(Any initiative in reviving and expanding the agricultural base of Kashmir which has been the backbone of our economy is most welcome)
A columnist friend Arjimand Hussain Talib has recently launched Ziraat Times both a print publication and an online portal to fully revive and promote the dwindling agricultural economy of the State. The focus of the bi-lingual print publication (English and Urdu) is to act as an information catalyst to promote sustainable growth in horticulture, agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, forestry, sericulture, floriculture and other sectors of J & K’s agro-economy. The special focus is to be on food safety and climate-change resilience. While describing reasons for focusing on agriculture, it is mentioned that, “In 2015-16, agriculture sector contributed Rs 13,893 crore, or 15.89%, to Jammu & Kashmir’s Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). While in percentage terms agriculture’s contribution to the GSDP has been reducing, it is not unusual. It is a global trend for agriculture percentage in GDPs to decline as the scale of manufacturing and services grow. However, we believe J&K still has immense potential in enhancing agricultural productivity”.
There are no two opinions that the agriculture has always been the real backbone of Kashmiris economy for centuries. Even at present the 80% of the population consists of cultivators. Unfortunately, over the years instead of progressing this sector has been rather dwindling and we are at a juncture when we depend on imports for most of our agriculture based products!While on one hand most of the agricultural products and the people engaged in producing these have been declining over a period of time, on the other the only thing which has grown geometrically are the government employees! A sizeable chunk of the State budget goes into the salaries of these employees. Unfortunately, over a period of time we have depleted slowly the dignity of manual labour and created a mind-set of white collar jobs among our youth. According to some estimates almost a million youth are educated but unemployed. Most are waiting for the white-collar government jobs even at the lowest level. This is the greatest disservice that has been done by our rulers for last 70 years or so! The culture of subsidy of fifties was its beginning! The other disservice we have done to our beautiful and naturally resourceful land has been to convert our rich cultivable land into plots to construct houses, shopping complexes and colonies.
Kashmir’s greatest resource is water which could be used to generate power for our own use and sale to our neighbours. Unfortunately, this resource has been mortgaged by our so called leadersand there is no chance of retrieving it. The only way forward is to give full throttle to agriculture and all other related activities. Not only can we be self-sufficient in all these products but we could even export some of these. The sector could also provide jobs to the youth once they are retrieved from the white collar syndrome. Almost half a million outsiders are working in Kashmir in both skilled and unskilled jobs making us comfort loving and lazy. According to some estimates almost Rs. 40 crores go out of Kashmir everyday as the wages of this skilled and non-skilled labour force! Incidentally, the State Government has announced proposals for regularisation of 60,000 casual employees. One would not question the advisability of the step as by all canons of justice people having been kept hanging as casual for more than 20 years need to be regularised. The question is why the governments have been taking this easy route of casual employees continuously? Simply, vote bank politics detrimental to the economic well-being of the state. The easiest way is to create armies of slaves and keep them on the dole! They would be the future vote-bank!
The possibilities in agriculture and related activities are immense. One is reminded of the first tenure of Mufti Sayed during which he visited Dubai and invited some experts from the largest consortium of companies dealing in various food products. A team consisting of some specialists in various agriculture based fields visited the state. They were taken to a number of places including Kokarnag and Laribal Trout farms, Botanical Garden and Floriculture seed farm and Agriculture University in Shalimar. On trout they offered to pick up as much as Kashmir could give! They had been importing trout of much lower quality from Chile. In the agriculture university they were surprised to see some Kiwi Fruit trees and they could not believe that it could grow here! They informed that Dubai was re-exporting Kiwi to India after importing it from New Zealand and Italy. One of the floriculture experts said that they could take any quantity of cut flowers from here. In fact, he remarked that the amount of lavender growing wild in Kashmir could enable setting up of a dozen perfumeries! Unfortunately, all the plans made with Mufti Sahib after their meetings with him died along with his departure from the Government and he could not get a chance to revive these during his second tenure which he may have definitely liked to do!
Incidentally, Kiwi is now grown in Kashmir. Cut flowers are also being sent to different places by some private entrepreneurs. However, the State Government is spending crores on a short time show piece Tulip Garden which money could be utilised to give a boost to cut flower production by private entrepreneurs! Unfortunately, we are fonder of show biz than any productive and gainful work! In these circumstances, any initiative to revive and strengthen Kashmir’s agricultural base is more than welcome. It should not only receive approval from the Civil Society and the Government but total and unconditional support if we want Kashmir to be self-sufficient and economically strong!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir