THE BEST way by which the Gov ernment of India can reassure a region that it is very much in its field of vision is by bringing it into the economic mainstream. While India is making news on the global forefront with its economic prowess, all this rub-a-dub-tub means little if it does not filter down to the state level. For long, we have heard about making states like Jammu and Kashmir and those in the North-east more inclusive. These gestures have either been symbolic or come in the form of policies that boil down to throwing wads of money towards the direction of these states. So it is heartening to note that the Prime Minister's Special' Task Force has recommended a set of measures by which Jammu and Kashmir gets the economic boost that is required to make it an investment destination like other parts of India.
A Rs 8,302 crore package amounts to little if one has not worked out the details as to how to spend it. Too many times in the past, impressive amounts of money have been funnelled into the state but with little to show as a result. The task force, headed by the chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council and former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, C. Rangarajan, does not make that mistake. The setting up of a Special Investment Zone (SIZ) has been planned for the state, which includes high-class infrastructure, captive power generation, single window-clearance and liberalised labour laws. In other words, one is talking not only about pouring money into Jammu and Kashmir, but also about setting up a machinery that will amount to economic activity being generated from the state. Along with creating new wealth generating schemes, the task force also suggests building on Kashmir's traditional tourism industry by investing Rs 4,000 crore over the next five to seven years.
Depending on how honest we are prepared to be, Jammu and Kashmir is not like other Indian states. So efforts to bolster its economy are not only about its economy but also about bringing it closer to the socio-economic mainstream of the country. The people of Kashmir, especially its youth, have, for far too long, been trapped either in factors that; amount to genuine 'abnormalities' or in stereotypes that perpetuate these abnormalities. There are more things to Kashmir than the 'Kashmir problem'. And addressing that fact, the Government of India will do well to heed the Special Task Force's suggestions and bring Srinagar closer to the rest of an economically moving India.