Economic Reconstruction: Last Chance To Build Confidence In The People Of J&K

30/12/2014 8:38 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
Kashmiri men stand in queue to cast their votes outside a polling station during the first phase of voting to the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly elections in Lar, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. The five phased voting is scheduled to be held till December 20 with the results expected on December 23. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)

Reason why people of Jammu & Kashmir came out to vote braving all odds is because they want to restore their confidence in good governance--one that can take the state out of a slackening economy which has been further hit by the September floods.

Mohammad Iqbal, a first time voter, explains why people of Jammu and Kashmir braved a harsh winter, terrorist attacks and separatist call to boycott elections to exercise their fundamental right of casting votes--"We want development. We want employment and we want change."

A key feature of the assembly election in the state was the turning up of youth in large number. The message was clear--they care about jobs, developing key economic sectors of the state like tourism, better infrastructure especially that of power generation and rehabilitation of the region post the September floods.

For a state whose growth rate is lagging much behind the national average, transformation for better is not an option anymore, it is the direst need.

As per data available, against the double-digit growth in India during 2005-06, Jammu Kashmir grew only by 5.7 per cent. Though by 2011-12, the state is said to have done some catching up, it is attributed mainly to the slowdown of the overall national aggregate.

With over 2,40,000 educated youths, Jammu Kashmir's unemployment rate is one of the highest in the country. Compared to other states like Punjab where unemployment rate is 2.8 per cent or Himachal Pradesh 2.0 per cent, that in J&K is 4.9 per cent.

Female unemployment ratio is said to be the lowest in the country at 20 per cent while the national rate is 3.7 per cent.

A number of past promises haven't seen any remarkable execution. The Rs 1,000 crore Udaan scheme initiated to develop industry-relevant skills amongst youth for upgrading their employability in corporate sector is one of them. Many candidates remain 'unimpressed' due to low pay packages--ranging between Rs 6,000 to Rs 15,000 per month; and poor placement offers by companies.

The recent floods have further contributed to the already waning employment scenario where many youth reportedly went jobless as companies were forced to lay-off because their business units were damaged due to floods.

Key sectors like tourism that accounts for one-fifth of the state's economy have been hit hardest. Government officials said innumerable tourists have cancelled their bookings.

This is unfortunate especially considering that the sector started recovering only recently with over 1.4 million tourist visits after a lull until early 2000s due to extremism.

If this is any indication, business of around the Rs 100 crore outbound tourism sector of Kashmir comprising Umrah and Hajj services saw only 2,000 going on Umrah pilgrimage this year compared to last year's 7,000.

Even basic human amenities have been devastated. As per reports, water supply network facilitated by Public Health Engineering (PHE) department has incurred an infrastructural loss of Rs 180-crore, apart from damage of numerous lift stations and filtration plants supplying safe drinking water.

The desperation echoes in the words of twenty something Heemu Jann, again a first time voter, "We do not get electricity for hours together in a day. Water supply is pathetic."

Although recently it was announced that about 80 per cent of electricity has been restored in Kashmir, as per the Power Development Department (PDD), the floods have caused the power sector a loss of up to Rs 350 crore with Srinagar being hit the worst. This is a huge damage which will certainly take time and a lot of dedicated effort to get refurbished.

Power sector is said to be enormously underdeveloped in J&K, a state abundant with flowing water resources having capacity to generate up to 20,000 megawatts of power but with a utilisation of below thousand megawatts.

People are disgruntled with relief efforts too. Some locals have called the relief amount by the Government 'a mockery'.

Turning around the economic trajectory of the state could be the last chance for the nation to build confidence in the people of Jammu and Kashmir that India does care after all!

Almost all the parties pitched 'growth' during their rallies, whether these tall claims will be delivered remains to be seen.