Light at End of Tunnel
Himachal Pradesh is the best place to do business in the country,” declares Rajender Guleria, president of the Baddi-based BBN Industries Association. His endorsement echoes the sentiments of many out-of-state entrepreneurs. The once sleepy hill state is buzzing with development, driven by policies that target private sector investments in power, municipal upgrade, tourism and an unbelievable network of roads that will connect each and every panchayat in the remotest of mountain villages by 2015.
Anil Kapil, 50, the man driving many of the initiatives as general manager, Himachal Pradesh Infrastructure Development Board, says “a great deal of road work is underway to shorten distances”. Three major tunnel projects in Hamirpur, Chamba and Kullu, consultancy for which has been farmed out to Bernard Engineers of Austria, will reduce distances by nearly 300 km. Access to most parts of the state is also possible with private helicoptertaxi services that started this year.
Industrialists like Guleria set up shop in the early 2000s to take advantage of a 10- year tax holiday. Though many other states have also cut duties, he says, “there is still a significant advantage in the state given
assured availability of low- cost power, good road connectivity and responsive governance”. Kapil credits the enactment of the publicprivate participation legislation as far back as 2001 for the state’s continued appeal. “Recognising that government would never have the resources to finance major infrastructure projects like tunnels or big power projects, we decided to bring in private players,” he says.
Deepak Sanan, 54, principal secretary, power, says generation has gone up from 6,428 MW in 2008 to 8,700 MW. The target is 10,000 MW by 2013. “We have farmed out fresh projects for an additional 1,300 MW to companies like L&T and Reliance,” he says. Himachal Pradesh has also seen improvements in tourism infrastructure. Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hai and Har Gaon Ki Kahani, launched in 2010, are key schemes that involve private participation. Home stays have been hugely successful in traditional tourist hubs such as the Kullu Valley and Kangra. The multi-level parking lot at Shimla’s new bus terminus, opened in August, has room for 1,500 vehicles to cope with the summer tourist rush. Kapil says the state tourism and civil aviation department is installing several ropeways across the state through the public-private participation mode. “There are plans to connect different parts of Shimla through a system of ropeways for local transits,” he says.
Both Sanan and Kapil say most policy initiatives would never have succeeded without Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal’s backing. Many of his subordinates believe that in his second term, Dhumal has taken a cue from Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in receiving and translating fresh ideas.