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Editorial | No ease of living in Srinagar

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No ease of living in Srinagar

As the recently released Ease of Living Index placed rank of Srinagar at the bottom of 111 cities across the country, questions are being raised about the proper planning and infrastructure development of the city  

Srinagar, once called Venice of the East, has been ranked at the bottom of the list of 111 cities across India in the Ease of Living Index launched in 2018 by the Government of India to measure the quality of life of people living in the cities across the country.

The poor performance of Srinagar in the EoLI and Municipal Performance Index – in both the indices, Srinagar has figured at the rank 49 among big cities with a population of more than 1 million – has only confirmed what the people living in the city already knew and were crying about for long.

Technically speaking, Srinagar is a metropolitan city with a population of more than 1.5 million people. But devoid of the basic infrastructure, which is considered the backbone of a modern city. Be it good roads, proper means of mobility, public transports, waste disposal mechanism, water or electricity facilities, or any other such basic infrastructure. None of its existing facilities passes the basic standard test.

The biggest of all the problems is that the city lacks proper planning and foresight of the people at the helm of affairs. Many of the decisions taken in the last three decades have adversely affected the lives of people in this city.

The unplanned expansion of the city, which has now crossed all the boundaries of the Srinagar district, has wreaked havoc on its green cover and environment. The pollution in the form of dust, particle matter in Srinagar is even worse than that of an industrial town. The unauthorised and unplanned construction is going on unabatedly in every nook and corner of the city. The formation of residential colonies is allowed without proper roads or sanitation.

Similarly, some of the decisions of the administration without weighing the consequences have taken a heavy toll on public life. For example, in the last two decades, all the bus stands were uprooted from the main city and were pushed towards the peripheries of the city. It spelt doom for the public transport of Srinagar, as boarding became inconvenient for the people, particularly for the office-goers, students and those who would visit hospitals or other government institutions regularly. It became the reason for the influx of private cars in the city, resulting in frequent traffic jams. This decision has also affected the trade and commerce of the city centre. Instead of addressing the problem, authorities are building parking spaces, thinking of it as the panacea for all traffic issues.

Likewise, the road construction of the city has happened in such a way, as if there are no engineers present in Kashmir. You won’t find a single bus-bay in the entire Srinagar city. The footpaths – a good number of them are though occupied by shopkeepers and vendors – are build in a way that they are not accessible to a normal person. Not to talk of persons with disabilities or old age people. Pedestrians have to walk in the same lane meant for automobiles, while hampering the traffic as well as endangering their own lives. Even at the busiest junction in the heart of the city, there is no pedestrian crossing facility, a zebra crossing is a far-fetched dream. We need to mind that no traffic management will work without proper road infrastructure.

Under the National Smart Cities Mission, Srinagar too was awarded a project to develop it as a ‘smart city’. The purpose of a smart city is to provide better infrastructure and services with the help of data and new technologies to improve the quality of life of the people and drive economic growth. But, so far, the role of Srinagar Smart City has been only seen in putting up a façade.  Painting a few walls, installing TV screens and night lights in public places don’t make a city smart.  Smart Cities Mission has the mandate to make Srinagar a better place to live, and it should work towards that by providing better infra and services.

Editorial

Agricultural land conversion threat to J&K’s food security

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Agricultural land conversion

While food security is becoming the biggest challenge worldwide, Kashmir is fast losing its agricultural land turning this already import-dependent region more vulnerable. The rampant agricultural land conversion is the biggest threat to J&K’s food security due to the scarcity of arable land and smaller farm size.

Due to unchecked and haphazard urbanization – mostly unplanned, construction of houses, shopping centres and other commercial complexes on agricultural land is a common sight wherever one moves in the Valley. Conversion of paddy fields into residential colonies and commercial complexes is happening like anything without any check from the authorities.

J&K lost more than 5 lakh kanal of agricultural land in the last five years while the government and administration look the other way. Even when J&K was a state, there was a number of bills and proposals for banning agriculture land conversion. But no concrete action has been taken so far.

However, it is not the unavailability of law but the lack of will from the administration side to stop the misuse of precious agricultural land. Legal experts believe that existing laws provide the government with enough teeth to act and stop the menace but due to the land mafia blind eye is turned on the burning issue.

As J&K is already 50 percent deficit in food and depends on the import of rice and wheat from the northern Indian states, which are also facing a shortage in production due to droughts and other reasons, acquiring food grains may become a nightmare for J&K soon.

It is high time for the government to act swiftly and sincerely not only to bring laws for ceasing the conversion of the agricultural land but also to take all the measures that can enhance food production in the UT. Farm owners and people associated with food cultivation must be encouraged by providing them different benefits so that they will find it more lucrative to retain the land for food production instead of converting it.

If provided enough incentives and helped with scientific methods and modern technology, farming can become a lucrative occupation in J&K. Per hectare production is still 10 to 15 times lower than the agriculturally developed places in the world. Increased growth can not only turn J&K self-sufficient in food but can also enhance the living standard of about 70 percent of the population, whose livelihood is dependent on agriculture.

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Editorial | Prioritise wool & leather industry

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Prioritise wool & leather industry

Despite plenty of raw materials and huge availability of manpower which would have created a niche in certain sectors for the UT, Kashmir is facing acute economic underdevelopment and unemployment problem.

A place, which has plenty of both natural resources and human capital – two key ingredients for industrial progress – lacks in industrial development as well as uplifting its people. This kind of situation can only be defined as the worst ineptitude of the policymakers and people at the helm of affairs.

Leaving aside the big industries, just talk of a small industrial sector and its employment generation and economic potential. Kashmir being a voracious meat-eating place in the country, around 70-80 lakh animal hides, mostly sheep and goat, are produced annually. In fact, about 8 lakh hides are produced on the day of Edi-al-Adha only.

But due to lack of tanneries and other facilities for leather processing, more than 98 percent of these hides are exported unprocessed. Later some of these animal skins are bought back from different tanneries of Punjab, Haryana and Utter Pradesh in the shape of the finished leather to suffice the needs of whatever little leather production units, mostly the handmade ones, we have here to produce jackets and other leather items.

As per the estimates given by the traders, if the leather industry is developed with tanning and other processing up to the finished product level it can turn into more than a billion-dollar (Rs 10,000 crore) sector annually creating an unimaginable number of jobs.

A similar situation is faced with the 10,000 metric tons of wool produced annually. Not even one percent of the wool produced in Kashmir is processed here despite Kashmir having huge demand for woollen products due to cold climatic conditions.

While we sell these raw materials at throwaway costs and repurchase finished products worth billions, we also lose thousands of jobs and losses in billions due to lack of policymaking and wrong priorities.

And another key ingredient vital for developing this kind of industries is investment and Kashmir does not face the problem for that. As per the credit-deposit (CD) ratio of J&K, for every hundred rupees deposited in a bank, only Rs 45 are invested back or given as credit in the state. While Rs 55 are either invested outside the state or remain with the banks.

If the government can provide policy and planning, Kashmir can not only create the required jobs within the state but will bring economic prosperity and a favourable credit deposit ratio for the state.

Government and policymakers need to prioritise the development of the wool and leather industry, as there is plenty of raw material available for the same.

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Editorial: Beyond lockdowns

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COVID19 response beyond lockdowns

J&K Admin needs to ramp up efforts to address second wave of COVID19 crisis

Jammu and Kashmir is battling the second COVID19 wave, with no let-up in the number of cases testing positive for the coronavirus every day. Alongside, the number of fatalities due to the disease is also increasing. The Union Territory registered 67 deaths and 4169 cases on May 20, 2021 amid lockdown which continues to be extended ever since it was first imposed on April 29. The UT continues to register more than 3000 cases a day for the past one month while the 24-hour death toll continues to hover between 50 and 70 deaths. The situation, if all these official figures are anything to go by, continues to be grim and calls for a very serious, concerted, and sustained effort at all levels to cruise through this crisis, which has taken a heavy toll on people, both economically and psychologically.

Lockdown—the more we intend to impose it—has its own fallout, especially on the poorest of poor sections of the society who live from hand to mouth to earn their livelihood. In absence of any inflow of cash into their pockets, a continued lockdown would only compound the miseries of such people who may well be spared by Covid but only to be consumed by hunger and starvation. Therefore, the need of the hour for the administrators is to think beyond the realm of lockdowns and get practical in their fight against COVID19

The Union Territory administration needs to ramp up its efforts if it is to sail through this turmoil at the earliest. It has to think out-of-box rather than conventionally to address this crisis, which only seems to be worsening with each passing day. To begin with, the administration will have to think beyond lockdowns to tackle the second wave. Lockdowns alone cannot be a solution. Lockdowns are, at best, or at worst, only a stop-gap arrangement meant to break the chain, and, alongside, augment the infrastructure at J&K’s health facilities admitting the COVID19 patients. To even think of the continuation of lockdown for months or for years together to halt this virus would be a bad idea. Lockdown—the more we intend to impose it—has its own fallout, especially on the poorest of poor sections of the society who live from hand to mouth to earn their livelihood. In absence of any inflow of cash into their pockets, a continued lockdown would only compound the miseries of such people who may well be spared by Covid but only to be consumed by hunger and starvation. Therefore, the need of the hour for the administrators is to think beyond the realm of lockdowns and get practical in their fight against COVID19.

First and foremost, the administration urgently requires to pull up its socks vis-à-vis vaccination, which has come to a near-halt in Kashmir for the past 15 days or so. This is despite assurances by none other than a Lieutenant Governor’s advisor in a press conference. In Srinagar district alone, no vaccinations took place in the last week, until the end of May 17. This, surprisingly, is in contrast to daily vaccinations taking place regularly in the Jammu region. A local daily reported on Thursday, May 20, 2021 that merely 593 vaccines were administered in Kashmir a day earlier when this figure was 7925 in the Jammu region. The administration will have to seriously plug this gap and put an end to this mismatch, which is raising many eyebrows in the Valley, and get serious to ramp up vaccinations across Kashmir Valley so that the lockdown is, at some point in time, ended as the caseload eases.

Secondly, the administration will have to listen to science, listen to doctors, who are on the frontlines of fighting the COVID19, while devising its policies and frameworks to contain the second wave of the virus, and, subsequently, halt the projected third wave in its tracks well in time. The administration must urgently form an all-doctor task force and assign it with the task of urgently listing all the requirements in hospitals, especially with regard to the availability of beds, oxygen, and ventilators etc. Doctors alone, who are in the field, can better help the administration in finalizing such requirements in light of the current caseload as well as the projected caseload six months from now.

While the administration does all this, people, on their part, will have to actively ensure complete adherence to COVID19 SOPs so that the lockdown is ended for the poorest of the poor to get back to their work and earn a dignified livelihood. If people do not cooperate with the administration in this endeavour, it would only become difficult to break the chain and restore life to its normal once again. This is certainly not an all-administration fight. It has to be a collective effort by one and all to ensure that the second wave ends at the earliest without consuming more precious human lives and overstretching the healthcare facilities across the UT. Joint effort alone is the key to success.

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