Being from Himachal Pradesh, I have often thought about various reasons why my home state has remained underdeveloped compared to the adjoining states. The topology of the state does not allow agriculture or heavy industries as a viable solution to raise the standard of earning and living of the people. Like every problem, this one suggests several solutions, which if implemented well, can provide for most families of HP easily and efficiently.
1) Tourism: HP needs to reinvent itself as a heaven for tourists. This industry, if properly planned, will provide for resorts, planned spots for housing, preservation of forests and cleaner vertical growth: Should be modeled and marketed like Switzerland. Already some efforts have been made in this direction. The ropeways in Parwanoo, the sking spots in Manali are good efforts. There is a big market for adventure sports (like upcoming ones in Garwal area), and the infrastructure required is minimal. The tourist growth needs to channelized to areas of higher revenue. Many waterfalls are either inaccessible or too poorly maintained. There is a fortune to be made everywhere if by introducing Rs 10 tickets, these waterfronts are made more accessible, spots on hill-tops are opened up to trekkers and campers, and these sites maintained digilently. We could have stuff like in Corbett Park, etc. in hills everywhere. Loghuts and cottages can be created in a variety of natural places, and these can be made to cater to all types of tourists. The idea is to install them in natural backdrop, without requiring concrete jungles of Shimla, Solan and Nahan!
2) Holticulture and floriculture: School texts call HP the fruit bowl of India. Serious efforts ought to be made to utilize and market the fruits. Either HPMC should be privatized or HP government should rope in companies like Hindustan Lever who have the proven capability of marketing fruit products better. Also a fortune is to be made in production and marketing of flowers (like it is done in Holland). Present HPMC units are quite inefficient and trust me, require a better management and must hire a bunch of scientists to assist in making products that can meet global standards of hygiene and health.
3) Education: Already HP has some good boarding schools , perhaps we can provide for several such places for education. In fact, from prehistoric times Himalayas have been the best locations for schooling, and HP goverment just needs to open a few places to allow for building of educational townships. Also we must invest in making REC/NIT Hamirpur, IGMC Shimla, HP University and other educational institutes and colleges as attractive locations for education and research. HPMC and fruits/flower industry should be roped in to make serious advances in botanical and agricultural research (unlike the present YS Parmar Institute in Solan, Palampur College or places like Mushroom Institute in Chambaghat) that are incapable of producing any competitive research and development activity. Private funding can help Hamirpur engineering college to produce more marketable engineers. Somehow we need to inculcate the habit of striving harder in our students, so that they can not only compete on national and international level, but also use their ability to take Himachal to being a progressive place it deserves to be.
4) Rethinking hydro-electric projects and cement plants, which have caused more commotion than growth, more erosion than profit, more pollution than production. I still believe that most hydro-electric power plants in my state are heavily underulitized. We need to set research and development activity that helps to keep these units most profitable and use part of the profit to run the research activity. The cement plants owe a heavy social responsibility and need to invest in development of strategies of minimizing erosion, respiratory diseases, etc., and must be likewise asked to provide a part of profit to provide for betterment of the state.
5) Baddi, Barotiwala, Parwanoo, Nalagarh, Mehatpur, and all the similar towns declared as industry hubs need critical appraisal and reinvention. The problems are multiple. The Industries need a particular level of infrastructure which must be provided for. Next roads need improvement. But most important is the recovery of money from the hundreds of sick establishments that opened and closed in these places, leaving behind a trail of pollution, wastage and improper land use. The problem has to be tackled by roping in industry bigwigs as advisors, and inducting experts on city planning and pollution control. Recently Paonta Sahib has started to become attractive for the Pharmauetical giants, and immediately several problems came to the fore: Truck unions, local labor unions, lack of suitably trained and educated people.
6) HP has enormous potential as the site of choice for shooting movies. Unlike the previous projects (one was in Kunihaar I believe), Kullu, Dalhousie, Shimla, and Lahaul should provide for small villages/towns catering to just cinema. In fact it would be great to couple the cinema with other visual arts and make selective places as hubs of artistic activity. The Museum in Patlikool could be used as a model for this. With collaboration of leading artists, Himachal can host workshops on painting, which would also provide a new set of landscape potraits to extol the natural beauty of the state.
7) Ayurveda and Nature Therapy: Himachal is full of herbs. The Ayurveda colleges must take initiative with help of some good labs and industries to identify a range of naturally abundant plant products that can be marketed everywhere. There is an infinite amount of opportunities in patenting and marketing natural care products.
8) Handicrafts, Pattu, Shawls, carpets: these are and always will remain as big draws. We need to market them better than Khadi Bhandars manage to do. HP Showrooms in Mumbai or Delhi for example are in most inconspicuous places. A tie-up with say Madura Garments (who market all major brands) can provide better marketing as well as greater returns.
We have finite means, but infinite potential for growth and development. Key ingredient is going to be efficient planning, production and marketing. HP Government needs to take proactive steps to rope in private sector for financing some of these enterprises, and must provide for efficient management of funds and facilities. The lethargy of Tourism, Khadi Bhandar, HPMC, Educational Institutes has to be done away with. Sick establishments must be cleaned up. We need policies that provide for preservation, for efficent land management and reuse, and for highly modernized and structured way of handling matters. There are ways of making things better, but identifying them is not enough. We need to do so much before Himachal is really a Switzerland for the tourists, flourishing fruit bowl of India, flower bed in full blosson like Holland’s fields idealized in Hindi Movies, heaven of adventure sports, the respected gurukul and education hub, state on fast tracked research activity in holticulture and other areas, and full of people who spread and flourish in and outside state.
First written and posted on Sulekha.com in Feb 27, 2005