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Uttarakhand region needs dressing up

From Our Staff Reporter (The Hindu)
PAURI GARHWAL, Aug. 30, 1996

Promotion of lesser known natural beauty spots and shrines for pilgrims, domestic and foreign tourists and adventure sports like skiing and river rafting, revival of the age old `chatti’ system, a broad based network of cottage industries based on locally available resources and hydro power generation through small and medium sized ecologically and geologically friendly run-of-the river schemes could prove a boon to the economy of the Uttarakhand region.

The Garhwal and Kumaon hills abound in spots of natural beauty and holy shrines, local residents point out. Besides the famous Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Hemkunt Sahib, Rishikesh,Mussoorie and Naini Tal, the lesser known places of attraction include Gopeshwar, Aadibadri, Narayankoti, Pandukeshwar, Jageshwar, Baijnath, Chopta, Tungnath, Katarmal, Champawat, Dwarahat and Kaushani. Unfortunately, a number of hotels and tourist bungalows run by the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam are in a poor condition though those run by the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam are slightly better. The need is to either streamline the functioning of these Nigams or handover these hotels and tourist bungalows to local entrepreneurs, says Mr. Vinod Gaur, a tourism executive in Mussoorie. Prof. Avdhash Kaushal, chairperson of the Dehra Dun-based Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, has an excellent idea to promote local enterprise along with tourism. Local handicrafts, carpets and sweets like `singauri’, `sakalpara’,`kalakand’ and `bal mithai’ should, he says, be promoted so that people coming here for pleasure or pilgrimage take them back as souvenirs. Also part of the huge offerings made at the holy shrines could be used to fund education and research in the existing universities of the region or a new university established as in Tirupati, he says.

A major cause of frustration among the local people is the mass scale export of herbs and leaves and barks of trees with medicinal or industrial value by businessmen to the plains for processing. Although the businessmen engaged in the trade make huge profits the locals have been reduced to work as mere labourers. When the locals demand a higher wage, it is quiet common for the traders to bring in cheap labour from Nepal, Bihar or Kashmir. This, Dr. Sudhir Dangwal, a social worker in Tehri feels, has to be countered by providing incentives to local entrepreneurs in establishing small units to process the herbs and tree barks in every development block. The herbs and trees of medicinal value should also be cultivated and harvested rather than natural resources being plundered from the wild, he says.

The hill region is the sole producer of Lisa extracted from pine oak trees and used in the manufacture of turpentine oil in Uttar Pradesh. There is, however, only one factory for manufacturing turpentine at Tilwara. A number of similar units can be set up in these hills for turpentine oil production. Potato is another important produce which could be used for earning profits through setting up cottage industries to make potato chips. Malta, a citrus fruit found in abundance in the region could be upgraded by using bio-technology, say Mr. Subhash Dhyani and Mr. Arvind Tamta, both post graduates running small shops at Srinagar.

The Chipko leader, Mr Sunder Lal Bahuguna, feels that real development is possible only when power is generated at every possible water source. The water sources, which are drying up due to illicit and haphazard felling of trees and cutting of mountainsides by vested interests or shortsighted officials involved in execution of development plans, should be first restored through a massive drive for planting locally acceptable plant species, he says.