The Pursuit of Happiness: Kashmir’s year of peace and no hartals

Students reap rewards of normal schooling, youth of livelihood generation; work culture in offices improves
"This means there has been an imbalance between average incomes of agriculturists and non-agriculturists, which in essence means that 60 percent people are becoming poorer."
"This means there has been an imbalance between average incomes of agriculturists and non-agriculturists, which in essence means that 60 percent people are becoming poorer."Special arrangement

The year 2022, poised to wrap up, is leaving behind countless achievements in Jammu and Kashmir. Some of these achievements are good governance, development, and thriving tourism. Besides tourism, the best things that happened in Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370 is the restoration of administrative control, dealing with terrorism, and development.

It was almost after three decades that schools functioned normally across Kashmir for the last three years including in 2022. Earlier, the schools mostly remained shut because of on and off strike calls by Pakistan-backed separatists.

This all happened because of the handling of Kashmir by Prime Minister Narendera Modi-led central government and continuous watch by Union Home Minister Amit and execution by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha.

Now everybody in Kashmir moves without fear of being caught in stone pelting by unruly mobs. Due to stone pelting no place was safe. Even a police officer was lynched to death by a mob outside the historic Jamia Masjid in Srinagar.

Hartals: A thing of the past

More importantly, the PM Modi-led government is focusing on the youth through initiatives for achieving peace and development in J&K. One of the important metrics is 200 working days this year during academic session. It was after a gap of decades that the routine academic activities started in the educational institutions across Kashmir. There were no hartals, no calendars, and no stone pelting on school buses.

Pertinently, the three decades of violence have affected all-important sources of livelihood of local populace such as agriculture, horticulture, tourism, and handicraft industry, with many traders having to shift their trading centers from Kashmir to other parts of the country and others forced to look for alternative sources of income to survive the economic crisis.

Hartals have impacted the agriculture – primary sector of the region, badly. The contribution of the agriculture sector to the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) has remained poor. More than 60 percent of employment is based on this primary sector.

This means there has been an imbalance between average incomes of agriculturists and non-agriculturists, which in essence means that 60 percent people are becoming poorer.

One of the best things that happened in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 is the restoration of administrative control. Work culture in government and semi-government departments was an immediate causality with the onset of terrorism. Frequent hartals and bandhs wreaked havoc with the work culture as accountability and transparency in the functioning of the government was badly hit. During the three decades of militancy, corruption, nepotism, and favouritism was at its peak.

It took three decades for the people to understand that the series of hartal calendars and violent scenes were worthless as it brought all sorts of miseries to the people.

 

Accountability and Transparency

The things took a new turn when Article 370 was abrogated and the region brought under the direct control of the Centre. The Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha-run government got engaged in rebuilding J&K and accountability, transparency, and merit got priority. Finally, in the year 2022, we are witnessing major reforms taking place in the lives of common Kashmiri.

The LG-led government did a commendable job in restoring the confidence of the people in the J&K administration as it brought accountability and transparency in functioning of all government and semi-government departments.

Today, we don’t see any administrative mess and all government functionaries are now engaged in rendering seamless services to the people in line with the envisaged rules.

There is a marked change in the situation. Normalcy has spread to the length and breadth of the Valley. All the businesses, government and private offices, banks, schools, and colleges and universities are functioning normally.

When calendars of education were released in other states, in J&K, calendars of bandhs and hartals used to be issued. This practice has now been finished. As stated by the LG, “From time-to-time earlier, peace was bought in Jammu and Kashmir. Now, we are not buying peace but making efforts to establish peace.”

Good Governance

Today, different national surveying agencies including NITI Aayog have shown Jammu and Kashmir well ahead of the national average. J&K also stood best in transparency and COVID management.

J&K is first to launch the District Good Governance Index. Tourism numbers have reached an all-time high in the last 10 months. During the last year, 11, 578 recruitments were made, taking the total to 30,000 in three years. There has been the highest-ever air traffic at Jammu and Srinagar airports. Among all 4290 Panchayats, barring 8 to 10 where land is not available, every Panchayat has a playfield.

Rs 1000 crore worth works on national highways and tunnels are going on in J&K.

A recent survey conducted by media agencies suggested that the economy of Jammu and Kashmir has suffered a loss of Rs 60,000 crore (USD $9.2 billion) and has lost around 3 years’ time of work and development. The region was considered unfit for any business venture and most of the India Inc was bluntly refusing to invest here. This resulted in a high degree of unemployment here. It’s interesting to note that, “…Each individual in Kashmir has suffered an average loss of Rs 20 lakh (USD $30,000).” In addition, according to the World Bank, J&K was considered the worst place in India to do business.

Hartals in Kashmir, while invoking freedom of expression and the right to protest, more often are anything but peaceful. Stone-pelting, threats, damage to public property and coercion are used to compel people to adhere to these hartals. This has had grave consequences for the economic, social, and psychological well being of J&K and its people.

Business and Economy

To bolster economic growth and development, the J&K administration has so far signed more than 168 MoUs worth Rs 13,600 crore for investments. Additionally, 6000 acres of government land has been acquired for setting up industries in the state.

Earlier, some constraints discouraged industrialists and large organisations from investing in J&K but after the abolition of Article 370, all the obstacles that came in the path of development were removed as the government placed its focus on providing an impetus to business and economy. The J&K Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation has been set up to provide financial support to various projects that were commissioned years ago but were yet to be completed.

In a bid to bring about ease of doing business, more than 130 administrative reforms have been undertaken by the Centre.

Hydropower and Education

Hydro projects like Ujh and Shahpur Kandi that were in a state of abeyance for more than five decades have been expedited. Emphasis has been placed on the development of 14 sectors for investments, which includes tourism, hydropower, electricity, education, and health.

The education sector was another focus area for the administration. Seven new medical colleges have been initiated, four of which have already started functioning. The medical seats have also increased from 500 to 955 in colleges, and 25,000 seats have been added in regular degree colleges.

 

Touching the Sky

The world’s highest railway bridge over River Chenab in J&K was completed in April this year. It is expected to connect Kashmir with the rest of the country by train for the first time. The bridge, which has a central span of 467 metres, is built at a height of 359 metres from the bed level.

Women Empowerment

Women have been amongst the most disadvantaged sections of J&K. Not only were they constitutionally denied rights but their existing rights too were also gradually eroded. Women who married men from outside J&K were deprived of property rights but that changed after the abrogation of Article 370.

Women in J&K are now able to buy real estate and transfer property to children, even if they get married to a non-resident. Furthermore, another provision was recently added to the domicile laws wherein the spouse or husband of a native woman, who is a domicile holder in J&K, was made eligible to get a domicile status. Earlier, the spouses of J&K women from outside J&K were ineligible for applying for a domicile certificate.

PM’s Jammu Visit

PM Modi visited Jammu in April this year. In Palli Panchayat in Samba district of Jammu division, he addressed Gram Sabhas across the country on the occasion of National Panchayati Raj Day. PM Modi also inaugurated and laid the foundation stone of development projects worth over Rs 20,000 crore in J&K. This included the Banihal-Qazigund road tunnel, the Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway, and the Ratle and Kwar hydroelectric projects.

“Mother Earth has to be freed from chemicals. Therefore, if our farmers move towards organic farming, then the whole of humanity will be benefited. Organic farming needs to be encouraged at the level of Gram Panchayats, for this also collective efforts are needed,” he said, laying stress on organic farming.

Amit Shah’s J&K Visit

In October, Union Home Minister Amit Shah spent three days in Kashmir. He addressed two mega rallies at Rajouri and Baramulla besides visiting the grave of a policeman at Uri who was killed during a gunfight with the terrorists. During his three-day visit, Shah assessed the security situation in a meeting held with senior officials in Srinagar.

Addressing the mega rally in Rajouri, he reminded people about how the current situation of Kashmir was an answer to those who used to say that if Article 370 would be removed, there would be a fire in J&K and rivers of blood would flow. He also assured the Gujjar, Bakarwal, and Pahari communities living in J&K that they would soon get reservations.

“After the abrogation of Article 370, the process for reservation has been cleared. Justice Sharma’s commission has sent the report and recommended reservation for Gujjar, Bakarwal, and Pahari communities and it will be given soon,” Shah said addressing the rally.

In the Baramulla rally, he said that increasing tourism in J&K had given employment to a number of youth. Shah said that the terrorist-spot Baramulla was now a tourism hotspot.

Delimitation

The year 2022 saw completion of the delimitation process and revision of electoral rolls in J&K. After the delimitation exercise was completed, the political parties were expecting announcement of assembly polls in J&K. However, so far there is no solid indication of holding elections in J&K.

The commission allotted six additional seats to Jammu region and only one to Kashmir, though Kashmir has 15 lakh more population. Also, nine constituencies were reserved for Scheduled Tribes for the first time in J&K’s history. Two nominated assembly seats for Kashmiri Pandits and some seats for refugees from Pakistan occupied Kashmir were part of the recommendations of the commission headed by Justice (Retd) Ranjana Prakash Desai with Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and J&K State Election Commissioner K K Sharma as members.

Besides, some existing assembly seats were deleted and new constituencies created. J&K has been under the central rule since mid-June 2018 when BJP withdrew support to the Mehbooba Mufti-led Peoples Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition government. The Delimitation Commission was set up in March 2020 to redraw the assembly and parliamentary constituencies in J&K after Article 370 was hollowed out and the state bifurcated into two union territories. On March 14 this year, the panel put its interim report in public domain and invited objections and suggestions.

Except BJP, major opposition parties including the Congress, NC and PDP had announced a joint struggle against the final report of the delimitation commission on J&K..

Tourism Boom

The year 2022 recorded a tourism boom with lakhs of tourists visiting J&K since January, the highest footfall recorded in J&K in the last 75 years of India’s independence.

The return of tourism in J&K signified the “golden era of Kashmir tourism.” Tourism is the biggest source of employment in J&K and since the start of this year, 1.62 crore tourists have visited J&K so far. Tourism generated maximum employment in various regions of J&K including Poonch, Rajouri, Jammu, and Kashmir.

Seventy-five offbeat destinations had been identified for tourism across J&K as part of the ‘Azadi Ka Amrut Mahotsav’ initiative by the Centre to commemorate 75 years of the country’s Independence.

Declining Terrorism

This year till December end, 127 terror attacks took place in J&K while security personnel gunned down at least 174 terrorists.

Fourteen people belonging to minority communities including three Kashmiri Pandits were killed in J&K this year till November 30.

Official records suggest that there has been a substantial decline in terrorist attacks from 417 in 2018 and 229 in 2021.

The J&K Police also began attachment of properties of those believed to be directly or indirectly linked to terrorism in Kashmir. J&K’s year-old State Investigation Agency also began seizing properties linked to terrorism.

The recruitment of local youth in terror ranks not only saw a significant decline in the year 2022, but it is also the lowest over six years. During the year 2022 the number has gone down significantly. Even 17 newly recruited youth were arrested and some joined their families with the active role of J&K Police.

Young boys are being counseled and that is making them understand the conspiracies being hatched by Pakistani agencies that are enjoying the bloodshed in J&K. They have bled J&K over the past 30 years and this time the youth have understood their strategy, shunned the path, condemned their actions, and stood up against them.

Narco Terrorism Challenge

Pakistan-sponsored narco terrorism is yet emerging as a big challenge for the security agencies in Kashmir. Pakistan, after losing the 30-year-long proxy war, is using drugs as a weapon to turn Kashmiri youth into addicts.

The drugs are being airdropped through drones and criminals have been hired to run drug trafficking rackets. By introducing guns in J&K, Pakistan targeted individuals, and by sending drugs now it is out to destroy families and society as a whole.

J&K Police registered over 1200 cases in connection with the drug smuggling and over 2000 accused have been arrested during the year so far while scores have been booked under the PSA.

Infiltration

The infiltration from across the Line of Control (LoC) is at its lowest ebb as the terrorists are finding it hard to cross the line due to soldiers maintaining a tight vigil.

Crackdown on Jamaat-E-Islami

Soon after the Centre banned the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), J&K, for five years in 2019, the authorities initiated a crackdown on the organisation suspected of funding terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen.

The crackdown on JeI was initiated under the provisions of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

JeI is the largest politico-religious organisation in J&K. It had a massive network of schools and other social infrastructure before it was banned in 2019. The ban was one of the results of the Pulwama terror attack, which claimed the life of at least 40 CRPF soldiers.

JeI is accused of supporting terrorism, and was the ideological mentor of Hizbul Mujahideen – the largest indigenous terrorist group in Kashmir in the 1990s.

Quite recently, the SIA seized assets including a house registered in the name of former Hurriyat Chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani in Srinagar. SIA had said the seized properties are worth over Rs 100 crore.

The seized properties include a two-storey residential house at Barzulla in Srinagar that was registered in the name of Geelani and Firdous Asmi. The house was situated over a plot measuring 17 marlas (around 441 sq m).

So far, the SIA has identified 188 JeI properties across J&K, which have either been notified or are under the process of being notified for further legal action.

Tailpiece

Today people are fearlessly exercising their freedom of expression by not observing hartals and defying separatist calls. Now, economic development, an important stimulus to peace and basic fundamental human rights like education, healthcare, employment, and the pursuit of happiness are no longer hostage to any political or violent radical ideology.

The year 2022 has been Kashmir’s year of peace and no hartals; and students have reaped the rewards of normal schooling, youth of livelihood generation schemes while work culture in offices has improved by leaps and bounds.

(Author is senior staffer with Greater Kashmir, covering Defence and Internal Security)

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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