Jammu & Kashmir besides being an all season tourist destination is enriched with tremendous mineral reserves across its length and breadth with the most precious gem stones of sapphire at Paddar. Paddar valley, one of the remotest picturesque valleys , is in district of Kishtwar in J&K. It covers the whole northern portion of Kishtwar district bordering Zanskar on the north, Himachal Pradesh on the East and Marwah-Wadwan on the West. The valley is famous for its sapphire mines. The State's sapphires outshine even diamonds and are considered the best in the world. The valley lies in the greater Himalayan range along the Chenab River basin. On 19-5-2004 when a single sapphire from Paddar mines of Kishtwar district was sold at a whopping $1.50 M at Geneva, all those who believed that J & K could not survive without financial help from the Centre were forced to eat a humble pie. It is believed that sapphire stocks at Paddar if utilized could generate a revenue of Rs.6,000-Rs.8,000 and would considerably ease the problem of unemployment. The sapphire of state is perceptible on account of its peacock neck bluish colour that gives it a distinctive feature and also monopoly over other sapphires of the world. Its mines are situated at an altitude of 15411 feet above the sea level stretched over an area of 116 kilometers.
The deposits of sapphire are reported to have been first discovered in 1882 and since then J & K has become famous for producing quality based sapphires. Gemologists who have studied the huge unexplored potential in gem and jewelry have found Kashmiri sapphires highly valued because of their finest specimens. Despite having rich and vast deposits of sapphires and other precious gem stones the activity has not toddled beyond trade nor has the Government come forward to develop it as an industry and augment the much needed finance & employment graphs. This trade has passed as a legacy from generation to generation and now symbolizes our tradition in many ways.
The work of exploration, exploitation and security of mineral wealth and assets is looked after by the Jammu & Kashmir Mineral Limited (J&KML). Mining experts have criticized the mode of operation of JKML. As per mining experts the operation has to be completed between July-1 to September-18 and thereafter the collection of the precious stones is to be started for processing these further into final & finished products. It is stated that JKML undertakes the mining operation, exposes the gems but defers collection of precious stones.
The exposed mineral wealth is later on stolen by the smugglers concerned who dare the inclement weather and the difficult terrain. The result of whole of this exercise turns to be what is called much ado about nothing with continuous losses though manageable into alluring profits with change in modus-operandi.
Now J&K ML, reportedly, has decided to award exploration and exploitation of sapphire mines worth millions of dollars in Paddar area of Kishtwar district to a New Delhi based M/S Minework Pvt. Ltd for entering into a joint venture with J&KML. Business community in Kishtwar has called it a move to all "plunder" of state's resources by the JKML through non-local companies. A senior Officer of the Industries and Commerce Department is, inter-alia, reported to have said, "when JKML has to bring itself into existence for exploration of resources, why would they enter into such kind of joint venture?" The officer is reported to have further quoted the example of outside companies refusing to leave state resources adding example of NHPC which took over control of water resources and now J & K buys power from them at exorbitant rates. Other business associations like Chamber of Commerce & Industries Kashmir, Federation of Commerce & Industries Kashmir too have opposed the move and viewed it condemnable. Federation of Chamber of Industries Kashmir (FCIK) has said, "It is highly condemnable that outside company has been roped in extraction of sapphire mines with huge potential while ignoring local companies." Its former President has said, " Land and resources are property of the residents of Jammu & Kashmir. We won't allow plunder of our resources. We are already facing loot of our resources". Statement of another industry body Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industries Kashmir (CCIK) reads that, "As usual an outside agency is being unduly benefitted even though local entrepreneurs are more than qualified for executing this kind of work. This fact stands established with all the concerned departments of the local government. This is deprivation of job and benefit to the local people." It suggested the Administration to involve local enterprise in the said industry rather than handing it over to outside agencies.
On the strength of veracity the above arguments are respectable and deserve implementation as suggested. From a common sense point of view the decision to appoint outside mining company at a time when local firms have been exploring granite & other minerals and when the unemployment rate is the highest at more than 12 percent will further aggravate the problem of unemployment thinning the state revenue coffers as well. However , if there is lack of any technical, theoretical know-how regarding exploration and exploitation of sapphire deposits in JKML, Government bound by governance ethics must fill up the void. Providing and facilitating assistance in planning, financing, marketing, teaching, training by the Government to the JKML and the youth is sure to make this street trade to travel to pedestal of an industry for the over all benefit of JKML and the J & K.
Undergoing such joint venture with any outside agency is neither an answer for the stalled development nor a solution for reviving the mining activity but shearing and smashing the economy as the partner is to take its share from the resources of J & K paling its annual financial statement further. Government can even declare the whole valley as a Special Economic Zone for export promotion purposes and capitalize on national and international markets where the increasing demand awaits the regular quality supply. Let the local players be allowed to be developers and producers. Why should borrowers sufferer.
[The author is a former Sr. Audit Officer working as Consultant in the A.G's Office Srinagar.]