Destroyed by conflict, healed by technology

Two Stories from ‘Resurgent’ Kupwara

Zarka Khalid
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jan 6 2018 11:18PM | Updated Date: Jan 6 2018 11:18PM
Destroyed by conflict, healed by technologyFile Photo

Torn by conflict and marred with miseries, District Kupwara has traditionally remained beyond the pale of any developmental agenda and critical policy-making, especially in regards to its breath-taking natural beauty and resource rich base. Till recently, violence, killings, torture, humiliations, mass graves, depression and disappearances were key words used to describe and locate Kupwara. Situated close to the line of control and very far away from Srinagar – the seat of power; Kupwara a small place still remains dotted and somewhat eclipsed by guns and army barracks. 

However, the district is witnessing a resurgence of sorts. Signs of prosperity, well-being and abundance seem to be limping back to life again. Notwithstanding the war inflicted handicaps, the people are witnessing a new era of renaissance triggered by numerous reformations. For instance, yesterday’s barren lands are being converted to cash generating mines, the untapped gushing waters is utilized for generating power and the political empowerment transmitted to the commoner by breaking of the hackneyed political protocols is emerging as a game-changer. A ‘sense of dignity’ and the attitude of ‘rights for all” adapted as an essential attendant of deliverance is generating a sense of empowerment and encouragement at the grass roots level. This new resurgence is not the result of gradual fructifying of past projects, but the outcome of recent institutionalised endeavours employing innovative policy-making and prudent use of modern technology. This speedy transformation owes its origins to the out of box political thinking enacted in the region.

 For the brevity of this piece let me discuss just two projects under progress in Kupwara, which if successfully executed can prove critical developmental milestones for this traditionally neglected region. The first project launched by MLA Handwara, and Minister for Social Welfare, ARI & 

Trainings and Science & Technology, Mr. Sajad Gani Lone is intended to overcome the energy deficit staring at the rural segments of the region. This project is conceived with the objective of offering access to electricity and modern energy sources to all those who are deprived of it. Energy poverty as seen around the globe has been identified as a major factor undermining the development of a place. Global perspectives on electricity tell us that almost 16% of the world’s population, about 1.2 billion people, have no access to it. This draught of energy not only impacts the deliverance of basic amenities to the people but also impacts the developmental and upliftment plans of the State. To put it in a different way energy poverty impacts every aspect of people’s lives; it impinges on basic human rights and freedom as well. To invoke the development economist Amartya Sen, who contends that economic development can be achieved only if the less privileged can enjoy a set of freedoms including political participation, safety, and economic opportunity. Access to energy services without any doubt forms a crucial foundation for the safety and security aspects of a people and their freedoms. In order to overcome this poverty trap, the Science &Technology Department under a new vision is setting up five Micro/Mini hydro power generation plants of 45 Megawatts in Kupwara and this augmentation is likely in to make District kupwara energy rich and be able to push its development pace. According to expert engineers 45 megawatts of hydropower is sufficient to cater to the needs of the whole of north Kashmir. To break the vicious cycle of energy poverty and actual poverty, in which people who lack access to cleaner and affordable energy are often trapped, the project will go a long way in mitigating the crises people are daunted with. 

To reduce poverty and inequality, access to electricity is a primary pre-requisite, it however,  alone is not a sufficient condition for a holistic developmental approach. Many economists would argue that “the ultimate, well-being of people depends on the actual consumption of goods and services that electricity as a carrier can facilitate. For example, access to cleaner or modern forms of energy for cooking and fuelling, agro-processing, small scale value-addition processes, water pumping, housing and transportation.” Keeping these considerations in mind the Science and Technology Department under this new vision has pushed for another project of setting up a massive Industrial Biotechnology park. 

The inspiration for this project is based on the premise that 70% of the population of J&K State is engaged in the agricultural sector whether directly or indirectly. However, the returns have diminished to such an extent that agriculture as a vocation seems to be a less-promising hence unattractive sector for the new generation. It has become confined to habitual farming for those who do not have access to other remunerative engagements. To give a boost to the income of the farming community from their land holdings, J&K Science and Technology Department is in the process of establishing two Industrial Biotechnology Parks one each in Kashmir Division (at Handwara) and in Jammu Division (at Ghati Kathua). All necessary formalities have been pursued for their establishment and they await the requisite Central Grant. However, till the infrastructure of these two biotechnology parks come up, the Department of Science and Technology is engaged in the establishment of Demonstration Farms of Aroma Cash Crops in district Kupwara”. In short, this project is named as “Project K-5000. The idea behind the project is to develop and institutionalise the feeders of these two biotechnology parks in terms of a knowledge bank and insights into best practices while also providing a fillip to the culture of cultivation of Medicinal and Aromatic plants. Under this project Demonstration Farms of Aroma Cash Crops are being established throughout the State. However, the first trial of Project K-5000 has been launched in District Kupwara and under this project 5000 Kannals of hilly, marginal and uncultivated land is being brought under the cultivation of highly remunerative cash crops of Aromatic and Medicinal Plants. The project has been launched in the Year 2017-18 and till date 400 kanals have been brought under its cultivation and by ending 2018 the target of bringing 2500 kanals of land is on track. In its first trial project K-5000 has given satisfactory results. It is pertinent to mention that K-5000 is a collaborative project with CSIR-IIIM in Kupwara District. The biotechnology parks project and its subsidiary projects aim at providing a one stop window to the farmers by providing new remunerative crop seeds, saplings, planting material, technology, technical knowhow, training, processing facilities and marketing facilities. The objective of this project is to unlock the agricultural potential of Kashmir and explore the core competencies, nature has gifted this region.

 In conclusion, use of technology, be it setting up of hydro projects or biotechnology projects will have a direct impact on poverty alleviation in rural settings of Kashmir. Introducing tech based solutions will not only mobilize people and help to improve social inclusion but they will also act as powerful catalyst for economic and social development. To break the vicious cycle of poverty and cumulatively create a virtuous cycle of prosperity, a strong political push and novel political interventions become a prerequisite. What Minster for Science and Technology is trying to do is not only worth appreciating but worth emulating in other settings as well.

Author is a Development Researcher at Ambedkar University, Delhi and is on field study in Kupwara.