By K R Sudhaman
The Himalayan states, which have had comparatively less economic development due to various issues including security, have done reasonably well under Prime Minister Narendra Modi if one went by budget allocations in recent years. The Interim budget on February 1, 2024 is no different. The budget allocation for Jammu and Kashmir in particular after abrogation of article 370 on August 5, 2019, has been more pronounced to the envy of Kashmiris leaving across the border and under occupation of Pakistan. This has been acknowledged by Pakistani media as well where in one of the popular channels, a commentator said the interim budget in India has allocated as much as $16 billion for the development of Jammu and Kashmir when the entire Pakistan was struggling to get peanuts of $3 billion from International Monetary Fund.
If this kind of development continued with more educational institutes and medical colleges coming into being in the state, very soon people living across in the Pakistan occupied Kashmir will on their own would merge with India’s Jammu and Kashmir. These are opinions coming from trouble-torn Pakistan, which is at the brink of economic and political crisis. Pakistan occupied Kashmir and the so called Northern areas Gilgit-Baltistan have seen very little development since illegal occupation by Pakistan.
Lately there are widespread agitations in POK and Gilgit-Baltistan. They are protesting against the exploitation of the locals and taking away of natural resources by Pakistani armymen and politicians and the Chinese under the garb of Belt and Road initiative, which passes through this area to Gwadhar Port in Balochistan. This, the protesters feel, is to the detriment of their people and the region. There is usually negative publicity in Pakistan to events in India, more so if it pertained to J & K. Now the commentaries often appear in Pakistan in praise of India’s economic development and in particular, Jammu and Kashmir.
This speaks volumes about not only poor state of affairs in Pakistan but also acknowledgement of the fact that poorer and border Himalayan states no longer get step-motherly treatment in India as far as economic development is concerned. It is a different matter whether the states have adequately developed absorptive capacity to spend the money, being now allocated substantially. Nevertheless, absorptive capacity is work in progress and with local population increasingly getting educated and getting employed, consumptions will go up thereby pushing up demand and setting in motion economic virtuous cycle.
It is not only Jammu and Kashmir, union territory of Ladakh, carved out of erstwhile J&K state, too has been allocated good amount of Rs 5958 crore for 2024-25 in the interim budget. Of this Rs 3076 crore is apportioned for capital expenditure, which meant more developmental activities. Recently Ladakh has seen some protests from locals for statehood just as the demand for early restoration of statehood in Jammu and Kashmir. Ladakh’s complaint is that they were provided step-motherly treatment when they were part of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir. Making it a separate statehood would have more leverage of fast tracking development rather than an union territory.
The budget allocation to border roads development projects in J&K and Ladakh is additional and this too will contribute to pump-priming the regional economy. Himalayan states comprise Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Sikkim.
Apart from increased allocations to north-eastern states as part of budget focus to bring eastern region on par with the rest of the economy, what has gone un-noticed is the allocation of Rs 1,200 crore for subsidizing the sale of natural gas under the administered price mechanism in north-eastern states. This was higher than the expectation of Rs 1000 crore subsidy for this purpose. Launched in 2011-12, the scheme covers the sale of subsidised gas in the NE region by state run oil and gas companies, ONGC and OIL. The northeastern states do have a lot of gas and the idea behind this scheme is to encourage consumers of city gas users, PNG operators, fertilizer companies and gas-based power generators to use more gas abundantly available there, besides stepping up developmental activities.
As it is, centre is encouraging use of gas and solar power in the Himalayan states. The centre has set an ambitious target of increasing the share of gas in India’s energy mix to 15 per cent from the present six per cent. There are ambitious targets for promoting solar power as well, particular roof-top solar. The roof top solar would not only help households get upto Rs 300 of free power but also helping state distribution companies improve their finances by a reduction in subsidised power.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman asserted that the BJP-led government is striving for “all-round, all-inclusive, and all-pervasive” (‘sarvangin’, ‘sarvasparshi’, and ‘sarvasamaveshi’) development and said that the trinity of “Democracy, Demography, and Diversity” can help fulfil the aspirations of every Indian. She claimed this has brought about a profound and positive transformation to the economy in the last 10 years.”The next five years will be years of unprecedented development, she said. More recently, Prime Minister Modi has said that if the BJP led NDA government came to power, he would strive to work towards transformational economic development in the next five years.
The FICCI Northeast Advisory Council and Assam state council however have welcomed the Interim Budget 2024, saying the announcements have the potential to serve as a catalyst for sustainable development, economic growth, and social well-being. Ranjit Barthakur, Chairman of FICCI Northeast Advisory Council, said the interim budget focussed on outcomes, which would enable to push reforms in the states. This will have a significant positive impact in the northeast region.
Ravi Kumar Patwa, Chairman, FICCI, Assam state council, said, “the emphasis on blue economy, EV ecosystem, tourism and multi-modal logistics and the creation of the corpus of Rs 1 lakh crore for R&D are particularly welcome and Assam could benefit a lot from these initiatives.”
He also acknowledged the significance of private and public investments in post-harvest activities. This is a move in the right direction which will enhance productivity of the agricultural value chain, particularly relevant to the northeast region. Food processing industry has huge potential in the Himalayan states. Ladakh region is ideally suited for quality seed development and production in view of its climatic condition. Already several companies were exploring this potential and this would get encouragement.
Joydip Gupta, Co-chairman of FICCI Assam Council, lauded the Budget’s emphasis on rooftop solarisation, and said “this could be a transformative initiative. Besides there could be substantial savings for households and bring about energy security in the northeastern region. There is a focus on tourism and development of tourism infrastructure in the budget, Gupta said this would greatly help the northeastern states. It goes without saying the J& K, Ladakh, HP and Uttarakhand, which have several renowned and natural tourist spots will benefit immensely. The focus on achieving self-reliance in oilseeds and the comprehensive dairy development programme and the proposed investments in fisheries through ‘Matsya Sampada’ and the broader focus on agriculture and food processing are steps that would benefit the Himalayan region. (IPA Service)