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OPINION | Mainstream Integration of Jammu and Kashmir – A Progress Report

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OPINION | J&K Mainstream Integration - A Progress Report
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By Shabaz Syed

26 Mar 2021

The Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have been fully integrated in the mainstream after the scrapping of Article 370 and bifurcation of the erstwhile state, the Union home ministry told the RajyaSabha on 15 Sept 2020.

“As a result, all the rights enshrined in the Constitution of India and benefits of all the Central Laws that were being enjoyed by other citizens of the country are now available to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh,” Minister of State for home Affairs GK Reddy told RajyaSabha.

The integration of Jammu and Kashmir in the mainstream of the country has been the primary agenda for the central government after the abrogation of Article 370. Ever since independence, the state of J&K was isolated from the reforms of the Central Government due to its special status. The pace of economic development was very slow and clubbed with the violence caused by Islamic extremists, which was funded by our adversaries, hurt the state and its economy to a great extent. Although the process of abrogation was carried out smoothly, the repairing of the scars it left on the economy and the administration requires thorough planning of reforms and an expert execution.

Restoration of democracy to the grassroots level was a major challenge that found success in the recently held DDC elections in the valley. The elections were conducted peacefully unlike the previous years and the participation of the citizens in the electoral process also saw a significant improvement. 

The polling percentages in the terror-infected areas saw a major rise compared to the previous years. The districts of Shopian saw a voting percentage of 17.5 percent, Kulgam saw 28 percent and Ganderbal saw 43.4 percent. Pulwama, which had seen voting of just 1.1 percent in the 2018 panchayat elections, ticked 7.4 percent in the DDC polls. Similarly, Sopore, where the voting was 7.6 percent in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, clocked 23.6 percent this time. The same was the case for Bandipora in North Kashmir which saw 51.7 percent voting in the DDC polls, compared to 44 percent in the panchayat elections and 23 percent in the 2019 LokSabha elections. The process of restoration of democracy would be complete by the successful conduct of the first legislative assembly elections after J&K became a union territory. 

The government has planned digitisation of the government documentation and its e-storage which would do away with the famed Durbar move of the J&K government.

The Durbar move which refers to the shifting of the capital of the state from Srinagar to Jammu during winters involves hundreds of labourers manually load boxes containing government files and papers into trucks that move on the Jammu-Srinagar highway with tight security.With the digitisation of files, an e-office system can be started which would be accessible to officials anywhere at any time. This improves governance and makes it readily available for the people of both the Jammu and the Kashmir regions. It will also save crores of rupees of the state revenue spent on the move. Digitisation would also help the government push Aadhaar enrolment in J&K, especially in the Valley, to bring in government subsidies and other welfare schemes to the people.

Tourism contributes to almost 7 percent of the GDP of the state as per the government estimates. The revival of tourism in the state not only improves the economy but also aids in national integration. The pandemic has hit the industry as a whole in the world. J&K has also witnessed a considerable fall in tourist count in the year 2020. However, the new year has seen a steady and decent growth of tourists as per the numbers in Jan 2021. Union Tourism Minister Prahlad Patel, on 19 Feb 2021, said that there has been a significant rise in the number of tourists coming to Jammu and Kashmir. He also added that in January 2020, 3,750 people visited Srinagar, while the number have reached 19,000 in January 2021. The government had also approved Rs 333 Crores of assistance to the various groups of houseboat owners and self-help groups involved in the handloom and handicrafts sector who were adversely impacted by the pandemic.

On 08 Feb 2021, both the houses of the parliament passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill 2021, The Bill amends the J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 that bifurcated the former State into Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. It seeks to merge the existing cadre for India Services Officers of J&K with those of Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram, and Union Territory (AGMUT) cadre. This shall enable the Government to depute IAS, IPS and other grade 1 officers, from other Union Territories to the UT of J&K.  This would reduce the shortage of the officers of All India Services in the existing cadres of J&K which hampers, the execution of centrally sponsored welfare and development schemes.

Improving the Education Sector of the state was imminent to development in the Union Territory.

The government has established 50 new educational institutions which would provide education to 25000 students every year. Also, more than 5 lakh students have utilised the government scholarship schemes which is a fourfold increase from the previous year. The government has approved the establishment of two research centres that would focus on innovation and invention. The government has also planned two All India Institutes of Medical Science, seven new medical colleges, a cancer institute and various nursing colleges to improve the healthcare facilities as well as train eligible local students in medical graduation. To improve the healthcare of school children, a student health card scheme has also been launched.

The J&K government is also in preparation to hold its first J&K Global Investor’s Summit to bring investors, decision-makers including senior government officials and the local business community together to discuss investment opportunities in the union territory. The focus sectors are Agro & Food Processing, Ayush, Herbal and Medicinal Plants, Manufacturing, Tourism & Hospitality, Renewable Energy, Healthcare, Information Technology, Infrastructure and Real Estate among the 14 major sectors. The government also conducted a pre-summit investors meeting, a first of its kind, in January at New Delhi. The summit was highly successful as 168 memorandums of understandings worth $1.8 billion were signed.

The real measure of development and merging the union territory with the mainstream is the infrastructure and connectivity improvement in the union territory.

The government plans to develop Jammu and Srinagar as modern smart cities in which 190 projects are planned worth Rs 6500 Crores. A light rail transit system in both cities has already been approved. In housing and rehabilitation, construction of 2,00,000 houses is planned and more than 3,00,000 households have been provided the basic necessity of electricity for the first time in 70 years. In the year 2020-21 more than 500 infrastructure projects worth Rs 580 Crores have been completed. The government has also approved 2,000 infrastructure projects worth Rs 5800 Crores. The delayed projects in several sectors due to various hurdles have been removed and are nearing completion.

The opening up of the markets to investors would significantly increase the flow of capital and the job oppurtunities available to the locals.The government is on its toes to bring development and investments in the union territory. The progress achieved so far in such a short period is commendable. But continuous efforts and monitoring the execution of various projects planned is quintessential in the integration of the union territory to the mainstream. The development roadmap laid out by the government if implemented in the right timeline would improve the way of living of the common man and prove to him and the entire country that the decision taken by the government of India on 05 Aug 2019 was essential and it was a need of the hour reform. 

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