Over the past four years since the abrogation of Article 370, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has undergone a remarkable transformation fuelled by a significant boost in infrastructure development. This unprecedented shift, as highlighted by Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar Bidhuri, marks a turning point in the region's trajectory. In an insightful conversation with Saqib Malik, Senior Editor of Rising Kashmir, Bidhuri sheds light on the substantial changes that have taken place, paving the way for a new era in J&K's history. Edited excerpts from their freewheeling discussion:
RK: How do you access the overall scenario after repeal of Article 370 in J&K?
Div Com: It has been four years since Article 370 was abrogated and Jammu and Kashmir is witnessing development in every sphere and situation has widely improved in the region. Although it has been just seven months since my tenure as the Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir started but a lot of important events have been held during this period. The successful G20 meetings, smooth conduct of Amarnath Yatra and the historic Muharram procession after 34 years have been instrumental to reflect the peace prevailing here. The region has witnessed development in every sector, tourism is on peak and street violence has ended. The common people are happy with peace prevailing on the ground. Implementation of the Smart City Project was also a landmark achievement.
RK: What are key challenges and sectors which the administration is focussed at?
Div Com: The drug menace is a major challenge and now civil society along with the local people are coming forward to curb it. Our key goal is to make the entire Kashmir “Nasha Mukt” region. Over the past several years, the administration has focussed on key sectors of health and education. We have the highest budget spent on the health and education sectors. Not only AIIMS like institutes, various medical colleges are being set up in many parts of Kashmir. In terms of the teacher-student ratio, J&K has fared much better and has excelled in other parameters as well.
RK: How important has role of people been in improvement of the law and order situation in the Valley?
Div Com: Earlier schools and colleges used to be closed for months together due to fragile situation but it is totally different now as educational institutions function normally. The credit of improvement in the situation goes to the people of Kashmir who are the main stakeholders. Earlier markets used to be closed on important days. Now they understand every narrative and it is visible on the ground.
RK: Kindly elaborate on the administration’s plans for employment avenues for youth?
Div Com: The government has formulated a separate department to address the aspirations of youth. The “Mission Youth” is ensuring to provide a platform to youngsters in the UT. Our slogan for youth is to become job givers not job seekers and we are working on this model. The vacant posts in government departments will be fulfilled. We are going to conduct a mega recruitment drive in J&K through various agencies including SSB, PSC from September onward and candidates will be selected on the basis of merit. I urge the aspirants to prepare for upcoming recruitment exams.
RK: Have the preparations for civic body and panchayat polls to be held later this year begun?
Div Com: Peace is a key for every developmental step. Our main focus is on development and preparedness of these polls is under process. Local Bodies Elections will be held as per the schedule in a peaceful manner.
RK: How good a sign is the increased tourist influx to Kashmir?
Div Com: This year so far more than 1.27 crore tourists have arrived in Jammu and Kashmir. It is also the backbone of the local economy. Tourism sector has a multiplier effect. Earlier Pahalgam used not to be a winter destination, now Sonamarg will be opened this year too for different seasons so that holidaymakers can have a good time. After the G20 meeting held in the Valley, foreign tourist arrival has increased. Now Yatris are also exploring more tourist destinations in Kashmir. So far more than 4 lakh Yatris have visited the holy cave. Every sector has received a boost with tourism arrival.
RK: Does infrastructure development remain a focus of the administration?
Div Com: Apart from highways, link roads are being developed or macadamised through various central agencies. The administration has improved the connectivity in rural areas. The Clock Tower at Lal Chowk that is being constructed under Smart City project will be completed before August 15 this year. As far as the issue of waterlogging in Polo Market during recent rains is concerned, the base level of two or three shops was quite limited, which prompted rain water to enter those shops. If there would have been a drainage fault, then water would have entered all shops. While I was inspecting the market, shopkeepers told me that July witnessed the highest rainfall as compared to past. With regard to the Smart city, administration is on the right track and projects will be completed on time. We have witnessed massive support from local people in implementing Smart City projects on ground.
RK: What steps are being taken to enhance accountability in government offices?
Div Com: After the abrogation of Article 370, focus is on transparency and accountability in every department now. To curb corruption, the government has started more than 75 services online and now people have to apply online. Online cases are being cross verified, analysed, so that none of service applications can be rejected. Now all works are being allotted through tenders and people can also check their respective works in respective areas. There is a transparent system in place. (Transcribed by Irfan Yattoo)