India’s go-to person for tourism, the man who branded Kerala as “God’s own country”, and turned the southern state into one of the busiest tourist destinations in the country, simply cannot come to terms with the devastation in Uttarakhand. Amitabh Kant, who is credited with pioneering tourism marketing in India, believes the tragedy is because of a significant error of judgement of the state authorities. “Uttarakhand should not have taken the path of industrialisation for development and should have been developed as the best destination for sustainable tourism in the world.
States must focus on their core competence; not every state should industrialise. ” It’s difficult not to agree with Kant after seeing images of the hill state that has been ravaged by floods. More than 1,000 people are believed to have been killed and at the time of writing as many as 1,400 were still stranded. (On Saturday, the Uttarakhand assembly speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal said the death toll could cross 10,000.
) Rescue efforts have been hampered by incessant rains and the tough mountain terrain.
Even as television channels beamed horrific visuals of the calamity, the debate on whether the industrialisation of the hill state had contributed to the disaster turned into a face-off between environmentalists and the chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, who claimed the tragedy was a natural calamity. “This is a very childish argument that cloudbursts, earthquakes and tsunamis are because of human factors. In the history of hundreds of years of Kedarnath, no such incident has taken place.
In a Himalayan state, this catastrophe has come about in 37,000 square miles of area.
This cloudburst, 330 millimetres of rain, cannot be anticipated,” Bahuguna said in an interview to Times of India. Sunita Narain, director general, Centre for Science and Environment, is one of the many environmentalists who believe the total opposite – that the disaster in Uttarakhand is “as much man-made as it is natural. Any development strategy that is not environmentally sound will become more disastrous and more tragic. All this means that we cannot afford to get development wrong. ”
RESPONSIBLE TOURISM Kant, an IAS officer, agrees with the environmentalist brigade.
According to him, deforestation is the cause for the flooding and the only way forward is for the state to adopt a strategy of responsible tourism. Even if the state were to slow down industrialisation and was to focus on tourism, it would have to totally change its vision for the sector. Most of the tourists who visit the hill state do so for religious reasons and visit shrines in Badrinath and Kedarnath. Kant’s formula for growth for the state is clear-cut: spell out a vision for preserving the ecology and heritage of the state and follow it up by aggressively chalking out a marketing strategy for tourism. They should develop high-value tourism that will enable the state to raise substantial revenues through the sector. The mass religious tourism has now become garbage tourism, with people spoiling the beauty of the hills, and it needs to be regulated,” says Kant. At the same time the government should curtail mining, constructions and big power projects that require cutting trees and blasting through the mountains.
“No hotel should be taller than the tallest trees in the area and construction should conform to local culture and the design too should be indigenous. Kant is the first one to admit that these ideas do sound utopian and there may be people who would still be dismissive about discouraging industrialisation. “But unless such measures are taken, I am afraid all our hill destinations are under threat; we need to start taking corrective action. ” Industry is quick to rubbish Kant’s growth formula. ML Gupta, who runs a pre-fabricated engineering solutions company in Uttarakhand, says environmentalists have gone overboard in blaming industries located in the region. I don’t think industry has contributed to this disaster,” says Gupta, who also advises the PHD Chamber, a body that promotes industry and entrepreneurship in the 12 northern states, including Uttarakhand. He points out that the business climate in the state started improving after tax concessions were given in the late ’90s. According to Gupta, most of the industrial units in the state were set up in the plains and therefore do not pose any ecological threat to the region. Read justification report example
“The environmentalists and the media are unfairly targeting industry, which has contributed a lot to the development of the state. In the same vein, Vikas Jindal, president of the Kumaon Garhwal Chamber of Commerce, adds that the state would not have been able to grow and fend for itself had it not set up industries. “There were many parts of Delhi that used to be forests. These have been destroyed to set up the capital. Why is it that only when the hill states take up development projects that there is a problem,” asks Jindal. The number of small and medium industries in the state has gone up from 14,163 in 2000 to 39,160 in 2011 and the number of people employed has shot up from 67,600 to 2,54,000.
Jindal argues that if these industrial units had not come up, there would have been rampant unemployment in the state. “The state cannot simply survive on tourism alone,” he asserts. Six months before floods ravaged the state, the local government amended the 2008 Hill Industrial Policy to extend benefits beyond 2018 to 2025 and set up 11 new industrial hubs. As per the policy, industries setting up new units would get incentives like transport subsidy and price purchase preferences till 2025. The state has already developed three integrated industrial estates in Haridwar, Pantnagar and Sitarganj.
BENEFITS OF INDUSTRY After Uttarakhand was carved out from Uttar Pradesh and set up as a separate state in 2000, it aggressively took the path of industrialisation. The contribution of industry to the real gross state domestic product (GSDP) has gone up from 28% in 2005 to 37% in 2012. The GSDP itself at current prices has grown three-fold over this period, to a little over Rs 95,000 crore. In the last fiscal, the services sector contributed 52% of the GSDP and was followed by industry and agriculture at around 37% and 11% respectively.
Over the past five years, the share of agriculture has dwindled drastically while industry and services have picked up momentum. The per capita net state domestic product has consistently been above the national average of Rs 54,527 and the state scores seventh on this parameter. Apart from the benefits given by the state government, the central government too has been doing its bit to attract investment – like providing companies a 100% income tax exemption for the first five years and a complete exemption on excise duty, apart from subsidies on capital investment.
However, the prosperity the state has enjoyed because of industrialization is hardly a good enough justification to ignore the violent ecological wake-up call, courtesy of the floods. Whilst businessmen point out that many of the industries that the state is encouraging – agro and food processing, IT and ITeS, pharma and biotech – are largely ecologically friendly, the glairing exception being hydro-electric power generation. Gupta, who is gung-ho on industrialization, concedes that the state government may need to take a second look at the hydel power projects in the state. I think the government needs to take a look as to whether these [power] projects have contributed to the disaster. Experts and scientists say that building huge reservoirs and blasting done through the hills to set up the river projects may have had an impact.
I think the government should seriously look at the concerns raised by the people and activists about these projects. ” Jindal also thinks it may be wise to delink hydel power and mining from the ambit of what is construed as industry in the state in the wake of the floods. The state government needs to review these projects closely but without compromising on industrial activity in the plains,” he suggests. Uttarakhand, over the past decade, has developed as a hub for hydel power projects and several NGOs and activists have been campaigning against these power projects. Whilst companies like Jaiprakash Power Ventures and the state-run National Hydroelectric Power Corporation have projects up and running, Larsen & Toubro and GVK are amongst a handful implementing hydropower projects in the state.
Reports suggest that some 500 dams, which are part of the 250-odd hydropower projects, are slated to come up along the Ganga and its tributaries in the state. “The creation of a large number of dams on the hills could have added to speedy cloud formation and the blasts used for tunnelling for run-of-the-river projects are also known to create landslides,” says Jindal. AG Iyer, an energy analyst and president of Renewable Energy Promotion Association, in fact, thinks dams – large ones – may well be the answer as against the run-of-the-river model.
According to Iyer, the state was forced to try out the run-of the-river model to lessen the impact on number of people who would have to be displaced. And this in turn has meant that they had to blast through the hills to lay pipes. If the state government had stuck to large storage dams then the impact of the flood could have been contained. “We need to build more storage dams,” avers Iyer. “Any development project will create some short-term destruction but if we do not do anything how will the state progress?
I am a firm believer that the hydropower projects are a must for development to happen in the state. ” Recently around 69 hydropower projects around the Ganga with a capacity of more than 9,000 MW were put under review by an inter-ministerial group; the BK Chaturvedi committee was set up following an agitation by environmentalists against the development of several hydropower projects on the river Bhagirathi. The committee recommended that no new hydropower projects be taken up beyond these 69 projects.
The committee set certain limitations on these 69 and stopped the construction of additional projects worth 6,000 MW. However, a review of the report done by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People criticised the committee for not even considering the merit of stopping work on the projects that are underway and those at the blueprint stage. The NGO questioned the veracity of several estimates quoted in the report and said it did not stand up to scrutiny. Clearly, the devastation in Uttarakhand will bring such hydropower projects under closer scrutiny.
SP Sharma, chief economist at the PHD Chamber, says the floods could well be the cue for Uttarakhand to remodel itself by encouraging more tourism and taking the foot off the accelerator on industrialization. The state expected around 47. 75 million domestic tourists and 0. 25 million foreigners to arrive in 2013. Sharma argues that if the state invested in improving the tourist infrastructure that could be compared with the best destinations in Europe, more high-budget foreign tourists would visit Uttarakhand.
This may be financially more beneficial than setting up projects that have the potential to damage the environment. “Industrialisation has translated into ecological damage in the state as there has been deforestation in areas where the power plants and illegal resorts have come up,” says Sharma. “The hills are simply incompatible for industrial activity and unfortunately the state government has not fully exploited the tourism potential of Uttarakhand. ” Somewhere within those hills lies a middle path.
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