The government should create new capitals in both UTs. Construction and tourism will be the big sectors for now.
The momentous decision taken by the Narendra Modi government on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on August 5, 2019, has opened host of opportunities for the state. There is no doubt that separatists and backers across the Line of Control will try to ferment trouble in the region, especially in the Kashmir Valley to derail the government’s agenda. It is, therefore, essential that the government initiates actions which ensure that the difference is visibly seen by the local population. Some of the problems and anomalies that have existed for decades need to be done away with to mark a new beginning.
There is no doubt that the first economic imperative should be to create employment avenues. The corporate sector, which was virtually barred from investing in the state, will not come running to invest just because Article 35A and some provisions of Article 370 have been done away with. There may be significant investment by the travel and tourism industry in the newly constituted Union Territory (UT) of Ladakh and, to some extent, in J&K. However, kick-starting development in the two UTs will require the creation of new cities, which will trigger a construction boom and provide employment opportunities in associated services sector.
To begin with, they will need new capitals.
J&K remains the only state in which the entire administrative machinery shifts (there are states where legislature shifts from one venue to another) from Jammu to Srinagar and back, every year. Enormous cost is borne by the state in facilitating movement and by way of developing infrastructure in both cities, which are already overcrowded. According to estimates, over ₹ 150 crore is spent annually in just shifting the administration, besides additional allowances which need to be paid to the employees. The two cities represent the regional aspirations of two regions, namely Jammu and Kashmir, and hence, the costly exercise is undertaken every year. Australia faced a similar problem when Sydney and Melbourne contended to be the capital, but it was resolved by creating a new city midway — Canberra — instead. Accordingly, it would be prudent to create a new capital for Jammu and Kashmir halfway between Jammu and Srinagar. This will result in a huge saving for the exchequer.construction boom. It could also be used to create dedicated colonies for people who were displaced from the region due to violence. The new city could be well planned to ensure better security, climate, connectivity and infrastructure to emerge as a new population hub.
Similarly, in Ladakh, which most sparsely populated region in the country, there has always been a tussle between Leh and Kargil. The creation of a new city between Kargil and Leh, which could house the new administrative capital of the UT, will create enormous job opportunities and bring in huge investment. It will also eliminate any sense of discrimination that the two regions may have. Being peaceful and sparsely populated, getting investment into Ladakh may be easier.
Besides the capitals, the region will need more new cities, especially on Mughal Road in J&K and on the Manali-Leh highway in Ladakh. With railway connectivity for both the UTs increasing in years to come, they could serve as transit hubs and business centres. Although there is potential for the development of sectors such as pharmaceuticals, power generation, handicraft, electronics, horticulture, food processing and so on, SEZs will need to be established to attract investment.
In the near term, it will be tourism (and construction) that will drive the economy in the region. Right now, tourists go primarily to Srinagar, Pahalgam and Gulmarg in J&K and a few selected places in Ladakh. There is a need to widen the destinations. Kishtawar, Bhaderwah, Poonch, Gurez, Lolab etc are beautiful destinations, which are virtually untapped. Similarly, in Ladakh, hundreds of trekking routes are available, which have never been explored. Infrastructure needs to be built in these places. More significantly, their connectivity from Himachal Pradesh needs to be improved.
It becomes imperative now for all territorial disputes to be solved in the region, the delimitation of constituencies to be completed, taking into account the entire territory of the state, including areas, which are under illegal occupation of Pakistan. Finally, the official maps of the UTs have not been released, but TV channels are showing Gilgit-Baltistan as part of J&K. The region should ideally be part of Ladakh. Baltistan was part of Ladakh Wazarat till 1947, and should be considered as Pakistan-occupied Ladakh.