Srinagar, Jammu And Kashmir —
Six months after the August 05 decision in 2019 by which the BJP-led Central government ended the special status of Jammu and Kashmir while bifurcating it into two Union territories, Kashmir was limping back to a new sort of normalcy. However, the normalcy was short lived as the Coronavirus made its entry into the Valley and compelled the authorities to order a total lockdown so as to contain the spread of the highly contagious disease.
The lockdown in Kashmir has had a crippling impact on almost all the sectors, from Agriculture, Manufacturing, Banking, Financial Services to Ecommerce, Education, Healthcare and Tourism & Hospitality.
The economy of the newly carved out UT has been particularly hit, with the losses being estimated in thousands of crores.
Back in December 2019, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) had put the losses at Rs 17,878 crore in the face of severe restrictions in the Valley following the dilution of Article 370.
Releasing a comprehensive sector-wise report on losses due to disturbance after the August 5 decision by the Centre, KCCI had stated that the losses had been assessed based on Jammu and Kashmir’s GDP for 2017-18.
Later, the KCCI revised the figures and put the losses at Rs 30,000 crore since August 2019, with more than five lakh people rendered jobless.
On Wednesday (June 03, 2020), an amalgam of 30 trade bodies of the Valley held a press brief in Srinagar and said that Kashmir witnessed 3000 days of lockdown, thus simultaneously deteriorating the situation of business community here. The traders also stated that the special package of Rs 20,000 crore announced by the government has been announced for the people excluding the business community of Kashmir.
“In particular, our businesses are suffering from last ten months and we have never come out of the lockdown,” the traders said, adding that the situation of business has got further deteriorated after the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic in Jammu and Kashmir.
It’s not just the economy, the second important sector that has been suffering since long is the Education. The State government had ordered closure of all educational institutions in Jammu and Kashmir on the eve of August 05 last year. After abolishing the former State’s special position, the authorities ordered opening of schools but students stayed away.
It was in March this year that students started to turn up in schools, colleges and universities but it was a very short-lived phenomenon. Schools reopened on February 24 after remaining shut for nearly eight months but were shut down again after the Centre announced a country-wide lockdown in March to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Around one million students are enrolled in government and private schools in Kashmir, with an equal number in the Jammu region. The government and private schools started online classes for students but the restrictions on 4G Internet in Kashmir have not helped the cause.
The parents of private students have also complained that the schools have asked them to clear the fees of their wards at a time when the economic activity due to lockdown has come to a halt. The question of fee-payments is likely to be a major issue when schools reopen in the Kashmir valley.
Apart from online classes, the absence of high-speed mobile internet marred the dissemination of information, especially video content, related to COVID-19. Medics have repeatedly been asking the authorities for the restoration of 4G Internet in Kashmir.
Besides health services, people from other sectors have complained of inability to work due to the suspension of 4G internet in Kashmir.
Given the sad state of affairs, it is ironical to witness that the phase-wise lockdown relaxations announced by the Centre hardly trickled down to J&K. Instead, the administration has been pressing for restrictions as the cases of Coronavirus continue to surge in the Valley.
In the special scenario of the Valley, the administration needs to think out-of-the-box and devise a ‘sustainable unlock strategy’ instead of a ‘lockdown strategy’ and only such a measure would help mitigate the sufferings of Kashmiris.