Kashmir's fall from self-sufficiency to dependency

The inefficiency of the people of the state was fully exploited by the Centre.

 |   Long-form |   22-11-2015
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Till 1953, Kashmir was self-sufficient and did not import anything apart from salt, tea and clothing. However, the political coup and the subsequent arrest of Jammu and Kashmir prime minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah on August 8, 1953 changed the political as well as economic course of Kashmir.

In 1947, the import-export ratio of Kashmir’s trade was 1:3, indicating that Kashmir had a surplus trade. But 68 years down the line, this ratio has taken a U-turn. Today the trade ratio of Kashmiri goods stands at 7:1. Kashmir now imports goods worth more than Rs 40,000 crore a year and only exports goods worth Rs 7,000 crore. There is a deficit of Rs 33,000 crore, which increases every year.

Import and export of goods

In 1951, a devastating drought hit Kashmir and there was shortage of rice. At that time, the council of minsters of the then prime minster of Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, suggested that Kashmir should import food grains from Punjab. But Abdullah refused and instructed people to consume potatoes and corn instead of rice and wheat. He argued with his minister that it will make Kashmiris dependent on others and will set a bad precedence. The political coup 1953 changed the self-sufficient status of Kashmir. Whether Sheikh Abdullah’s austerity was pragmatic or not is debatable. But the message it sends across is something which every Kashmiri should appreciate.

After Abdullah’s arrest, a public rally was addressed by his successor Ghulam Mohammad Bakshi. At the rally, a man known as Khalil-e-Kashmir reminded the prime minster of Jammu and Kashmir that people did not have rice to eat. Bakshi, in response said, “Drage jin kor aaes band wuen wochu tuyh latan te aasi bati te watan te aase bate” (The demon of drought has been captured; now foodgrains will be on every road and corner). Subsequently, Bakshi introduced subsidised rice in Kashmir for the first time as a token from the Centre. This was for the first time in history that Kashmiris were made to believe they were dependent on the Centre.

Kashmir’s road connectivity

The three imported goods – salt, tea and clothing – used to come to Kashmir from natural roads like the Rawalpindi-Srinagar highway, or the Sailkot-Jammu road. The manufactured road which Kashmiris are forced to treat as “national highway” was just a cart road. This road was only used by the maharajas of Kashmir, their families, relatives and administrative officials. Any outsider who had to travel along the cart road had to seek permission from the Kashmir government first. The Rawalpindi-Srinagar highway was open for the masses of Kashmir and the Silk Road connected the Valley with Central Asia and the rest of the world.

As far as the railway connectivity is concerned, the first mega railway project was inaugurated by Maharaja Pratap Singh in 1897 that connected Sailkot to Jammu. It was the first railway line of Jammu and Kashmir. In 1898, Pratap Singh again called upon a British consultant to conceive of the idea of linking Srinagar and Sailkot. This scheme was approved by the maharaja in 1902. The railway track was to be constructed through Reasi and Mughal Road. But owing to a lack of funds, the Kashmir government was not able to complete the project. Kashmir survived without railway connectivity because of the Valley’s connectivity by old routes.

Indigenous industries

From small handmade goods to large industrial products, Kashmir today is entirely dependent on the rest of India. We are dependent on the rest of India for foodgrains, rice, mutton, beef, poultry, fish, milk and packaged goods of every kind, which Kashmiris consume on a large scale. Until recently, the Kashmiris produced a large chunk of eatables indigenously but now we import it from the other parts of India. Kashmir used to export more than 90 per cent of its apples, walnuts, apricot, dry fruits and pears which now has also drastically come down.

The silk produced in Kashmir was once famous all over world. But the historic silk factory of Kashmir which was built in the posh area of Rambagh-Solina is non-existent today. A vast five-storey concrete building of the income tax and excise department has replaced the silk factory that was one of the major employment-generating units in Kashmir. Records say that the unit was feeding more than 3,000 people.

Kashmir was also rich in handicrafts. The state already had many handicraft units that were introduced after contacts with Central Asia. Shah-i-Hamdan introduced 27 new small units specialising in carpet-weaving, wood-carving, embroidery, namda and gaba (traditional rugs). By this time Kashmir had a total of 50 indigenous units providing employment to hundreds of people. Unfortunately, much of these units either are in a deplorable state today or are non-existent.

Kashmir also used to boast of a wool industry and used to weave chadar (wraps) and had units of textile. These units produced Harris wool. It is said that Harris wool is as good as the material used by Reid & Taylor today. These units used to weave the wool on vertical looms. Kashmir now has completely stopped to weave such costly wool owing to a shutdown of these units. In today’s international market a suit length of Harris wool sells at more than Rs 20,000. We have the raw material to produce the Harris wool but there are no production units.

The economy today heavily relies on the service sector. This type of an economy is never good and therefore demands that tangible products keep on increasing. In trade the situation is no better as most of the retail units only sell those products that are being imported.

The Cheshma Shashi milk Factory, Killey Khan Factory and HMT Watch Factory all saw gradual decline with gross negligence and tacit approval of the state government.

Factors responsible for decline of industries

There are many factors responsible for the gradual decline of Kashmir’s industrial economy. Political turmoil right from 1947 has been one of the major causes for the decline of industrial units in Kashmir. From 1947 to 1953, some sort of independent economic foundation was laid in the form of the land to tiller scheme and other affiliated schemes, but overall, Kashmir’s industries were allowed to rot.

Social changes also led to the decline of industries in Kashmir. The educated youth distanced themselves from their ancestral businesses like farming, handicrafts and trade. Today, from barbers to labourers in paddy fields and household helps we are dependent on states like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Kashmir’s inefficiency was fully exploited by the Centre as it took it a short time to make Kashmiris dependent on aid. The Centre, under the garb of special grants and packages, has only benefited projects of the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) and roads that connect Kashmir to the rest of India.

Myth of packages

From subsidised rice to special grants and crores of relief packages, everything has proved to be a hoax. Indian Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi, HD Deve Gowda, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi till date have provided a total sum of Rs 1,14,301 crores as packages. Noted Kashmiri economist, Nisar Ali says, “More than 75 per cent money of these packages was spent on projects like (those of) NHPC, India’s defence projects in Kashmir and on road and railways and the remaining 25 per cent was used on education, health and infrastructure. All these packages are mere eyewash. Rather than giving Kashmir a political package, New Delhi has to address the main problem that’s the political question of Kashmir.”

While lamenting on the recent package given by Prime Minster Narendra Modi, the chairman of Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA), Mohammad Yasin Khan, said, “The Rs 80,000 crore package is a conspiracy to trifurcate Jammu and Kashmir on communal lines. In the name of development, a mere Rs 6,500 crore have been allotted to the Kashmir province whereas Rs 13,000 crore have been given to Ladakh. A huge chunk of Rs 11,000 crore has been given to Jammu.”

Civil society member Shakeel Qalandar said: “We have had 1,900 days of curfew and hartal in the past 26 years. The government of India or the state government has not compensated us even for one day. Per day, the state exchequer had to bear a minimum cost of 100 crore. By that yardstick, Kashmir has lost Rs 1,90,000 crore wealth in the last 26 years. Banks too were submerged in last year’s flood; still they charged us interests for the month of September. We have also paid interests for the 1,900 days of curfew and hartal. Likewise, industries of Kashmir have also paid interests for these days and this sum goes up to trillions that our Kashmir has lost.”

The recently-launched #AskHurriyat initiative by Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is aimed at bridging the gap between the people and leadership. This initiative fits right in the dependency scheme of things. One user asked Mirwaiz why the Hurriyat didn't boycott Indian goods. He responded: “We could only boycott if we produce something of our own. Self-reliance is the key.”

The foundation of self-reliance was set by Sheikh Abdullah, but it was gradually eroded by the Kashmiris themselves and the Centre. According to the Economic Survey report, there are around six lakh educated unemployed youth in Jammu and Kashmir while the civil society of Kashmir puts the figure at around one million. If Kashmir’s indigenous industries are again given a boost, they can get rid Jammu and Kashmir of the growing unemployment problem. Instead of spending packages on the NHPC there are units that are in dire need of revamp. Kashmir has completed a journey from self-sufficiency to dependency.

Writer

Daanish Bin Nabi Daanish Bin Nabi @daanishnabi

The writer is op-ed Editor at Rising Kashmir.

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