North Kashmir - From Days Of Glory To Story Of Neglect

6 December 2015
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Ishfaq Tantry

Srinagar: North Kashmir - once synonymous with prosperity, booming trade, horticulture and other allied industries - is now a story of neglect and political apathy. Anger is brewing up in north Kashmir comprising Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora districts. It has a population of over 2.27 million, accounting for 33 per cent of the total population of Kashmir. The clamour for development, better health care and educational facilities is growing with each passing day. Before Partition, mention of north Kashmir immediately attracted attention to its bustling markets, booming horticulture and agriculture and thriving educational hubs and natural beauty. However, with the division of erstwhile J&K into two parts and the closure of the historic Baramulla-Rawalpindi road, north Kashmir has witnessed neglect and apathy from various political dispensations, ruling the region from Srinagar city. Present imperfect: In the past, north Kashmir boasted of the Mohura power station, one of the first hydropower stations in entire South Asia. The power station is now defunct. The region also had a match factory, the only one in the state and established by Raja Upinder Krishan Sharma, a relative of Maharaja Hari Singh. The factory is now in ruins and houses a security camp. The bandsaw mill of the Forest Department in Baramulla was famous as sleepers for the Railways and rifle and pistol butts for various ordnance factories in north India would be supplied from here. These are all relics of past. North Kashmir is also home to ski resort Gulmarg and the Wular Lake, one of the largest fresh water lakes in Asia. It also has several high-altitude grasslands and meadows such as the Bungus valley in Kupwara. The lake is threatened by encroachments while the Bungus valley is out of bounds for the tourists as it is near to the Line of Control. Locals rue govt bias: North Kashmir lags behind in tourism, health, education and road infrastructure. Anger is brewing over the 'step-motherly' attitude of the successive governments towards north Kashmir. On November 30, agitating traders took out a march under the banner of the Beopar Mandal Baramulla. Protesters raised slogans against the government for, what they called, ignoring Baramulla on the development front. Tourism continues to suffer: 'Though I don't believe in regionalism, it is a fact that despite having so many tourism spots and high potential, north Kashmir, by and large, has not benefitted from the tourism activity and continues to be ignored on this front,' said Engineer Rashid, Langate MLA. Need for better health care: The clamour for development and tertiary health care facilities in the region is growing. Locals have been demanding upgrade of District Hospital, Baramulla, which also caters to remote Uri, Rafiabad, Sopore and Kupwara. 'There is an immediate need to upgrade District Hospital, Baramulla, and provide specialised health care. Besides, the authorities should also start work on establishing the medical college in the vicinity of the hospital as the land for it has already been identified,' said Prof Muhammad Ismail, former principal, Baramulla Degree College. He is also the president of the Academic and Social Concerns Forum (ASCF), Baramulla, an amalgam of various religious, social and trade organisations from north Kashmir. Members of the ASCF said most of the health institutions in north Kashmir, including district and sub-district hospitals like that in Kupwara, Sopore and Handwara, were also facing staff shortage, adversely affecting health care. Demand for universities: Professor Ismail said the government should take steps to upgrade the north campus of the University of Kashmir and turn it into a full-fledged independent university for the benefit of hundreds of students from north Kashmir. People of north Kashmir have been demanding upgrade of Wadoora Agriculture College to a university for the benefit of the local horticulture industry. 'North Kashmir, including Sopore, is one of the biggest apple producing regions in Kashmir. The establishment of knowledge hubs like a horticulture university would benefit the growers of the region,' said Sajjad Hussain, an educated youth from the Sopore area, who grows apples on his family owned orchards. Revive Baramulla project: Political rivalry is being blamed for the shelving of the Greater Baramulla project, which envisaged development of historic Baramulla town as a model town under the J&K Urban Sector Development Investment Sector Programme. The project was envisaged when the Peoples Democratic Party was running the government in coalition with the Congress, but this time, the PDP-led government seems to have changed its priorities towards north Kashmir. 'The authorities should immediately revive the project,' said professor Ismail.