As one travels from New Delhi to Shimla in a bus, the rumblings are apparent, once you enter Himachal Pradesh. The state roads make the buses dance and shake. Perhaps, one of the easiest way to judge the efficacy of a local government; judge the roads and you know where the potholes in the government are!
Himachal Pradesh is easily one of the better developed states in India. The state’s literacy rate is today almost 85%, arguably one of the highest. Also, the state’s average life expectancy was 67 years and population, just 68 lakhs. The population is less than Delhi’s population of 9 million. This makes bring development in Himachal easier for any administration. Of course terrain is a difficulty which makes logistical hassles in implementing government initiatives.
The elections for the legislative assembly, which were held today will seal the fate of who will be the next Chief Minister of the Dev Bhoomi. In this article, we look at what steps need to be taken by the next CM to place the state not only in maps, but also in rankings, at the top.
The state is not devoid of problems. The most acute problem ticking like a time bomb on Himachal is the state’s fiscal deficit. State’s fiscal deficit has spiralled out of control and hanging around Rs. 4500 crores in 2015! The net debt is somewhere around Rs. 45,000 crores! That is a big revenue headache for a small state like Himachal. A series of populist unsustainable policy moves by the incumbent govt. pushed the state treasury into debt trap. The govt. went on an overdrive with moves such as unemployment allowances, hikes in Dearness Allowances etc. without looking for proper sources of revenue. Hence, the first task will be to clean the messy balance sheet and accounts.
The second critical issue needing resolution is the failing health standards and infrastructure in Himachal. Himachal Pradesh is said to have no Mobile Medical Units. Moreover, many Public Health Centres are functioning without a doctor! On the other hand some PHCs have more doctors than required as per Indian Public Health Standards. Rural Health Statistics of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare point to a shortfall of 305 physicians, surgeons and paediatricians. 87 positions for block extension educator at PHCs remain vacant.
Also, several equipment are lying idle because of un-availability of doctors and trained manpower to run them. Delays in replenishment of drug kits and non-availability of ASHA kits has also been noticed in Himachal Pradesh.
Additionally, there is said to be shortfall in Folic Acid tablets. Hence, the next CM has to revamp the entire health infrastructure and reach through project management approach of timelines and fixing responsibilities to make a healthier Himachal.
Thirdly and the most underrated policy priority is disaster management. The State Government released (February 2015) Rs 1.15 crore to Centre of Excellence (Rs 1 crore) and Police Training Centre, Daroh (Rs 15.35 lakh) for procurement of training equipment for imparting training on disaster management to new entrants into the Police Services.
Also, a State Disaster Response Force was to be constituted. But, neither was the State Disaster Response Force constituted nor were the funds utilised on purchase of equipment required for training of new entrants into the Police services. The entire amount of Rs 1.15 crores remained unutilised as of June 2016. There were 3,243 Gram Panchayats (GPs) consisting of 20,960 villages in the State as of March 2016. No village disaster management committee (VDMCs) had been established in these GPs except in Kullu district. There were no village response teams either. No capacity building measures have been taken to build human resources in disaster management.
In a state where out of the 35 acknowledged disasters by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Himachal is vulnerable to 27 of them. Therefore, it is very crucial for the coming govt. to immediately take precautionary measures to deal with the potent disasters.
Another of the issue in the state and one which will find unequivocal angry responses from all Himachalis, is the monkey menace! You heard it right. The comedy monkey videos which we find amusing on Youtube is literally another disaster in Himachal. Monkey crop raids have led to crop losses worth RS. 500 crores, when the state’s annual budget allocation for agriculture is Rs. 450 crores. The govt. should constitute an expert commission of primatologists, wildlife experts and others and immediately deal with this menace.
Police and prison reforms, a crying requirement across India, is a mess even in Himachal. The police personnels do not have proper weapons nor have they gotten govt. accommodations. The number of police are less to deal with increasing drug-related crimes.
As we see, Himachal Pradesh has miles to go before it can truly become a land of gods and goddesses. The policy issues are a lot and govt. needs to put focus on one issue at a time and resolve them. And given the way winds are flowing, the 14th CM will be an adept administrator!