After his recent visit to the region, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad on Monday alleged the restrictions the Centre has imposed have reduced trade and business activity in Jammu and Kashmir to "zero", and described the situation in the soon to be created union territory as a “government made disaster”.
Azad, a former union minister and the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, demanded the Centre provide free foodgrains for at least six months to the thousands of workers in not just Kashmir but also Jammu. He said with no business activity since August 5, they have earned little and fast depleting savings has pushed them to the doors of starvation.
He said he interacted with hundreds of locals during his visit to J&K, and based on this demands the Centre should restore internet, allow opening of college and universities, postpone exams and release political prisoners. Azad said the Centre should also ask banks to delay collecting instalments on loans for at least the next 12 to 18 months since the people have no paying capacity left.
The Congress leader said that an "environment of fear" is prevailing in J&K. He alleged the local administration barred him from visiting many places during his six-day tour, and those who met him were video-graphed. He alleged the government was "using local government" for repression.
Azad said it is not just the people in Kashmir, but those in Jammu have also suffered. He said much of Jammu's economy rests on its trade with Kashmir since goods from mainland India reach Kashmir via Jammu. Illustrating how transporters have suffered, he said 300 trucks would visit Kashmir from Jammu daily but only 50 have since August 5.
Questioning the Centre's claims that normalcy has returned to Kashmir, Azad said on average 100 to 110 oil tankers would travel to Kashmir from Jammu daily, but now only two oil tankers go to Kashmir, and low consumption of petrol and diesel is evidence of nearly non-existent economic activity since August 5. Let alone tourism and apple industry, but cottage, handloom industry, and nearly all other sectors have borne the brunt, he said.
Azad visited J&K after the Supreme Court on September 16 allowed him to tour the state. A bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, had allowed the former J&K chief minister to visit four districts -- Srinagar, Jammu, Baramulla, Anantnag -- to meet people. In his petition filed in his "personal capacity", Azad had told the Supreme Court that he had tried to visit the state thrice, but turned back from the airport. Azad said he would soon be submitting his report to the Supreme Court.
Azad alleged the government is indulging in “total deception” by showing on television that normalcy has returned. He said shops open only for a couple of hours in the morning and evening, which leads to people coming out to do their shopping. He said visuals of these couple of hours over the course of the day are shown on television to claim that all is normal. “Neither Jammu is happy, nor Kashmir. People of all religious persuasion are unhappy,” he said.
He said the government plans to hold panchayat polls at a time when it has arrested mainstream political leaders of all hues, barring those of the Bharatiya Janata Party. He alleged those earlier associated with non-BJP political parties have now been forced to join the BJP, and are not in jail. He said the government has carried out delimitation of constituencies without consulting the opposition.