India plans massive hiring government drive in Kashmir

An Indian paramilitary soldier walks near a closed market in Srinagar.
An Indian paramilitary soldier walks near a closed market in Srinagar.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI (AP) - Indian authorities said they plan to hire tens of thousands of government workers in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir after stripping the region of its decades-long special status that offered autonomy and kept outsiders from buying land or holding private-sector jobs.

Mr Satya Pal Malik, the New Delhi-appointed governor, called it the largest recruitment drive in the region, with officials planning to fill up "50,000 vacancies in various government departments in the next few months".

At a press conference on Wednesday (Aug 28) in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, Mr Malik also announced that the government is willing to commit US$700 million (S$970 million) to help apple farmers.

Indian authorities believe the move will expand the region's economy, to which horticulture, particularly apple orchards, is critical.

Indian officials have characterised their surprise move to strip Kashmir's special constitutional status as a way to boost its economic potential and said they are planning to set up an international investment summit in the region in the coming months. It comes as India sees a slowdown in its economy.

Many people in Kashmir believe the loss of special status has nothing to do with the region's economy, and see it as a form of aggression from the Indian government.

India's government, led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, decided on Aug 5 to downgrade the autonomy of Muslim-majority Kashmir and instituted a security lockdown and communications blackout to avoid violence. The authorities say they have eased some of the restrictions.

 
 
 
 

For decades, a separatist movement has fought Indian rule in Kashmir, which is split between Pakistan and India and is claimed entirely by both. Some 70,000 people have died in clashes between militants and civilian protesters and Indian security forces since 1989.

Most Kashmiris want either independence or a merger with Pakistan, which is India's bitter rival.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his first address to the nation after revoking Kashmir's special status, said the region now has "the potential to become the biggest tourist destination in the world".

Indian Home Minister Amit Shah also said earlier this month that revoking the status will "kick-start" development.

State data, however, shows Kashmir's gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services in the state, has risen from US$16.7 billion in 2012 to an estimated US$21.9 billion last year.

In contrast, India is grappling with economic growth that has slowed to a five-year low of 5.8 per cent in the quarter from January to March. Declining industrial output and automobile sales have further raised fears of a deeper slowdown in the country.

Governor Malik assured people of peace and said normalcy will soon return to Kashmir. He said mobile phone services in 10 districts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir will be restored and mobile phone services also will be back in the northern Kupwara and Handwara police districts in the Kashmir valley.

He spoke hours after India's top court took up challenges to ending Kashmir's special status and asked the government to explain its stance.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that Mr Malik acknowledged at his press conference that Indian paramilitary forces used pellet guns during protests in Kashmir.