Planning matters

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In 1961, diamond-rich Botswana and Sierra Leone had approximately the same per capita income of about US$1,070, when both these countries in Africa adopted and experienced extremely different paths of economic development. While diamonds caused an economic miracle in Botswana, the same diamonds led to a total state collapse in Sierra Leone. In Botswana the extraction and export of diamonds became the engine of rapid economic growth. The country maintained a stable and well-functioning democracy since independence and enjoyed steady leadership of democratically elected presidents. This allowed Botswana’s economy to prosper; per capita income growing steadily to US$20,000. By contrast, Sierra Leone’s recent history is a tragedy. Diamond wealth in combination with poor governance led to the state’s collapse and created the incentive, as well as the opportunity for a rebellion throughout the 1990s. Sierra Leone is now ranked among the poorest countries in the world, with per capita income of about US$480-500. By the way, with political stability, Botswana has also exploited its wildlife to attract handsome chunk of tourists who visit this African country to see wildlife thriving in their natural habitats. Needless to say that tourism has also become a significant contributor to the local economy and people’s incomes.

Now are there any lessons in the history of two African countries for Jammu and Kashmir? Let’s contrast Jammu and Kashmir with Canada, for instance. Although this comparison itself is very cruel for the two are no match (Canada has one of the highest levels of economic freedom in the world), but our comparison will be confined to how the two have dealt with just a single natural resource – their forest wealth. Like diamonds in case of African countries, let’s see if exploitation of forest wealth could help us draw some conclusions in case of J&K.

While Canada has been able to systematically exploit it forests to become biggest producer of pulp and paper besides being one of the world leaders in processed timber exports, which is directly linked to the forest industry, in Jammu and Kashmir the forest wealth has been left open for loot. Despite large-scale extractions continuing throughout to support the logging and related industries, in Canada there has not been much depletion in forest cover. Like USA, in Canada too, no extraction is allowed without its concomitant forestation and replanting measures and that’s why the forests remain intact.

In contrast, the Jammu and Kashmir has been the scene of large-scale loot and plunder of forest wealth. Both officially and unofficially, the forests have been under the axe. For instance, until their concrete and steel versions were developed, the railway sleepers throughout India would come from the state’s cedar forests and so would numerous other timber and forest products. No wonder until recently forest-lessee was a major economic activity in the state. Despite one of the major government agencies in terms of its expanse and human resource being the Forest department (State Forest Corporation, Forest Protection Force and related agencies taken together), the state has miserably failed not only in protecting its forest wealth, but is not able to suffice even the domestic needs of wood and timber.

See the irony, a state which had once one of the thickest forest covers, is today importing timber not only from mainland India but from far off countries in Europe. Add to it the ever-increasing and ever-ongoing plunder of forests by timber smugglers, most of the time in nexus with the official agencies, the situation certainly points at absence of a plan with the government about it. And capping the miseries of the department is the fact that it is run almost entirely be an “imported bureaucracy” in the form of Indian Forest Service (IFS), who clearly lack both stake in, and sympathy for the state’s forests!

Contrasting the progression of Botswana and Sierra Leone as well as J&K and Canada vis-à-vis their respective natural resources, the major conclusion one could draw is that a national development plan is the key to managing the economy. Once there is such a plan, then only could governments set targets for public expenditures that are consistent with expected government revenues and the capacity of the economy. Botswana had such a plan, Sierra Leone didn’t; Canada has one, Jammu and Kashmir doesn’t. And making matter worst is the fact, that unlike Botswana and Canada, and like Sierra Leone, Jammu and Kashmir is plagued with corruption and poor fiscal management — the major factors that destabilize the economy!

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