Kashmir is awaiting its first global investment summit—linking it with international supply chains—as it breaks its shackles of isolation to spur a 21st century renaissance.
The summit that seeks to rev up the economy of Ladakh as well as Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), is part of a 360-degree plan, which will also reconnect the ancient land with its rich cultural heritage. The time seems right as J&K has been liberated from self-isolation, with the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5 last year.
The conference hopes to draw terror-hit Kashmir into the digital age. The Jammu and Kashmir Trade Promotion Organisation (JKTPO) which is hosting the summit in partnership with Ernst and Young and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has already identified 14 sectors for investment. This will help Kashmir leapfrog from a low-tech agricultural economy to a knowledge economy.
The 14 sectors, which have been earmarked include information technology, renewable energy, infrastructure, real estate, horticulture and post-harvest management. The blueprint also focuses on revival of film-making, tourism and hospitality industries. The government hopes to attract visitors, not just by leveraging Kashmir’s exceptional scenery, but also the region’s priceless cultural heritage, rooted in Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, whose influence radiates into the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, China and the Asia-Pacific.
Among the bevy of projects, Srinagar’s proposed turnaround into a smart city has already caught the imagination of netizens, who are keenly following the union territory’s futuristic ride driven by cyber connectivity. Srinagar’s smart city plan, flagged in 2017 takes the cue from IBM, which visualised a digitally empowered model city of the future, following the financial meltdown in 2008.
A smart city such as Srinagar could be based on efficient and mixed land use, anchored by compatible clusters, such as a self-contained mini-film city, a media city, a financial hub, a heritage city or an art district. Each of these clusters can embed shopping malls, food courts, grocery stores and business hotels.
Municipalities in smart cities rely on remote control, by processing in real time, high speed digital data, related to a problem area, such as an emergent traffic situation, running of subway trains during rush hour, a health emergency, or forecasting and mitigating a natural disaster, based on smart algorithms.
Srinagar of the future is also expected to encourage walk able localities and open spaces such as parks and playgrounds including sports stadiums. The road network would also be designed or refurbished not only for vehicles and public transport, but also for serving pedestrians and cyclists.
Kashmir’s transition into a new economy and digital culture will require a huge feedstock of talent, opening massive opportunities of good quality jobs for young men and women. But to bridge the massive upcoming demand-supply gap, the administrators and investors have to brainstorm ways to minimise the skill gap to make the youth employable in a hi-tech universe. Besides, people with skills—doctors, IT specialists and others—who were forced to migrate within India or abroad because of militancy need to be invited back to build a new Kashmir.
In tune with these developmental changes, the government is also pushing to develop the first central university in Ladakh with a Center on Buddhist Studies. The Buddhist center is expected to mainly cater to the Gelug sect, to which the 14th Dalai Lama belongs, and Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The Ladakh Central University will also benefit students from Lahaul and Spiti districts of Himachal Pradesh.
With varied projects planned for the two union territories, news of a different kind of revolution will be echoing in the mountains and valleys soon..