PM twin message for J&K today: UAE pacts, grassroot democracy

    Besides making a push for industrial and infrastructure development in Jammu and Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Palli village in Samba district on Sunday — his first major trip since Article 370 was abrogated in J&K in August 2019 — will carry a significant political message.

    Top business leaders from the UAE will accompany the PM, underlining the backing of industrialists and investors from a leading Islamic block as the BJP government seeks to pitch a new phase for J&K post-Article 370. Besides, the PM’s address, from Samba bordering Pakistan, coincides with the National Panchayati Raj Day, and will see participation of members of rural local bodies from across the state as a projection of grassroots democracy in the state.

    In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said: “Since the introduction of constitutional reforms with regards to J&K in August 2019, the government has been focused on bringing about wide-ranging reforms to substantially improve governance and enhance ease of living for the people of the region at an unprecedented pace… The projects being inaugurated and whose foundation stone is being laid in this visit will go a long way in facilitating provision of basic amenities, ensuring ease of mobility and development of infrastructure in the region.”

    Sunday will mark the first panchayat day celebrations in J&K. Palli is being celebrated as the country’s first carbon-neutral panchayat, with all its 340 houses getting solar power.

    On the industrial investment front are proposals worth Rs 38,082 crore, touted as the largest-ever private investment coming into the region in the past 75 years.

    Modi will also be inaugurating the Banihal-Qazigund road tunnel, built for around Rs 3,100 crore. The 8.45-km-long, four-lane tunnel will provide all-weather connectivity between Jammu and Kashmir, and seeks to replace the existing Jawahar tunnel which, apart from being at a higher elevation of 7,198 feet, has a limited capacity of 150 vehicles per day in either direction.

    The Banihal-Qazigund tunnel being lower, at 5,870 feet, makes it less prone to avalanches. Officials put the expected fuel savings per year due to the reduced distance between Jammu and Kashmir through the tunnel at Rs 400 crore per year.

    Modi is also scheduled to lay the foundation stones of the 850 MW Ratle and the 540 MW Kwar hydel power projects over the Chenab river, and the foundation stone of three road packages of the Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway, which is being built at a cost of over Rs 7,500 crore.

    UAE firms are expected to propose investments amounting to over Rs 3,000 crore – a first for J&K’s infrastructure development. The UAE has largely taken a neutral stand on the Kashmir dispute, resisting Pakistan’s efforts to involve the Islamic world in it. The Valley is likely to be keenly watching the cues coming from the event Sunday.

    Among the private firms expected are DP World, Emaar Properties, Lulu Group, Royal Strategic Partners and WizzFinancial. “Yes, all are coming,’’ J&K Principal Secretary, Industries and Commerce, Ranjan Prakash Thakur said, adding that projects are likely to be announced in infrastructure, IT, hospitality and food processing. Investment is likely to also come from Qatar, Thakur said.

    “It is a historic turnaround, as until now the Islamic world used to avoid investments and maintain status quo with respect to J&K, in view of both India and Pakistan staking claim over its areas,’’ said K B Jandial, a political analyst and ex-bureaucrat. He called it a success of the Modi government’s efforts in conveying that their investment in J&K will be fully protected and that all is well in the UT.

    The UT administration has invited all the 33,000 elected members of J&K’s rural local bodies to the Palli function, deploying special buses and booking most of the hotels in Udhampur, Katra, Jammu, Samba and Kathua for their stay, sources said.

    After abrogation of Article 370, the PM had briefly visited J&K to celebrate Diwali with armed forces in Nowshera district on November 4, 2021. This is his first visit since.

    With inputs from ENS, Delhi

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