Re- orient and prioritise differently

We are well aware of the natural seismic zones of the world. In fact, the geologically sensitive zones are well marked. The young Himalayas that are constantly rising are one of the highly seismic zones of the Indian subcontinent. Here lies the Kashmir valley with its rich culture thriving in the midst of scenic beauty and splendour.

The political turmoil and the perennial conflict of Kashmir has made the region socially seismic. These social tensions and unrest that erupt now and then have brought in tremors just as the natural landscape does. We agree geomorphology is irreversible. It provides distinct characteristic identity to the terrain and is beyond human control. One may find earthquakes and volcanoes destructive and disastrous but at the same time geologists claim that it is a natural geomorphic process and a cycle of landform formation. So is necessary and will continue till the planet exists.

What hurts is the seismicity that affects the vulnerable residing population every now and then. To add to this is the unsettled issue. The article 370 and 35 A are discussed in every quarter of the society, be it the national political debates or trader’s guild.

For a layman like me I understand two things clearly. One that the mainland India feels these articles are temporary provisions to safeguard the interests of the state and eventually the state needs to be integrated with the nation as done by other princely states of India after 1947. And the second point is that the major section of the Jammu and Kashmir state feels these articles are temporary provisions to safeguard the interests of the state and eventually the state needs to be given total autonomy as intended at the time of Independence.

The mainland feels these articles are like a hose around the neck of the present civilisation as the region is not connected wholeheartedly with the nation. There is no privatisation, no corporate, no job avenues and therefore no great revenue. The people of the state feel the presence of army, crackdown, cordon and irregularities have stopped their growth and killed the spirit of a dignified life. The AFSPA, PSA and so on are hindrances to their peace and well-being.

Now this looks like the perfect example of two sides of the same coin. This article is not another write-up to explain the political saga of the valley but to realise that this region is unable to stabilise and utilise the contemporary opportunity to grow and prosper like other regions. Keep aside the political deadlock for a while and let’s ponder over the real issues of the state. The constitutional articles that provide special status do not bar the private organisations from investing in the state.

In fact, there have been given tax holiday of 5 to 10 years to set up businesses in the state, there is extra subsidy for start-ups and other sops to boost trade and commerce along with 90 years lease. The issue at hand is not just the turmoil. The private players are hesitant to start up business here for a number of other reasons. Firstly, we need to understand that the state is ecologically and geologically tough.

The problem of connectivity seems to be a major issue. Except for the Jammu Srinagar highway and the popular Jawahar tunnel on the way there is no well-marked route to the valley. The airports at Srinagar, Jammu and Ladakh are the only lifesavers.

The Leh-Manali link is another entry and still does not suffice the need as it is a highly risk prone route. The Mughal road that connects Shopian to Bafliaz is at the mercy of the microclimate. Landslides, avalanches, snow in winter are common on these routes.

The political government all these years could not focus on this grave issue effectively. Political differences, agitation and whatsoever must be segregated from the issues of development and growth.

The state revenue or central assistance must be utilised to address the immediate issue at hand. It is not just the political dialogue but the infrastructure that needs to be focussed upon. And there is no harm in having a road, a highway or a well-connected lane in place. The statesmen have to re- orient and prioritise differently keeping the business angle, trade and investment in mind. Perhaps this will dissolve the political issue eventually.

Also we know the state lacks metallic resources and hard core industries cannot be set up as the region lacks the basic raw material. But the state has huge hydropower potential with only 20 percent being harnessed. Tourism and the scope of medical tourism is immense.

Sadly, there are very few engineering and medical colleges in the state. And less than ten universities. The state also has the best bivoltine silk with around 7 lakh mulberry trees. The other silk producing states have prospered with less than this and with multivoltine silk fibre.

The sports tourism can be enhanced and the high altitude lakes of the valley can be developed for larger benefit. There was no harm or much capital required to set up educational institutions. The reason cannot be article 370, 35-A nor the law and order. The private players are staying away not for the above political reasons but more because of market inaccessibility, harsh winter, no connectivity.

The administration needs to mend this broken link. It may be in terms of laying of roads, setting up markets, job fairs, encourage private investment in hospitality, health care, educational institutions, recreation and so on. But along with this if the mainland business tycoons think out of the box and harness the potential of low cost labour, government incentives and seasons of fine weather, the region will lose its social seismicity. Our immediate neighbour is set out to build big and small roads, ports and bases all around its territory and we are closing the existing ones as seen in the recent decision to close down the highway for two days in a week.

The belt and road initiative of China is a massive program and looks like China is hell bent on having a door to door connection with every neighbour. At this point if India stays behind and does not look beyond territorial security, then we may lose the competition in the long run. China has probably very well understood that ‘to buy and sell’ it needs a connecting link inside out. Kashmir is at the crossroads of that great trading opportunity which the state and the centre are unable to perceive and are mired into regional conflict.

So the articles in popular media lore which fill their columns about scrapping down or restoration of articles 370 and 35-A miss the point that Kashmir is basically a landlocked region due to natural reasons and needs to be addressed inspite of the political dilemma and differences of voices from all quarters on either sides. With or without the special provisions, the harsh realities and geographic difficulties of the state still persist perennially and are the real bottlenecks and need immediate action from the policy makers both centre and state.

Rehmat Bhat  is currently Asst. Director Tourism, Govt of Karnataka.