A Historical Background of Infrastructure in Kashmir
Jammu and Kashmir is a region bordered between India and Pakistan and has been in conflict since British rule. Both the nations claim the mountainous valley to be part of their respective nations and thus has been in an ever long political dispute (Ishfaq-ul-Hassan, 2018). For the longest time, Kashmir has been a victim of terrorism, unstable political situation and to top that, infrastructure has also been one of the major issues. The difficult terrain of Kashmir makes it especially challenging for construction and thus has been lagging when compared with most of the other states. Kashmir was for a long time, the princely state and the only Muslim majority state which joined India in 1947. Both India and Pakistan have thereon captured parts of Kashmir but are still in a tiff to have a bigger portion of the state.
An Overview of the Infrastructure Scenario of Kashmir
Infrastructure in Kashmir which includes health, education, tourism, industrial development has lagged for an exceptionally long time. A survey of the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has shown that Jammu and Kashmir have the poorest sanitation facilities compared to the other states. It is also important to note that the majority of the population still live in rural areas so the health and education infrastructure is not still as developed as it should be (Pandey, 2019). The rural areas lack private schools and the government schools are also in a bad state. Poor school infrastructure is one of the important reasons for the low literacy rate of the state. Several surveys conducted on the schooling facilities of Jammu and Kashmir have shown that due to lack of proper infrastructure, the students are made to sit on the floors, they do not have proper sanitation facilities in those schools etc. The buildings of the schools are in a worn-out state and on top of that, the 2014 floods in Jammu and Kashmir have damaged no less than 1400 schools (Digital, 2019). This leads to higher dropout rates in the state. Another important issue faced is that most of the schools do not have electricity. These infrastructural problems have been identified over the years and even though the government did put in efforts to resolve these issues, the condition of infrastructure in the state has not improved to a large extent.
As more and more tourists turn up each year, the pressure on the mountains is increasing at an alarming rate and poor infrastructure can cause unforeseen disasters if not taken care of immediately.
Why Article 370 Was a Cause of Concern?
According to Article 370 which was drafted by the then Chief Minister of Kashmir, other than a few areas of national concern like defence, foreign affairs, communication and finance, the central government had to take the consent of the state government to apply any laws or policies in Jammu and Kashmir. This article was made to be permanent and henceforth even more stringent. In simpler terms, the people of the state did not fall under the same rules as the rest of the country and lived by the rules of the state, hence given the status of special autonomy (Jaitley, 2016). This also gave the state’s government, the power to decide who could have ownership of land, or who could and could not invest in the land of Kashmir. This led to a huge problem as people who did not belong to Kashmir, could not officially buy land. This in turn meant that there weren’t any major external investments coming to Kashmir. The Modi government has linked Article 370 as one of the major reasons for the state’s infrastructure remaining underdeveloped for an awfully long period of time. In August 2019, Article 370 was finally abolished (TNN, 2019).
All of this has led to a rise in the need for a planned and vast investment boost in infrastructure in Kashmir to look forward to a better and safer future.
Huge Infrastructure Boost on the Way
The central government has aimed to bring a huge infrastructural boost to Jammu and Kashmir. The objective of this investment is to generate employment and investment in the state. Jammu and Kashmir was officially divided into two federally controlled territories on Oct 31, 2019. The region mostly depends on tourism, handicrafts and farming and has suffered poor infrastructure for decades continuously.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has agreed on an investment boost of $3.8 billion after scraping out article 370. This is done in the view of increasing investments in the territory and generating employment opportunities.
Let us now look at the investment programs brought through this infrastructural boost:
- There has been investment in an elevated Mass rapid transit system in Kashmir. Kashmir will have two Light Rail transit systems (LRTS). The LRTS I is a 17 km long corridor that connects Bantalab to Greater Kailash with 17 stations to be crossed. The LRTS II will be 6 km long that connects Udheywala to Exhibition Ground (Digital, 2019).
- There are infrastructure plans are Srinagar which will have two corridors. It is a 12.5-km-long corridor I which will connect HMT Junction to Indra Nagar crossing 12 stations. The second corridor is a 12.5-km-long corridor II that will connect Osmanabad to Hazuri Bagh. In order to further develop Srinagar and Jammu, the Metropolitan Regional Development Authorities (MRDAs) have been set up. Satellite townships with 50,000 new houses each are being developed in Greater Srinagar and Greater Jammu. These new townships will have one million sq ft IT parks (Digital, 2019).
- In view of improving connectivity, there have been investments to develop the Bilaspur-Manali-Leh railway line. The corridor will help improve connectivity with Jammu Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. This railway line will be the world’s highest railway track and 465kms long. 52 per cent of the total 465 km length will pass through tunnels. The longest tunnel will be 27 km long. The total length of the tunnels is expected to be around 244 km (Digital, 2019).
- The construction, operation and maintenance of 2-lane bi-directional Zojila Tunnel with Parallel Escape (Egress) Tunnel were approved during 2018 by the cabinet that excluded approaches on Srinagar-Leh section connecting NH-1A at Km 95.00 in Jammu & Kashmir. The 14 km-long tunnel will be India’s longest road tunnel and Asia’s longest bidirectional tunnel. This tunnel will be a sigh of engineering excellence considering the difficult terrain that it will be built on. The construction of this tunnel will provide all-weather connectivity between Srinagar, Kargil and Leh (Digital, 2019).
- The Dal Lake will also be restored. The government has planned investment to improve and beautify the lake further. Srinagar and Kashmir are also set for new pollution free e-buses (Digital, 2019).
Possible Impact of the Infrastructure Boost on Kashmir’s Economy
The increase in public as well the private investment is looked forward to bringing a significant amount of income through Kashmir. The government is expecting to attract $5-6 million through these investment programs (ANI, 2020). As the Modi government was for long against the special status given to Kashmir, they now hope that the scraping out of Article 370 along with such a huge boost in the infrastructure will not only lead to a better life for the natives of Kashmir but will also help generate income to a very large extent.
The boost in infrastructure will lead to improvements in the tourism sector to a large extent. The tourism sector is one of the most important sectors of Kashmir. As every year, the number of tourists only rise, the infrastructure must be able to support the rising strengths, along with protecting the mountains and the ecology of the place (Vignesh Radhakrishnan, 2019).
The railway lines and corridors approved for construction will lead to better connectivity among the places which has been a major problem for a very long time. These large constructions were due for a long time and a properly planned and executed infrastructural project can generate employment as well as income for the long term.
The geographically difficult terrain makes it even more important focus on the infrastructure of the place for it being able to operate at its optimum capacity. The natives of Kashmir have been in distress for almost all their lives along with the fear of terrorism at any given time (IBEF, 2020). The beautiful landscape has a lot of potential for generating income and employment for its people. And this huge infrastructural boost will hopefully help in attaining that potential along with maintaining an adequate ecological balance.
The debate on stabilizing the economy of Kashmir has been a highlight for decades now. However, with this infrastructural boost on the way and the projects taken up by the government, there seems to be some light at the end of years of the dark tunnel.
Infrastructure boost for Kashmir! From highest railway line to longest tunnel, check upcoming projects. (2019). Times Now.
Ishfaq-ul-Hassan. (2018, January 23). Jammu and Kashmir: Infrastructure development gets massive boost; funds for new bridges, tunnels, highways earmarked. Retrieved from DNA: https://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-jammu-and-kashmir-infrastructure-development-gets-massive-boost-funds-for-new-bridges-tunnels-highways-earmarked-2577795
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Jaitley, A. (2016, 26 June). India needs $1.5 trillion for infrastructure development: Arun Jaitley. Retrieved from ZeeNews: https://zeenews.india.com/business/news/economy/india-needs-1-5-trillion-for-infrastructure-development-arun-jaitley_1900273.html
ANI. (2020, August 2). Kashmir gets infrastructure boost in higher education sector. Retrieved from yahoo!news: https://in.news.yahoo.com/kashmir-gets-infrastructure-boost-higher-043022239.html
Vignesh Radhakrishnan, S. S. (2019, August 7 ). Is Jammu and Kashmir underdeveloped as stated by Amit Shah? Retrieved from The Hindu : https://www.thehindu.com/data/where-does-jammu-and-kashmir-stand-in-comparison-to-other-states-in-key-indicators-of-growth-and-development/article28855512.ece
IBEF. (2020, November 17 ). Jammu And Kashmir Presentation And Economic Growth Report | IBEF. Retrieved from India Brand Equity Foundation : https://www.ibef.org/states/jammu-and-kashmir-presentation
Pandey, G. (2019, August 5). Article 370: What happened with Kashmir and why it matters. Retrieved from BBC News : https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-49234708
TNN. (2019, August 3). What is Article 370? Three Key Points . Retrieved from The Times of India : https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/What-is-Article-370Article-370/articleshow/35678708.cms