South Kashmir again witnessed violence and firing on December 15 during an army operation against terrorists. In the operation, three terrorists were killed. The unfortunate part of the encounter was the death of 7 civilians not because the armed forces fired at them indiscriminately but firing was resorted to in self-defence as the civilians attacked the armed forces protesting and defending the terrorists. There was a hue and cry over the death of a young man in the firing because the victim was an MBA graduate. Bullets don’t recognise qualified or illiterate persons in mob violence.
It is a matter of sorrow indeed that many civilians lost their lives during an encounter with terrorists. Knowing that when the encounter is in progress there is firing from the terrorists and the armed forces during the operation, then why civilians should come out in defence of the outlaws. Law treats a person aiding and abetting crime or trying to defend terrorists at equal footing that is applicable to persons waging war against the nation. Yet, the separatists are engaged in abetting and encouraging people of the valley to indulge in a violent attack on the armed forces during the anti-terrorist operation.
The National Conference leaders Farooque Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah have been talking of initiating confidence-building measures in the valley to win the trust of the people. The Abdullahas also advocate talking to all stakeholders including Hurriyat and Pakistan but they seldom speak of the state of the economy in Jammu & Kashmir which lies in the shambles.
The PDP leader and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has gone a step further by saying that ‘separatism’ or for that matter militancy in the valley “ek soch hai” (It is an idea). “It can’t be killed by a bullet. It has to be killed by an idea.”
Here, I may suggest some ideas to the leaders of the valley that they should propagate as vigorously as they propagate the idea of autonomy and azadi.
Contrary to general perception tourism, though a major contributor to the economy of the state is not the main source of livelihood for the majority of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. Agriculture remains the main source of livelihood and employment. More than 70 per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture. Yet, a vast tract land remains uncultivated. Over the years the successive governments have brought more and more land under cultivation but the state is still not self-sufficient in producing enough grains to feed its population. Food grains are brought to the state in huge quantity from other parts of the country. Economic backwardness, lack of proper education and poverty continue to grip large section of the population. The per capita income is much lower than the national average.
If you look at nature’s gift to Jammu & Kashmir it is rich in forest and mineral. The climate is suitable for running the industry of chemical and woollen textile. The handicraft is another sector where the state can do a lot for its people. But regrettably the entire energy and attention of the government be it an elected government or government under Governor’s rule are wasted in combating militancy, agitations and bandhs in the valley, courtesy the political leadership of the state.
Apple and saffron are crops that sustain a large section of the population who grow it. Saffron is cultivated in Karewas of Kashmir valley and in Bhadarwah of Jammu region. It is a cash crop and profitable too. Saffron has medicinal properties as well as has culinary value. One can imagine the importance of saffron for its medicinal use when recorded history says that saffron was used as medicine even in 500 years B.C. (Before Christ). In India, it is sold at an average price of Rs 3000 for just 100 grams that is Rs 30,000/ kilogram. According to one estimate, the saffron sector provides more than 5 per cent of employment to the people of the state.
Unemployment is one issue that affects the youths of the state who resort to agitation by joining the ranks of separatist elements in the valley. The problem of employment can be solved only when a new industry comes up in the state. For any industrial growth power, communication, law and order are necessary. The power situation is bad. Transmission and distribution network is so poor that even if the state gets the required power demand from the Central grid, it can’t distribute it to the far-flung regions of the state. Road communication is very poor. Railway tracks can’t be laid throughout the state due to its topography.
Why not the leaders of the National Conference, the PDP and the Congress who harp on autonomy and violation of human rights join hands to spread the message of peace through economic growth?
(The writer is a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha)
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