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Editorial: Beyond lockdowns



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.


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



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



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: Covid Resurgence



Editorial: Covid Resurgence

No lackadaisical approach, please!

India is in the middle of what experts call the second wave of Covid19. In the past month, the number of Covid19 positive cases has risen considerably across the country, breaching the two-lakh mark on Thursday in what is considered to be this year’s highest-ever tally. While the country has already surpassed Brazil to take the No. 2 slot in the most-affected countries in the world — the US being No.1 as on date —Jammu and Kashmir is among the States/UTs which have seen a massive spike in the cases over the past one month.

The UT’s Covid tally continues to rise unabated: from 195 officially reported cases on March 24 to 461 officially reported cases on April 1 to 517 officially reported cases the next day and then to 1141 fresh cases on April 15. This is coupled with the fact that five to six deaths due to Covid19 are reported almost every next day in the UT. It is a massive spike compared to such figures last year. Most of the cases (ranging from 300 to 400) are being reported from Srinagar City alone.

The Covid resurgence has led to the closure of schools and coaching centres across the UT until April 30, hitting the education sector that was already battling the fallout of the first Covid19 wave. Amidst this spike, what is perplexing is the lackadaisical attitude on part of the authorities concerned to handle this Covid ‘explosion’ with a sense of seriousness. While the UT administration has been prompt enough to close schools and coaching centres, it has, however, invited flak for not closing down the gardens and parks, where a major rush of visitors was seen in the first two weeks of April. There has been a massive outrage in the public circles, and across social media platforms, over the double standards being pursued in arresting Covid resurgence at official levels. While many commentators have argued that the government was trying to underplay the Covid upsurge, some have opined that gardens and parks are kept open to show that situation is normal. This however has met with stiff criticism given the massive spike in Covid cases across the J&K UT, especially Srinagar City where these parks and gardens are located. In fact, it wasn’t taken well at public levels that the authorities themselves led from the front to review arrangements for the recently-held Tulip Festival at a time when the Covid cases were officially showing an upward trend.

Given the country-wide scenario, where more than 2 lakh cases were reported on Thursday—the situation requires a very serious approach on part of the UT administration for its effective handling. Health professionals have already advised that the second wave is going to be worse than the first one. Therefore, it is important that the UT administration urgently pulls up its socks and ensure that it’s not caught napping vis-à-vis Covid handling in the next few months when the virus is expected to peak. The administration must immediately order the closure of all parks and gardens — and other gatherings — for the time being while ensuring that people visiting the UT from other parts of the country and abroad are permitted in only after producing a Covid19 negative test report (of last 24 to 48 hours) or only after being tested with RTPCR at the entry points to the UT, especially Srinagar airport and the Srinagar-Jammu national highway.

All said and done. Any dual approach on part of the authorities to handle the Covid crisis will lead to more mistrust between the government and the public in regard to adhering to the Covid-appropriate behaviour and following other social distancing norms. The government’s line, approach and policy to handle Covid19 have to be clear for one and all to ensure that there’s no mistrust at the public level which could only compound the problem. On its part, the people must adhere to Covid19 SOPs to contribute to minimizing the deleterious impact of the pandemic, which has already disrupted life beyond imaginable proportions.

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