With a slew of decisions taken in Jammu & Kashmir, the Government and corporates must ensure economic growth with the well-being of people
Chandrayaan-2 completed an important “space mark” this week as it manoeuvres to break free from mother earth’s gravitational pull. It is this “gravitational pull” that helped it click some Instagram-worthy “green and blue” images of the beautiful planet we inhabit as seen from outside. In some days, perhaps, it may even send detailed images of its earthy origin country, India. But ever since its departure from the homeland, the latter’s history and geography would have changed for those on “New India”, terra firma. What many term as one of the most “bold and historic decisions” taken since independence, the Narendra Modi Government has reorganised the special status accredited to Jammu & Kashmir by abrogating Article 370 and scrapping 35(A) through a Presidential Order. What changes on ground would be a historian’s delight and a social scientist’s lab in motion.
For most citizens outside Kashmir, beyond an initial barrage of hyper jingoistic social media messages, life is likely to go on as before. However, when the iron curtain of communication ban lifts from the Valley, the youth in Kashmir will have a question: What is our future? Will outsiders take away our land and job? Finding an answer to this question will be the biggest task for India as well as the Modi Government in many months to come. How should Kashmir be handled? How can faith be restored? And what gestures and acts will lead to the full integration of heart and soil?
One of the early signs to improve the State’s economic well-being has emerged in the proposed Investor Summit in Srinagar and Jammu in the coming months. After all, the Valley has been a destination of choice for honeymooners. But apart from the hospitality and tourism industry, as also being a rich treasure house of mineral products, it has relatively not touched agro/forest produce, too. Many key companies such as Dabur, PepsiCo and Coca Cola, among others, have manufacturing facilities in the Jammu region. Jammu & Kashmir is also home to some of the finest traditions in the MSME sector such as shawls and other handicrafts. As per available data, Jammu & Kashmir has one of the highest levels of unemployment rate in India and it has so far also been almost shut to the world as far as the Ease of Doing Business Index is concerned. This situation may well change with a clever mix of humanitarian economic policy for the new territory, which absorbs cultural intelligence before sinking into pie charts and data.
Realising its potential, major trade bodies, including the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), have recommended a policy agenda to kickstart reforms-based growth for sustainable industrial growth and improved investment climate in Jammu & Kashmir. The region’s per capita income, as per the CII’s data, is nearly 55 per cent of the national average. There is a fresh Valley of thousands of jobs and millions in investments waiting to happen. It is here that reiteration needs to be done on some of the key challenges to this socio-economic transformational opportunity. All firms, which participate in the proposed Investor Summit, besides making big ticket high-value announcements at the dais, should follow it up quickly with action and money sunk in the Valley. The blueprint for this must be drawn up now in the company boardrooms as this will be a new territory.
The Valley may not have the most skilled talent available for modern manufacturing and services sector. Therefore, the Government’s Skills Development Ministry must take up the job of upskilling youths in the Valley in various facets of Industry 4.0 urgently. This will be a game-changer if done in the right manner, in partnership with the private sector and with sufficient monetary incentives. It will allay fears of losing access to resources and jobs for the local youth, prevent any uncalled migration and prevent them from falling prey to the mischievous ploy of “not-so-friendly-neighbours.” This will create a fresh talent pool of eligible local youth, ready to be absorbed in new factories/plants and investment grounds coming in.
Third, with new investments coming in and, of course, hordes of tourists, the fragile biodiversity of the region must be kept in mind. The region may, perhaps, be one of the last few preserved eco-sensitive oasis on planet earth. Tourism should go hand-in-hand with environment protection and preservation of the rich ecological diversity that is unique to this territory should be priority. So any unplanned move should be scrutinised. Not everything can be about more money and jobs — some will have to have a green lens to it. Baby steps in the right direction now will help Chandrayaan-2 send more “green” patches amid tranquil “blue” when it lands on the moon and gets back with fond memories of “Naya Bharat.”
(The writer is a policy analyst)