Farah F. Shah
Jammu and Kashmir has the potential to be one of the leading economic regions of South Asia. Not only the state is rich in natural resources, its geographic location provides it a unique opportunity to cash on its closeness with the major giants of Asia; Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia. These four nations have been lately growing at an unprecedented rate. Pakistan has taken control over law and order problems and the impact is visible on the economic growth of the country. World experts have predicted Pakistan growing over the years at more than 6 per cent of GDP annually. China has become the second world largest economy and its skilled population has led world to recognise its potential. Its growth has never gone below 5 per cent since 1978 reforms. Iran has also turned into a major hub of foreign investment despite several political pressures. And, the Russian economy has witnessed resurgence in economic growth since its disintegration around the 1990’s.
Despite its geo-economic-political location, our state has not exploited the potential inherent in it. The consequences have been alarming. Our state now has the highest educated unemployed in the region ; the brain drain from the state is alarming; households are distributed around lower middle group with few opportunities to move up the economic ladder and the state economy has remained “not diversified” which has led to economic insecurities.
The unemployment rate in Jammu and Kashmir is higher than average Indian unemployment rate, with the region having 24.6 percent population in the age of (18-29 years) unemployed which is far more than All India unemployment rate of 13.2 per cent. High unemployment rates are mostly due to political uncertainty here and lack or absence of private investment. The state, especially the valley, attracts fewer investments, that too of big ones, owing to the political scenario. It is a myth that market doesn’t function here; it does function but not in a big way. For employment generation, huge investments are needed which rarely come in, when state is involved in political crises.
The economic position of the state is further aggravated by the ‘formal education” system which is not at all skill based. It only encourages lethargy and mugging with less emphasis on skill development and critical thinking. The problem starts right from primary education and goes right into higher education. Employment in today’s world is significantly correlated with not the quantity of education but will quality. In the state, though education is available in huge quantities, quality is missing here. There is less freedom of expression and thought, and even more less emphasis on new and creative ideas. And more and more experiments are being done with education system with no prior research. For example, the Kashmir university, recently, has introduced semester and choice based system which has not gone down well neither with teachers nor students. Many students are forced to take the subjects which don’t concern them at all and teachers are forced to teach to students who know not even basics of their “choice subjects’. The implications are grave. Students are always after notes, down grade notes which concern with examinations and nothing else. Instead of keeping a basket of “skilled development programmes’ the university went to keep the subjects which introduced more fragility in the educational process. Instead of tinkering with educational system, a gradual approach is needed rather than “revolutionary and abrupt changes’ which can destabilise the whole process. It has to be ensured that changes have to be more ‘skill prone” rather than mugging prone.
There are linkages between the educational system and market acceptance. The markets, all over the world, are skill prone which doesn’t accept people without skills. It has to be ensured that educational system has to be made in tinged in line with market opportunities.
Corruption is another major area of concern. Jammu and Kashmir has topped the list of being the most corrupt state. Corruption has led to serious concern for the economy as hard-work and honesty is seldom rewarded. Mediocrity reaches the top due to nepotism and favouritism. The consequences are disastrous. When people lose confidence in institutions, there is a severe dent on equality. According to recent reports, few people close to the establishment are getting rewards, just for being close to establishment and political power. Cronyism takes over which impedes justice and seldom rewards hard work and efficiency. The result is the brain drain of best minds from the state.
Import and export of goods and services is another area of concern. The state has become deficit in the production of food and other crops. We are importing food and meat from worth crores other states just to keep up with the shortages of essentials. The state has over the years shifted from crop based subsistence sector to cash crops- especially horticulture. Much of the land further was shifted to construction even though laws were in place which prohibits conversion of agricultural land into construction. As of today, the state has to import huge amounts of just food. However, this can be turned into an opportunity to provide young generation with enough employment opportunities. The investments in sheep and vegetable industry can provide a lot of respite. Self-employment schemes could be directed to these industries which have the tremendous potential for growth and employment generation. The state cannot afford to provide the employment to all its educated unemployed persons. It has to direct credit and investment to self-employment schemes which will release the burden on the government to provide jobs and result in economic growth.
—The author is from Nishat and can be reached at: [email protected]