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After Article 370 removal, how much development has happened in J&K?

The UT administration has identified 292 industrial zones in different districts

dal lake srinagar ap Kashmiri people sit by the Dal lake in the evening in Srinagar | AP

One of the main reasons cited by the BJP for the revocation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, was that the law was an impediment to the development of Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP had argued that by revoking Article 370, Jammu and Kashmir has been integrated with the rest of the country and set on the path of development.

Contrary to the BJP’s claim, Jammu and Kashmir had been faring better than many developed states in human development, health, education, housing and sanitation.

After the reading down of Article 370, the BJP government at the Centre announced several ambitious policies to boost development in Jammu and Kashmir. Among them was a 6,000-acre land bank for setting up industries and increasing manufacturing. More than half has been transferred to the department of industries and commerce—2,125 acres in Jammu and 1,000 acres in Kashmir. The move is in line with the Industrial Policy-2016, which envisaged the creation of a land bank of 20,000 kanals (2,500 acres) across J&K.

The UT administration has identified 292 industrial zones in different districts of the UT. According to Allotment Policy 2021-30, of the total 292 industrial zones, 150 have been identified in 10 districts of Jammu division and 142 in 10 districts of Kashmir. The application for the allotment of land will be scrutinised by a committee within 30 days; for projects worth Rs 200 crore, the scrutiny period will be 45 days. The land will be allotted to the investors on lease for an initial period of 40 years, extendable to 99 years.

According to sources, 40 companies including Tata and Reliance, have shown interest in investment in Jammu and Kashmir in information technology, defence, renewable energy, tourism, skill development, education, hospitality and infrastructure and horticulture.

After August 5, 2019, any citizen of India can buy immovable property in Jammu and Kashmir. The move has created an opening for private players to invest in real estate and other infrastructural projects in Jammu and Kashmir.

In October last year, the ministry of home affairs notified that Real Estate (Regulation & Development) Act, 2016, will apply in Jammu and Kashmir with immediate effect. The move has paved the way for property development in the two regions of the UT: Jammu and Kashmir. Though Jammu and Kashmir is better placed in terms of housing in comparison to other states, there is scope for investment in the housing sector to accommodate small-time home buyers due to growing urbanisation.

However, post-Article 370 removal, the UT administration’s new mining policy has escalated the cost of construction material manifold. The new policy for the extraction of minor minerals like sand, gravel, boulders, clay, limestone and gypsum pushed the local contractors out of business as most contracts have gone to non-local contractors who have quoted higher prices. As a consequence, the cost of construction material has sky-rocketed and threatened the environment.

The administration belatedly implemented rules notified in 2016 for the extraction of all minor minerals, including obtaining environmental clearances before starting mining operations. Until the 2016 rules were enforced, riverbed mining was done by local miners over small plots of land, which didn’t threaten the ecology of the area. In December 2019, 400 minor blocks were auctioned and most were won by non-local contractors. They outsourced the operations to local miners for a smaller share of the profits than what they earned when they held the contracts themselves.

“All of us have become labourers for outsiders now,” said a sand extractor. As a result, the cost of 180cft of sand that used to sell for Rs 5,000-6,000, depending on the distance from the loading point, went up two to three times after August 5, 2019, and cost of a 'tipper load' of bricks went up from Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000. Similar escalation in prices has been witnessed in materials used in construction. The sudden shortage and escalation in the prices of construction material have caused anxiety to those involved in the sector.

One of the major highlights of the last two years is the speeding up of the work on the Qazigund-Banihal tunnel on the treacherous Jammu-Srinagar highway. On August 4, the 8.5km tunnel, which will reduce travel time between Jammu and Srinagar by about 1.5 hours and distance by 16km, was thrown open for traffic for trials. Jammu and Kashmir also constructed a record 3,300km of rural roads under several schemes in 2020-21.

Other flagship infrastructure projects, sanctioned by the UPA government, that the Centre and UT administration are keen to complete include the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Indian Institute of Technology, Indian Institute of Management and 6,000 transit accommodations for Kashmir Pandit migrant employees working in the valley.

Other projects include the railway project at Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla, which will connect Kashmir to the rest of India. This rail project is expected to finish by August next year. The project has missed several deadlines amid huge cost escalations as the work had to be stopped due to frequent high-velocity winds in the area. Similarly, AIIMS campuses at Vijaypur, Jammu, and Awantipora in Kashmir shall be established by 2023 and 2025, respectively.

On the electricity front, the UT administration, with the support of the Centre, is planning to provide round-the-clock power supply to Jammu and Srinagar cities after overhauling the transmission systems. Jammu and Kashmir, despite being rich in hydroelectric resources, faces shortage of electricity in winters. According to sources, after the completion of several hydroelectric projects, the UT will witness fewer power outages and increased industrial activity.

Though the Centre has announced an ambitious development plan in Jammu and Kashmir, little progress has been witnessed due to COVID-19 pandemic and some inexplicable reasons. On the employment front, not much has been achieved except recruitments in J&K Bank.

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