(File Image) Uttarakhand, India: construction work in progress of Road-widening projects in Uttarakhand called CharDham Yatra Marg Project or Char dham road Project, rishikesh badrinath highway.
The Himalayan Belt in India stretches 2500 km and covers a total of 13 states and union territories. With a combined population of more than 50 million, these regions are characterised by diverse demography, topology, and a peculiar socio-economic environment. While most of these states are unique in their ways, some of them share more aspects in common than others. Notable among these are Himachal Pradesh (HP) and Uttarakhand (UK) in the Northern part of the country which can be deemed similar on a multitude of fronts: Their area (53000 sq. km vs 55000 sq. km), number of districts (12 vs 13), literacy rate (84 percent vs 80 percent), life expectancy (~71 years) or famous tourist destinations (Manali, Kullu, Dalhousie vs Kausani, Ranikhet, Chamoli). One can hardly even differentiate between the beautiful hill stations of Shimla and Mussoorie.
At a broader level, both states fall under the ambit of the geater, lesser and outer Himalayas. However, these mountainous states differ in critical areas that have intrinsically led to the facilitation of entrepreneurship in HP and indifference in UK. A state’s development is inter alia a function of the quality of infrastructure. While HP has a superior network of well-paved roads, connecting Shimla and other urban locations to the rest of the country, it is only recently that the roads to iconic destinations Jim Corbett National Park in UK have become all-weather roads. And famous hill stations like Nainital and Almora continue to fall far behind. “It is only in the tourist season when the repair and maintenance work is in full throttle, this leads to a blast of traffic jams and ultimately benefits no one,” laments the owner of a roadside restaurant at Bhujiyaghat, en route to Nainital. Due to many such issues, tourist destinations are still not serviced by Volvo/Scania buses, a problem that the neighbouring state HP has seemingly resolved.
Prima facie, one may argue that Himanchal Pradesh attained statehood far earlier (1971) than the relatively younger Uttarakhand (2000). Furthermore, the state GDP numbers do not reflect this dismal infrastructure reality. After all, UK has nealy 60 percent more GSDP than HP. A striking feature, however, is that much of this difference in growth in UK is attributed to cities in the plains like Haridwar and Haldwani, whereas the 16,000+ remote hill villages continue to be severely underdeveloped. This has eventually led families to migrate from the hills to the plains, rendering 1000+ “ghost villages” with no inhabitants. Local people lament the lack of avenues for employment, poor healthcare facilities and rampant corruption. For example, the total number of households with tap connections stands at 61 percent in UK vs 93 percent in HP. Observers attribute this to a lack of administrative stability in the face of frequent changes in political regimes. Dehradun, as the state’s capital, has also brought potentially deleterious “changes” to the environment but little to no “development”. Unlike HP, most of UK continues to face tough climatic conditions deeming the latter unsustainable for agriculture. All of this has cumulatively led to a mass exodus of talent from the state of UK, whereas the culture in HP has been able to sustainably manage most of the issues, be it by setting up pharmaceutical clusters or multiple avenues for natural farming within the state.
With a portfolio of natural capital that spawns the world-famous National Parks and the revered Chota Char Dhams, UK today needs the development of an entrepreneurial mindset and support culture that goes beyond manufacturing and construction. “Our state has immense potential to grow as the largest travel destination in India”, says Ayu Tripathi, Director of Aahana Resort at Jim Corbett National Park, which features among the top-25 resorts in India. “Talent attraction is one major challenge”, exclaims Ayu, “barring 2-3 major cities, poor public infrastructure inhibits bright young candidates to work here”.
The onset of the pandemic saw a mass wave of reverse migration and for once, most young professionals struggling with the hectic city commute seemed to be happy “working from home
”, partial thanks to Jio’s internet penetration. As the number of Covid-19 cases starts to recede, it is gratifying to see some passionate millennials talk about trading corporate jobs for creating their own startups in the region. This is where an entrepreneurial culture has the power to make all the difference. Focus sectors outlined by the State Government covering Travel and Tourism, Food Processing and Agriculture, AYUSH, Education, Healthcare, Biotechnology and Agriculture under the Startup Uttarakhand intiative can catalyse this activity.
As it stands today, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh each contribute to the maximum number of military personnel joining the Defence Forces in India per capita, be it late CDS Bipin Rawat or late Capt. Vikram Batra. Besides these legendary soldiers, what the states also need today is a pahaadi version of Narayan Murthy or Kunal Shah who will seek innovative opportunities to address local problems with local solutions via scalable business models and thus foster local entrepreneurial ecosystem development.
Manjunath A N is a fourth year PhD student in the Entrepreneurship area at IIM Bangalore. Deepak Upreti is a MBA from IIM-Bangalore.
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[This article has been published with permission from IIM Bangalore. www.iimb.ac.in Views expressed are personal.]