Dar Javed: The abrogation of Article 370 by the Narendra Modi government on 5 August 2019 led to the dawn of a new era in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. While the corona pandemic has created obstacles for fuller progress and development, the opportunity afforded by closer linkages between the Union Territory and the Central Government has been made operational. Notably, every single aspect of development ranging from infrastructure development to economic growth has been paid attention to. While Pakistan continues its strategy of promoting cross-border terrorism, India has been able to hold its own in terms of giving the people of Jammu and Kashmir their fair share of resources and planned development.
The strategic logic of the NDA government’s decision in 2019 to do away with Article 370 may be debated. Lest we forget, National Conference founder Sheikh Abdullah had also advocated the abrogation of Article 370. On 27 February 1981, Sheikh Abdullah in his vote of thanks to Governor’s address had said: “It is inevitable for the State to tread the new horizons of development. The unanimous efforts of the government and the opposition shall take the State of Jammu and Kashmir towards new heights of prosperity. Today, in the state assembly, the important bill which is being tabled is about Article 370. I must say this Article should not be deemed as a last word. If people want, the union government shall be accorded with more authority in the affairs of Jammu and Kashmir.”
Interestingly, that is precisely what happened when the NDA government under PM Narendra Modi announced the creation of two new Union Territories in 2019. With the abrogation of Article 370, not only were the links between the UTs of J&K and Ladakh strengthened with the rest of India, but the administration became more responsive and people friendly. The mantra of development became the buzzword and state sponsored terrorism from Pakistan reduced considerably. However, while prosperity is round the corner, many challenges remain, including connectivity to the rest of India, revival of agriculture & industry in J&K and creating a business climate that is free of the fear of the gun. Only then will J&K move on the real path to progress. Meanwhile, an overview of recent developmental prospects and activities is provided to give a perspective on the current situation.
The endeavour of the administration has been to develop the J&K UT to its fullest potential and one of the best examples of this is the green signal given for the construction of the Ratle Hydroelectric Project in February 2021. Subsequently, the State-run NHPC Ltd formed a joint venture company, Ratle Hydroelectric Power Corporation Ltd. This is to implement the strategic 850 Megawatt Ratle project and comes in the backdrop of NDA government’s plan to fully utilise its share of water under the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960. Apart from Ratle, work on the Shahpur-Kandi project has started and the Ujh project has been fast-tracked.
Far more significant in the context of political development has been the conduct of District Development Council elections in J&K in December 2020. The election served the purpose of ending the political impasse in J&K and opened up some democratic space. It also brought about clarity regarding the role and relevance of the traditional mainstream parties in the UT, particularly in Kashmir says Rekha Chaudhury (The Wire, 20.12.2020). With a view to taking forward the political process in J&K, PM Modi met with political leaders of all parties represented in the erstwhile State in end June 2021 and underscored that the government’s priority is to strengthen grassroots democracy in J&K. He said, “Delimitation has to happen at a quick pace so that polls can happen and J&K gets an elected Government that gives strength to J&K’s development trajectory”.
Aspects of Economic Development
Pertinently, one of the hallmarks of the development of the UT has been the fight against the corona pandemic and the quickening pace of economic progress. A few of the highlights of the J&K’s development as available from the India Brand Equity Foundation website (https://www.ibef.org/states/jammu-and-kashmir-presentation) are given below. Notably, cumulative FDI inflow in J&K was valued at US$ 0.21 million between October 2019 and December 2020. Horticulture industry plays an important role in the economic development of J&K. Total production of horticulture crops in the UT in 2018-2019 stood at 3.96 million tonnes with 414.47 thousand hectares area under production. In 2019-20, total production of horticulture crops was expected to be 3,912.91 thousand metric tonnes and area under production was 400.25 thousand hectares. According to one news report, (DNA, 5 August 2020) J&K had recouped Rs 100 crore from stamp duty and registration fees after the reform in the land registration process. Further, Urban local bodies have also changed. Municipal committees can now approve projects of up to Rs five crore and E-tendering has been made mandatory.
In terms of connectivity, five tunnels are being constructed in the UT at the cost of US$ 3.42 million. These are expected to be completed by 2024. In October 2020, construction work began on the Zozila Tunnel, which will provide all-weather connectivity on NH-1 between Srinagar Valley and Leh. A 14.15-km long tunnel will be constructed under Zojila pass on NH-1, for this purpose. Another example of this genre of development is construction of a railway bridge over the river Chenab in Jammu and Kashmir, which is expected to connect the Valley with the rest of India by train for the first time by 2022. The bridge, which has a central span of 467 meters, is being built at a height of 359 meters from the bed level.
More money for J&K
One aspect of the new normal is that all centrally sponsored schemes can now be implemented in J&K. Additionally, funds for development are being directly channelled to the UT administration. G. Kishen Reddy, Ministry of State for Home Affairs informed the Lok Sabha (15 September 2020) that besides the regular flow of funds under various schemes, an amount of Rs 30,757 crore had been allocated in the Financial Year (FY) 2020-21. Reddy further stated that under the Prime Minister’s development package announced in 2015, Rs 80,068 crores continued to be spent for 63 major development projects (54 in J&K and 9 in Ladakh) across sectors such as road, power, health, tourism, agriculture, horticulture, skill development, etc.
Promotion of Sports
While economic progress is one of the pillars of progress, one should keep in mind that promotion of sports in J&K provides important opportunity for the youth of the UT. The organization of the second edition of the Khelo India winter games at Gulmarg in April 2021. Initiatives that are being taken by the Indian government to boost sports in the Union Territory include recently organized programmes like the second edition of the Khelo India winter games at Gulmarg in north Kashmir which ended this month. In his inaugural virtual address PM Modi had pointed out that such events could make J&K a hub of winter sports.
Let us remember that all has not been hunky dory for J&K. With years of terrorist violence propagated by Pakistan having deeply impacted J&K, it is not easy to reset the situation. The corona pandemic has impacted socio-economic progress. The tourism and handicrafts sector are down and there has been a loss of jobs on account of this. But seen from a long-term perspective, J&K has certainly made progress, and this is directly due to the changes effected by the government in August 2019. In the post-pandemic era, the government will continue to face the challenge of getting J&K back on its feet, but fortunately, this process has already started.
Dar Javed is doing his research on Peace initiatives in Kashmir. E-mail: [email protected]