The Centre’s decision to revoke the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate the erstwhile state into two union territories (UTs) on August 5, 2019 came with proclamations that the move would provide an impetus to development in the newly created UTs, besides bringing an end to the decades-long problems of militancy, separatism and corruption. A year down the line, however, facts belie the government’s claims as the story in the valley continues to be one of death and destruction.
Restrictions in the form of clampdowns, and slow internet speed have crippled the economy further.
Over 4.56 lakh people have lost their jobs since August 5, 2019; the economy has suffered a loss of more than Rs 40,000 crore; 6,000 acres of fertile land has been earmarked for industrial purposes — these are some of the recorded impacts of the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A.
Reports of local youths joining militants continue to pour in, while infiltration from across the border continues. According to official figures, 139 youngsters joined militancy in 2019. In the first seven months of this year, 90 locals have reportedly joined militant groups, which is nearly 13 per month.
Violence continues unabated, with 2,300 ceasefire violations by Pakistan being recorded from January to June 2020 as against 1,321 violations during the same period last year; there were a total of 3,168 ceasefire violations by Pakistan in all of 2019.
The number of civilian killings is almost the same in first seven months of 2019 and 2020. While 23 civilians were killed in 2019, this year the toll is 22.
However, the killings of security forces personnel have come down compared to 2019. While 36 security personnel have lost their lives in the first seven months of this year, the number was 76 for the same period in 2019. Last year, 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed in a single suicide attack by militants in Pulwama on February 14. As many as 145 militants were killed since the beginning of this year, compared to 126 militant deaths in the same period in 2019.
In April this year, the Centre, through the lieutenant governor, formulated new domicile rules pertaining to J&K. According to the new rules, anyone who may have resided in J&K for 15 years, or whose wards may have studied there for seven years and taken a class 10 or 12 examination, will be eligible to be a domicile. Those with domicile status would then be eligible both for jobs, scholarships and land rights in the UT — a move that many say shows the ‘real intention’ behind the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A.
Many believe the new domicile law will shrink opportunities for locals, who alone were earlier eligible for jobs, owning land and other immovable property under old laws — a provision in line with those that continue to exist in Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Nagaland and the tribal regions of Telangana.
Till December 2019, at least 2.5 lakh youth — including 1.5 lakh postgraduates and PhD scholars — had registered themselves with the government as jobless. The number could be higher as not everybody does the registration with the government employment exchange. As of now, despite controversy over domicile law, recruitment for over 8,500 posts in government has begun for which outsiders can also apply.
According to the 2011 Census, the population of J&K is 1.25 crore and more than 70% of the population is below the age of 35 years. As per the Economic Survey Report of 2016, nearly a quarter of its population in the age group of 18 to 29 years is unemployed, which is far more than the national unemployment rate of 13.2%.
Sense of alienation
These moves have led to a near-total alienation of people in the Kashmir valley. Even in Jammu and Ladakh, there are serious concerns among the populace over the economic effects of the new domicile rules.
There is also a perception that the local administration has become more corrupt after the abrogation of Article 370 and the Central government’s claim to give Kashmir a corruption-free administration and governance was simply rhetoric. People allege that while earlier, politicians were involved in corruption, now the role has been taken over by bureaucrats.
The economy of the erstwhile state has also been badly hit in the past year. A preliminary loss assessment report of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) conducted recently shows that the Valley’s economy has suffered a loss of a whopping Rs 40,000 crore, mainly due to near-continuous lockdowns since August 2019.
As per the report, 1.5 lakh people have lost jobs in the general trade sector, 74,500 in the tourism sector and 70,000 in handicrafts. Horticulture, floriculture, agriculture, and sericulture have seen for 12,000 job losses. In the manufacturing sector, 70,000 job losses were reported, followed by 60,000 and 20,000 in the transport and construction sectors respectively.
The plight of the apple industry is emblematic of the economic downturn in the region. Kashmir produces 75% of the apples in India and with an estimated annual turnover of Rs 8,000 crore. It contributed 8% to the erstwhile state’s GDP.
The lockdown after the abrogation of Article 370, unseasonal heavy snowfall in November and then another lockdown in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic have ravaged this industry.
According to rough estimates, 7 lakh farmers (35 lakh people, if we include the family members) are directly involved with the apple industry. This is 50% of Kashmir’s total population of 69 lakh.
The tourism industry has been one of the worst affected. In August last year, the government asked tourists and pilgrims to leave the region citing increased threat of terrorism. Continuous lockdowns have meant that two tourist seasons have passed without any business.
Till July last year, 4,56,525 tourists visited Kashmir, while only 43,059 tourists arrived during the rest of the year. In the last decade, the number of tourists visiting the valley each year unfailingly crossed the 10 lakh mark, except in 2010, 2015 and 2018 when a little over 7, 9 and 8.5 lakh tourist arrivals were recorded respectively.
Closure of educational institutions since last August has gravely impacted education and added to the trauma of children and parents. Lakhs of students have been deprived of the high-speed internet facility, in what is being called the longest internet shutdown in a democracy by the foreign press. While students in other states have moved to online education during the Covid-19 lockdown, the continuing curb on access to high-speed internet in J&K is preventing students here from taking up online learning. The students appearing for various competitive exams are especially affected.
In June this year, a new media policy was framed which journalists and other stakeholders in Kashmir have termed as an attempt to throttle the freedom of speech and expression. Journalists working in Kashmir have long been under pressure from the authorities, but since August 5, the authorities have stepped up their efforts to muzzle the press. An increasingly common approach is the authorities having the power to designate a particular news item as ‘fake/unethical’ or call it ‘anti-national’.
No political outreach
The absence of any political outreach by New Delhi post August 5 has created more confusion and anxiety. On the political front, the BJP government, experts say, is trying to do what Congress governments did in J&K previously. It is trying to raise a ‘third front’ of rebel Kashmiri politicians ready to make a pact with the saffron party to wield power in J&K.
A majority of political leaders are in preventive detention. Those released had to pledge that they would not criticise government actions. The continued detention and restrictions on the movement of top mainstream politicians have meant that Kashmiri public and political opinion has been suppressed so far.
It may be too early to assess the impact of the Centre’s August 5 decision, but the portents are hardly encouraging.