When on 5th August 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah rose to table the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act as well as the Parliamentary Resolution that would make Article 370 operative in a manner to ensure that “all provisions of this (Indian) constitution as amended from time to time shall apply to Jammu and Kashmir,” he did so stating certain reasons as to why these steps had become necessary and inevitable. Jammu and Kashmir had been trapped in a vicious cycle by its Valley-centric polity into a morass of insecurity, subversion, corruption and low economic growth with each facet reinforcing the other. It suffered from some unique and perverse paradoxes! While the State Government enjoyed a degree of autonomy, its Panchayats and Municipal Bodies were deprived of power and resources, i.e. communities were dis-empowered; while the State Government received hundreds of thousands of crores as Central assistance, its per capita income remained low. The State Government on paper spent impressive amounts on infrastructure and yet on the ground there was nothing to show! The State Government was autonomous, its people “unfree”! Clearly, by 2018 it became clear to the Modi Government that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir required serious attention and some strong measures.
What the government did on August 5-6, 2019 went far beyond what many expected. It not only extended the entire Constitution of India to Jammu and Kashmir by reworking the operation of Article 370 to that effect, but also passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019 reorganising the State into two Union Territories. The aim was a branch and root transformation of the entire region by rebooting the entire process of governance and administration with the central government constitutionally taking direct control and therefore responsibility.
A Vision for Jammu and Kashmir
How do we envision the political and economic trajectory of Jammu and Kashmir? A vision for Jammu and Kashmir can be constructed most easily by turning the flaws of the erstwhile State on their head. This means the visualisation of Jammu and Kashmir along with other parts of India commencing on the path to becoming a knowledge society in its broadest sense engaging fruitfully with the process of globalization in all its forms. This knowledge society thus not only has modern technology as one of its components but more importantly is a free, dynamic, cosmopolitan and liberal society aware of the geographical, social and political environment in which it exists and is able to use its knowledge and organizational skills optimally in this milieu and where freedom of the individual is only limited by the equal rights of others.
Is this realistic? It can be argues that J&K has the necessary natural and human resources to move along this trajectory. What it requires is a re-setting of the manner in which it is governed and organised and in that sense, it can be shown that the developments of August 5-6 2019 were crucial in this regard.
J&K is well endowed with respect to natural resources. Its land-man ratio is lower than the national average, it is well watered by perennial rivers and has enormous hydel potential, it has enormous bio-resources and it is endowed with tremendous natural beauty and thus tremendous tourism potential. It grows a large variety of agricultural products that are much in demand in the rest of the country, it possesses an enormous treasure trove of traditional knowledge that manifests in its cuisine and handicrafts. Indeed, J&K should not be a net recipient of assistance and yet it is.
To make agriculture more dynamic, the State needs to invest in irrigation (especially in Jammu) as well as in technology for this sector so as to increase productivity. That in comparison to its southern neighbour, Punjab it has failed even after decades have elapsed to develop a network of canals to utilise the Ravi waters or India’s share of the Chenab waters indicates either deliberate neglect of Jammu or poor governance. Thus it was crucial that the Central Government take charge and remedy affairs. Micro-irrigation projects need to be planned and executed locally and here the role of Panchayati Raj institutions is vital. But Article 370 in its previous avatar was used by the State Government to ensure that the 73rd Amendment was not extended to J&K. This state of affairs no longer exists. Thus governance plus institutional changes made possible by the extension of the Constitution makes possible great developments in rural J&K. Even where technology is concerned, the Universities of Agricultural Science and Technology of the State have not rendered the kind of service that Panjab Agriculture University did for Punjab while individual scientists from the same institutions have contributed to significant private sector initiatives in Basmati Rice, Organic produce as well as high intensive apple orcharding. Here again governance is the issue which is sought to be tackled with the Central Government taking direct charge for a period that should be more than a short term which J&K’s reorganisation affords.
When it comes to industrial growth, J&K especially when compared with neighbouring Himachal Pradesh fares poorly and that is due to a poor business environment, poor infrastructure and the location and the terrain of the UT. The first two are again governance issues which are now being tackled on a war footing. Construction of roads had picked up momentum while power sector reforms too have been kicked off. Ease of doing business parameters too are being tackled. The third factor location and terrain which also affects HP makes J&K a high cost economy. Such economies when successful have generally specialised in those goods where they have an advantage either due to knowhow or due to climatic conditions which give them market power. The UT’s handicraft sector is a prime example. This sector has grown from strength to strength without financial assistance while industries that have received financial assistance cannot stay afloat without it which is another case of the J&K’s perverse paradoxes. The UT’s handicraft sector if modernised and made socially respectable can expand manifold. Agro-industries that add value to fruit that are grown in J&K can be another area. So can value added to medicinal plants. Industries such as these will be in high value low volume goods where prices received more than compensate for higher costs.
When it comes to tourism, the UT’s providential endowments are underutilised. The carrying capacity of the Valley which does receive tourists can easily be increased considerably with proper planning, regulation and infrastructure. This again is being taken up with renewed vigour as the Central Government has taken charge. Participative Urban governance (certainly of Srinagar) which is key to the success of this strategy or indeed any economic strategy given the rapid urbanisation that is taking place was throttled earlier as the 74th Amendment was not extended to the State. After August 5-6, 2019 it now is. In the same vein while the Shrine of Shree Mata Vaishno Devi at Katra draws millions of devotees there has been no concerted effort to ensure that tourists visit other parts of Jammu whose beauty rivals that of the Valley and H.P. If this is done while ensuring the preservation of the fragile environment of this region, tourism can turn out to be a major revenue and employment generator for the UT. Again it must be mentioned that the infrastructure and rules that govern the shrine at Katra which transformed the region completely was put in place under Governor’s Rule by Governor Jagmohan. This infrastructure ensures that this spot that is located in the fragile Shiwaliks has the carrying capacity to host millions of pilgrims. Thus if the same exercise is to be repeated for the Hills of Jammu and the Valley, it would be wise to do it now when the Central Government has both the power and responsibility where the UT is concerned. This transformation combined with the UT’s traditional skills and knowledge in the culinary arts can make it an attraction for tourists who would be willing to pay a premium for this experience. The addition of adventure sports, wellness etc. can create a spectrum of niches each with its special clientele.
Similarly given its bio-resources and the research carried out in its Universities on the same bio-resources, the UT can conceivably become the hub for biotechnology start-ups. This requires a change in mind-sets, the entry of venture and angel capital and a host of legal changes concerning acquisition/leasing of immovable property land etc. These are issues of governance as well as laws which prior to the extension of the Constitution to the State was extremely difficult. The extension of the Constitution and its reorganisation affords us the opportunity to make it a reality.
The UT’s treasure trove of traditional and local knowledge and its proven ability in modern research (attested by national accreditation agencies), its natural resources, its diverse and polyglot population is a solid base to strive towards a knowledge society. That it has not done so for so many decades is due to sustained misgovernance shielded by a combination of political factors and a provision of the Constitution which shielded it from progressive legislation and accountability. On August 5-6, 2019 this was dealt a serious blow with the Central Government assuming direct control and the UT finally receiving the full bounty of the India’s Constitution. Already there is enough evidence on the ground that the sloth that characterised administration has long gone. Now is the time to put the UT of J&K on a trajectory of development which enables to contribute its part to making India a knowledge society.
(The author is Professor of Economics, University of Jammu. Views expressed are his own.)
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