Intro: Ladakh, Kashmir and Jammu region have witnessed devastating flood and landslides due to mismanagement of hills, rivers and valleys. So a healthy natural sector economy is the key to sustainable development of this region.
The main objective of every economic model is to generate happiness. Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh preserve the clue to happiness as the regions have the unique blend of religious pursuits of the Hindus, the Muslims and the Buddhists and the environment friendly economic activities like pilgrim tourism, handicraft, handloom, agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, inland fishery and cottage industries etc. Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh (JKL) have immense natural sector potential to become a sustainable economic model for the entire world. The biggest challenge before this region is how to protect the delicately balanced ecosystem. A slight imbalance in nature can attract natural calamities of higher intensity as it happened in the recent past. Ladakh, Kashmir and Jammu region have witnessed devastating flood and landslides due to mismanagement of hills, rivers and valleys. So a healthy natural sector economy is the key to sustainable development of this region.
Mythological past has blessed Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh region with huge pilgrim tourism potential which generates income for tourist operators, artisans, hotels and restaurant owners etc. Mata Vaishnodevi, Amarnath, Hazratbal mosque, Chrar-e-Sharif and hundreds of ancient temples, exotic mosques and Buddhist places of worships can attract millions of pilgrims from all over the world. It could attract large number of pilgrims from Buddhist countries too. Peaceful atmosphere, eco-friendly tourist cottages built with the locally available material, quality food, clean water, hospitality and good governance can redouble the pilgrim flow to this region.
JKL can be the tourism capital of India. The Dal Lake of Srinagar which once formed the back ground scene of many romantic Hindi film songs in the 70s still sustains a gamut of economic activities: luxury boat houses, Sikara ride, sale of handicrafts and handloom items, farming and sale of local eatables etc. Over decades thousands of crores of rupees from different sources have been spent to clean the lake. Nothing has restored the glory of the Dal Lake. “The amount spent can fill the entire lake with currency notes,” said Rashid (name changed), a cab driver. Dal Lake which is the lifeline of Srinagar has shed much of its grace and beauty. The lake has been encroa-ched for house construction. The lake is filled with water plants and is highly polluted due to pouring in of the dirty water from the human settlement around it. Restoring the original glory of Dal Lake will not only let the local feel proud, it would also attract large number of tourists. Though the famous places like Sonmarg, Gulmarg and Pahalgam attract maximum number of tourists there are many little known exotic places in Kashmir which can fail the much talked about natural beauty of Switzerland. There are sparkling lakes which are nestled in the sky kissing mountains. Kashmir offers huge scope for adventure tourism. Similarly, Ladakh is a dream land right in the lap of nature. The magnificent Pangong lake with its crystal clear deep blue water, beautiful valleys, wild horses, sheep, yaks, wild flowers, waterfalls, cold deserts, humped camels, mountain rivers and rivulets and a wide variety of flora and fauna mesmerize visitors. The place has become the favorite destination of Hindi film makers. Ladakh was once known as the land of gold for the yellow metal which was available in plenty here.
Tourists and pilgrims buy local handicraft and the artisans of JKL have immense skill to add high value to ordinary inorganic objects. Metal crafts, winter wires, thangka paintings from Ladakh, the fine embroidery, carpet work and Papier Mache of Kashmir can fetch good income for the artisans. Besides, the ethnic Tibetan dress, caps, wood carvings, religious artifacts and masks are the most sought after items for the tourists. Among the popular handicraft products, the Pashmina shawl, the Kashmiri carpet and wood work can be sold at a premium in the global craft bazaars.
The quite environment charged with spiritualism can help yoga sector. Leh alone can be an ideal place for Yoga University which can produce yoga teachers to meet the growing need for yoga instructors across the world. Yoga is a vibrant economic sector in the west and in the European nations. In the past, the great Indian sage Kashyap had chosen Kashmir as the ideal place for his Ashram. The Buddhist monasteries, mosques and temples create an ideal backdrop for spiritual pursuit. Mata Vaishno Devi in Jammu is the chief attraction for pilgrim tourism as it attracts nearly 40,000 people daily for its religious significance and natural beauty. The direct train connectivity to Katra is a laudable step by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The journey to the goddess’ abode is unforgettable as many pilgrims feel as if they are visiting their mother’s house. The journey from Katra can be taken up by foot, by electric cabs, on horseback and by palanquins. Everybody earns a steady income here. Everybody looks happy at the end of the day. As the number of pilgrim increases, it puts pressure on sanitation. On Vaishnodevi route many toilets do not have water and they are not maintained well which creates problem for the pilgrims. The autorikshawalas charge Rs 250 for four kilometer ride in Jammu city. Many taxiwalas complain against the policemen here who harass them to extract money. “I have to pay Rs 700 per month to keep them quiet,” said Sukhram (name changed), a cab driver. Good governance can certainly increase the scope for more business in Jammu region.
Agriculture is a vibrant sector in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh region. Farmers in Jammu villages bordering Pakistan grow the famous basmati rice which is very popular both in India and abroad. The Kashmiri Apricot is being exported to Germany for value addition as Germans extract omega 3 from apricot and market it at a premium. The value addition should be done in Kashmir itself. One also comes across some foreigners searching for medicinal plants and mineral resources in Kashmir. Over the years the export quality rice varieties namely Muskbudit, Kamath and Zag from Kashmir have become extinct due to gene corruption. While introducing high yield biotech variety, the nation has lost many export quality indigenous rice variety. There is a need to pinpoint people who are responsible for the loss not only in Kashmir but in the entire nation. Kashmir produces the rare Ambar apple and the white honey which have high medicinal value. Kashmir is the hub of a wide range of medicinal plants which are being smuggled out by some agencies and NGOs. Gujjars are the backbone of a vibrant animal husbandry sector in Jammu and Kashmir. They produce milk, ghee and curd for the entire region. They can earn a decent living if they are provided with transparent marketing chain free from corruption. In fact, the majority of poor people do not want any financial package but they need good governance to earn their living with self respect. All in all, nature has blessed Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh with enough natural resources which can be harnessed for sustainable development.
Sudhansu R Das (The writer is a freelance journalist from Hyderabad. He recently visited J&K to study art and culture)