Kashmir’s economy, as per the estimates of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries, has suffered losses to the tune of ₹40,000 crore in last one year. The trade body estimates show that the lockdown imposed on 5 August by the government of India dealt losses of ₹18,000 crore from August to November 2019.
The unemployment in J&K is at a staggering average of 17.9% in July 2020 – twice the national average of 9.5%. The internet restrictions and shutdowns have hit the start-ups big time. Over 100 start-ups were thrown out of business due to the unprecedented communication black out. Due to the internet restrictions and lockdown companies lost access to markets outside Jammu and Kashmir and disruption in digital payments caused heavy losses.
The government scheme to boost the sale of Kashmir apples to the markets outside the valley in September last year failed miserably with very little benefit accruing to the farmers.
Since last 5 August, tourism, hospitality, transport and horticulture are the worst hit. As per analysts the economy of J&K has been reduced to shambles and needs an immediate intervention, but the government has not even admitted that things have gone terribly wrong.
Investments in Jammu and Kashmir have been meagre in comparison to losses incurred by the existing businesses. As per reports, investments worth ₹13,600 crore have been pledged as a part of 168 Memorandum of Understandings signed for J&K. Even though there was a lot of talk about a proposed investors summit in Kashmir, the event has been delayed until further notice.
The less said about development, the better it is. Twitter hashtags trended by various IT cells suggest that rivers of milk and honey have started flowing in Jammu & Kashmir. A two-minute short film shared widely by the BJP supporters with the hashtag #NayaKashmir has gone viral. The video, which uses a song sung by a former militant now residing in Pakistan as background score, suggests that that “a new era of new hope” has started in Kashmir.
The developmental achievements recounted in the video include: Distribution of five kilograms of food grain per individual and one KG pulses per family; issuance of domicile certificates on fast track basis; sprouting of grassroot democracy; employment to youth through MNREGA; promotion of Basmati Rice, and among the landmark infrastructure development projects it talks about construction of a new block in a maternity hospital in Srinagar. The very fact that the proponents of #NayaKashmir are seeing employment under MNREGA as an achievement is a telling commentary of the promises of development.
On a serious note, the BJP leaders are blaming COVID19 and winters as an obstruction to developmental activities. In this blame game, there is a tacit admission that the developmental activity has not kicked off. On the contrary, the last few months have shown that despite the pandemic the administration is well capable of delivering. The speed and alacrity with which the domicile certificates have been issued amidst a lockdown shows that the government, when it prioritises something, is quite capable of delivering notwithstanding disruptions. 400,000 domicile certificates have been issued in one month. Clearly, the problem really is not the pandemic; it is the goal that has been set for the officers on the ground.
Youth and education
Education has perhaps been worst casualty of events that followed 5 August. In last one year, the students of Kashmir valley have attended regular classes for only two weeks. Educational institutions were shut few days ahead of the hollowing out of Article 370 and remained shut till first week of March. After a few weeks of regular class work schools, colleges and universities were again shutdown on 12 March due to the COVID19 outbreak.
In the absence of the regular classes, the students have struggled to catch up on the classes due to internet restrictions. Even though educational institutions have started online classes, the slow speed internet has caused many hassles. More so, the audio-visual content and course material put online by the schools and colleges could not be accessed on low speed connections. Minimal availability of broadband internet has aggravated the problem.
Even as students tried to access online classes on 2G internet, the numerous shutdowns post encounters in districts of South Kashmir disrupted even the dysfunctional online classes. The losses in educating the future generation of Jammu and Kashmir are incalculable. Reports suggest young kids have started developing mental health conditions due to the stress and anxiety caused by stayed cooped up due to the lockdowns. The disruption in educations adds to the misery. Not just that, the internet restrictions have denied youth of Kashmir as well as Jammu access to sources online entertainment.
In February 2020, young voices of Kashmir and Jammu in a rare occurrence found a common goal – the demand for restoration of high-speed internet services. Youth from both regions started a campaign on Twitter to demand restoration 4G services. This campaign continued for over a month with little effect. Government responded by increasing the internet speed from 260 kbps to 360 kbps, encapsulating the apathy of the bureaucracy towards the public.
In terms of tangibles, there is very little change visible on ground. What has changed is the constitutional relationship of the Union of India with the people of Jammu & Kashmir. Without going into the history of the constitutional relationship, which is knotted with legal complexities, 5 August looks like an eyesore on Indian democracy and federal structure.
Without consultation and concurrence of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, a new reality was imposed on the territory. The intentions behind the move is not important because even the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Downgrading and disempowerment of Jammu &Kashmir may be cause of celebration for many. Even disenfranchising of the electorate for a few years may be cause for joy elsewhere. But in the last 12 months, nothing in the life of an ordinary man in Jammu and Kashmir has changed for the better. Away from the silver light of TV studious and manufactured realities of hashtags and twitter trends last one year looks like a Bollywood film made with an ill thought out script, insufficient budget and no planning.
Khalid Shah @khalidbshah is an Associate Fellow at ORF. His research focuses on Kashmir conflict, Pakistan and terrorism. Views are personal.
The article was first published on the Observer Research Foundation website.