Jammu and Kashmir has been longing to give up its basket case image and discover its potential for economic self- dependence.
Prime minister’s Task Force on Development of Jammu and Kashmir has done exactly that. It has identified six areas where it needed help and also could build its own resources to discover the path of economic self reliance through building of infrastructure and institutions.
Task Force chairman C Rangarajan, a former RBI Governor, had submitted the report to prime minister on Friday.
This goal was outlined by Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad soon after he assumed office in November 2005. At his first press conference, he had made it clear that the time has come when Jammu and Kashmir needed to stand on its own legs on the economic front. "We must shed our emotional vote bank politics and do something on the ground to pull the state out of the economic quagmire."
The Task Force report has manifested that vision. His thrust was on harnessing the hydro-power, giving boost to tourism sector and rebuilding the infrastructure and its maintenance.
The double shift of work, setting up of tourism authorities, 118 model villages were part of taking the state to its economic self –dependence.
It has delivered two messages: One, that the Centre needed to give life to the uncertain economic legs of the state. Second, the state had the potential to help itself economically. And, all this is visible in the six areas that the Task Force has identified in its report submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday.
The state has suffered immensely in the past 17 years of turmoil. The terrorism related violence has destroyed and damaged physical infrastructure a great deal. Some of the statistics offer a glimpse of that. More than 700 school buildings were burnt down in the first six years of terrorism, the number of the bridges blasted, partially burnt or damaged was more than 400.
Apart from that, the critical tourism sector was targeted with the burning down of huts, tourist centres, and other buildings in Verinag, Awantipore and other places of tourist interest in the Valley.
These were the visible losses, but indirect losses - delay in spray of apple orchards, untended fields and cutting of huge swaths of trees from the forest land. In 1998, the forest department had calculated that 400 sq kms of the forest land in Kashmir Valley, Doda and Poonch was hit by this menace.
The reconstruction of the physical infrastructure was one challenge. The other was the construction of the new one and maintenance of the whole set of infrastructure. The buildings of the infrastructure and institutions is a great challenge, but it is also a hope for peace.
Jammu University Vice Chancellor Amitabh Mattoo stated: "building of infrastructure and institutions was an authentic roadmap to peace in Jammu and Kashmir."
Soon after assuming office on November 2, 2005 Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad gave a shift from politics of "sentiments and emotions." "We need to work to develop our infrastructure and move ahead."
"We have been fully backed by Centre. The way we got tourism authority for our tourism resorts all across the state is one of the signs of support that the UPA government has given to us," commented Health and Medical Education Minister Mangat Ram Sharma.
"I am sure that the Task Force Report would evoke equally positive response from the Centre. That would lead us to self reliance on the economic front," Sharma said.
In his detailed analysis of the Task Force Report, Finance and Planning Minister Tariq Hameed Karra has said that the six areas, reconstruction and maintenance of the physical infrastructure, investment in infrastructure development in critical areas including power and roads, investment in social infrastructure, creating conducive climate for private investment, ensuring balanced regional development and making comprehensive fiscal adjustment, were a manifestation of the demands that the state had projected from time to time.
He promised that the state would do everything to fulfill this vision. He, however, stressed that there was a "need for speedy implementation of the Task Force report for the flow of its benefits to the state."
The Finance Minister said the Task Force headed by the former RBI Governor C Rangarajan has rightly identified the power shortage as the critical bottleneck for attracting private investment in the State and has recommended evolving a policy framework to develop the State's hydro power potential. He welcomed the recommendation of the Task Force for transfer of Dulhasti and Bursar power projects to the State besides expediting work on the Sawalakote power project.
Karra said the creation of a Special Investment Zone in the State as recommended by the Task Force, identifying tourism and horticulture sectors as the engines of growth, modernisation of the State's airports, fast track completion of road and rail projects, launching of employment generation schemes, creation of an Asset Reconstruction Company (ARC) and enhancing telecom penetration in the State are some of the key areas that need to be worked upon to make the whole exercise purposeful and result-oriented.