A year of development and progress in Jammu and Kashmir
Wednesday marks the first anniversary of the decision by the government of India to reorganize the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories: Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and Ladakh.
Over the past year, New Delhi has been working in J&K to implement its vision for development, enhanced governance, and socioeconomic justice for disadvantaged sections of the population. These positive changes have directly improved the lives of all segments of society.
All laws enacted by the government have been extended to cover the union territory of J&K, and a number of laws that applied to the former state have been amended to reflect modern times and bring them into line with those in the rest of the country.
These laws include those designed to protect and promote the social, economic and political rights of women, children and the under-privileged, such as the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015, the Protection of Human Rights Act 1994, and the Right to Information Act 2005.
The democratic machinery in J&K has been strengthened by holding elections to block development councils, which are a vital component of local government under the three-tier governance model in India. The voter turnout for these elections, which were held for the first time last October, was more than 98 percent. The polls included seats reserved for women to ensure their participation in mainstream politics.
The panchayats, which represent the lowest level of local government in India, have been strengthened through the devolution of functions and funds of more than $200 million in the past year. This strengthening of grassroots governance has led to the union territory of J&K receiving three national awards for socioeconomic development.
Ahead of a planned Global Investors’ Summit, the government of J&K organized a first-of-its-kind pre-summit investors’ meeting in January in New Delhi. It showcased the policy and regulatory environment in the union territory and the investment opportunities available in 14 sectors, aimed at boosting manufacturing and the creation of jobs. The success of the meeting can be judged by the fact that 168 memorandums of understanding, worth $1.8 billion, were signed.
In agriculture, a unique market intervention scheme was introduced for the famed Kashmiri apples, which led to more than 15,000 tons of the fruit being directly procured from farmers as of January this year, with the money directly transferred to their bank accounts without the need for any intermediaries.
In addition, the world-famous Kashmiri saffron, which is the only saffron in the world that grows at an altitude of 1,600 to 1,800 meters, has been given a geographical indication tag to protect its reputation and guarantee its point of origin.
In keeping with the promise of quick and transparent recruitment of workers for government jobs, the J&K government has advertised 10,000 posts at all levels under an accelerated recruitment process for young people, with 25,000 additional jobs to be filled in subsequent phases.
The enormous progress that has been achieved in the short span of a year bears witness to the fact that the decision taken by the government of India on Aug. 5, 2019, was a much-needed reform.
Dr. Pradeep Rajpurohit
The selection process for these jobs will give added weight to applicants who are residents of the area, divorced women or orphaned girls, among other criteria. The government has also restored a program under which all government jobs are reserved for residents of J&K.
In the field of education, 50 new educational institutions, offering 25,000 places for students, have been established, representing the largest expansion in J&K in 70 years. More than 500,000 students have also taken advantage of a number of government scholarship schemes — a four-fold increase over the number during the previous year.
The J&K government has also approved the establishment of two centers for invention, innovation, incubation and training, which will strengthen the partnerships between industry and academia in technical fields.
Similarly, in the medical field, two All India Institutes of Medical Sciences, seven new medical colleges, five new nursing colleges and a State Cancer Institute are planned. A student health card scheme has also been launched to ensure better healthcare for schoolchildren.
To boost the infrastructure in J&K, more than 500 projects worth in excess of $80 million have been completed, and more than 2,000 projects worth nearly $800 million have been approved. Bottlenecks that had delayed projects in a number of sectors have been removed and many of those projects are now nearing completion.
Jammu and Srinagar are being developed as modern, sustainable smart cities, in which 190 projects worth more than $900 million are planned. Proposals for a light rail transit system in both cities have been approved. A first-ever housing, slum development, rehabilitation and township policy has been approved, under which the construction of 200,000 houses is planned. More than 300,000 households have also been given access to electricity for the first time in 70 years.
J&K is one of the best-performing union territories/states in India in the management of COVID-19. It has a testing rate of 44,744 per million people, which is four times the national average.
Seventeen dedicated COVID-19 hospitals have been set up. They provide 60,000 beds, including 20,000 in intensive care and 25,000 in isolation units with oxygen facilities. Srinagar is one of 16 districts in the country recognized for best practices in the management of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, $46 million of assistance has been approved for groups adversely affected by the pandemic, including houseboat owners, female entrepreneurs and self-help groups involved in the handloom and handicrafts sectors.
In addition, the return to J&K of more than 250,000 residents who were stranded across India and overseas due to the pandemic has been facilitated.
The enormous progress that has been achieved in the short span of a year bears witness to the fact that the decision taken by the government of India on Aug. 5, 2019, was a much-needed reform that has delivered on its promise to improve the quality of life for all segments of the population of Jammu and Kashmir, and set it firmly on the path toward progress and equitable development.
• Dr. Pradeep Rajpurohit is deputy chief of mission at the Indian Embassy in Riyadh.