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, December 2, 2010

Creating More Jobs for Kashmiris

Arjimand addresses a vexing issue of the day

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 34, was born in Srinagar. He is a columnist/writer and a development professional who matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University and has a diploma in journalism as well. He is an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany and has worked with UNESCO, Oxfam and ActionAid International in some seven countries in Asia and Africa. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit

Rangarajan’s Mission Kashmir II - Can the latest initiative help create jobs in Kashmir?

Dr C Rangarajan - one of India’s respected economists - is back to Kashmir on his Mission II. He was here in 2006 as well, as part of the Prime Minister’s five panels to recommend economic rejuvenation in Kashmir. His Mission I of 2006 is history. So seems the 61—page report he had submitted then.

Mission II of 2010 - conceived by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in August this year - has a mandate similar to 2006. This time round the primary aim is suggesting ideas for creating more jobs. But does the outcome of Mission I leave enough room for optimism for Mission II?

The Mission I recommendations were important. But, sadly, very few were implemented. The most important recommendation was the transfer of the Dulhasti Hydel Power Project to J&K state from the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC). That never happened. Had that transfer happened, we would have already been on a track to generating jobs on our own.

There were other recommendations as well: like improving road and telecom connectivity, creating an IT city, vacating properties occupied by security forces, etc. Some of these recommendations were only partly implemented.

In April 2008, on the occasion of the inauguration of the Dul Hasti Power Project, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Dr Rangarajan’s recommendations “were under the active consideration of the central government.” Two years down the line today, there is no word on the follow up to that promise. Kashmir’s power situation is as bad as it was before.

The latest initiative includes members like Infosys Chairman N R Narayana Murthy; Tarun Das, former Chief Mentor, CII and Shakeel Qalander, President of FCIK. Interestingly, Narayana Murthy has suggested to Dr Rangarajan to hold video conferences, rather than personal meetings in Kashmir. He is said to be bored with visiting this place again and again and doing the same job all over again. He too has done similar tasks before.

So what different is going to happen now?

Kashmir’s unemployment crisis has four fundamental problems: one is the political situation here, second is our pathetic work culture, third is our collective attitude towards the state and the fourth is our lack of economic direction.

It doesn’t make sense to re-emphasise that without an improvement in the political situation, things are not going to work well in Kashmir. If this state has the requisite political space necessary to generate economic activities, job creation will happen automatically in a sustainable manner.

One of the by-products of the political crisis is that these models of job creation assume New Delhi to be the primary propeller and sustainer of jobs in this state. And that is where the problem lies.

Now whatever good ideas and things happen here they get marred because of dismal governance, especially in Kashmir Valley.

Bad governance in Kashmir is a function of two things – political ad hocism and people’s attitudes of casualness and state dependency. There is a serious dearth of discipline in government functioning, which has a cascade effect: to administrative system and the society at large.

And when the society at large is affected, private enterprise and creativity are affected too. Despite excellent human resources, our bad work culture ensures failures.

Then is the question of direction. What is our niche area? Is it agriculture? Is it services or industry? Quite obviously, agriculture, including its value-addition activities, and services, mainly tourism, need to be our focus. We need to take policy decisions which serve to strengthen that.

The fundamental reason our agriculture is witnessing a decline is the loss of interest of the peasantry in agriculture. The reasons for that is the price escalation of land and the incentive of government jobs offered to rural vote banks. It makes good economic sense for most farmers today to sell their land and invest the money in other activities. The returns far outweigh the returns a farmer would get from farming all his life.

The reason why land prices escalated in Kashmir abruptly is because of the railway project here. It created an economic bubble which is basically a problem. I was perhaps the only one to say publicly (Railway’s bad economics, GK, 12 Nov. 2006) that the railway project will destroy our agriculture and horticulture in the long term.

Say whatever, the fact is that horticulture and agriculture will Kashmir’s primary job providers. There is a great scope for value-added agri products. But government of India and the state governments have certain policy responsibilities.

Let us take saffron sector, for instance. From 2.7 lakhs per kilo in 2008 to 1.10 lakhs per kilo since 2009, the very survival of saffron sector is in question today. That is primarily because there is a lack of policy direction with regard to illegal smuggling and custom duties on imports into India. The other day I heard a SKUAST scientist – Dr F A Nehvi – at a seminar saying that if we double productivity of saffron over the next three years, a project goal for the new saffron Mission, Kashmir will earn some Rs 4642.50 crore annually.

Then let us take apples. Our apple prices suffer because we flood markets in a month’s period. Government-created and maintained cold storage facilities are no solution. Private-owned cold storages hold the key to this challenge. So do private initiatives in value-added products in this sector.

Tourism too could be a great job provider. But that depends on how quickly a political solution will come and improve the security situation here. It also needs New Delhi’s honest facilitation. For instance, Srinagar International Airport continues to be a local airport despite being designated as ‘international.’

For knowledge-based jobs, there is a lot to be done – including creation of a conducive investment and business climate. Unfortunately, that looks improbable to happen without a political solution in Kashmir.

As per the June 2010 figures, the total number of unemployed youth registered with the District Employment and Counseling Centres in J&K is 5,92,031. It is a gigantic number for a state like ours.

The government’s plan for providing capital for self-employment ventures seems almost a non starter. The Overseas Employment Corporation too seems not to have taken off as of now.

All of these are good ideas, which need action. The Sher-e-Kashmir Employment and Welfare Policy for Youth (SKEWPY), we must remember, is only a short term measure.

In the final analysis, it will be a mix of politics and economics which can create more jobs in Kashmir. No single approach will do.

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