By Nitya Chakraborty
Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about the Development priorities and his vision of new Kashmir in an interaction with a delegation of European parliamentarians on Monday. The delegation is in Kashmir on Tuesday to see the situation and make their own assessment.
This is for the first time that a foreign delegation of Parliamentarians has been allowed to visit Kashmir. The US Congress members were denied permission earlier and when even the members of Parliament of the opposition parties in India, are not being allowed, it is a bit curious that such a large delegation has been allowed to visit the valley.
The crucial issue is that the Prime Minister is talking of development priorities at a time when, the lockdown is continuing in a real sense and excepting a few smaller political leaders, no senior leaders of the leading opposition parties have responded to the Government initiative. There is no efforts for a real political dialogue, the basis is that the political leaders will have to agree to the centre’s decision of abrogating article 370 and article 35 A first and then only further discussions will follow.
There is no indication of the real political process to start. From reports, it seems that the ruling leadership will pursue its efforts to persuade the political leaders to fall in line with the Government policies and for that they will not mind inordinate delay in restoring normal political atmosphere. In such a situation, how can one talk of development and priorities in building a New Kashmir? The economy of the valley is facing disaster and this is admitted by the industry people of the state who have suffered most in the last 86 days since the lock down on August 5 this year. What edifice of the economy of Kashmir will be left when the Modi Government is able to persuade the political leaders and the people of Kashmir to fall in its line?
What is the situation of Kashmir’s economy now? The shutdown in Kashmir, following the abrogation of Article 370, has crippled the valley’s economy as the business community has suffered losses amounting to over Rs 10,000 crore in three months.
Sheikh Ashiq, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), said while it was difficult to assess the nature of losses as the situation was not normal yet, the business community has received a serious jolt from which it was very difficult to recover.
“The running business losses for Kashmir region have crossed Rs 10,000 crore and all sectors have been severely hit. It has been nearly three months now and yet the people are not doing business because of the prevailing situation. There has been some activity in the recent weeks, but the feedback that we are getting is that the business is dull,” Ashiq told a news agency.
He identified the suspension of internet services as the main factor for the losses.
“In today’s times, the basic need of any business is the internet which is missing on the ground. We have conveyed it to the governor’s administration that the businesses will suffer in Kashmir, the economy will weaken. Which will have huge consequences in the longer run,” he said.
Giving examples of several sectors, Ashiq said the IT sector was an upcoming sector and there are companies which were providing services in the US, in Europe and their business has been affected by the suspension of internet facilities.
“If we take the handicraft sector, people associated with the trade receive orders in July-August and have to deliver the products around Christmas and New Year. When they can implement these orders, only then would they be served. There is no connectivity, so there were no orders resulting in loss of jobs to over 50,000 artisans and weavers,” he said.
In fact, the development of the valley has come to a standstill. Rs 2,000 crore worth of development projects have been pushed back because the workforce has left the valley.
J&K had a vibrant economy before August 5. In fact, the J&K has acted as a model for land reforms implementation as one of the earliest states. These land reforms along with a massive debt write off implemented over two decades from1951 to 1973, transformed the lives of the rural masses and freed them from indebtedness. The income inequality coefficient for rural households in J&K is 0.221 making it as one of the most egalitarian state economies of India. All these took place when Article 370 and Article 35A were applicable to the state. The other states of India including Gujarat could not achieve this distinction. This was the real development when inequality was at the minimum with little indebtedness.
As the renowned economist and former finance minister of J&K Dr. Haseeb Drabu has mentioned, the level of empowerment is evident from the fact that more than 25 per cent of the households earnings in J&K are from own cultivation whereas in Gujarat it is only 16 per cent. Life expectancy at birth in J&K is 73 while this is 68 at national level. As the official data show the people in J&K were much better off compared to the other states before August 5. The economy built under Article 370 provided a base for self employment. The people have land and other income generating assets. The development could have been more faster if there were central investments. But that did not take place and certainly Article 370 had no role in that.
Already this vibrant economy has been shattered. The economic situation in the state is to deteriorate further as there are no signs of real political dialogue. The “Development Priorities” in New Kashmir as visioned by the Prime Minister will remain a wild dream.