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Kashmir’s Economy: More focus, more precision needed for growth

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By: Mool Raj

For the past several years, Kashmir remains trapped in the vortex of low growth and high inflation. Its surging number of unemployed remains a cause of concern as the Union Territory has not been a preferred destination for industrial investors even when it has a natural advantage of setting up industrial units in electronics, precision goods, food processing, herbs and other related areas.

In order to achieve a self-sustaining economy with continued higher levels of investment and significant increase in income and employment, there is no option but to go for selective industrialization in the thrust areas. As regards the widening of employment base, Government sector has almost become employment inelastic and any more pressure on this sector will result into inefficiencies that the Union Territory can ill afford in a fast growing competitive world.

The business corporate sector and industrial sector, so far neglected, need to be given high priority which will not only bring development dividends but will also contribute significantly towards expanding the employment base and easing out the over crowdedness in the Union Territory sector and thus paving way for improving competence in the Union Territory administrative machinery and ensuring good governance.

A proper blend of education and trainings should contribute to the development of entrepreneurship among the youth who could be motivated for taking up self-employment ventures which need to be facilitated by making procedures easy and significantly cutting on plethora of paper formalities so as to ensure hassle free flow of finance to the prospective entrepreneurs. Tourism is another area which is a gift of nature to the Union Territory.

But unless we are able to create the requisite infrastructure and other facilities of high quality of international standard for the tourists, the real benefits will not flow to people in terms of income supplementation and employment generation. The downstream multiplier effect of tourism is perhaps the widest spectrum and equitable. As regards tourism, not only does it require to be diversified but it also needs to be extended over the whole year. There is ample scope for adventure tourism, pilgrim tourism, sports tourism and health tourism besides the traditional pleasure/recreation tourism. The scope for making films and other TV/video programmes is immense.

Improvement in tourism infrastructure calls for better roads, efficient connectivity, board and lodge facilities and prompt services including guidance. With normalcy gradually returning, time is ripe to take major initiatives in creating the requisite high quality infrastructure for development of tourism as one of the lead sector of the Union Territory economy.

It would, therefore, be necessary to put the economy back on the rails to enable the average person to get employment opportunities. This would require giving fillip to the economic activities that have traditionally been the mainstay of the Union Territory’s economy and continue to hold significant potential for growth and employment. Such activities include Agriculture (including Horticulture), Food Processing, Handicrafts and Livestock and Poultry farming on modern lines. It would be equally necessary to ensure diversification of the Union Territory economy, especially expanding the industrial base by generally have a traditional bent of mind. Diversification of agricultural activities is the need of the hour to keep up with the changed circumstances.

The potential of Horticulture in J&K is high, given the rich diversity and varied agro-climatic situation. The Union Territory enjoys monopoly in certain fruits, vegetables and medicinal plants and there is an immense scope for increasing the production of other horticulture produce that are marketed in rich and export markets. In order to achieve this objective, it is important that the limiting factors in both production and marketing of fresh produce are addressed speedily and linkages between farmers and buyers by developing agricultural/horticultural mandies (markets) at faster pace and on modern and scientific lines.

This would not only reduce supply chain costs but would also help the farmers with an assured market for their produce. Technological improvements are necessary to bring about lower costs in processing as well as reducing wastages in fruits and vegetables. Absence of post-harvest infrastructure-non-establishment of cold storages has locked the growth of this sector. Surprisingly there is not a single cold storage facility for apple preservation in the valley. The lack of this facility forces the farmers to sell their produce at cheaper rates. Cold storage facilities should be created in all the districts of the Union Territory where the fruit could be stored for a longer period.

Kashmir has unexploited capacity to produce products which have value demand and  are ready for attractive markets both in India and abroad (e.g. bio aromatics, medical herbs, organic specialty vegetables etc.). To enable exploitation of these opportunities, major programmes are needed to educate farmers to change traditional production habits and grow crops which the market will reward.

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