His tirade against the NC founder, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, and the reported emergence of Third Front in Jammu and Kashmir’s political scenario notwithstanding, J&K’s agriculture minister, GHULAM HASSAN MIR, tells JEHANGIR ALI that the state has to undergo many changes to become economically independent!
KL: A Supreme Court appointed committee last year said the people in Kashmir valley will die of hunger if there was another economic blockade like the one we witnessed during the 2008 Amarnath agitation. What has your ministry done to increase the agriculture output and make the state self-sufficient in terms of production?
GHM: I don’t know anything about the committee. But let me tell you one thing. The world has squeezed into a village. In a globalized world, we have to see this phenomenon in a different mirror. We have to see it through its profitability. If you require any product, you can get it from any corner of the country provided you have resources. If you look at the scenario in Jammu and Kashmir, our preference is mostly on producing rice because we are principally rice eaters. Throughout the country, there is PDS system which has made food cheap. When a farmer is asked to go for producing or cultivating rice, he doesn’t feel it is remunerative. People have lost interest in agriculture. The youth belonging to the rural areas having lands now shift to private and government sector because the traditional agriculture is not profitable. The first channelize for us is how we will engage our people in agriculture sector. I want to make agriculture activity profitable by diversifying. It is not necessary that a farmer has to go for rice. There are other sectors. Even if our state is facing food deficit but our state is number one in horticulture across the country. During militancy, the economy had gone into shambles. But the agriculture and horticulture sectors survived.
KL: Agriculture was the major contributor towards the GDP of the state. Over the years, the output has gone down significantly.
GHM: It is not Kashmir specific. It is a worldwide phenomenon. The GDP in agriculture has gone down throughout the world because of many reasons. Now there are so many sectors where profit is more because of which the agriculture sector is eroding. Also, the prices are under control and mere production will not enhance GDP. When the price index is raised, it can help the people involved in the sector. But when the prices are raised, there is a hue and cry. We are consumer minded. Agriculture is not so profitable because price index is under control as a result of which the agriculture GDP has gone down. A water bottle costs Rs 100 at a five star hotel while a litre of milk costs only Rs 25. How can you explain this dichotomy?
KL: What has been the contribution of agriculture ministry to evoke interest among people in agriculture sector to increase production?
GHM: There are two things. I want agriculture sector to become profitable. There must be glamour which might invoke interest since hard labour is involved. So we are offering mechanical support to the people involved in the sector. Earlier, Oxen were used to plough lands. Now, when a youth stands on a tractor, he feels empowered. When we adopt the mechanisation, it adds glamour factor and adds profits. We have to stress on post harvesting sector too. We have to set up cold storages. Farmers are forced to sell their product at cheap prices. A farmer is not in a position to dictate the price of his produce since he can’t preserve it because of which there is no profit and less people are interested to set up their farms.
KL: You have been the biggest votary of economic independence in Jammu and Kashmir state. Will that consequently translate into political independence as well?
GHM: Political independence can wait but economic independence can’t be deferred because we have been waiting for the last 63 years to see this change. If our forefather would have attended the economic problem, we would not have been backward. Our main focus must be economy. Politics can wait.
KL: You recently termed the National Conference’s Autonomy and PDP’s Self-Rule emotive slogans. You also blamed Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah for the ‘mess’ prevailing in the state these days. Was it political posturing or is there more to it than meets the eye?
GHM: I said it was a mindset created by him. Sheikh Sahab is the tallest of all leaders in Kashmir. He had a mass appeal because of what he contributed towards the people in Kashmir. We may have some differences with him but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t done anything. But for full 23 years, he preached self-determination and then entered into an accord with Indira Gandhi. The mindset created by self-determination sloganeering remains till now. Our priority should be to boost economy to change that mindset. Our youth have suffered because of that mindset.
KL: What are those disagreements?
GHM: I don’t think it is a proper time to say that.
KL: Are you happy with the Omar Abdullah government?
GHM: I am part of the government. Why will I not be satisfied?
KL: There are reports that Delhi is exploring the option of creating a third front in 2014 assembly elections of which you will be a part. How far will it be pragmatic for a state like Kashmir?
GHM: I don’t know why Delhi should go for that. It is for the people. We have political parties which take initiatives. Sometimes they think to join hands. Sometimes they operate separately. It is the initiative of political parties. What has Delhi to do with it? Do you think the political parties here have no initiative of their own? Why they have to look towards Delhi? What Delhi has to do is a different thing. Here politicians have to see how they have to work. There is a large constituency of people who don’t vote. We have to cater to them.
KL: Your detractors say that you are pushing for early election in Jammu and Kashmir? What is your reaction?
GHM: There will be no early election. Elections will be held in December 2014!