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Waterways The New Highways For Economic Resurgence Of Kashmir
The security paradox has caused an economic paralysis in the UT. A bespoke economic reboot is the need of the hour to revive Kashmir’s economic collapse.
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Kashmir- ‘The Paradise on Earth’ is struggling from last 31 years to revive its paralysed economy. Conflict zones like Kashmir needs bespoke economic solutions. Ever since our independence in 1947 and more specifically since the emergence of armed terrorism, the policy makers have ignored the impervious socio- cultural structure of Kashmir thus setting it up for failure.
Earlier policy makers have generally blamed Article 370 as a primary cause of systematic economic collapse. Despite the abrogation of the special status the economic revival is far from the flight mode. Special policies have to be adopted and specific economic zones have to be established for the economy of Kashmir to be revived and transformed from being a dependency to a contributory one.
The security paradox has caused an economic paralysis in the UT that has spent decades under Presidents or Governors rule. Security focused governance has spelt economic catastrophy. Consider this, literacy rate in J&K is 67% as against the national literacy rate of 74%. Urban unemployment rate is a staggering 70%, which is more than double the national average of 34%. Promising potential of hydro-power has been grossly unexploited. Telephony is under developed in comparison to other states; according to TRAI, the wire line subscribers in J&K were just 0.12 mn. Economic growth has been absent since 1950’s and specefically 1990 thus alienating youth. Basic economic fuels – Power and IT / Telecom are scarce. The message is clear, Kashmir needs a reboot and I propose a 4R Approach – Review, Resonate, Rebuilt and Reconnect within the framework on a Special Economic Zone.
Review Existing economic policies: Kashmir needs to move from crops to fruits & flowers. Move from low yield high involvement crops to fruits like Strawberry that are low effort high consumption crops. Research interventions are needed to improve yield of land and tree crops like Apples, Cherries, Peaches, Apricots, Almonds etc. Rice in Kashmir is not exotic and can be compensated/ landed cheaper from Punjab. Kashmir is far better poised in terms of climatic suitability and quality of floriculture.
Resonate with ecosystem: Kashmir needs to strengthen ethnographic products encompassing Changthangi, the Pashmina wool; a global symbol of exquisite quality and a connoisseur’s possession, via co-operative bread & rear programme of Kashmiri goats. However, the yield is quite low in comparison to other global wool producing economies in the world. New Zealand has emerged as the wool capital of the world with significant export to China. This is bettered by another Kashmiri wool known as Shahtoosh; however, it is banned under endangered species. Focused rearing of Kashmiri wool can establish Kashmir as a world leader of best quality wool in the world and stake a claim to premium woolen pullovers for American markets. Kashmir needs to invest in rearing technology and co-operative farming infrastructure in Ladakh region.
Rebuild & reinvent tourism economic ecosystem: Traditional tourism, that was the mainstay, has to pave way for Globalisation and High altitude tourism. Prior to the 90’s Kashmir specially attracted HNI / Groups from all over Europe. Since 90’s HNI’s have diminished and paved way for low cost tourists from heartland. Develop high altitude Heli-adventure destinations like Simthan Pass, Gangbal, Naranag among many others including additional skiing tracks Simthan, Sonamarg etc. Likewise, revival of Fisheries department act as a tourism catalyst. Kashmir Trout and Rainbow trout are considered delicacies and match right up to at par with global exotic cuisine. Only Denmark, apart from Kashmir exports Rainbow Trout. Kashmir has adequate (including critical incubation facilities), yet dormant and severely under-utilised infrastructure for Fisheries at strategic locations across the valley. An online initiative to promote retail and institutional sales across 5 star hotels worldwide can put Kashmir on the global fisheries destination.
Reconnect – go local: Food & fruit processing units ( Wazwaan and Fruits of Kashmir ) can create tremendous micro entrepreneurship and employment. Co-operative App based cab services is an imminent need with Kashmiri’s first policy. Development of Badarwah and Kishtwar as alternate tourist destinations. Develop Tawi River Front on lines of Essel World and Water Kingdom ( I have submitted a development plan was submitted to JDA way back in 2007). Kashmir is a major potential destination for Medical tourism which will aid a strong revenue stream and also supplement need for specialized wellness care for the people of Kashmir. Establishing trade centers for the artisans to sell their products directly like Delhi Haat. Creating bodies like TRIFED for local artisans – establish an MSP.
Waterways – the new highways of the valley: Rivers are the traditional forgotten highways of Kashmir. Jehlum Waterways Project will create entrepreneurship, employment ecosystem and economic engines encompassing Shikara operators, Cargo business, Tourism and an Alternate Transportation System for a landlocked valley crumbling under traffic jams. Jehlum river can be revived, under Jehlum River Authority, as source of transportation by developing boat service on the lines of Maharaja Express that can operate on Jehlum connecting major tourist destinations like Anantnag, Srinagar and Baramulla.
Renewable energy – Apart from renewed focus on Hydel resources and biomass by-products, harnessing wind energy in different districts like Baramulla and Solar & Thermal in Ladakh will propel valley to be self sufficient.
Kashmir - new global economy for ITeS & DATA backbone : Kashmir should be the next IT hub for giants like Infosys, Wipro, TCS etc for low OPEX Data Centres especially in Kangan / Sonamarg and Baramulla / Gulmarg region given low average temperatures. This will boast local economies in Kashmir encompassing tourism, real estate and urbanisation of educatlion.
Kashmir – Dollars & charters; the new Global retirement home: Introduce 5 year retirement visa policy for HNI / European / Westerners having high forex reserves. Kashmir had a strong British population during 40’s and 50’s. Insurance can be subsidized as an incentive. Airports are also a catalyst for economic reboot. Private terminal for charter flights at Srinagar airport will facilitate HNI and prosperous group tourists to Kashmir.
Sports – the legend of Kashmir willow and the missed opportunities: In Kashmir; apart from Cricket, sports like Hockey and Football thrived until 1990 and now shifted to Meerut & Jalandhar. Kashmir willow is next best to English willow and unorganized ‘home manufacturing’ of cricket bats is the reminiscent of that lost legacy of comprehensive sports equipment manufacturing given low cost labour and raw material (which is best in the world).
Revisit manufacturing to build economic eco-system: Kashmir is the highest buyer of Maruti LMV’s in the region. International manufacturers can be motivated to set up manufacturing as it creates an ecosystem of entrepreneurs and consequent employment.
Specialized economic zone – a one stop solution for a conflict zone : SEZ will address the major challenges and will revive and propel economic growth by creating entrepreneurs and jobs. The zone will include skill development centre (aligned with National Skill Development Authority) that will run focused courses to enhance employablity. Wholesale business Haats for reviving Handicrafts, enriching lives of artisans. A processing unit of food and fruits will create a strong economic ecosystem. Film city will bring forth to the new world the glory of Kashmir, help local artists, tourism, cab operators and technicians. Establishing a separate secured entrainment zone is needed under a single window system. Plan and policy for walk-in infrastructure for film, TV and OTT related content production covering shooting floors, studios, editing, special effects, processing and broadcasting facility under a single roof. Preview theatre and hospitality suites, film and cultural events / entertainment industry awards etc. Online lottery license can generate an additional surplus of about Rs, 500 crores ( This was also proposed by me earlier). Most impotantly, an SEZ will address the security issues, provide for Power infrastructure and Telcom backbone in a secured environment.
While 4R will reboot the entire economic engine for the valley, certain disciplinary measures must also be implemented. Abolish subsidies – instead encourage them to use the state’s logistics and central credit schemes for commodities and raw materials.
Ashish Kaul is a business leader, Doctoral reserch scholar and a media veteran.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.