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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

Rising unemployment

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Rising unemployment

The rising unemployment is turning into a major issue in Jammu and Kashmir. The number of youth who want to work but find no jobs is highest in J&K, as per a recent study. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) recently released figures, J&K has a 21.6 percent unemployment rate that is the worst among states/Union Territories in India. Tackling the high unemployment rate needs a holistic response from the government, where it should be drawing policies to find long-term solutions. Otherwise, it is going to turn into a catastrophe in future.

But the government response so far is very short-sighted, where it does not have any real planning to create jobs for the unemployed youth of the UT. Though it is not possible for the government to provide job to everyone, but it is the responsibility of the government to bring such policies which will create more jobs, provide professional skills, right kind of education, and boost industrial and entrepreneurial activities, which will help the youth to find jobs. It is the government, who does all macro-level planning and decides policy matters, that includes a job policy as well.

In J&K, unfortunately, the government only burdens the state exchequer by employing more and more people in the government sector. J&K has the highest government job ratio as compared to any Indian state or a UT. Beyond government jobs, there is almost nothing from the government to offer. Self-employment and entrepreneurship have been made next to impossible, as the babuism and high handedness of the banks make it extremely tough for the educated youth to get loans and receive project clearances. Given the self-employment figures from the last few years, there is little room for any optimism.

Though it is not possible for the government to provide job to everyone, but it is the responsibility of the government to bring such policies which will create more jobs, provide professional skills, right kind of education, and boost industrial and entrepreneurial activities, which will help the youth to find jobs. It is the government, who does all macro-level planning and decides policy matters, that includes a job policy as well.

Despite many claims, the figures from the JKEDI, KVIB and other institutions responsible for the handholding of startups and new enterprises are not encouraging. Similarly, the last two years have been very tough for the people, who would go outside for jobs or small businesses. Due to COVID19, a huge number of people who were working outside have lost their jobs, while the imports of Kashmir crafts have nosedived.

Another problem is that, despite some initial efforts, there has not been much progress on the skill development front. J&K imports most of the skilled workers required in the construction sector or industries. There must have been incentives for the local youth for learning and doing such works. The rising unemployment rate and labour shortage do not sync. It indicates the skill gap and policy failure.

The Himayat programme, where ‘not so educated’ youth are provided with some communication skills and basic computer knowledge so they can work in the unskilled market in different industries and corporates. However, the programme has not shown so good results, as was expected by its planners. The retention rate of these trainees in different cities of the country is very less so far. Besides, creating a migrant labour force is not a panacea for the unemployment problem. To tackle the issue, the government needs to look for creating employment avenues within J&K by attracting investment.

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COVID19

Covid19 reopening: A close watch needed

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Covid19 reopening

Jammu and Kashmir, like other parts of the country, continues to battle the Covid19 pandemic. Though the number of daily positive cases is not as alarming as it would be a few months earlier, yet there are some indications of a slow rise in positive cases in the past few weeks. This situation clearly calls for very careful handling of the situation, especially in view of the apprehensions of a possible third wave hitting the country in the months of October and November.

In a welcome move, the Jammu and Kashmir administration recently ordered phased reopening of educational institutions, including colleges and higher-level schools. It was a long-pending demand of all stakeholders, in the larger interest of the student community, to allow children to return to their on-campus classes after a long hiatus. The move coincided with the phased reopening of businesses in the Union Territory to infuse a fresh lease of life into the otherwise ‘dismal’ economy that was badly hit in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic.

The post-pandemic situation calls for revival of economic activity to enable people associated with various trades to resume their businesses and earn a livelihood following a depressing scenario. There is a large section of the population directly dependent on daily earnings to make both ends meet.

There is no denying the fact that the post-pandemic situation calls for revival of economic activity to enable people associated with various trades to resume their businesses and earn a livelihood following a depressing scenario. There is a large section of the population directly dependent on daily earnings to make both ends meet.

It was therefore imperative upon the administration to take care of the interests of this section of the society. It is equally a fact that the resumption of academic activities across Jammu and Kashmir was the need of the hour to enable students to interact with their teachers and peers, re-socialise on the campuses and heave a sigh of relief. To this extent, the administration took certain welcome decisions. However, the fact that the pandemic is still not over can’t be overlooked in such a scenario. It is therefore important to watch the situation very closely for its better management and minimal disruptions in case of any eventuality like the third Covid19 wave.

The onus to ensure a close watch on the situation certainly lies on the officials concerned, especially the Deputy Commissioners of various districts. In the past two months, the number of daily positive cases largely ranges from 100 to 200. This is not alarming if a comparison of these figures is made with the figures of the previous few months. But the level of unpredictability is too high to be taken casually. On September 22, the UT recorded the highest single-day tally of 204 Covid positive cases—up from 145 cases recorded a day earlier. This is where the situation demands utmost caution. At the official level, it is important to keep a track of these figures to decide on further reopening. If the rate of positivity surges, it would be in the fitness of things to reconsider the further process of reopening and reimpose the curbs, wherever necessary. Alongside, it is imperative to ensure that mass gatherings are disallowed and people adhere to the Covid Appropriate Behavior (CAB) in letter and spirit. The administration also requires to watch the Covid scenario in other states of the country and handle the inflow of tourists and visitors to the UT accordingly in strict adherence to the SOPs. The situation just cannot be allowed to go out of control any longer. Sustained and focused attention on the situation can go a long way in facilitating its better management at all levels.

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Editorial

Srinagar roads unfriendly for pedestrians 

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Srinagar roads unfriendly for pedestrians 

Lack of footpaths, walkways makes it dangerous for people to move around in the city.

As the vehicular traffic in the Srinagar roads has witnessed an unprecedented rise in the last few years, it is becoming extremely dangerous for pedestrians to move around in the city. On the one side, fast-moving traffic is making it life-threatening to cross the roads and streets, while on the other side, illegal encroachment of footpaths, walkways is pushing back foot-travellers to walk alongside the cars and motorcycles on transport tracks at great risk to their lives.

When there are no legal provisions for protecting pedestrians and their movement, our government and policymakers do not plan safe passages, neither there are proper crossing points in their road designs. Existing footpaths and crossing points are ill-planned and without any zebra crossing signs. As on-street parking takes precedence over pedestrian infrastructure like paved sidewalks in our city planning, space for pedestrian movement is shrinking fast on the city roads. It is a dangerous trend for a city that homes more than two million people, is touted as a metropolis, and projected as a key tourist destination.

Modern cities are not only pedestrian-friendly, but they take special care of the needs of children and old age people. People with disabilities, especially those with mobility issues, face a hard time moving around in Srinagar city. There is no way that one can push around a wheelchair or a pram.

Pedestrian right of way needs to be the priority of any road planning in the city, but it is otherwise here.

Most of the existing footpaths – as the pavements or sidewalks are named here – are narrow or full of obstacles making them unfit for public use. There is no uniformity. At some places, these footpaths are so high that they look like a supporting bund or retention wall. At many junctions, they lack connectivity with each other. Electricity poles, TV and telecommunication cable poles, billboards, even city beautification lights and trees are installed, in such a way, that these footpaths automatically become unusable.   

While traffic lights have been installed at many major traffic junctions in the city from time to time, but most of them are not made functional due to unknown reasons. There are no pedestrian crossing arrangements at these traffic crossing points. Even vehicular blockades are laid without keeping into consideration foot travellers. Take the example of Jehangir Chowk – Exhibition Ground junction, which witnesses heavy traffic throughout the day. As there is no system to stop the traffic, to let the pedestrians cross, it is extremely difficult for the people on foot to cross the congested junction. (These issues cannot be overcome by painting the pillars of the overhead bridge.)

The same is the case ahead of Badshah Bridge near the Maisuma-Koker Bazaar crossing. People keep crossing in moving traffic, mostly at great risk to their life and safety. In fact, there are no designated pedestrian crossing points in the entire Srinagar city.  

While the administration keeps saying that Srinagar will be developed into a world-class ‘smart city’, they should note that it is not possible by allowing haphazard and unplanned constructions by both the private sector and the government agencies. 

Modern cities are not only pedestrian-friendly, but they take special care of the needs of children and old age people. People with disabilities, especially those with mobility issues, face a hard time moving around in Srinagar city. There is no way that one can push around a wheelchair or a pram.

To make Srinagar a modern city, its roads not only need redesign but more focus must be given to footpaths, sidewalks, bicycle tracks and sophisticated public transport. That is doable within the available resources.

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