One of the main planks on which most of the parties fought the recent elections in Kashmir has been the promise of “Good Governance”. People have made a deliberate distinction between “Azadi” and Good Governance. They have been aspiring for “Azadi” for a pretty long time and are not sure when they will achieve it. In the meantime, the Governance of the State concerning the day to day living has considerably deteriorated. In fact, the State had got real “Good Governance” only for a couple stretches in its recent history. One was the first tenure of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah from 1950 to 1953 and the other was the tenure of G.M.Sadiq from 1965 to 1971. For the rest of the period most of the politicians have indulged in “Self-Governance”. They have been governing for their own selfish interests and not for the benefit of the common man. In the run up to the elections, various leaders have been promising moon to the common public. They have all spoken about “Good Governance”. Post election many columns, letters, and suggestive pieces have been written about what needs to be done. Most of these have made general suggestions for improving the governance and attending to very urgent and pressing issues. In fact, there are umpteen issues which need to be attended on priority if the promises are to be kept. It is, therefore, very important not only to prioritise various issues but also to ensure planned implementation of the same with continuous monitoring. Some of the important ones connected with development side could be named as “Environment”, “Unemployment”, “Corruption”, “Healthcare”, “Power”, “Civic Services”, and so on. Let us begin with the most burning one. This is regarding our living environment. It may not seem so important to the common people at the present moment but it is going to be a decisive one for the very survival of our so called “Paradise on Earth”. When we talk of Environment in Kashmir, the first thing to hit us in the face is the dying Dal Lake. For more than three decades now the Lake is supposed to be under the process of restoration. However, instead of getting restored it is deteriorating at a fast rate and may be extinct soon! The so called Authority constituted for its conservation is not really a statutory authority which it should have been but a simple extension of a Government Department. Had it been an autonomous organisation headed by an expert, it may have delivered something. It is just like any other government department and mostly headed by bureaucrats drawn from administrative services. The measures for the restoration of the Lake had been initiated by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah himself when he had commissioned a group of New Zealand experts to give a project report. That report known as the “Ennex Report” is the best so far on the subject. Subsequently the bureaucracy muddled the whole process of restoration by getting report after report. From a clear water area of 32 square miles it has been reduced to less than 11 square miles. The last Chief Minister called it a “Money Minting Machine”, thereby admitting his failure to save it. Corruption, red-tape, lack of popular concern have all contributed to its destruction. But the primary factor has been the lack of political will and initiative among the people at the helm. There is no better way to save Dal and restore it to its previous glory than to hand it over on a turnkey basis to an International Agency/Agencies specialising in such tasks. Unless we do it, it is doomed to extinction!
The Dal Lake is only the tip of the ice berg of an environmental disaster being faced by Kashmir. The other water bodies like Wular, Nageen, Manasbal and the River Jhelum are in no better state. Especially the River Jhelum has become a huge sewer. The previous governments have only tried to put make up on its banks and that too near the civil lines area. It once used to be the main channel for transportation and was fully navigable even for highly loaded barges. It needs to be made navigable once again by dredging. No dredging has been done in the River since Maharaja’s time. Next to water bodies are the lush green forests of the valley which have been massacred wantonly by timber smugglers (quite a few of whom are supposed to be so called ex-militants) in connivance with the authorities and the security forces. This butchery of our green gold must be stopped immediately if the valley is not to become a desert sometime in future. The diminishing forest cover has already resulted in freak weather in recent times.
The second most explosive problem being faced in ensuring “Good Governance” is the unemployment. Hundreds of thousands of youth some of them highly educated both academically and professionally are totally unemployed. It is they who had come out in large numbers to vote in the hope of getting some gainful employment. During election rallies it had been given out that two hundred thousand youth will be provided government jobs. Some leaders had stated 70,000 jobs are available. The State is already overburdened with staff. More than 4,000 crores is the annual pay bill of the establishment. If the bulk of funds go for the salaries of the staff what will go into development? It had also been given out that more and more battalions of India Reserve Police will be created. There seems to be a plan to create armies of paid slaves. It is just like keeping unemployed on social security without any productive work. What is needed is creation of productive employment avenues. Kashmir is rich many resources which have remained unexploited. Agriculture, Horticulture, Floriculture, and many other fields present good opportunities for self employment. Similarly, there could be many industries based on the products of these sectors. One of the important sectors totally neglected is the possibility of finding overseas employment for Kashmiris on an organised basis. There had been a proposal to set up an overseas employment corporation but this never materialised. The entire Gulf region has at the present moment an infrastructure development boom. There are thousands of jobs available but it is impossible for Kashmiri youth to land these jobs on their own because of numerous restrictions in getting travel papers and other clearances. Similar jobs are available in Malaysia, Brunei, and some other places. If Kashmiri youth could be guided and facilitated, they could be easily employed gainfully abroad. They would earn a lot of foreign exchange and also broaden their vision. One of the main sectors for economic development could be Tourism provided peace prevails. In a peaceful atmosphere Tourism could become a key sector and being a service oriented industry it can provide thousands of jobs. Even now with a limited scope it provides employment to a large section of the population. However, till the situation fully stabilises in Kashmir and in our neighbourhood, it cannot be depended upon solely as a viable and consistent economic activity. It needs to be taken only as additionality. For future it can be an important sector for large scale employment at all levels. Thus the unemployment problem needs to be tackled intelligently on a long term basis and no short cuts of creating armies of daily wagers and casual workers should be resorted to.
(……to be continued.)