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Sensitivity where art thou, Shimla cries for you

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Urbanization of shimla

Times are changing alright; we are progressing with age and time has come when pace of Shimla is matching the pace of most developed cities in India. Time was when modesty, selflessness and compassion flowed through the heart of residents of the Queen of Hill. With development and large scale urbanization, the mindset of the town is changing – and the change is demeaning the basic culture and charm of the city.

Development and urbanization are slow poison to say. Initially they taste refreshing – refreshing to the extent that humans are lured so magnetically to them. Culminating effect is fatal. Shimla is sipping on this slow poison and is headed for self destruction.

Who is to blame? Finger pointing comes naturally to Indians, so when I ask this, all of us will have our fingers pointed at the administration.

Constitutionally this is correct – and why not, the administration and public representatives we have voted to power are responsible for it all. If there is uncontrolled urbanization – government policies should have been framed to avoid it. If there is unmanageable garbage on roads, pollution in the air and contaminated water in the taps – administration should have strict measures in place. But, considerable citizens are we the main contributors to this?

I once read “your character is what you are when you are alone”, and it has stayed with me ever since. I bring this up to validate my point. We citizens are primarily responsible for the rumpus we confront in the town of late.

Himachalis, the residents of the abode of snow, are by virtue sensitive to change, sensitive to our culture and sensitive to the surroundings. Thus, for Shimlaites this sense of sensitivity comes by default.

Change is the only constant. Change we must and so we are steadily. We are more literate, more monetarily concerned and at near prime of a standard of living. Culturally we are still rooted – probably our previous generation has instilled this sense in us. Concern looms on our sensitivity to the surroundings.

We are literate, but our education has defaulted somewhere. We are concerned but our sensitivity is lost somewhere. We blame but our self-conscience has gone astray.

Back in school (this would be some 20 years back) moral science and civics was taught to me. Back then I never realized how my consciousness towards little civic duties and efforts towards betterment of my surrounding would make a difference. Today I realize it, but my neighbour makes me believe, I am in the wrong part of the world with an unwanted conscience.

How justified is it then to be the run off the mill? Is what your neighbour doing the correct way to do things, I often ask this to myself. I don’t get an answer – an answer is difficult to find because ‘this is India and nothing is going to change here ever.’ This cliché must have reached your ears a number of times. I am growing old listening to it.

Certainly this is not how it should be, at least that sensitivity instilled in me by being part of the hill state, tells me so. Calling out to all who follow – Change we must!

Change to ask questions, why my rights are being murdered by incapable, narrow sighted governance. Change to come to terms with my sensitivity to question that neighbour who stays and feeds on my city’s resources but fails to do his bit in return. Change to question my own acts when I’m in public or when I am walking down the road by myself.

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Kinnaur-Ngari Corridor: An Argument for The Revival of The Western Himalayan Silk Route                                          

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Kinnaur Ngari Corridor

With the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor a new sense of hope within the people of especially the border areas of India has come up and now many regions in the country would hope to adopt such a model and one such region which may initiate a similar demand in the future could be Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district which shares its borders with the Ngari prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Why a Corridor

Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh on the Indo-China border, is one of those places where, in this 21st century, people are still struggling to get minimal health care, linkage to roads, primary education facilities and employment for its mostly tribal youth. Meanwhile, the provincial government is on a high after the success of its recently concluded Rising Himachal Global Investors Meet but may believe that the event had nothing in it for districts like Kinnaur.

As investment in sectors like Agri-Business, Health Care and Education have been opened but none include opportunities for Kinnaur or for that matter Lahaul Spiti. Say in case of the investible projects in Health Care where out of a list of 50 identified sub-centres not even one such centre of Kinnaur and Lahaul Spiti district has been included. In the education and skill development sector also the story is the same. Out of all the investible projects listed not even one is for the far-flung districts. 

Which puts forth a perception in the minds of many that a new policy alternative needs to be put in place to tackle the issues of these isolated districts and establishment of a Visa-free Kinnaur-Ngari Corridor seems to be a step in this direction which will link India’s Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh to the bordering Ngari Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region (China).

Western Himalayan Silk Route

India was the first non-communist country to recognize China but relations between the two countries have undergone dramatic changes over the past seven decades, ranging from a great period in the 1950s to a period of enormous downs in the 1960s and 1970s, to a fresh start from the mid-1980s. The neoliberal era from the 1990s has offered enormous opportunities to New Delhi and Beijing to move in the direction of an efficient and effective relationship in the long-term interest of peace and stability in Asia. Establishment of this corridor could be the next step in this direction and would also lead to reviving of the centuries-old Western Himalayan Silk Route which got linked by the Hindustan – Tibet road in 1850 by the orders of Lord Dalhousie.

During that time traders from the erstwhile Bushahr state used to cross the Shipki La pass and trade with people of Western Tibet mostly belonging to the Ngari prefecture. Also, regular fairs were held during summertime in Kinnaur and Ngari areas which attracted thousands of traders from both sides to barter trade with each other. Though after the 1962 Sino-Indian War this route was closed but with the passage of time the two countries with huge human and material resources realized that they were facing common challenges of eradicating poverty and thus they began the process of reconnecting with each other with the signing of a protocol on economic cooperation, they granted each other MFN status and finally India–China relations entered a new phase which thus paved the way for the 1993 official opening of trade through the Shipki La pass but only border trade got the nod and mostly the adjoining packs of villages on both sides are allowed to trade since then.

 In 2015, however, the cross border trade through that route touched a new record with a turnover of close to Rs 9.72 Crore, the highest ever since it resumed in 1993 but after the 2017 Dokhlam standoff in Sikkim it considerably declined. In 2018, it slowly revived by registering a turnover of 2.82 Crores. The main exports from India which are included in the tax-free list are agriculture implements, blankets, copper products, clothes, cycles, coffee, barley, rice, flour, dry and fresh vegetables, tobacco, spices, stationery, liquor, cigarettes, local herbal medicines, religious products like prayer wheels etc. On the flip side, imports from China include goat skin, sheep skin, wool, yak hair, goats, sheep’s, horses, shoes, carpets etc.

Need of a Corridor

If trade between nearby villages, that too through a rigid permit system which only accommodates limited people, could generate such a turnover, a proper Visa Free corridor can do far better.

The lifestyles, culture and languages of the two regions on both sides are also very similar linked to the historic movement of nomadic Kinnauri, Lahuli and Tibetian tribes in the region most people of those tribes living in the border belt also have relatives across the border. Particularly Tibetan speaking societies of Upper Kinnaur shares a lot of common ground concerning historical, geographical and cultural terms with Purang in the Western Tibetan region and they will gain a lot from this move both economically and socially.

These revived ties would promote bilateral tourism as the sector has huge scope in the region. Also, this corridor would hold a lot of religious importance as the Mount Kailash and Lake Man Sarovar are part of Ngari and thus many devotees especially belonging to the Himachali Shaivism sect would support this move. Also, many Buddhists from TAR and China would be interested in visiting the Key Monastery of Spiti and numerous monasteries of Kinnaur.

Such access also facilitates the interaction of academicians and students generating and developing ideas that benefit both sides, besides regional cooperation on key infrastructural and farming related issues. Also, in the long run, the two regions can have common schools were children from nearby border villages can study together. Common airports, hospitals, agriculture centres and sports complexes can also be established in those areas with the collaboration of both governments. Possibly in the future, the corridor could be stretched towards other parts of Himachal and Ladakh on the Indian side as well as parts of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Local communities in especially Upper Kinnaur have many a time raised this issue to open borders and similar voices were also been heard from the Ngari side but the governments on both sides have kept silent.

Decision Makers

Keeping in view, the legal and political aspects of international affairs, it will be mutually beneficial for both India and China to strengthen the relationship through a constructivist approach. The two must balance national interest and the global economic concerns The 21st meeting of the Special Representatives of China and India on the boundary question in 2018 which was held in Chengdu, was a step in this direction. It had in-depth discussions on border trust-building and cooperation, and the proposed corridor can be a step in that direction which could bring prosperity back in the Western Himalayas and can be the beginning of a new chapter in India – China ties.

But the key not only rests in the hands of Beijing and New Delhi but also in the hands of Dharamshala where Himachal’s Investor Summit took place as another player in the whole scenario. The Tibetan government in exile has its headquarters situated in the town. The Tibet issue has been one of the major reasons for such Indian–Chinese relations. Although India has already reconciled itself to the fact that Tibet can never be a separate entity from China, but the Indian government has also not pushed hard to strike a peace deal between Tibet and China. While on the flip side, China has too been vary of the economic growth of India and has tried to sideline it on many counts.

Coming to the bottom line the attitude of these policy makers on both sides plus a concrete stand of the Tibetan government in exile is what will decide the future course of regions like Kinnaur and Nagari which are currently trapped in Western Himalayan border games.

Author: Vishal Sharma

Vishal Kumar

Vishal is currently pursuing LL.M. in Legal & Political Aspects in International Affairs from Cardiff University, Wales (UK). He founded the Limbic Movement centered around a social organizational sphere aiming to advance the Limbic ideological dimension in the fields of Law, Public Policy and Social Work.

 

 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

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Indian Economic Slowdown: Path to Recovery May go Through Dusty Rural India

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Shimla-After the release of economic growth figures for the April-June quarter of FY20 by Central Statistics Office last week, at least we have a consensus on one sobering fact: Indian economy is in the doldrums, and we no longer are the fastest growing economy in the world.

A sizable slowdown has been reported across most segments-manufacturing, farm, mining, construction, real estate, financial, professional services IT, auto, etc. The data on display is alarming considering the huge bearing these sectors have on employment. The slowdown of such enormous scale is likely to increase India’s unemployment rate in the coming months that stood at 6.1% in FY18- the highest in the last 45 years. For some time now, there has been a manifest lack of demand and investment sentiments in the market.  

In the thick of all this, disconcerting is the lowest consumption growth in the last 18 quarters – remember the consumption growth was the major driver behind the rapid growth story of the Indian economy and it accounts for significant  55-58% of the GDP.  

One of the major reasons for the decline in consumption growth is the shrinking rural wages, which is the result of the unacknowledged farm crisis going across the country for a few years now. As per the World Bank collection of development indicators report, the rural population in India was 66.46% of the total population in 2017. The constant decline in rural wages resulted in a substantial decline in disposable income, hence, the demand too weakened. The constant decline in food prices bedevilled agriculture income and subsequently lowering the spending and hurting the rural demand. In economic, high inflation hurts the end consumers, similarly, low inflation impacts the producers. The lower inflation rate impacted the farm producers tormenting rural India badly.  

The favorable demographic profile (65% of the population in India is below the age of 35) of India, initially, acted as a stimulus for attracting investments. As the younger population of a nation aspire their own house, car, yearly holiday, white goods, electronic gadgets, etc. But, as India’s much-touted growth story has failed to generate enough jobs, sagging the aspirational spirits of the youth. Thus, resulting in the slackening of demand, in return, this affected the confidence and sentiments of the investors in the Indian market.

 It has a cascading impact in an economy, as an investor invests in anticipation of demand and keeping in view the market sentiments; at present both these factors are lacking in the India economy. 

Another reason for the economic slowdown is the decline in the saving rate from 34.6% to 30% over five years in India; the worst dip is in the household savings-the biggest source of Investment and accounts for 61% of the total savings- dropping to 16.3% from 23.6% over the same period.  The 18% & 28% GST slabs, that covers 43 % and 19% of the good and services respectively also took a toll on the disposable income, weakened the demand and eating up the savings among the great Indian middle-class.

The credit household debt has also increased manifold in last decade. This has reduced the purchasing power and reduced saving of the household in India.

The credit growth over the years has remained weak- in spite of successive rate cuts by the RBI- owing to the problem of NPA plaguing the banks. The recent liquidity woes in the Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFC) – shadow banking – have also fuelled speculation, instability, and stress in the financial market. This mess in the financial sector has impacted the investments as reflected by the subdued CAPEX cycle also.  

The gig economy (responsible for 96% of the employment in the country) is yet to recover from the double whammy of demonization and GST. A testimony to this is the high unemployment rate prevailing in India. Gig in India is too big to be ignored.  

Besides this, weakening currency and decline in export only piled up the concerns in the economy, in spite of favorable crude oil prices and low inflation. The aftermaths of the trade war and global slowdown have also started to reflect on the Indian economy.

In India, the richest 10% owes 77.4% of the national wealth; the poorest 60% have 4.7% only. This represents the widening cleavage between the rich and the poor, the growing plutocracy is a concern for developing nations like India. As more and more wealth is concentrated in few hands, instability in the economy increases, making the macroeconomic parameters vulnerable. For such economies with rising plutocracy, a gloomy economic prognosis beacons.

The next few months will be critical for the Indian economy, as demand and investment sentiments need to be spiked up. The disposable income must be increased immediately by revamping at the multiple tax slabs under the present GST regime and replacing them with a simpler lower single tax slab. The technical issues with the input tax credit software should be addressed immediately. This will sort out the delay input credit and reduce its proceeding time too. We need a simpler GST rather than the labyrinth one.

A major part of Rs 1.76 lakh crores given by the RBI to the government can be used on the public expenditure, this will revive the infrastructure projects and boost disposable income and revive demand. This will also bolster the credit demand which has been facing a massive downturn.  

For decades now, the Indian growth story was riding on factors like a demographic dividend, a huge market for consumption and a strong base of saving to stimulate investment. But, the time has proved that such a model can’t work for long only on these factors. All these factors are favorable for economic development but, it has to be buttressed with policies that produce high enough economic growth with sufficient jobs; cultivate a conducive investment climate and boost confidence in the system. At present, there is a perceptible lack of these elements.

 In developing nations, an economic model driven by consumption growth can’t work for long, rather economic model should be driven by continuous investment. 

In India, unfortunately, all the limelight is hogged by urban India, whereas rural India remains unnoticed. Few quarters of stress in the auto industry becomes front-page news; on the contrary years of farm stress does not get any mention. Although, the path to the economic recovery may go through dusty rural India and foster on the sweat, toil and hard work of the prosaic gig economy. Albeit, it may not make a beaming headline. Rural India, for one more time, will not mind; as it never did earlier. 

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Reaping the Digital Dividend for Improving the State Capacity

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Digitization of India report 2019

Shimla-To the developing nations, digitization offers a range of opportunities to build and strengthen its state capacity and solve the numerous problems that plague them. State Capacity of a nation is its ability to effectively design and implement public policies, so the objectives of such policies are achieved.

As per the Digital Adoption Index of McKinsey, Digital India report, India is digitizing second-fastest in the world- second only to Indonesia. Besides, telecom and internet penetration are improving at the rapid speed putting India on the cusp of digitization revolution.

Digitization, in the near future, will have far-reaching implications on the Indian society. It can help India to build upon its existing state capacity to tackle the issues of reducing poverty, improving healthcare facilities, removing corruption & illiteracy, finding energy solutions, better traffic management, offering affordable housing, waste management, reducing crime, bridging inequality and generating new avenues of employment for our youth.

Embracing digitalization improves efficiency immensely, as we have seen in the services and manufacturing sector worldwide. India’s own Direct Benefit Transfer scheme proved how digitalization prevents chronic corruption and massive subsidy leakages. In financial institutions, digital payments have improved flexibility, revamped financial inclusion and provided prevention against fraud. In e-commerce, digitalization has streamlined supply chains and logistics issues exceedingly.

In organizations-both government and private-digitalization has improved transparency by providing a single touch interface and has made officials more accountable by real-time basis monitoring of the work.

Also, Digitization not only offers data faster but, the data that was not at all available hitherto to the policymakers. Such data can help policymakers to frames better polices and target them even better hence, achieving the set objectives.

Digitalization will require, both government and organizations, to keep abreast with fast-paced technological developments. Moreover, a lot will depend on how the government deals with the mounting pressure of security challenges, cyber-attacks, data privacy, societal issues such as the Internet of things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). To tackle these issues new laws and regulation will have to be made. For Government, countering such complex and new issues successfully will require a whole new approach and a revamped decision-making process.

In India, the challenge remains whether we have equipped and skilled manpower to reap the dividend of digitalization boom. No doubt, digitalization comes with the potential to transform millions of lives but will require a workforce with adequate skills too. The existing workforce will also have to be retrained and redeployed.

Another critical challenge digitalization has thrown up is of fake news, especially in societies of developing nations. As we have seen in India, fake news on social networking platforms spread at lightning speed and fuel tension among the groups, sometimes even leading to human deaths. Such incidents make societies fragmented and lead the nation to nationalistic isolation impacting regional peace and harmony. This probably is the biggest challenges for all stakeholders of digitalization.

The response of the Government to these above challenges will either strengthen people’s certitude in digitalization or altogether undermine it. All they need to do is update their policies and institutions to address challenges and seize the opportunities brought about by digitalization.

If we tap the potential that digitalization offers, state capacity of our nation will certainly augment. In turn, some of the critical development challenges our country is facing: providing access to information, overcoming remoteness, exclusion and offering economic opportunity will be soon addressed. We must recognize the tremendous potential of using digital technologies for economic development, empowering the weak and bringing the fruits of democracy to every doorstep.

How governments and people respond to digitalization in the near future will impact not only our democracy, economy, freedom, rights, governance, society and the but also the digitalization itself. As nature of technology neither pro nor anti, it’s neutral.

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