Saturday, February 16, 2013

Some observations on Kashmir

The politics and strategic aspects of Kashmir get a disproportionately higher attention in popular discourse than the Economic and development aspects.I have always wondered why people are only worried about political rights and not their economic well being? If you are poor and marginalized you will be trampled over. If you are powerful, the world will listen to you. The times when revolution came out of a barrel of gun are long gone.
I recently had a conversation on twitter in this respect. Here is brief elaboration and some more on the points I made in that conversation:
  1. Jammu and Kashmir has very limited fiscal resources of its own. Of its GSDP of Rs 54000 crore last year, government spending constituted 50% of this amount and of that amount, central assistance constituted 50%. To put the above figure in perspective, India's largest software company has more revenues than the entire state of J&K. It employs less people than are born in J&K every year.
  2. The budget stresses a lot on Subsidies and tax exemptions. This only increases corruption and reduces revenue collection. At the same time, there is toll on entry into any district. This only increases traffic congestion and the roads are not even properly maintained. This only increases the disgust of people with government and restricts economic activity.
  3. The School Education scenario is similar to rest of the country as per DISE data whereas professional education is way behind. A significant number of students are taking private tuition. Empirical data on street does not tally with DISE data. Why not devolve Primary Education to Local communities?
  4. There are only a handful engineering and medical colleges and no Institute of national repute in higher learning.Perhaps J&K would be the most backward state in terms of Professional education.Instead of lobbying for sparing the lives of terrorists, government should spend political capital in bringing Institutes of excellence to state.Their presence has a disproportionate impact compared to investment involved.
  5. There has been little investment in physical infrastructure in recent years and vital connectivity projects have been running decades behind. Even after so many year of  being 'integral part of India', economy of J&K is not integrated with rest of the country.
  6. Like most of the other states, Hydro power is severly underutilised. While delay in other states can be somewhat understood, in a resource deficient and insurgency hit state like J&K bordering Pakistan , it is downright criminal.
  7. Though the state government has privatised the ticket collection for tourist places in Srinagar, there is no upkeep of these places. Heaps of muck can be seen in Shalimar and Nisat and architecture has been disfigured with Lovers Letters.
  8. There are some high potential tourist spots in the state which can be developed with minimal expenditure. e.g. just cleaning up the Manasbal lake will create a new tourist hotspot more popular than Dal. Not every tourist can afford the private taxis. A tourist bus service will tremendously boost affordability thereby increasing tourist flow. The existing buses are too crowded and operate to limited areas without any proper signages. 
  9. A lot people in India passionately believe that abolishing Sector 370 will fix the Kashmir issue. The main thrust of this article is that non domicile people cannot by land in the state. This is true of many states and areas of India e.g. Uttaranchal and tribal areas. That has not stopped those areas from developing though as even if the land cannot be bought, it can be taken on long lease of , say, 99 years. Despite article 370, some Indian companies have setup call centers and Pharmaceutical industries in the state.What prevents the outside investment is, the long term unpredictability of returns because of the political risk. If even the original inhabitants of Kashmir, the Kashimiri Pandits, are afraid of returning, how can others be expected to settle down in Kashmir.

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