NEW DELHI — Despite enormous challenges facing the country in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government in India has been making constant efforts to create opportunities for citizens to transform the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into a secular, decentralized, and a diverse region as well as to ensure all-inclusive development, efficient governance, socio-economic justice for disadvantaged sections of the society as well as quantum improvement in the lives of all in the UT without any discrimination.
Ever since the abrogation of Article 370, the democratic machinery in J&K has been strengthened especially the three-tier local governance model by holding elections to Block Development Councils and District Development Councils. The “Panchayati Raj” system has been strengthened through the devolution of functions and funds of more than $200 million in 2020 for efficient grassroots governance that has led to the union territory of J&K receiving three national awards for socio-economic development.Various central laws have been successfully implemented including those designed to protect and promote social, economic, and political rights of women, children, and the underprivileged, such as the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015, the Protection of Human Rights Act 1994, the Right to Information Act 2005. The Official Language Bill 2020, and new domicile rules for the union territory are also similar steps ahead in this direction.
In addition to exploring the vast scope for employment opportunities in the labor-intensive tourism sector, the J&K government has advertised 10,000 posts at all levels under an accelerated recruitment process for young people, with 25,000 additional jobs to be filled in subsequent phases. The selection process for these jobs will give added weightage to local residents, divorced women or orphaned girls, among other criteria. The government has also restored a program under which all government jobs will be reserved for residents of J&K.
In the education sector, the largest expansion in J&K in 70 years has been made by establishing 50 new educational institutions offering 25,000 seats to students. More than half a million students have so far taken advantage of a number of government scholarship schemes — a four-fold increase over the number during the previous year. Similarly, in the medical education field, two All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), seven new medical colleges, five new nursing colleges and a State Cancer Institute are in pipeline.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Education, Government of India is considering a proposal submitted by the J&K School Education Department (SED) seeking financial assistance for a massive infrastructural up gradation in government schools across the UT, by establishing 20 innovative laboratory block in the higher secondary schools in each district, 188 kindergartens in the existing high and higher secondary schools, and 100 playfields and other sports infrastructure in schools, five each in every district. These are designed to fulfill needs for pre-schooling and sports facilities in government schools which are consonant with the National Education Policy 2020.
To boost infrastructure development in J&K, more than 500 projects worth more than $80 million have been completed, and more than 2,000 projects worth nearly $800 million have been approved. Jammu and Srinagar are being developed as modern and sustainable smart cities, in which 190 projects worth more than $900 million are planned. The proposal for a light rail transit system in both cities has been approved. A first-ever housing, slum development, rehabilitation and township policy has been approved, under which the construction of 200,000 houses is planned. More than 300,000 households have also been given access to electricity for the first time in 70 years. The government is also planning to establish two IT Parks in Jammu and Srinagar for start-ups.
With the sharp surge in COVID-19 cases, authorities have stepped up their efforts to tackle the situation at par with other worst-hit parts of the country in terms of boosting healthcare infrastructure and vaccination. Seventeen dedicated COVID-19 hospitals have already been set up which provide adequate facilities in terms of ICU beds and availability of oxygen for coronavirus-affected patients. Srinagar is one of 16 districts in the country that has been recognized for best practices in the management of the pandemic. The Sher-i-Kashmir Indoor Stadium, Srinagar has once again been converted into a COVID-19 center, equipped with an oxygen facility for patients with mild symptoms of the disease. COVID-19 centers have also been established at Sanat Nagar Marriage Hall, Kashmir University Zakura campus, NIT Srinagar, and Hajj house Bemina.To meet the increasing oxygen demand for COVID-19 patients, a 500 LPM oxygen plant at Chanapora has been set up on May 9, 2021, by the Directorate of Health Services Kashmir (DHSK). The government has already advised power utilities in Jammu and Kashmir to ensure uninterrupted power supply to the hospitals, healthcare units, and oxygen plants in view of the spike of coronavirus cases. Kashmir Power Development Corporation (KPDC) has enhanced supply to ensure uninterrupted power supply to keep oxygen concentrators running for people on oxygen support at their homes.
To further boost the efforts to tackle the second wave of infections, the J&K Health and Medical Education Department on May 9 accorded sanction to the contractual appointment of retired faculty members of Government Medical Colleges Srinagar, Jammu, SKIMS Soura and Bemina and doctors of Health Services department. J&K will also be aided by the first installment of the ‘Untied Grants’ worth Rs8,923.8 crore for the year 2021-22 that was released in advance to 25 states on May 8, 2021, as grants to the Rural Local Bodies (RLBs) for taking various prevention and mitigation measures to combat the pandemic.
Amid the COVID-19 spike in Jammu and Kashmir, female healthcare workers including doctors and nurses are at the forefront of the COVID-19 battle and are working hard despite being under constant exposure to the deadly virus and ready to face the problems to save the community. Kashmir’s women population seems to have become more forthcoming as their participation in every field is noticeable at par with Kashmiri men. The local government polls included seats reserved for women for their greater participation in mainstream politics. The J&K government’s State Marriage Assistance Scheme (SMAS) has benefitted unmarried brides living below the poverty level in Jammu and Kashmir. During the 2020-21 financial year, the J&K government under the scheme, which is being run by the social welfare department, has sanctioned 8254 cases and provided assistance of Rs32.78 crores. Under this scheme, a family of a poor bride receives Rs25,000 cash assistance and the cost of five grams of gold at the time of her marriage.
With the change in the mindset of the people, a new era of development, opportunity, hope and prosperity has begun. There has been a high degree of challenges posed by external belligerence that started with illegal occupation of parts of J&K, proxy war in the form of militancy along with communally charged propaganda against the welfare state. The Central Government has been expending substantial political, economic, diplomatic, and military resources in J&K which still remains one of the key national security preoccupations. The government is fully committed to working with organizations, private players and other responsible agencies to create a positive environment to promote tourism, education, infrastructure, healthcare, skill development and entrepreneurship in the valley. — Agencies