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  • Proposed 7KM tunnel bound to add new dimensions to usefulness of new link   

The 84 KM Mughal road, which draws its importance from the pages of history, is fast emerging as a potent economic corridor between state’s major regions of Kashmir and Jammu. The road connects Shopian district of South Kashmir with Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu division. First used by the Mughal rulers, the history of this route goes back to 431 years when in 1586 the Mughal army under the command of Qasim Khan entered the valley through this area. In modern days, the idea of connecting the twin regions through this route was first tossed in 1978 but was soon abandoned for certain reasons. 

After 23 years of huge gap it was in 2005, on the persistent demand of people of either side, the government determined to take up the revival of the project. The  reconstruction was taken up under Prime Minister's Reconstruction Plan by establishing two Mughal road divisions in Shopian and Bafliaz and  the foundation stone  was laid at Heerpura in Shopian and at Bafliaz in Poonch by the then Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayed. The actual work was however started in Feb, 2006.

After toil of many years and innumerable halts & hiccups, it was only in July 2009 that Mughal road was opened for inspection by a standing committee of J&K legislative council. After incurring a whopping expenditure of Rs 640 crore, the road was finally thrown open for light vehicles in May 2012. Over the years, the new road has not only enhanced the connectivity between be the two regions, particularly Kashmir valley and Rajouri-Poonch of Pir Panjal, but also ushered a new era of development for both the regions. The employment avenues in tourism industry, transport sector and business have increased manifolds.   

To begin with, many roadside outlets including dhabas, tea stalls and hotels have already come up along the road. The business in terms of exchange of goods and services between the two regions has picked up considerably, which can go a long way in improving the economic status of people living across the two regions.  

The historic road passes through dense forests of deodar, large stretches of lush green pastures. The highest pass enroute, at an altitude of 11500Ft (3505m) is Peer ki Gali, has a great potential if developed as winter resort like Gulmarg and Pahalgam. The historic sites of Sukh Sarai, Aliabad sarai, Behramgala and Noori Chamb provide apt sites for Heritage Tourism. Similarly Dheera ki Gali, Thana Mandi and Chingus could be developed as important tourist and business centres. In addition, Religious Tourism in the likes of shrine of Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah(RA) at Shahdara Sharief and shrine of Hazrat Shiekh Ahmad Aziz (RA) at Peer ki Gali has huge potential for promotion. The area also presents ample opportunities in terms of Adventure Tourism like trekking, mountaineering and rock climbing.

To harness the huge tourism potential of the region, the state government has also recently approved the creation of Aharbal-Dubjian-Peer ki Gali Development Authority. The government looks forward to develop the places en-route, at par with other tourist places in the valley. Things are to be planned and implemented keeping in view the topography of the area, significance in-terms of tourism and trade, and aspirations of people living at the two ends of this historical corridor.

In addition to the huge potential in-terms of Tourism, enhanced trade links between two regions and providing an alternate route, the Mughal road has also for time immemorial served as safe passage for nomads and their livestock. In summer, hundreds of nomadic families are seen travelling from different areas of Rajouri and Poonch along with their livestock towards the high altitude grazing pastures in the valley. The development of mughal road has provided these nomadic families with an opportunity of ferrying their valuable livestock in trucks, thereby minimizing chances of any kind of mishap enroute.  

Nonetheless, the road also encompasses different challenges and poses several difficulties for the Govt. The biggest challenge being faced is keeping the road open for the year round. As the road passes through the places witnessing heavy snowfall in the winter months, marked by heightened risk of avalanches and landslides, results in the closure of road for a minimum of 5 months. The stretch of 31 km from Dubjian to Chattapani area sees maximum erosion and loss of vast patches of road. Considerable damage and degradation is caused to the road in the winter months. The repair and maintenance work for the same costs Rs 10 crore besides entailing an expenditure of Rs.70-80 lakh for snow clearance annually.

To deal with various challenges visa –vie round the year connectivity, reducing the travel time, development of tourist places, the state Govt. has come up with several programmes and action plans. The proposed 7KM tunnel from Chattapani to Zazinar is one such way that can realize the twin benefits of reducing travel time along the route and help travelers skip the avalanche prone zones en-route. The proposal for the project has been approved by the Union Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways and the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDC) has already invited bids for preparation of Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the construction of passage way estimated to cost of Rs. 1200 crore.

Slope stabilization, another matter of concern along the route, is also being looked into. A project of Rs 200 crore has been proposed to deal with risk posed by land/mud slides, shooting stones as a result of heavy cutting of rocks along the route. The project would save a lot of yearly maintenance work and the expenditure incurred, which as per the official record is Rs 10 crore.

The author is presently working as District Information Officer Rajouri.

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There are some 7.5 billion people in the world. By 2050, the world population is likely to become nine billion. India, the second most populous country, has some 1.3 billion people and is expected to take the top position by overtaking China by 2050. Amidst increasing numbers, concerns over feeding the population and sustaining the resources are on top of the mind of governments, experts and planners.

 

It is to address these issues and others related to population that the World Population Day is celebrated on July 11. The Day was first celebrated in 1989 when the world population reached five billion. Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme recommended that 11 July be observed by the international community as World Population Day, to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues. Since then, population trends and matters such as reproductive health, contraception and challenges posed by the increasing population are deliberated upon on this day.

 

The theme for 2017 World Population Day is “Family Planning: Empowering People, Developing Nations.” This year's celebrations also coincide with the Family Planning Summit, the second meeting of the Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) initiative, which aims to expand access to voluntary family planning to 120 million additional women by 2020.

The theme this year has special significance since data indicates that some 214 million women in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancy are not using safe and effective family planning methods. Most of these women with an unmet demand for contraceptives live in 69 of the poorest countries. Lack of adequate family planning services jeopardizes women’s health. Women are not able to use these services due to lack of access to information, or services, or support from their partners, or communities.

 

Considering its importance in stabilizing population, access to safe, voluntary family planning methods is considered a human right and central to gender equality and women’s empowerment. It is also seen as a key factor in reducing poverty. Investments in making family planning available yield economic gains which further propel development.

 

India with its large population also has huge unmet need for family planning which government is trying to overcome. Statistics (DLHS III) indicate young population has an unmet need of 20.5 per cent at the national level - 13.3 per cent need for limiting methods and 7.2 per cent for spacing methods. Women between 15 and 19 years have an unmet need of 28.3 per cent and those between 20 and 24 years, have an unmet need of 28.5 per cent.

 

Between 2001 and 2011 India added 181 million people to the world, slightly less than the entire population of Brazil. Much of India’s population increase has occurred among the poorest socio-economic percentile. India’s huge population and the fact that it is expected to increase further - according to government projections, the population is expected to reach 1.55 billion by 2035 – pose both a challenge and an opportunity. Since more than 60 per cent of this population will be in the younger age bracket, below the age of 40 years, there will be economic gains if this human resource is provided with education and training in skill development. However, providing healthcare services to this pool of youth so that it is healthy and able to contribute to country’s economy may turn out to be a challenge.  In addition, taking care of the geriatric population, which goes up to about 223 million by 2035, will also be a challenge and require preventive, curative and geriatric care.

 

While providing food to the ever increasing world population is a challenge, the UN has set ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture as the second of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the year 2030. Achieving these objectives will require addressing issues like gender parity, ageing populations, skills development and global warming. According to experts, agriculture sector will have to become more productive by adopting efficient business models and forging public-private partnerships. It will also need to become sustainable by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, water use and waste.

 

For India, it is imperative that it adopts effective measures to control its population. According to a paper by Ranjit Goswami, IMT, Nagpur in East Asia Forum, the global demand for water in 2050 is projected to be more than 50 per cent of what it was in 2000, and demand for food will double. On average, a thousand tons of water is required to produce one ton of food grains. It is for this reason that international disputes about water have increasingly been replicated among states in India, where the Supreme Court is frequently asked to intervene.

 

Keeping aside the projection, government data indicates that India's total fertility rate has declined from 2.6 in 2008 to current 2.3. India is now just 0.2 points away from reaching the replacement level of 2.1.  In fact, 24 states have already achieved replacement level fertility and about 60 per cent of the population resides in states where replacement fertility has been reached or will soon be met including the southern states, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab..

The government is now accelerating family planning measures. It has identified 146 districts with total fertility rate, the number of children born per woman, of more than three to focus on. These districts are in the seven states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Assam and make 28 per cent of the country’s population.  The health ministry is starting a programme called "Mission Parivar Vikas" in these districts to improve access to family planning services, create awareness and make family planning choices available. 

Besides, government is already running a strategy to push up the age of marriage of girls and delay in first child and spacing in second child. The couples who adopt this strategy are awarded suitably. Under another programme called Santushti Strategy, Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh, has invited private sector gynaecologists and vasectomy surgeons to conduct sterilization operations in public private partnership mode. The private hospitals/nursing homes which achieve target are suitably awarded as per strategy.

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Author is asenior science and health journalist with over 18 years of experience. Now an independent journalist, earlier she had worked with PTI and some other major newspapers.

Views expressed in the article are author’s personal.

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A short and crisp video unveiled by President Shri Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi for the launch of the Goods and Services Tax  in the majestic Central Hall of Parliament  captured the clear objective  behind country’s most important tax reform till date. Unlike what economists and other commentators have been telling us as to how the GST would push the country’s Gross Domestic Product  and make life easier for the trade and industry, the launch film showed  a much broader aspect of the modern taxation that has the country’s people, especially those economically less privileged at its core.

In his inspirational speech at mid-night of June 30, minutes before the roll out, Prime Minister, referred to GST as a life changing instrument for the poor particularly in eastern Uttar Pradesh, other eastern states and the North East.  Even as they are blessed with rich natural resources, these states have not been able to fully exploit the same for their development. 

On face of it, one might ask, how is GST going to be of great benefits to the poor of the country, or is it that the same old “trickle down “ theory is supposed to play a role , via trade and industry. To an extent, it could be so, but the very character of the GST would ensure in realising what the Prime Minister said before the country’s most distinguished audience. The country’s mature polity and cooperative federalism has finally delivered a system, which is people –centric and not necessarily manufacturer centric.

Unlike the excise or other levies, the GST that subsumes seven Central and eight state taxes, is not source or manufacturer based but a destination or consumer centric. In plain and simple language, the states which have more consumers would stand to gain immensely in terms of tax buoyancy that would then be channelled in the welfare schemes for the people and overall economic development of the states. Surely, states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and North East, which did not have much of a manufacturing base and were losing on revenue would stand to gain while the developed and manufacturing hubs would be compensated at least for five years of the GST launch. More the consumers, higher is the tax collection in a state; though the consumers need to be economically empowered!

The growth impetus to these states which could not keep pace with the states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu or Karnataka in manufacturing, would come from trade which in turn would generate huge resources for ploughing back into development efforts. Such a vibrancy would then lead to interest of investors, both domestic and global, into manufacturing and related service sectors, opening vistas for job creation for millions of people. 

“GST is a system that ends the imbalances in the country’s trade. It also boosts the exports of the country. This system not only provides impetus to already developed states but also provides the opportunity to the backward states to develop. Our states are enriched with natural resources – look at Bihar, eastern UP, West Bengal, the north east, Odisha. They are all brimming with natural resources. When they will get a single tax regime I can see clearly that whatever deficiency is there those will be removed and this art of the country will move ahead. All the states of India will get equal opportunity for development”, the PM put the context right. 

Besides, the one nation –one- tax from “Ganga Nagar to Itanagar “ in the words of Shri Modi, would surely make life easier for the industry, trade and common person in different ways, encouraging honest way for the  economic transactions. This is why, the GST has been dubbed as ‘Good and Simple Tax’ that would bring in a new governance culture.

Both the PM and the President gave full credit to different political parties and governments at the Centre and the states in making the GST a reality. “This is not a Sidhi (realisation) of one government or a party; it is a fruit of common efforts”, the Prime Minister said. The President, who had himself played a pivotal role in the progressive journey of the GST as Finance Minister in the previous government, had some apt words:

“The new era in taxation.... is the result of a broad consensus arrived at between the Centre and States. This consensus took not only time but also effort to build. The effort came from persons across the political spectrum who set aside narrow partisan considerations and put the nation’s interests first. It is a tribute to the maturity and wisdom of India’s democracy”.  

One of the principal advantages of the new tax regime would be doing away with the cascading effect resulting from ‘tax on tax’. Through a robust IT infrastructure, the system of input credit ensures that it gets passed and adjusted against the tax liabilities. This would only help the consumers. “Theprices of goods and services will come down. In the earlier system, the credit for excise duty, service tax, VAT and other indirect taxes did not get passed to the last vendor. But, in the GST, such credit goes to the supplier at the last stage of the value  chain which then gets transferred  to the consumers,” said noted tax expert Shri  Brij Bhushan. 

Finance Minister Shri Arun Jaitley too has been impressing upon the industry to pass on any gains which accrue following the GST roll out. He hoped that the government may not have to use the powers vested in it through the Anti-Profiteering Authority to ensure that the benefits get passed on to the common citizens. While even the President Shri Mukherjee said that there could be disruptions in the initial stage, such a thing would be constructive disruption. Once we are through the teething troubles and initial period of adjustment, GST would prove to be a people-centric, capable of transforming lives.  

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Prakash Chawla is a senior journalist and commentator. He mostly writes on political-economy and global economic issues.

Views expressed in the article are author’s personal.