Non-local exodus derails Kashmir Valley projects

An empty street during a curfew in Srinagar. AFP File

Nasrullah Jan is a worried man these days. A contractor from Srinagar, he is clueless on how he is going to repay the huge loans he has taken from banks. 

“We had taken loans from financial institutions in the hope that we will complete the projects on time,” says Jan. “This would have enabled us not only to pay back loans along with interest to the banks, but also to earn for ourselves. But alas…,”

With non-local labourers fleeing the Valley in droves, people like Jan have been left in the lurch, their lives coming apart along with the state’s economy as hundreds of crores of developmental projects, including dredging works and water supply schemes, remain frozen.

Projects hit

And this supply gap is not being filled by locals. Highlighting the dilemma of the contractors, Jan says he had engaged local labourers for completing one of the pending works. “However, they charged three times more, which we can’t afford. If the situation doesn’t improve, we will suffer huge losses,” he says.

According to sources, work on hundreds of water supply schemes of Public Health Engineering (PHE) department worth Rs1,400 crores had to be halted after non-local labourers fled from the Valley after August 5 when the Centre revoked the special status to the restive state.

Similarly, work on dredging of River Jhelum, under the Comprehensive River Management Project worth Rs 399 crores, has come to a grinding halt due to the dearth of labourers. 

Another casualty has been the Prime Minister’s Gram Sadak Yojna (Phase 12) under which 1,734 kilometres of roads worth Rs 1,487 crores were to be constructed in Kashmir and Ladakh divisions.

“However, till August only 300 kilometers had been completed. Rest of the work has been suspended as no workforce is available,” a source says.

The education sector, too, is suffering.

The World Bank had granted Rs 30 crore to the School Education Department and Rs 35 crore to the Higher Education Department for different projects. However, all works remain suspended on these projects, says the source.

A Srinagar businessman captures the extent of the crisis. “This shutdown has been unprecedented,” he says.

“We haven’t seen projects being stopped at the peak of the three agitations that have taken place in the previous three decades. But now it’s happening. The projects even in capital city of Srinagar have stopped.”

A government official says the state administration tried at many levels to persuade non-local labourers to stay in the Valley. However, all attempts at persuasion failed.

Most of the skilled and unskilled labourers to Kashmir come from UP, Bihar, Rajasthan and Punjab.

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