From Environics Trust – Mahakali Desk

The Himalayas or the Himalaya constitute a mountain range that separates the plains of Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan plateau. It is uplifted by the subduction of the Indian tectonic plate beneath the Eurasian plate and runs in an arc of 2,400 km (1500 miles) from WNW to ESE. Owing to continuing rise of height of the Himalayas, ranging from 2 mm to 10 cm, they are the only ‘living mountains’ of the world. The Himalayas are also laced with approximately 15,000 glaciers storing 12,000 cubic km (3,000 cubic miles) of fresh water and their melt keeps Himalayan Rivers perennial. Incidentally these glaciers are third largest ice and snow bodies outside the Antarctica and Arctic.

The Himalayas have played a defining role in shaping the cultures of the Indian subcontinent and many Himalayan peaks are sacrosanct in Hinduism and Buddhism. Himalaya play a multi-faced role for all the five inhabiting countries – environmental-ecological, climate-regulatory, hydropower generation, water supply, livelihood, cultural-religious-spiritual, strategic, and many more. The Himalayas are spread over five nations, namely Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan. 10 out of 12 mighty rivers of Asia rise from the Himalaya and on these waters about 600 million people’s livelihood is directly or obliquely dependent. As per 2011 Census data, population of 11 Himalayan states in India is 75,118,262, constituting 6.2% of Indian population (table 1).

Table 1 – Population of Himalayan States in India

S N State Population % of Indian Population
1. Arunachal Pradesh 1,382,611 0.11
2. Assam 31,169,272 2.58
3. Himachal Pradesh 6,864,602 0.57
4. Jammu and Kashmir 12,548,926 1.04
5. Manipur 2,721,756 0.22
6. Meghalaya 2,964,007 0.24
7. Mizoram 1,091,014 0.09
8. Nagaland 1,980,602 0.16
9. Sikkim 607,688 0.05
10. Tripura 3,671,032 0.30
11. Uttarakhand 10,116,752 0.84
Total 75,118,262 6.20

Source: Census 2011, GoI

The rugged and inaccessible terrain of Himalaya poses a grave challenge for development planners in terms of providing civic amenities and building infrastructure for this population. The matter is further compounded by the ever-changing official policies and priorities towards Himalayas, as outlined briefly below.

  • Planning Commission, established in March 1950 for implementing Five Year Plans (FYPs). From I FYP (1951-1956) to IV FYP (1969-1974), there was no specific attention on development of Himalayan states.
  • During this period, Hill States, were considered as political-administrative units and were treated as special category states whose substantial developmental outlay came from Central assistance.
  • In 1965, National Development Council (NDC) identified ‘Designated Hill Areas’ which also included hilly tracts of Tamil Nadu and the Western Ghats.
  • During V FYP (1974-1979), the North Eastern Council started functioning from by invoking Hill Area Development Program (HADP) and it can be said the beginning of dedicated development program for the mountain regions.
  • The development strategy so far, led to uneven economic growth and specific targeted programmes were designed for hilly areas of the country. It was realized that development of hilly areas has to be done hand-in-hand with the adjoining plains, as their economy is closely inter-related. Concomitantly, development must proceed in an ecosystem-congruent manner hence, development of hilly areas should be based on sound principles of ecology and economics.
  • Main thrust of V and VI FYP (1980-1985) was on development of infrastructural facilities and social and community services. In the VI FYP emphasis shifted to eco-development.
  • During VII FYP (1985-1995) and Annual Plans (1990-1991 and 1991-1992), the need to conserve hilly areas in national policies and programmes emanated from the fact that they provide life-giving natural resources but are sensitive and fragile ecosystems. By this time HDP has entered in a crucial phase, especially w. r. t. complementarities between interests of hills and plains.
  • Thus HADP now has a guiding principle – promotion of a secure, basic life-support system, and judicious utilization of land, mineral, water and biotic resources in a holistic manner embracing the inter-twined interests of both the hills and the plains. The strategy was focused around the active participation of the people, particularly of women, in the fulfilment of their basic needs.
  • During this plan period, ‘Special Category’ treatment was given to states of North-Eastern region, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, and Himachal Pradesh whereas remaining Indian Himalayan Region areas continued to be covered by HADP. In addition to normal funds, Special Central Assistance (SCA) was also being provided for the HADP. In this plan, particular emphasis was laid on the development of ecology and environment, in three phrases, namely – eco-restoration, eco-preservation and eco-development.
  • During the VIII FYP (1992-1997), HADP continued with basic objective of socio-economic development of the people living there, to make progress in harmony with the ecological development of the area. The programmes (under HADP) aimed at promoting the basic life support systems with sustainable use of the natural resources. In this plan attention was paid to modernizing the agricultural practices and promotion of small scale industries at the household, cottage and village levels.
  • Substantial efforts and resources were provided to hill states in preceding 4 FYPs but the achievements were not commensurate to it, despite providing Special Central Assistance under HADP and formulating Special Plan Strategies and Schemes drawn up by the State Governments.
  • Three major challenge emerged in this Plan period – devising suitable location-specific solutions, ensuring sustainable development of the growing population, and conserving ecology of the hill areas.
  • In IX FYP (1997-2002), to meet the above challenges, eco-preservation and eco-restoration were seen as twin objective of programme, taking into consideration the ecological degradation of hill areas and subsequent impact on the economy and ecology of the hill as well as plains. For this purpose, strategy for the programme was based on a two-pronged approach – Sub-Plan Approach (since V FYP) and Integrated Watershed Approach to be followed in HADP areas.
  • A Department of North East Region (DONER) was established in 2001, as a lead department in the Government of India to create synergy and ensure convergence of programmes by coordinating the efforts of Central agencies and the State Governments to meet last mile resource needs for completion of projects.
  • In X FYP (2002-2007) for the first time, targets for the growth rate for each state, in consultation with the State Governments were specified. From here onwards the development planning in the NER gained momentum with a separate approach outlined for the NER. After the formation of Uttarakhand as a separate State, HADP in UP was stopped.
  • DONER was upgraded as Ministry in 2004. Ministry of DONER, as it is commonly known, is a unique Ministry in the Union Government as its activities are regional and particularly focused towards advocating the special needs of the region to the other Ministries/Departments and the policy makers.
  • In 2002, Sikkim was also included in North East Council and it was designated the status of Regional Planning Body. Special Area Programmes and same objectives of HADP continued herein. As per the Tenth Plan, provisions the State Governments could use up to 15 per cent of the annual allocation for maintenance of assets in HADP areas.
  • During XI FYP (2007-2012), Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, and Uttarakhand continued to enjoy Special Category States. Assam was an addition being the part of NER. The utilization of the 10% mandatory earmarked funds by the Central Ministries for NER had gone up from 80.8% till the X FYP to 89.7% in the first four years of the XI FYP.
  • Connectivity was considered a key area for the development of NER. Recommendations of the Task Force set up by the Planning Commission identified specific subjects for giving special thrust – converting the Meter Gauge (MG) network to Broad Gauge (BG), providing rail link to all state capitals of north-east region, Construction of three greenfield airports in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh and modernization of important airports. HADP continued in the XI FYP period with renewed vigour.
  • During XII FYP (2012-2017), in February 2014, National Mission for Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystem (NMSHE) was launched with a budget outlay of Rs. 550 Crore. Amongst 8 National Missions envisaged under NAPCC, NMSHE is the only area specific mission.

For the Himalayan region, the thrust has now on the strategic importance, considering the threats from the neighbouring nations and the prime minister publicly announced sanctioning Rs. 1,86,000 Crore for the development of Himalaya.

The policy landscape has been changing rapidly over the years and several missions were also initiated in response to National Action Plan on Climate Change. The planning commission now stands replaced by the Niti Aayog but it would be interesting to understand the functioning and envisioning of planning by the state planning departments – which largely would mean to see finances-investments-revenue generation in a triangular framework to understand the gaps and needed thrusts in planning.