Autonomous Status: Demand of Chenab Valley

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In the recent past, governor Satyapal Malik granted Ladakh a divisional status, thus creating three administrative units of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. The governor’s decision has fueled demand for similar status to Chenab valley and Pir Panchal region.
It is a matter of great concern that the governor ignored the regional aspiration of the people of Chenab valley and Pir Panchal region. The government in the past too had played a step mother relation with the region. Whenever there is a developmental scheme from the center, it occurs only in Jammu or Kashmir or their peripheral districts.
The people of Chenab region only remains a spectator of these schemes. There are
ample of examples of such schemes like, the establishment of AIIMS, Central Universities, IIT, Highways, Railways etc.
Chenab valley, a geographical region, is a part of Jammu division. The valley sprawls over the district of Kishtwar, Doda, Ramban and Reasi covering an area of 1,3091 Square km and having population of about 960281 as per census 2011. The valley got its name from the mighty river of Chenab which run through these districts. The river is also mentioned in the literatureof Vedas as Askini which indicates that the region had its own historic value
since Vedic period.
After granting divisional status to Ladakh the people of Chenab valley are also raising their voice for autonomous status. Like Ladakh, the valley of Chenab also undergoes uncountable geographical, economical, social and  political problems. I am not going to discuss all these issues as I keep  highlighting them off and on through my columns and would continue to do so in future. Through this write-up I am trying to lay emphasis on why there is need of an autonomous status for the valley.
Geographically, the valley is bounded by mighty mountains of the middle Himalayas, thus making the region prone to landslide, avalanches & torrential Orographic rainfall. These catastrophes sometimes keep the region disconnected with the other parts of the state.
The roads in Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal regions have turned into virtual death traps. In the last five years, the Chenab valley has witnessed as many as 1193 road accidents. This has been revealed in reply to RTI application by M.M Shuja, RTI activist.
Every time accidents take place on the NH 1B (highway from Batote to Kishtwar), politicians issue statements to express grief and sorrow over such incidents and the matter is forgotten till another unfortunate incident takes place. Till date no serious effort has been put to devise a comprehensive plan to make these roads safe and minimize  accidents.
Someone needs to tell our politicians that Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal regions are not the only places in the world which are nestled in the mountains. There are many places which are located at high altitudes but roads there are not so bad and are considered safe.
Economically, the region has much potential in agriculture, electricity and tourism sector, which has always been remained undeveloped. The Chenab valley has very peculiar problems of agriculture, which are need to be addressed in focused manner. These problems can be solved by giving boost to the production of maize and peas in the area, establishment of mushroom, apiculture and saffron units, benefit of welfare programmes to farming community etc. The region is home to various mineral resources like gypsum, limestone and sapphire. Unfortunately these resources remained unexplored.
Chenab valley is an unexplored gold mine of natural resources. There is a wonderful scope of adventure tourism, ecotourism and pilgrimage tourism in the region. Apart from Baderwah, there are numerous other sites  in the region which are needed to be brought on the tourist map.
The Chenab basin have spectacular potential in the production of electricity. Various projects like Dulhasti, Baglihar, salal are running successfully in the region and some of the more projects are under construction. There is a huge environmental impact of these projects on  forests, Chenab river, wildlife and other local ecosystem. Thousands of forest trees have been cut down and in the coming years more than 1 lakh trees would be axed down for setting up new power projects. From last 40 years we are being told that hydropower projects in the region will make our state self-reliant vis a vis energy and we would be selling power to other states. We have been given false assurances that there would be job creation through these projects. Neither we became self-reliant in energy sector nor could enough jobs be created in hydropower projects except some jobs for labourers. We are still buying power from other states and NHPC is exporting enough power from the region by plundering our natural resources. We have only lost, and gained nothing. We have destroyed our nature and in return got false assurances.
On the social ground, the people of valley witnessed poor development of educational institutions and hospitals. The unemployment rate is at peak.
The culture also remained downgraded. The last but not least, the region is riddled with insurmountable problems with respect to delivery of developmental schemes, redressal of public grievance, conduct of administrative affairs and governance as such.
The region is demanding the effective local institutional arrangement weather it be Chenab Valley Autonomous Hill Development Council (CVAHDC) or Divisional status. Only through these institution the problems of the region can be addressed and can help promote and accelerate the pace of  development and equitable all round growth.
The author is a MA in Geography and History

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