From offering 50,000 jobs to launching DBT scheme for apple growers, Centre's detailed outreach plans for Kashmiris

  • The unravelling of the special status was delivered on the golden promise of development, which also arguably augmented well with the demands of substantially Buddhist Ladakh and a largely Hindu Jammu

  • But the stripping of the state's semi-autonomous status that granted residents land and job protection was definitely a sore point in Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley.

  • Amid all this, the government is leaving no stones unturned in floating a panacea of schemes to attract all sections of Kashmir's population, but with special focus on Valley's youth.

The Narendra Modi government is looking to 'engage' Kashmiris through a number of outreach programmes, apparently to blunt the psychological blow that sudden revocation of Article 370 dealt to the residents of the Valley. From economic packages to Indian Army's hiring bid, from scholarships to students to the prime minister himself stoutly defending the scrapping of state's special status as a historic step, the Centre has been employing a multi-pronged approach to encourage Kashmir residents to wholly integrate with India.

 From offering 50,000 jobs to launching DBT scheme for apple growers, Centres detailed outreach plans for Kashmiris

Representational Image. PTI

Jobs, educational institutes, internships to woo youth

Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik on 28 August announced that his administration has identified 50,000 vacancies in the government which will make it the biggest such drive in the state. "They are at multiple levels. We will fill these 50,000 vacancies in the next few months. This will generate employment for our youth"I urge our youth to come forward actively in this recruitment process. This will the largest single recruitment drive ever in Jammu and Kashmir or Ladakh," he said.

Malik also promised that the government will open 50 new colleges in the region to enhance educational facilities in the Valley. "We have given 50 colleges in the last six months and we will add 50 more colleges. We had upgraded 238 junior high schools and now will upgrade others. We will also provide separate colleges for girls," he said. The government has vowed to open a branch of Industrial Training Institute in every district in the soon to be Union Territory.

Malik also recently cleared the decks for establishing a National Law University in Jammu and Kashmir, an official spokesman said on 1 October.

Additionally, according to The Times of IndiaMaharashtra's top seven educational institutes, including the most-sought-after Fergusson and VIT Pune, are soon going to set up their campuses in Kashmir. The administrations of these institutes have expressed their interest to Sarhad, a Pune-based non-profit organisation, which has been working for peace-building and education in Jammu and Kashmir.

The NGO, the report said, is also trying to persuade the institutes to keep the cost of education low and avoid commercialisation. "We want to send a message to the country especially Pune and overall, Maharashtra, that Kashmiris are our people and we need to look after them.," Sanjay Nahar, head of NGO Sarhad told the newspaper.

Besides, Indian Army also conducted recruitment rallies to select recruits for 2,780 vacant posts in the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAK LI) regiment on 3 and 4 October which saw youths turn up in thousands. However, as the same report pointed out that as per officials, the men who have registered belong to seven districts — Kishtwar, Doda, Ramban, Udhampur, Reasi, Rajouri and Poonch. This means that no participation was seen whatsoever from the Valley and especially the sensitive south Kashmir region.

But the fruits of these proposed colleges are far fetched and recruitment drives evoke little interest in the most sensitive parts of Valley where such integration and growth is most needed. No further clarification on employment data of those 50,000 jobs promised within the states is available. Hence, going by the limited evidence that the army's recruitment drive proved to be a damp squib it seems like Kashmiris are not willing to accept the government's olive branch, at least as of now.

Special outreach for apple growers

In a move, especially addressing the economic woes of south Kashmir, the central government announced that it will buy apples directly from apple growers in Jammu and Kashmir under the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme. The government enlisted the help of the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd (NAFED) to procure apples of all three categories directly from the farmers at a fair price. This was especially important for the Valley as Kashmir produces 75 percent of the total apple crop in the country at 20 lakh metric tonnes.

The move drew much attention, at least initially, as it came in the middle of lockdown when farmers were struggling to get their produce to the markets. The announcement also brought a glimmer of hope as it came in the wake of terrorists threatening apple growers not to sell their produce in the market following the abrogation of the special status.

Muhammad Yousuf Dar, an apple trader who also heads the Baramulla Fruit Growers’ Association, told The Hindu, "We want the government to ensure that it [scheme] reaches the grass-roots level. This will also help resolve the unemployment issue... It is a welcome move."

However, as the initial euphoria settled in, it became clear that the situation was more complicated than that.

To begin with, NAFED, the nodal agency made responsible for the purchases and delivery, faces incremental challenges in actually implementing the scheme on the ground. From lack of infrastructure to tackling the pressure of a bumper, the agency has many roadblocks in its way. This gets especially amplified as NAFED has not bought a single kilogram of apples for the last three decades or more.

As explained in this The Indian Express article, for NAFED, the real challenge lies in the very short preparation time. "We opened our office in Srinagar only late last week, while the order for procurement under the Centre’s market intervention scheme came to us at 1:30 am on Tuesday. It leaves us with hardly much time to undertake registration of growers, collecting their Aadhaar and bank account details for making direct benefit transfer payment. Ideally, this process should have happened at the time of flowering, but that option simply does not exist now," a NAFED official told the newspaper. NAFED has been asked to complete the entire procurement operation by mid-December and the mandate is that the farmers should receive their payments within 48 hours of procurement.

Till 30 September, only 1,300 people have registered to sell their produce at the local mandis (markets). The fruit business is a whopping trade in Kashmir with nearly 7 lakh families depending on it. This year, officials said, that nearly 2 lakh metric tonnes of fruit have been transported outside Kashmir as opposed to 22 lakh metric tonnes which was exported last year. Due to restrictions, traders are getting less price for their produce.

NAFED is expected to pay five percent higher the price that is the prevalent market rate. But local reporters say market the prices were in the dumps as cultivators and growers can no longer contact the traders outside due to suspension of phone services. Landline services were recently opened but they are scarce, more widely available cell phone network remains suspended since 5 August, except in some parts.

Officials acknowledged that the low response to the MIS was also in the backdrop of the attack by militants on a family at Sopore, earlier this month, in which at least four people were injured. A police official said that the head of the family did not adhere to the shutdown (called by militants) and instead carried on with the fruit trade at a local mandi. He also added that the militants had plastered posters at many places asking people in Sopore to stay indoors due to the shutdown and not allowed the functioning of the fruit mandi in the north Kashmir town.

On top of that, the communication blockade made sure that the news travels slowly in Kashmir. IndiaSpend reported that the news did not reach several remote villages until four days after the announcement. Also, transportation in the shadow of guns remains a problem. The report says that most migrant workers had evacuated state in the unease preceding the hour when abrogation of Article 370 was announced, while local employees do not turn up to work fearing their safety.

However, many cultivators and traders said that they will not sell the fruits as a protest against abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. Fifty-five-year-old Mohammad Maqbool Hajam of Sekoul area of Budgam said that he will not sell the fruit to the government to protest the "decision to abrogate article 370" which conferred special status on the state.

Director of horticulture, Kashmir, Aijaz Ahmad Bhat, however, said that they are expecting more people to register with the MIS scheme by the end of October, the peak of the harvesting season. He said that the authorities have also fixed a price at the cold storage facilities in Kashmir to help the farmers sell them later in the markets outside at higher costs. "We have also fixed the price of keeping the apples at the cold storage facilities here. Storing one kilogram of apple will cost Rs 7 for four months. The growers will also benefit after we have fixed the rates. Earlier, higher rates were being charged," said Bhat.

Generic schemes, plush central government packages

Malik, the first career politician to become the state's governor in a long time, has been giving reassuring statements intermittently to slowly assuage the blow dealt on what has always been an emotive issue in Kashmir.

Soon after the abrogation of Article 370, Malik assured the people of the state that there identity and culture would be preserved. the governor said he wanted to assure the people of the state that their "identity, culture, religion, society, language, heritage, everything will be protected".

"We will not let any pressure come on them from outside, and we will preserve and protect them (people of the state). This is a solemn assurance also from our Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) and we will restore normalcy in this region. We will deepen democracy and make it vibrant and truly representative," he said. A full-page advertisement was given in all newspapers in the state, listing the positive side of abrogating Article 370.

The administration of Jammu and Kashmir has also announced six new projects worth Rs 270 crore have been initiated which are aimed at strengthening power infrastructure and improving the power scenario in Srinagar.

The Centre also launched 85 people-oriented development schemes, like PM-KISAN, PM-KISAN-Pension, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana and Stand-Up India.  A slew of insurances schemes, including the Atal Pension Yojana, has also been introduced.

The governor told the people of the state: "History cannot be reversed. There is sympathy for people of Jammu and Kashmir. People should learn the art of seeking and taking [from the Centre]. The whole country belongs to you." But whether or not Kashmiris are ready to take the bargain will only become clear when the communication blockade is lifted and the voices from the Valley are allowed to come out.

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Updated Date: Oct 05, 2019 17:42:46 IST