An unprecedented decision by the Government of India was taken on 5 August 2019, the decision to abrogate Article 370 and Article 35A along with a reorganisation of the State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into two Union Territories (UTs) caused jitters in Pakistan. Even today, when the world is combating a deadly pandemic, the UT of J&K continues to suffer from terrorist violence orchestrated from across the border. Amidst the geopolitics at play in the region, the life of the general public or the ‘Awaam’ has been adversely affected for the last 70 years. One of the prime objectives of this decision was to achieve a psychological integration of the population of the region with the rest of the country. Emphasis to achieve this has been laid on economic development, better administration and good governance. However, it is necessary that these attributes trickle down to the poorest sections of society, particularly those who have faced the brunt of violence in the Valley for so many years.
Some key focus areas warranting government’s attention have been highlighted below-
- Boosting the Healthcare Sector
The entire country is grappling with COVID-19 and so is J&K. It is certain that the pandemic is here to stay till an affordable vaccine is introduced. Amidst this crisis, the healthcare sector in J&K needs to be strengthened to not only support the COVID-19 patients but also patients of other illnesses. It is essential that the UT has good-quality healthcare infrastructure along with medical educational infrastructure and improved accessibility of these services to the people. To this end, in the short-term, it is necessary that more Jan Aushadhi Kendras and Affordable Medicines and Reliable Implants for Treatment (AMRIT) stores be opened in the UT. Such facilities will reduce the cost of treatment per person by providing affordable medical facilities, especially the poor and disadvantaged, suffering from chronic ailments.
The healthcare sector in J&K has been mostly government-led with around 80% of the facilities being provided by the public sector. A lot of people from J&K travel outside seeking specialised treatment in areas such as cancer, nephrology and cardiology. This indicates a lack of well-built private healthcare sector in the region. Even these public sector-led facilities are mostly understaffed and lack infrastructure, affecting the quality of treatment. As per the Indian Public Health Standards (IPHS) norms, J&K still requires 69 new community Health Centres, 222 PHCs and 1396 Sub Centres. Hence, to support the weakening healthcare sector in J&K, the need of the hour is to promote private investment and entrepreneurship in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. At the outset, offshoots of top private medical colleges and hospitals must be encouraged through incentives like government subsidies and land to establish these institutions.
- Strengthening Grassroots Democracy
‘Back to Village’ programme in J&K has been a successful initiative ensuring better citizen interface with the government. Under the programme, government officials visiting each panchayat interact with the locals who inform them about their grievances and issues requiring immediate attention. The Programme began in June 2019 followed by a second phase in November 2019. A third phase of the Programme must be initiated across J&K in the upcoming months. This phase must particularly be oriented towards obtaining information from the local population on the impact of COVID-19 on their lives and suggestions to overcome the same. Such measures by the administration will endure streamlining of the future developmental schemes to combat the effects of the pandemic in J&K.
The 73rd and 74th Amendment Acts of 1992 remain a significant landmark in the evolution of grassroots democracy in India. These endow upon the grass-root level institutions such powers and authority that makes them units of self-government. As a state with a separate Constitution, these amendments to the Indian Constitution were not applicable in the region. Though the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act,1989 promised local self-governance in the State. But, the legislation failed to provide the same in its essence. The greatest challenges faced by local governance bodies were irregular elections and lack of financial autonomy. After the conversion into a UT, steps like the elections to Block Development Councils represent a revival of grassroots democracy in J&K. This could be further strengthened by implementing all provisions of the 73rd and 74th Amendment Acts, 1992 in its totality in the UT. In fact, the constitution of an Election Commission and Finance Commission in the UT will ensure regular elections, participatory democracy, decentralised planning, the improved financial position of local-governance bodies and most importantly ensuring a people-led development.
For a very long time, the Indian Army took upon itself to fulfil several welfare and development needs of the region. Hence, a bottom-up approach of governance will ensure that people’s aspirations in the form of infrastructure development, quality education, women empowerment, integration tours, social awareness campaigns, healthcare facilities etc. could be now handled entirely by the civil administration. Thereby, the role of the Army in these activities under Operation Sadbhavana could be reviewed and reinvented.
- Reviving the Economic Opportunities
J&K economy has suffered severely due to a volatile security situation. Multifaceted economic reforms are crucial for the development of the people. Unemployment has been a serious concern amongst the youths. This even tends to become a reason for some to resort to terrorism. The situation will further deteriorate due to the challenges posed by COVID-19. Hence, it must be the government’s priority to chart out a concrete employment policy in J&K for the unemployed youth.
Development in J&K has largely been dependent on the public sector due to a variety of reasons. Around 18 Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) in J&K have been incurring incessant losses. These PSUs need to be revived by the government with comprehensive and structural reforms, in turn improving the acquisition or creation of long-term assets. Reforms in the form of additional economic packages and infusion of technology need to be provided at a fast pace.
With its reorganisation as a UT, the scope of private investment broadens, promising better economic opportunities and livelihood to the people. Key sectors that can be revived by inducing private investment include horticulture, agriculture, sericulture, food processing, tourism, carpet industry, energy sector, manufacturing, information technology and pharmaceuticals etc. In fact, the Global Investors Summit was scheduled in J&K in 2019. However, this could not convene due to certain security concerns. Nevertheless, keeping in view the adverse economic impact of COVID-19, it would be beneficial for the UT if the postponed Summit is held as soon as the Pandemic situation improves. The government has offered several incentives to facilitate investments in the form of subsidised rates for allotted land, cheaper power tariffs, strengthened Ease of Doing Business etc. Invest India, the national investment promotion and facilitation agency must also work towards attracting more sustainable private investments in projects across sectors. Along with private and public investment promising job creation, it is essential to impart the necessary skills in the population. For this, more skill development institutes need to be set up in the UT. The focus of these institutes must be to generate a skilled workforce for sectors such as handicrafts, traditional jewellery, construction, hospitality, healthcare, information technology and so on.
- Border Security Aspects
J&K has witnessed unprecedented levels of violence over the last three decades in the form of cross-border infiltration, Pakistan-endorsed domestic terrorism, radicalisation, ceasefire violations and so on. A look at the security situation in the UT post the abrogation of Article 370, shows that certainly, our security forces have been giving befitting response to the violence being propagated from across the border. At the same time, for better security and surveillance, the administration must consider installing full-body truck scanners at all toll plazas in the region as well as at all international and domestic entry points into the UT.
Border areas in J&K play a pivotal role in maintaining the integrity of the region and security here is of vital importance. These areas have been the epicentre of the ceasefire violations by Pakistan. Security aspects, however, works in tandem with the development of the region. To this end, the Central Government over the years has been allocating a large amount of funds to J&K under the Border Area Development Programme (BADP). However, over the last two years, a downfall has been seen in the budget allocation for the programme in J&K. However, to ensure development in the region, it is essential that special assistance to the border areas of J&K be provided in the form of greater fund allocation to the Border Areas.
People living in these areas undergo unparalleled agony with their livelihoods suffering, children’s education getting disrupted, losing kith and kin etc. In order to contain the impact of violence on the lives of these people, it is essential that individual and community bunkers are constructed on a war footing. Also, these areas must compulsorily be provided with adequate medical facilities, bulletproof ambulances, doctors and paramedical staff etc. to get through the times of contingency.
- Tackling Radicalisation
Radicalisation in J&K is a pertinent issue demanding immediate attention of the administration. It is essential that comprehensive top-down and bottom-up measures are employed in the UT towards de-radicalisation and counter-radicalisation. The scourge of radicalisation, amongst other things, has been inhibiting the integration of J&K with the rest of the country. The time is right for the government to counter cross-border propaganda and take perception of management initiatives.
De-radicalisation cannot be achieved with a one-size-fits-all approach and needs state-specific measures. A Department of De-Radicalisation and Counter-Radicalisation can be set up in the UT. This Department can chart out a J&K specific de-radicalisation policy. Also, a de-radicalisation or rehabilitation centre must be set up in every district wherein, those radicalised can avail assistance from counsellors and educators to help them return to the mainstream.
Counter-radicalisation requires an anti-terrorist counternarrative campaign, aiming at delegitimising the views and teachings of the extremist and terrorist groups targeting the population. To this end, the government can collaborate with civil society groups and religious leaders to develop counternarrative materials including videos, religious texts, images, interviews of the surrendered terrorists etc. These must illustrate how the terrorist organisations circulate cross-border extremist propaganda, distort facts, spread lies and manipulate with religious teachings. These must aim at contradicting the terrorist narrative and reach the target audience through digital platforms, schools, colleges and religious institutions.
Lastly, the Internet and Social Media have become the most common means used to radicalise vulnerable minds and carry out cyber-crimes. To combat it, a Cyber Crime Cell must be attached to each police station of J&K with trained police personnel. Also, these cells can incorporate local IT professionals after providing them with cyber security training and certification.
 Hospaccx Healthcare Business Consultancy, ‘HEALTHCARE SCENARIO OF JAMMU AND KASHMIR’, 13 May 2019. https://hhbc.in/healthcare-scenario-of-jammu-and-kashmir