Dehradun: Arunachal Pradesh deputy chief minister Chowna Mein attended a daylong event, ‘Conclave of the Himalayan States’, at Mussoorie in Uttarakhand on Sunday.
Inaugurated by Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the objective of the conclave was to discuss various issues related to development of Himalayan states.
Addressing the conclave, the deputy CM emphasised on the importance of the conclave and said that the issues which are common to all Himalayan states need timely intervention from the 15th Finance Commission.
He hoped that genuine concerns will be looked into with proper perspective by the Commission and it will make appropriate and specific recommendations for the Himalayan states to the government of India.
“The Joint Memorandum of the Himalayan States to be submitted to the 15th Finance Commission is a significant initiative,” said Mein and added that it is in the right direction and clearly puts forward the common concerns of all Himalayan states.
Mein stressed that the criteria for ecosystem services should only be based upon absolute forest area in the state, as, Arunachal Pradesh has a quality forest cover of 82% of the total area and thus provides invaluable ecological services to the nation and the world as carbon sink.
“However, this very asset has become a development disability for the state and its people. In the name of conservation of the forest for larger good, the local people are deprived of modern facilities of development as no compensation has yet been given to the state for this invaluable contribution,” said Mein.
The deputy CM informed that the state has a stock of 148.52 tonnes of carbon stock per hectare which is highest in the country and its value is estimated to be about Rs 48,000 crore annually.
He added that the forest cover of Arunachal requires due cognizance, which has been ensured in our suggested formula. The 14th Finance Commission had recognised this factor, but now, the earlier weightage is required to be enhanced in keeping with the economic implication arising from some denudation of the state’s forest cover and agricultural practices affecting the same.
Mein advocated that scientific vulnerability index may be used to devolve the funds between states, as the Himalayan States are located in high seismic zone and are highly vulnerable to earthquakes along with other natural disasters.
Stating that one of the biggest challenges which the Indian Himalayan region faces is the annual devastation caused by relentless monsoons, Mein said there is massive destruction of roads and other infrastructures due to the same.
The current norms of disaster relief under SDRF/NDRF guidelines are far too meagre to restore the infrastructure. Our state has been unable to restore the rain damages that have been accumulating over the years. We are left with a mammoth task of restoring damages, which our state is unable to carry out due to its meagre resources, added the DCM.
Speaking on climate change, Mein said it is one of the most important global environmental challenges that affect all the natural ecosystems of the world.
Due to the fragile environment, mountain ecosystems are the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Climate change will not only threaten the biodiversity, but also affect the socio-economic condition of the indigenous people of the state, he said.
He added that various activities like habitat loss, deforestation; tree felling and overexploitation amplify the impact of climate change on biodiversity. Also, Jhum/shifting cultivation practiced in Arunachal is a major concern; this aggravates the impact of climate change on water resources, and soil erosion due to massive loss of forest cover, said Mein.
Mein suggested that there is a need for holistic and integrated planning to tap the water resources of the North-eastern region for optimum utilization.
The initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for creation of North East Water Management Authority (NEWMA) which is in the process of finalisation by NITI Aayog will go a long way in fulfilling the objective of optimisation of water resources in the NE region, he added.
The DCM further sought setting up the headquarters of NEWMA in Itanagar.
He also reiterated that there is huge scope for development of sustainable tourism in the Himalayan states for which adequate investment is required for development of basic infrastructure in the small urban centres in the Himalayan region.
Citing that although infrastructure development has been accorded top priority in the strategy of the state’s economic development over four decades, Arunachal Pradesh is still lagging behind in terms of the national average in most of the components of infrastructure.
Mein said that the development of infrastructure, roads, power and telecommunication in Arunachal Pradesh has not been able to keep pace with that in the rest of the country. The vastness of the territory and rugged, difficult and inaccessible terrain has negated the benefits to the rural masses that are in the interior parts of the state, he said.
The DMC said that the per capita cost of providing not only physical infrastructure but also public services is very high in the Himalayan region.
2D area vs 3D area of Himalayan states
The geographical area in plains and hills is determined in 2D plane and the folds/ undulations in hilly terrain is not accounted for while determining the overall area. An exercise done by Himachal Pradesh using modem Geo-IT tools, remote sensing and GIS indicates that the 3D area of the state comes out to be 56% more than the 2D area. Similarly for Arunachal Pradesh, the 3D area will also be at least 50% more than 2D of 83,743 sq. km. These factors are required to be considered while assessing availability of social and physical infrastructure per unit of area, the DCM elaborated.
Mein also laid focus on the Cost Disability Index be given due weightage while allocating resources among the states. He said that Arunachal Pradesh, being a highly precipitated area, the working season is restricted only for six months i.e. from October to March every year. “Inadequacy of own resources and insufficient central assistance after independence, despite liberal treatment, coupled with high cost per unit of development, have been important factors for the backwardness of the state,” he said.
To remove the critical gaps in physical and social infrastructural needs, the DCM suggested to strengthen the economic conditions of the people living in the remote border blocks and to arrest the stress migration from the border areas towards the plains.
The 15th Finance Commission should make specific recommendation especially for states with strategic importance vis-à-vis International border, added Mein.
Externally aided projects
Mein highlighted that Arunachal Pradesh is perhaps the only state in Northeast which has been deprived of the externally aided projects from the World Bank, ADB and JICA due to opposition from China.
“This not only deprives the state of financial benefits but also of technical knowledge that comes with external aided projects besides being a big deterrent in our developmental activities,” he informed the gathering.
He further called upon the Commission to make suitable recommendations for making alternative arrangements with regard to externally aided projects.
Mein also said there is a need for deciding on a new institutional arrangement which recognises the need of Special Category states and provides for a weightage or a norm to enable compensatory transfers, keeping in view the declining trend of the share of statutory Finance Commission transfers vis-a-vis non-discretionary erstwhile plan and non-plan transfers.
“Our request for accordance of special category status to all the states of Indian Himalayan region may be considered due to challenges being posed by Cost Disability factor, huge infrastructural deficit in the critical sectors, hilly terrain, hostile topography, migration from border areas and serious connectivity issues etc,” said Mein.
He also requested the 15th Finance Commission to take into account the factors concerning area, population, economic backwardness contingent on infrastructure deficit, inadequate financial inclusion of people at large, constraints in obtaining goods and services at economic rates, etc, while fixing share of the state in central taxes.