by Neeti Raina
In the late 1980s, life as I (a junior school student) knew was quite comfortable during the harsh winter months in Jammu and Kashmir. In Srinagar, where I lived with my family (till December 1989), on an average load-shedding for 12 hours a day– particularly covering peak hours, was a norm. Every household would make arrangements to manage this thrice-a-week power cut (called ‘Vaaer’ in Kashmiri literally translated to Turn). From dusk or at night children would study and do their homework, women would cook and finish their household chores under the light of a petromax lamp (a star performer) or the traditional kerosene lamp or even the humble candle. The entire family would huddle around the lamp or the candle (back then one did not have the luxury of having more than one petromax lamp in a household). This is one of my stark memories of life in Kashmir during its harsh winters.
Now cut to 2018-2019, and this scenario has changed. Albeit, the star-performer petromax lamp has been replaced by the diesel-fuelled noise-less generators, or battery-run inverters or big commercial gen-sets for the well-heeled.“Metered” areas in the valley have scheduled power cuts for up to 21 hours in a week and “non-metered” places clock up to 42 hours a week during the winter months. This is the scenario in the much-favored Kashmir valley, which enjoyed a very privileged status where development was concerned. Imagine the situation in neglected Jammu and an even more neglected Ladakh, not only in the energy sector but in their overall development.
Like power, lack of development in areas of – infrastructure, healthcare, education, and many others—have plagued the state. Which, in turn, has led to poor investment, stagnant industrial growth, disappearing jobs, slow expansion of the economy, etc. The economic growth of the state has been erratic in the past few years. State GDP growth rate has fluctuated between -3.2 percent to 17.7 percent in a matter of just two years, according to Reserve Bank of India. Since April 2000, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Jammu and Kashmir – at $5.5 million — has been at the lowest in the country. The 2011 census recorded literacy rate in J&K at 67.16 percent and the urban unemployment rate at 70 percent, which is more than double the national average of 34 percent.
With the abrogation of Article 370, the Government has promised to turn a new chapter in the development and growth of Jammu &Kashmir and Ladakh and provide fair level playing field to all the regions and their over 1.25 crore population. Marred by decades of cross-border terrorism and unrest, citizens of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have been promised a bright future, where people can realize dreams and achieve their goals, students wanting to pursue higher education wouldn’t have to go out of the state, patients seeking medical treatment be able to avail it at their home-town and not have to travel to Delhi or other parts of the country. Where access to good roads, hospitals, educational institutes etc will be like any other part of India and not a prerogative of the privileged few but the masses.
A very sensitive and highly political issue, which cannot be isolated either from the impact of cross-border terrorism or political ramifications, dilution of the special status evokes extreme reactions from one and all. Be that as it may be all the three — Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh– deserve one wholehearted attempt at realizing its full potential of development and growth.
Decades of “special status” did not result in its expected entitled progress, development or growth on any parameter, and only a select few reaped the benefits the special monetary aid of tens of thousands of rupees pumped into state and excluded the masses. That baggage, as well as the tag, needs to be shed and a new beginning made.
With the Prime Minister reaching out to the private sector to invest in the Union Territories, many entities like Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries, dairy-major Amul, Helmet maker Steelbird, have expressed willingness to work there. Hotel chain Lemon Tree has announced an expansion of its business.
Companies like– Lupin, Sun Pharmaceutical, Cedilla Pharmaceutical, Coca Cola India, Radisson, Dabur, and Berger Paints already have a presence in the terrorism-infested region. Others can follow suit, once provided with a better investment climate, and prioritize the creation of new opportunities for employment and livelihoods for men and women from across rural or urban areas. A pressing need of the hour and for bringing Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh into the national mainstream.
Local businesses need to be given a push to flourish. A case in point–Tourism—which also supports allied sectors of handicrafts, handlooms, and transport– accounts only for around 6.98% of the state’s GDP. Tourism in J&K was not even among the top 10 domestic destinations in the country on the basis of the number of tourist arrivals.
It’s time to assess the situation truthfully and honestly, whether the special status worked to the advantage of a select few, who exploited its benefits, or did it push the masses into a life of hardship and deprivation.