Srinagar: It is a “changing Kashmir” where stone-pelting Fridays have become history, investors are queuing up with over Rs 20,000 crore worth proposals, the unemployment rate has halved in one year, and thousands of young, aspiring entrepreneurs are availing of the government’s financial assistance schemes, Jammu & Kashmir Lieutenant-Governor Manoj Sinha said.
Much water has flown down the Chenab since the Narendra Modi government scrapped the special status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir and bifurcated it into two Union territories on 5 August 2019. There was a lot of resentment against the move in the Valley but a security clampdown, detention and arrest of political leaders and potential trouble-makers kept the situation under control. Prolonged curfews, barricaded roads and concertino wires, and a sullen populace greeted visitors in the Valley for months after the invalidation of Article 370.
Days before its second anniversary, life seems to be back to normal in the Valley again, with cheerful youngsters driving around the Dal Lake in Srinagar, tourists taking shikara rides, and relatively fewer security personnel visible on roads and fewer barricades and wires.
“I think the changes that have come about in two years are positive. Some people (read politicians in the Valley) will not see this change because it doesn’t suit them. But it suits the masses. People were angry two years ago. Some people (read politicians) may still be angry but the common people aren’t. Yeh ek nayi tarah ka Jammu aur Kashmir hai (this is a new Jammu & Kashmir),” L-G Manoj Sinha said in an exclusive interview with ThePrint at the Raj Bhawan in Srinagar.
“I think the grievances of the common people are being heard and heard sensibly… We have done meaningful works in providing a corruption-free administration. Those days are gone when things would happen without administrative sanction or tendering. Now if work is sanctioned, it will have administrative sanction, financial approval, tendering, geo-tagging, physical verification and only then will the money be given,” Sinha said.
“After a long time, J&K has witnessed free and fair elections for sarpanches and block and district development councils, without a drop of blood. We will soon take these panchayat raj representatives to other parts of the country to show them the best panchayati raj models.”
On youth & militancy
Sinha rejected reports about a section of Kashmiri youth turning to militancy after the invalidation of Article 370.
“This assessment is wrong. There was a time when one could see only stone-pelters every Friday. It’s history now. (Local) recruitment (by militant groups) has come down. The sense of fear that the people used to have is over. The biggest number of tourists from across the country are coming to Kashmir only. You won’t get rooms in hotels here. It’s an indication of the improved situation. Security forces have an upper hand today (70 militants were killed in the past fortnight),” Sinha added.
“When I came here, unemployment rate was almost 20 per cent (as per CMIE estimates). It went down to 9.3 per cent, although in June it went up again to 10.3 per cent,” he said, giving details of a host of schemes to benefit young, aspiring entrepreneurs.
ThePrint Tuesday saw crowds gather for L-G Sinha’s function at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC) to distribute commercial vehicles worth over Rs 7 lakh each to 250 youth under the UT’s Mumkin scheme.
On domicile laws, Kashmiri land, industry
Sinha did not get into contentious debates such as the demand by political parties for statehood before elections or their apprehensions about the delimitation commission giving more seats to Jammu. It’s not for him to decide the chronology, he said, it’s for the Parliament of India to decide the timing of statehood, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed himself to in his speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, and for the Election Commission to decide on elections after the delimitation commission’s report.
The L-G also did not read much into concerns and apprehensions about outsiders taking over Kashmiri land now that permanent residents don’t have special rights and privileges that existed under Article 35 A. On Wednesday, the J&K administration changed rules to enable non-native spouses of Jammu and Kashmir women to get domicile certificate.
“I don’t think common people are worried about (domicile laws) it. Certain people have such concerns; they want to vitiate the situation by instigating the people. I want to tell the people with full responsibility: Has anybody outside Jammu and Kashmir been able to take over an inch of land here? There won’t be a single proof. These are baseless things,” he said.
“As I have said, if someone wants to set up an industry, we will give land. If someone wants to open an educational institute, we will give land. If someone wants to open a good hospital, she will get land,” Sinha added.
J&K’s new industrial policy — entailing a 300 per cent subsidy on GST once production starts — has drawn “very encouraging response” from investors.
“As per our initial estimates, we were expecting investments worth Rs 20-25,000 crore and generation of 5 lakh jobs. The way investors are showing enthusiasm, it can go up upto Rs 50,000 crore. We have the land bank and we are trying to increase it.”
The UT administration currently has investment proposals worth Rs 20,000 crore and some of these projects have already been allotted land.
“Yeh badalta Kashmir hai (This is changing Kashmir),” Sinha said.
And in this changing UT, a host of public and private projects are underway or are on the anvil: Two AIIMS (one each in Jammu and Avantipura), seven medical colleges, two cancer institutes, seven para-medical and nursing colleges, a bone and cancer institute, IIT and IIM campuses, and two central universities, to name a few. The bridge on river Chenab, the highest in the world, is almost complete. After a year, people from Kashmir can go straight to Kanyakumari, said Sinha.
“It’s not the right of just a few people that their children should study abroad and their family members get treated abroad. There must be good corporate hospitals, educational institutes, private universities here also. I have a vision of a medicity in Srinagar and Jammu each — four-five corporate hospitals at one place where there are also diagnostic and radiology centres, chemist shops and all other facilities.”
On Kashmiri Pandits
Sinha said that the Government of India had given a package of 6,000 jobs and 6,000 houses for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits.
“I found out in a review that they were not given jobs on some pretext or the other. I want to tell you today that almost 4,000 of them have got jobs and the rest, except 80-84, will get it in the next three-four months.”
As for housing, 1,800 houses are under construction and will be completed in the next six to eight months. For the remaining houses, the land has been identified and tender/DPR process is on. “In the next two years, all houses will be built. Besides, we have also made a rehabilitation policy but I will discuss it once it’s on the ground,” said the L-G.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)