Infrastructure development in full swing under J&K L-G Manoj Sinha

| Updated: 27 June, 2024 6:38 pm IST

“Sadak, power, tower.” That is what Manoj Sinha, the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, promised when he visited Machhal, one of the farthest pockets of the union territory. That was about three years ago. Today, the place has an excellent road, an electricity line that delivers, and excellent Airtel connectivity.

His alliterative words may sound like a smart election slogan, but they were a measured promise about what was possible. Residents had asked for a tunnel too. Like other pockets across mountain passes, such as Karnah, Gurez, and Tuliel, the residents of Machhal also want a tunnel to connect them to the rest of India. These areas are generally snowbound for more than half the year, and passes (at heights over 3,000 meters) close for five to six months. In terms of both population and the length of closed passes, Gurez has a better claim than Machhal. So, the LG only promised “road, power, tower” here.

After his administration delivered within just a couple of years, this infrastructure holds immense potential to transform the place. Some residents hope that there will now be a lot of tourists. Already, Gurez has seen a flood of tourists over the past three summers. Habibullah, who was the Sarpanch of Machhal until the government decided not to hold panchayat elections last autumn, has already begun to build what he calls a “homestay.” It’s more like a house-sized hotel, right alongside that road, about half a kilometre from his house.

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The road makes it easier for students to reach school, or get home from the college in Kupwara every weekend. It allows farmers to transport cattle on mini-trucks, and to potentially think of planting cash crops. It also makes it easier to bring in supplies whenever the Zamindar Gali Pass is motorable in winter. The winter diet here mainly comprises potatoes, rajma beans, and corn—the local crops. Plus, people depend on government stores to give them rice (although, as in other parts of the union territory, they want more than the 5 kilos per person per month they now get). In summer, they get vegetables and other consumables—not to speak of lots of packaged, processed diet disrupters.

Development in full swing

Infrastructure development under L-G Sinha over the past three years is not limited to this far corner of J&K. Roads, bridges, and flyovers are coming up in other places too. For instance, a couple of huge flyovers are coming up back-to-back at the Sangrama turn and Delina on the road to Baramulla. Work is in full swing, although progress is slow.

The highway is also being expanded to four lanes along much of that route. One is sad about the loss of trees along that road, for even the most immense, majestic Chinars have been chopped. But then, the constantly increasing numbers of cars in Kashmir are already a huge pressure on the environment. One wishes the government would work on a bypass cutting past the Kandi area to connect the highway between the flood channel and Pattan to Baramulla—cutting behind the hill that has become home to upmarket schools and the north campus of Kashmir University.

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Of course, the imminent completion of the railway line, which will connect Baramulla to the rest of the country, could spin off tremendous new possibilities—to begin with, much-needed new coaches for the Baramulla to Banihal commuter train. Already, that commuter train has allowed residents of south Kashmir to work in north Kashmir, and vice versa. National connectivity would transform the transportation possibilities for the produce of Kashmir.

Spin-offs: Education and the economy

Of course, infrastructure by itself is only a step—albeit a major step—towards the economic transformation that is required. In Machhal, for instance, people want education and jobs, now that infrastructure is in place. Students have to go to Kupwara—if not farther—for college and other higher education. Many young people here want to be doctors, but given the generally low levels of learning and communication, that might be a distant dream, despite the marks and concessions afforded for admissions to citizens of backward and remote areas such as this.

Jobs are an even bigger challenge. Transportation of produce, particularly in winter, makes the prospect of production units challenging. Even in summer, the cost of lengthier transport lines would make factories unproductive. Plus, there is the obvious skills challenge, particularly for online opportunities—which the recently installed power and connectivity would facilitate even when roads are closed in winter.

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Willy-nilly, people (except the few who have the wealth to build hotels for tourists) fall back on work provided by the army. As in other border areas, people seem to have good relations with the Army. Nobody seems to recollect the killing of three boys, which had sparked an uprising in 2010, and for which nine Army personnel were punished by court-martial. Providing porter services to the army, and carrying loads on one’s back, have provided livelihoods to many in these areas. But, ironically, the now excellent road has squeezed that option. It doesn’t make sense to hire porters when army jeeps and trucks can zip down the roads.

One needs a multi-pronged strategy to meet people’s needs in a place like Kashmir. Infrastructure must go hand-in-hand with appropriate education and skill development, as well as economic initiatives.

David Devadas is an Indian journalist and author who has written extensively on Kashmir and its politics.

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