Justice Markandey Katju
THERE is a well known Persian couplet describing Kashmir: “Agar Firdaus bar ru-e-zameen ast, Hameen ast o hameen ast o hameen ast “ ie” If there is a paradise on earth. It is this, it is this, it is this “. Today that paradise has been converted into a nightmare. After the events of 5th August, 2019 J&K has been stripped of its status of a full state, and Kashmiris denied democratic freedoms like a freely elected legislature, freedom of speech, freedom of the media, etc, most political leaders are still jailed or under house arrest, several restrictions still in place, and Kashmiris denied 4G internet and relegated to 2G, which is causing immense hardships to students, businessmen, professionals, etc. If the economy is doing well in society, ordinarily most things will be doing well and the above stringent measures and hardships may somehow be tolerated, but if it is not, dark times are ahead. The truth is that today the Kashmiri economy is in a shambles, and there is large scale and rising unemployment, an assured formula for turbulence and growth of militancy.
Consider the facts: 5th of August 2019 was the day when Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution were abrogated, but simultaneously the Indian government announced that there will be economic uplift of Kashmir, Kashmiris being shown a dream of a better and brighter Kashmir. Today, we are celebrating the first anniversary of that announcement on 5th August, but the sweet dream has not yet come true, rather it has turned into a nightmare. In fact in December 2019, The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry released a report on the economic losses since the abrogation of the article. The sector wise data analysis estimated losses of Rs 17,500 crores only in 10 districts of Kashmir, let alone the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. It was announced by the Govt of India Ministers and officials that with the abrogation of Article 35A Indian businessmen will be able to buy land in J&K and set up industries and businesses there, thus generating many jobs and leading to prosperity for the Kashmiri people. What was overlooked is that businessmen will invest only where there is a peaceful climate, not where there is militancy and bullets are flying around.
Despite the literacy rate of J&K being one of the highest in the country at 67.16% according to the 2011 census it remains one of the worst hit in India in terms of unemployment among youth with the State’s own Economic Survey Report of 2016 reporting it to be 24.6% in the population aged 18-29 years, which is far more than the All India Unemployment Rate. Over 1.5 lac postgraduates in J&K registered themselves as unemployed in just 15 days with the Directorate of Employment and Counselling in June 2019, and things have been going downhill ever since with the abrogation of Article 370 in August and then due to the lockdown caused by the COVID pandemic. The political turbulence and militancy in parts of Kashmir with numerous youth joining the ranks of the militants is the direct result of the large number of young people out of work. As the adage goes ‘ Marta kya nahi karta ‘’. An unemployed youth is easy quarry for the militants. This in turn leads to instability and the magnification of political problems which further add to the alienation from India and hostility to it, thus leading to a self sustaining cycle of misery and violence. In India the major source of development for the Border States is public investment either directly or through CPSEs. Jammu and Kashmir has a mere three out of the 339 CPSEs in India while employ a meagre 21 out of the total 1.08 million employees. This lack of investment is one of the major contributors to unemployment in the region. However little has been done to rectify this scenario. For example if we look at the case of power supply in J&K the NHPC ( National hydroelectric power corporation) deprives J&K, of the benefits of its most important economic asset – its water resources. To add insult to injury, J&K was the second largest buyer of electricity produced in its own territory and it bought it at a much higher cost that is almost double at which it was sold.
J&K has a vast potential in horticulture and tourism and both could have been the engine of economic prosperity but nothing noteworthy has been done in this regard. J&K is the producer of 80% of the apples in India and is the sole reason that India features among the top five apple producing countries in the world. One would expect the region to be a pioneer in modern apple harvesting, storing and transporting techniques but the reality is anything but close. Out of the 6000 cold storages in India only 30 can be found in J&K which is just half a percent. Kashmir is famed world over for its aromatic saffron but no support for increasing its production has been given by the Govt. Likewise infrastructure, tourism and marketing have largely been ignored. Let’s not forget Kashmiri handicrafts industry which has been the backbone of Kashmir’s economy for ages. The delicately spun, softer than feather Pashmina Shawls, the intricately carved wood works, the vivid patterns of Papier mâché, the exquisite carpets, etc have been appreciated all over India and the world. But in the wake of the recent economic crisis, Kashmiri economy and industries are collapsing. According to the J&K Department of Handicrafts, exports of Handicrafts have declined by a staggering 62% in the second quarter of 2019.
Right now in the middle of the year 2020 the state records the highest rate of unemployment, which as per some sources is even as high as 70% in July 2020. The advertisement for class-4 jobs (peon’s jobs) by the public authorities for 8000 vacancies attracted 350,000 applications. The state has a population of 12 million out of which 500,000 are government employees (approx. 100K retired employees living on pension) but the rest of the 11.5 million people are living an economic nightmare. One of the largest financial institutions in Jammu & Kashmir, the JK Bank, has seen a sharp drop in the value of its shares in the stock exchange, from Rs 180 per share in 2014 to Rs 15 per share today, i.e. a drop of 1200%. This is a strong indication that the Kashmir economy has become sick. We submit that the time has now come for the concerned authorities to wake up and realise the gravity of the situation and take drastic ameliorative steps to revive the Kashmiri economy, failing which a full blown guerilla type insurgency is likely to develop as in Vietnam or Afghanistan.
—The writer is a former Kashmiri Judge of the Indian Supreme Court based in New Delhi.