economic empowerment," says Dr Shama Maitri, National Director of the Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development (CORD).

Some observers credit the state's development story partly to its reasonably stable polity - the state has had only five chief ministers since gaining full statehood. The successive Congress and BJP governments have ensured uniform development of the state.

However, all is not hunky-dory. Unemployment is becoming a major social and political issue. In a state of 65 lakh inhabitants, nearly 10 lakh youth are unemployed and this is a major challenge for the policy-makers. The government's thrust is on promoting industry and tourism for not just resource generation but also for creating jobs.

Fed on liberal central aid over the years and supplemented by dose of populist politics, that have fought shy of taxing services, the state has run up a massive debt of Rs 18,000 crore. Nearly Rs 1800 crore goes every year towards debt servicing.

However, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh feels that Himachal Pradesh is no exception in this regard as all states manage on huge borrowings. "The income of the state is increasing year by year and I am confident that we will be able to not only write off these borrowings but will be able to generate substantial resources," he says optimistically.

The industrialisation of the state, which has so far remained confined to the fringes, has brought only limited benefits. Not all units are adhering to the mandatory condition of giving 70 per cent of the jobs to Himachalis.

"Now we have a follow-up mechanism to ensure that the condition of giving 70 per cent of the jobs to youth from within the state is adhered to. There will be random checks even after the unit comes into production and has been granted permanent registration," says Anil Khachi, Director, Industries. He says the initial momentum is good and now efforts are being made towards providing the best infrastructure so that those who have made investments stay on to reap good returns.