OPINION – Beyond tourism: IT, Agri sectors can push economic growth, generate employment in J&K
Tourism in Kashmir is one of the vital industries that provide employment to lakhs of people. Tourism contributes almost seven percent to Jammu and Kashmir’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Post-2008, more and more people have invested in the sector. From cab services to shikaras, hotels, and adventure sports, people have pumped huge money into the tourism sector hoping for good returns.
However, the turmoil and natural catastrophes post-2014 have shattered their dreams.
In 2014 tourism sector suffered due to floods. A year later multiple flood warnings affected the sector badly. In 2016, tourists skipped Kashmir following six-month-long agitation post killing of Hizbul Mujahedeen commander Burhan Wani.
The 2017 and 2018 saw no major changes. Two back-to-back lockdowns after the abrogation of article 370 and pandemic broke the backbone of the sector.
Everything, including hotels, guest houses, shops, cafes, taxi services, restaurants, and other ancillary businesses were shut. For the last five years, tourism operators have suffered huge losses. Some of them have switched to other businesses to earn living.
Come 2021, the tourism industry was seeking a rennainsance. However, the second wave of COVID-19 again forced tourists to cancel their plans.
The fragility of this sector can be gauged by the fact that in January and February, a person would struggle to find a room and just a month later the hotel occupancy has been reduced to zero.
For the last three weeks, the travel agents, hoteliers are getting constant calls for a refund by the tourists who had made bookings for summer.
With the tourism sector in shambles, the million-dollar question remains whether Kashmiris need to find alternative means of livelihood.
Every year, the authorities hold meetings, discussions, and seminars to identify sectors that could generate massive employment for the youth. Despite that, our unemployment rate continues to soar and surpasses the national average.
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), Jammu and Kashmir ranks at fourth place in the highest unemployment rate in India.
At 14.2 percent in February 2021, Jammu and Kashmir’s unemployment rate is worse than the national average of 6.9 percent. The unemployment rate is calculated by CMIE using Consumer Pyramids Household Survey machinery.
Gifted with many flora and fauna and other resources, Kashmir has a scope to move beyond tourism in order to boost the economy.
From agriculture to horticulture, handicrafts, floriculture, and sericulture, there are several potential areas that can generate income and employment. Similarly IT sector can also be exploited to aggregate employment generation activities.
Horticulture and Agriculture
Horticulture is the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy with seven lakh families directly and indirectly associated with the sector.
More than 3.38 lakh hectares of land is under fruit cultivation in the valley. Of which 1.62 lakh hectares is under apple cultivation. Last year the fruit production including dry fruits touched 23.30 lakh tonnes last year compared to 22.34 lakh tonnes in 2017.
Jammu and Kashmir is the largest producer of apple in the country with production touching 18.28 lakh metric tonnes last year. The apple production was 17.27 lakh metric tonnes in 2017.
Similarly, Jammu and Kashmir has an agrarian economy. Fruit- canning, edible oil extraction, flour mills, rice-husking factories, and bakery preparation draw their raw materials from agriculture.
The plain areas of the Jammu Division and the Valley of Kashmir produce huge quantities of rice. Over 60 percent of the total population of the state is rice eaters. Consequently, there are numerous rice-husking factories in the state, situated mainly in smaller towns.
Both these industries have the potential to involve more and more unemployed people provided the government takes measures to give a flip to the sector.
Jammu and Kashmir has about one-third of its total area under forests. Most of the forest species in the higher altitudes belong to the conifers, while in the lower altitudes pine and deciduous broad-leaves trees are more prominent. These forests provide raw material to a number of forest-based industries. Paper, pulp, match, delicate boxes, sports goods (cricket bats), furniture, joinery, toys, artifacts, and decoration pieces are some of the agro-based industries well developed in the Valley of Kashmir.
Our forests are home to some of the precious herbs, mushrooms, and medicinal plants, which if exploited by the government can improve the economy of Jammu and Kashmir.
Handicrafts and Handlooms
Carpet-making is one of the oldest industries in Kashmir. Kashmiri carpets are famous all over the world for their excellent designs and natural patterns. Though carpets are made in almost all the towns of the valley, their major factories are in and around Srinagar.
About 75 percent of carpets are exported to the Middle East and North-West Europe (U.K., France, Netherland, Germany, Denmark, Italy, and Belgium). Carpet export contributes a good proportion to India’s foreign exchange.
The industry is, however, facing a number of problems. Some of the developed countries have banned the import of Indian carpets because of child labor issues. Apparently, the objective seems to stop the exploitation of child labor. This policy of the developed countries is, however, coming in the way of the growth and development of the carpet industry in Jammu and Kashmir.
Moreover, the successive regimes have failed to identify potential European markets to expand its reach.
Silk textile is one of the most ancient industries of Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmiri silken goods are renowned the world over for their quality, color, and shades. There is historical evidence that proves that silk fabrics were used to be exported to Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. During the medieval period, the Mughals were the great lovers of silken clothes. They patronized this industry in the Valley.
According to 1995-96 data, silk industry, and its allied activities provided employment to about 2.50 lakh people and contributed about Rs. six crores (60 million) to the income of Jammu and Kashmir. It also provided the raw material for shawl making, carpet, gabha, namda, hosiery, and other embroidery making.
Despite having such a huge scope for generating employment, the industry is confined to counted dealers, while farmers too are not interested in rearing silkworms.
It is high time that people apart from looking for employment in tourism should explore other sectors to become self-reliant. The government too needs to support the youth in setting up enterprises.