Srinagar: The Central government on Monday unveiled a Rs 30,757 crore grant for the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir for the upcoming fiscal, a proposed allocation that has failed to impress key stakeholders in the region.
The announcement for the J&K UT was made by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman as she tabled the Union Budget proposals for 2021-22 in Parliament on Monday.
The Union government also announced a first of its kind gas pipeline project for the region that will be part of the Centre’s plan to add more areas to the gas distribution network across country. The Budget for the Union territory of J&K will be presented before Parliament later this month.
Sitharaman, who quoted a Kashmiri poem by Dinannath Koul during her Budget speech, also proposed to set up a central university in Leh, the first higher educational institute for the people in the newly carved out Union territory.
Experts and trade leaders in Kashmir, however, said the fresh allocation from the Union government had nothing major to offer to people in the region which has undergone a severe economic crisis since the past many years.
Kashmir Economic Alliance’s (KEA) Yasin Khan told NewsClick that there is nothing for the trader community to “cheer” as the allocation hardly provides any relief to the stressed economy of Jammu and Kashmir.
“We have been suffering from political turmoil and then pandemic hit us. We are also facing problems due to the non-cooperation of the government which makes it worse, the trading community in particular. There is nothing for us to feel satisfied,” Khan said.
According to Khan, J&K traders were not called for a pre-budget meeting, something that was a norm earlier and that, he said, would increase the gulf between the local residents and the government. Besides, the region faces a major connectivity issue with a dilapidated highway and slow internet services that impact business and development in the region touted as a major tourist destination.
The trade leaders believe that the UT has unique problems and challenges that are different from what other states of the country face. Sheikh Ashiq, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), while saying that the reforms announced by the finance minister are welcome, added that the business community is particularly “sad” due to the proposal.
“We need support from the government and there is need to revive the economy here. We have already held discussions with the government and we expect that our issues will be taken into consideration,” Sheikh Ashiq told NewsClick.
Ashiq said the business community has pinned hopes on the J&K UT budget to be tabled later this month.
For Imran Nabi Dar, the spokesperson for National Conference (NC) party, the fresh allocation by the finance minister is another addition to many similar previous announcements made by the government regarding Jammu and Kashmir.
“It is merely an announcement,” he pointed out.
Both Khan and Dar say the ailing economy of Kashmir requires special assistance. There should have been packages for horticulture and tourism sectors and there is a dire need to support artisans of the valley. All in all, the allocation is not up to the mark,” Dar said.
Economic Analyst Ejaz Ayoub told NewsClick that even as the announcement of a gas pipeline is a welcome step, it remains to be seen if it really materialises on ground given the experience that the region has with regard to train services and other infrastructure build-up.
“The region is yet to get connected through railways and a major issue in the region remains the electricity upgrade. There have been such announcements in the past too but given our experience there is no tangible development,” Ayoub said.
He says agriculture and farm sector with core competencies could have been developed immediately rather than focus on tourism and industry, both of which face long-term ramifications due to the outbreak of pandemic and lack of infrastructure in roads, highways and internet connectivity.
The stakeholders added that the previous announcements, which includes Rs 80,000 crore package announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his 2015 visit to the erstwhile state and the recent Rs 1,350 crore package for revival of ailing business sector of the UT, are yet to take off.
After the abrogation of Article 370 and subsequent bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories, a severe lockdown imposed for months which was followed by another lockdown in the wake of outbreak of coronavirus pandemic dealt a severe blow to the region’s economy, due to which the economic losses were pegged by KCCI at a staggering $5.3 billion or Rs 40,000 crore between August 2019 and July 2020.