[stextbox id=”info”]Demands for hill development councils for Pir Panchal and Chenab valleys have always faced a jittery Jammu. The issue is in focus again with the tussle over the location of central university and the legislative council passing a resolution favouring hill council demands. HAROON MIRANI analyses the importance of the demand that forms the core of development prospects for six hill districts.[/stextbox]

As Jammu, fearing the allocation of central university to Kashmir, agitated and raised voice for its location in Samba, it faced an unexpected rival – the hill districts of Jammu division.

Jammu’s rhetoric to agitate for central university was aimed against Kashmir Valley. But when its twin valleys – the Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley, staked the claim over the varsity, Jammu district was taken aback, as its own logic betrayed it. Though their animosities with Jammu are old and deep, it is for the first time in J&K’s history that the people in erstwhile Dada (Chenab Valley) and the twin border districts of Poonch and Rajouri (Pir Panchal) are up in arms over the location of an institution.

More than two million people of these six districts have been craving for development and political empowerment accusing Jammu district of gobbling every fund and resource allotted to the province. University location is just the latest issue that has exposed the cracks.

Logically, politicians from Jammu who want a university in their province should not have any problem about its location in Chenab or Pir Panchal valley, as they form a part of the Jammu division. And as are still reeling under the unexpected demand, the Jammu based leaders are flip flopping between agreeing to the demand and muting on it. Some of them are even murmuring that Kashmiris are encouraging them to stand up.

Kashmir valley on the other hand seems to be least concerned with the location of the Central University. The University issue has in fact given a cause to the underprivileged regions of Jammu to fight for their rights.

In epic times, Rajauri used to be the capital city of Kashmir Kingdom. The area was a republic in which entire Pir Panchal range experienced a golden age. Thousands of years down the line, the golden age is still stuck in medieval times and republic sans public aspirations.

Today, Chenab and Peer Panchal regions are known as state’s shadow zone. They barely manage to hog the limelight. The area spread over 17372 sq km with population of over two million that mostly live like unheard voices unbarring the times when deadly traffic accidents hit the region.

Ironically, the area and population of the hill districts acts as the only trump card for Jammu division in its alleged ‘fight of discrimination’ against Kashmir.

The hill districts, however, are among the most underdeveloped areas of the state. It is this region which makes Jammu division bigger than Kashmir valley in area and quite nearer to population figure too.

For decades, the five and a half districts that comprise these two regions of Jammu division have been fighting for separate identity. Their demand has been the creation of Chenab Valley Hill Development Council and Pir Panchal Hill Development Council on the pattern of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) in Leh and Kargil. But the fight has led them to a dead end repeatedly.

Chairman of Action Committee Chenab Valley Hill Development Council, Mohammed Hanief Hashmi says, “We started the fight for separate identity during the times of Sheikh Abdullah and it still continues.” Abdullah was said to have consented for the development of these regions in separate units, but his plan never materialised. They could never understand Farooq Abdullah and the hope with junior Abdullah swings like an aimless kite.

The council does everything from making representation, holding seminars, undertaking intellectual discourses, lobbying with administration and so on, but success still eludes them.

What Jammu fears

Jammu has inherent fears that if the two proposed Hill Development Councils spring to life, they will be reduced to minority with no powers. Jammu division will lose 39 percent of its population and 66 percent of its total area to the two proposed hill councils. Jammu division’s population at present is estimated to be 54,65,255 and it will effectively go down to 33,18,744.

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