Budget 2021-22: Listen to the people

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Lieutenant Governor, Manoj Sinha has thanked the union government which announced the maiden gas pipeline project to be taken up in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The mega project will be part of the Union government’s plan to add 100 more districts of the country in next three years to the City Gas Distribution Network, Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman while presenting the Union Budget-2021, said. She said that an independent Gas Transport System Operator will be set up for “facilitation and coordination of booking of common carrier capacity in all natural gas pipelines on a non-discriminatory open access basis. It may be recalled here that the Centre has provisioned Rs 30,757 crore budget for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir in the Union Budget for 2021-22.The allocation for Jammu & Kashmir is same to the amount proposed in the last Union Budget as central grant and there is unlikely an increase in the budget of J&K UT which will be presented by the Union Finance Minister later this month or next month in Lok Sabha.

While people have appreciated the gas pipeline project, the business community of Jammu and Kashmir has expressed dissatisfaction stating that there was no mention of the business community and the much-needed upgradation of the Srinagar-Jammu national highway in the Union Budget despite assurances for the upliftment and development of the UT. The Jammu-Srinagar Highway (NH44) is the lifeline of Jammu and Kashmir economy and its frequent closures have been impacting the Union Territory very badly. Though the work on the four-lanning of this highway is going on, the project has already missed several deadlines. It was expected that there would be some special package announced regarding the highway but that has not been done. While on one hand the UT administration makes tall claims regarding putting the economy of J&K back on rails and giving tourism sector a boost, the fragility of the national highway falsifies such claims. The frequent closures of the highway is not only impacting the local business community and fruit growers but also the inflow of tourists. Besides, the closure results into sky rocketing of essential commodities in Kashmir. The Union government would have done some justice to Jammu and Kashmir if it had included the highway in its budget allocations. Besides, people were expecting that there would be some budgetary allocation for Mughal Road, the alternative road to connect Valley with rest of the nation. This road needs some upliftment and a tunnel at Pir Ki Gali and could help fruit growers to ferry their fruit and also help import of essential commodities during winters when NH44 frequently remains closed. The concerns of the business community are genuine and the Lt Governor should raise the same with Union Finance Ministry and ensure that all the requirements are included in the budget. Secondly, the budget has also missed the return and rehabilitation of migrant Kashmiri Pandits. Pandit community, which lives in exile, had very high hopes that BJP-led Union government would announce some comprehensive package for their rehabilitation but there has been no such mention in the budget. This has upset the community as some of the members have started alleging that their exile is only used as election stunt while as the Union government, practically, is doing nothing for their return and rehabilitation. The Union government needs to look at these concerns and reach out to the community which has suffered a lot.

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