Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bringing Realism in the Endless Debate

Mr. Khan argues the need to work towards self reliance without which the dream of an independent nation is just that

(Mr. Abdul Rashid Khan, is a retired senior bureaucrat who served in the J&K Government service.)

Economic Independence and Political Freedom

In some of the recent articles published in the Greater Kashmir, various political scientists tried to throw light on the word "freedom" but had fingers crossed about what actually it means for Kashmiris? Does it mean sovereign state, greater autonomy, joint management, control or self governance, free flow of trade or to exercise the right of self determination? I do not want to go in details about what actually it means for Kashmiris. Let us leave it to the political leaders and statesmen to derive the meaning of the freedom and what they actually think of it. But the common man in Kashmir follows what the leaders say and go by their dictums without knowing what it actually means. The situation in Kashmir has remained so volatile right from 1947, that even the leader like Sheik Muhammad Abdullah did not have a set goal with clear vision. He therefore could not foresee the political future for Kashmiris, and pushed them in a state of confusion. His lack of vision and statesmanship made this heaven into a hell on this earth for the future generation. No doubt he proved to be more of a social reformer than a statesman by introducing land reforms in his first stint as head of the state.

Whatever be the political status of J&K state, the economic independence or self reliance is an important ingredient of a proud nation. Kashmir is basically an agriculture state where the agricultural products have played an important role in the growth of the economy of the state since times immemorial. Though after 1960 till 1988, the tourism also got a boost and became a flourishing industry, yet it received a total setback after 1990. The advancement in agricultural technology and the introduction of the china seed doubled the yield of rice per acre and thereby resulted in an increase in its production. But with the increase in population, the valley had to depend on the import of rice from outside state as the local production is not sufficient to meet the requirements of the domestic consumption. The subsidized rice provided by the centre through FCI has no doubt played an important role in meeting the demands of the local population especially of lower income group. With the expansion of the towns in the rural districts and urbanization in Srinagar city, the already scarce land under paddy cultivation in the recent times has shrunk to a great extent which has further resulted in the decrease of the paddy production. And the pinch was also felt recently even during Baltal land row due to the economic blockade as the people both in cities and rural areas were crying for the supply of rice because of the shortages of the stocks in the government stores. The land reforms of Sheik Muhammad Abdullah has proved to be counterproductive as the erstwhile tillers of the land, who were given the ownership rights, started easily disposing off their paddy land, being costly and high in demand, to become overnight millionaires. The lethargic attitude of the farmers made them hesitant to till the land and instead engage Behari labourers for the said purpose. They also makes it more easy to sell the land and get huge profits in lieu of it and invest the same in real estates instead of putting hard labor in cultivating the said land. The government from time to time has also failed to implement the agrarian laws to curb this trend of farmers to sell the agriculture land. It is not too late to think over it, otherwise we will have to import bulk of rice from outside state to meet our demands for growing population.

The agriculture university in Kashmir has been doing a good job in research work to find out various varieties which could increase the output of agriculture products. They have been to some extent successful in rising the production of the fresh fruits, particularly the export of the various varieties of apple in the horticulture sector. But that too is facing tough competition against the apple of Kallu in the national markets of Delhi, Calcutta, Chandigarh, and Bombay. If we recollect the memories of yesteryears we will find that there was an abundant production of the fruits, like Kashmiri apricots, figs, purple and red mulberries, but are hardly now seen available in the market. Also the number of almond orchards have decreased, and as a result there has been a sharp decline in the production and export of the dry almonds. The land under cultivation of saffron at Pampore has also reduced due to the expansion in population and dwellings. The idea of acquiring 1000 kanal land by the government for commissioning the headquarters for some central forces would have further threatened the livelihood of entire chunk of population. Once the Kashmiri Saffron was known for its quality throughout the world, but it has also received a setback in recent times for its degradation in quality and reduction in its output due to bad weather.

The tourism sector, which was the main job oriented industry, has also suffered great losses due to the political instability and eruption of militancy in Kashmir since 1989. No doubt the handcraft industry in private sector has fortunately survived even during these abnormal conditions, mainly due to the efforts of the manufacturers and the expertise of the exporters who deal in this trade. The industries in public, government sector except JK cements are running in 'red' and are therefore sick. The prestigious J&K government woolen mill is hardly in a position to meet even the wages of its employees. Whatever earnings they are making is mainly due to its sales to government departments. The mill owns very costly and high-tech imported machines. If put in use in three shifts as per the normal criteria of the factory, it can produce good quantity of products which can make it profitable but the problem is with the management and the employees who work like babus and the mill functions for one shift only. The quality of the tweed and other items it produces, is superb, which could even withstand the challenges in the national and international market if exported outside.

The government joinery mill is almost on its last legs. The l40 kanals of land owned by the Joinery Mill Pampore has reportedly been sold by the Jammu and Kashmir Industries Limited (JKIL) on lease out basis. This is not the case of joinery mill only but the JKIL has also reportedly decided to dispose off the surplus land of Bemina Woolen Mills, Kashmir Filature Solina, Silk weaving factory, Rajbagh, historic Pharmaceutical works Varmul, modern R&T factory, Miransahib, Rajuri, Sunderbani, Knitting factory Jogi gate, and Leather Plant Muthi Jammu. From this one can understand the fate of the subsidiary units of the JKIL. The traditional government silk factory at Solina is closed. Thousands of local skilled labour were engaged in this factory.

Kashmir was once the main exporter of silk and produced high quality silk which was famous in the country and international market. This market has now been captured and taken over by Banaras and Bangalore. The subsidiary unit of HMT watch factory is already closed. The public industrial development corporations like SIDCO and SICOP have just become commissioned agencies and the green pastures for absorbing their kith and kin, on the managerial and lucrative posts without qualifying any test, through back door entries, by the political bosses who happen to be at the helm of affairs. The fate of the JKSRTC is known to everyone. The employees of this corporation are seen taking out processions on the roads every now and then to press their demands. The SRTC is also running in red due to managerial inefficiency and leakages and non committal attitude of its employees. As compared to this, the transport industry in private sector is making huge profits. The small scale units in private sector at industrial area Sanantnagar and Rangreth are still in their infancy, and are supported by government agencies by purchasing their products and can not, therefore, face the competition in open market for various reasons. Some of the unit holders work as government contractors.

The forests of Kashmir were an asset and known as the open treasure. But due to the abnormal situation since 1989, there has been vast plunder of this valuable treasure by some unscrupulous and anti social elements in nexus with the some of the forest officials and local political heads. This has not only resulted in the vast devastation of the forest wealth but also caused environmental degradation. The social forestry department has also failed to keep pace of forestation with its devastation in spite of the huge funds provided by the centre and the World Bank.

There is a silver lining though. So for as the milk and honey production is concerned, these two products have shown upswing in its graph during the last couple of years. The annual milk production in Kashmir has touched a record mark of 8.78 lakhs metric tonnes over the previous year due to the formation of co-operative societies and establishment of modern processing units.

So it is clear that we have failed to establish a strong industrial base in Kashmir and our local agriculture products are not sufficient to meet the increasing day today demands and therefore have to depend on the imports of all fast-moving consumer goods from outside valley. During last 61 years, all the political parties in power mainly focused attention on expansion and development of the unproductive administration and service sectors. The 2007-08 budget reveals that out of the total of Rs. 17,354 crores spent by the government, more than 55% came from the Central government- the bulk in the form of grants. The state government purchases electricity for Rs. 1000 crores and realizes only 400 crores from the consumers. As a student of economics, I fail to understand what the government means by the zero deficit budget when there is huge deficits found between the expenditure made and the revenue earned by the state. The state's own revenue collection is not even sufficient to meet 25% of its total wage bill. It is only when centre comes to its rescue by way of grants in aid that the deficit is reduced. The state government has also failed to reduce the amount of debt and continues to suffer from an increasing debt burden, and interest payments continue to swell every year. It surprised everyone when they learnt that a protest call was given by the separatist leaders against the arrival of the Prime Minister to J&K state on the occasion when he was going to inaugurate two important projects which would lay foundation for the infrastructural growth of the economy of the state. This time he had come to commission 450-MW phase-1 of prestigious 900-MW Baglihar hydro-electricity project on the river Chenab at Ramban on 10-10-2008 and to inaugurate the first ever train service in Kashmir valley by flagging off the train at Nowgam Railway Station on 11-10-2008. The Baglihar hydroelectric is a state owned power project, which would fetch Rs. 900 crores annually to the state. The commissioning of this project is expected to give a major boost to the power sector of the state. The other major hydroelectric projects such as 360-MW Dul-Hasti Kishtwar, Salal and Uri project are all centre government owned projects and give the J&K state only 12% each electricity from its total production, as a royalty. The state has not been benefited from these power projects to the extent as was expected. The inauguration of Baglihar hydroelectric project is a big milestone in the power sector of the state and therefore we have all reasons to enjoy the moment. The inauguration of the train service has opened a new chapter in the economic history of Kashmir and will not only strengthen the infrastructure in communication sector but can assist in quick delivery of goods at lower cost, besides making the passenger travel more comfortable and dependable when connected with Udhampur. Kashmir being land locked, the train service will connect Kashmir with other parts of the country and will therefore boost the tourism and other trade. The government should make all efforts to bring the state out of the debt burden as soon as possible and reduce the expenditure on the wage bill. They should save the funds from the wasteful wages spent in social welfare department on anganwari centers, and spend more on exploiting the water resources to the maximum to create mini hydroelectric projects to make us not only self sufficient in electricity but also help in getting huge revenue by exporting the same to neighboring states. There is also a lot of scope to develop dairy, poultry, wool and fish, and farming in Kashmir. We can develop the floriculture sector on large scale as both domestic and international markets are available for the purchase of various varieties of Kashmiri flowers, but the government needs to give incentives to the producers and exporters for establishing green houses. The accessibility to the research centers and technological assistance should be made freely available to them.

The off and on 'Challo' and 'Hartal' calls have put the business to grinding halt and marred the education and future career of our youth. It is therefore necessary to seriously ponder over things to bring a change in our present mindset to have a sense of character building and create work culture by giving up the vices of corruption, habit of shirking work, black marketing and profiteering. We must develop the habit of working hard with honesty and sincerity and dedicate ourselves to the causes of nation building for achieving the economic independence.

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