More than four years and three chief ministers later, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has an abysmal record in Uttarakhand. Not that the BJP was not active in the hill state; it took prompt action against its chief minister (CM) Trivendra Singh Rawat, who wanted to proceed cautiously with the Mahakumbh amid the pandemic. However, the voters failed to make the cut in the party’s list of priorities.
With more than 1,787 villages completely deserted, migration, triggered by limited opportunities and a dwindling economy, has become a matter of grave problem that needs an immediate and bold solution. Instead, the BJP government made things much worse. A 6.9 per cent growth rate achieved during the Congress rule in 2016-2017 plummeted to 4.3 per cent in 2019-2020 under the BJP with growth rate in all sectors—agriculture, manufacturing and services—declining.
Unemployment has spiked under the BJP’s watch. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, the unemployment rate of 0.3 per cent before the BJP took over in March 2017 rocketed to 3.1 per cent in July 2021. In September 2020, at 22.3 per cent, Uttarakhand recorded the highest unemployment rate in the country.
According to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (April-June 2020), every fourth person in the state is unemployed. In absence of adequate employment opportunities, one member from every third household migrated to other states—as per the Uttarakhand Development Report in 2018.
The state of Uttarakhand’s economy can be gauged from the modest wages of farm labourers. The minimum agricultural wage rate in 2019-2020 was only Rs 260.5—lower than, at least, 17 states and union territories. Wages under MGNREGA were only Rs 182 in the same period—the fifth-lowest in the country.
Agriculture, the major source of livelihood in the state, suffered the biggest setback in the last four years. The growth rate of agriculture was merely 2.2 per cent in 2019-2020 compared to 7.8 per cent in 2016-17.
Even education took a big hit with the state shutting down 700 schools in 2018. The merger of several schools forced students to travel more to receive basic education in a state where more than 67 per cent of students walk to schools and colleges.
Without a sensitive and committed government, school education took a worse turn during the pandemic. According to Annual Status of Education Report 2020, every fourth government school student in Uttarakhand didn’t have textbooks for the current grade in 2020.
Around 29 per cent of government school students did not engage in any learning activity and 46.3 per cent of these students were not provided any learning material from their schools. Unsurprisingly, a higher proportion of 4.7 per cent of kids between 6-14 years was not enrolled in school in 2020 as against 2.4 per cent in 2018.
The way Uttarakhand handled the Covid-19 crisis without a dedicated health minister is a textbook example of first-grade misgovernance. The first two CMs after 2017, Rawat and Tirath Singh Rawat, kept the health portfolio with themselves in the last four years without making any significant progress in health and family welfare.
The indifference of the BJP government towards its people, who were living hand to mouth amid the lockdown, was on full display when their then-CM Tirath Singh Rawat reprimanded people for not “producing 20 children to get more ration during the lockdown”.
BJP’s biggest and most unforgivable blunder was to hold the Mahakumbh even as people dropped like flies in the pandemic. As many as 9.1 million people thronged Haridwar between January 14 and April 27, leading to a surge in cases in the state and the country (in some places 99 per cent of Mahakumbh attendees tested Covid positive).
The Uttarakhand High Court observed that the religious gathering was “one of the great contributory factors” to the steep rise in Covid cases during the second wave. The court described the government’s move to hold the Mahakumbh as an “ill-decision”. The court further stated that 57 per cent of deaths in Uttarakhand in May 2021 were “due to holding of the Kumbh Mela in April 2021”.
The state government was also possibly fudging Covid-19 death figures to hide its incapability. Towards the end of May, the state started adding hundreds of backlog deaths to its daily Covid toll, casting doubts over the exact number of fatalities during the second wave of the pandemic and raising questions of underreporting of deaths. Despite the alleged malpractices, the state’s death rate was the second-highest in the country till June (2 per cent).
The fact that Trivendra Singh Rawat ultimately went to Delhi in December 2020 for treatment of a mild lung infection after testing positive for Covid-19 speaks volumes of the quality of health care in the state.
Far from working single-mindedly to improve people’s lives, the BJP failed to even keep most of the promises in its 2017 election manifesto. The party had promised to provide electricity at discounted rates to the economically weaker sections. However, the BJP government hiked the power tariffs in the state more than once.
Before the Assembly elections, the BJP had also promised to appoint a Lokayukta within 100 days of forming the government. In fact, in March 2020, then-CM Trivendra Singh Rawat had said that “corruption-free government is possible without a Lokayukta”, signalling no intent to appoint an ombudsman.
Uttarakhand was created after a struggle of more than 70 years with its people hoping for development, employment and other opportunities. The BJP is undoing all the progress made on those three fronts at a lightning speed. The state fares the worst at all levels among most hill states—an achievement for which the BJP is single-handedly responsible.
The writer is a Delhi-based independent researcher. The views are personal.