Cinema halls have reopened in Kashmir after 33 years. As the District Commissioner of Shopian, how do you view this move?
It was the initiative of LG Manoj Sinha to open cinema halls in every district of Kashmir, and for the first leg, Shopian and Pulwama were chosen. The idea is to add entertainment to the daily routine of the people. Our focus is equally on infotainment. The emerging young population of Kashmir is very talented. We want to run documentaries of academic importance for them. We are also hopeful this initiative will boost the economy.
What is the people’s response?
I feel there is no adverse public perception. The people have wholeheartedly welcomed and appreciated the government’s move and I can say there is collective participation too. It gives me confidence that the endeavour will be successful.
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Since the focus is on infotainment, are you planning on collaborations with schools and universities?
We will be holding a children’s film festival in the Shopian cinema hall, showcasing information-centric films and documentaries. Under the LG administration, people are willing to communicate with us. The administration is more transparent and accountable today, and there is more interaction with the people. The administration is responsive to the needs of the people, be it in terms of providing physical infrastructure such as roads, electricity and water connection, or in building more synergy with them.
People are saying they need development and redress for their grievances.
Our work is to meet the people and redress their grievances. In Shopian, earlier 20-25 people would visit the DC’s office in a day, but today that number has shot up to 120-150. They talk of their grievances and convey bigger developmental aspirations openly. This illustrates the paradigm shift in public perception. There are 178 services offered online and transparency is guaranteed. A major achievement is the digitisation of land records and disbursal of passbooks to land-owners, summarising land holdings.
We have increased fund allocation. Take the budget for Shopian, for example. The budgetary allocation made to Shopian in 2021-2022 was 3.3 times more than the previous year. The LG administration has earmarked Rs.600 crore for Shopian in the current financial year, which is again 1.5 times more than the previous year. There is also decentralisation of funding. Even in a small district like Shopian we now have road connectivity of 330 kilometres. There is electricity in rural areas for up to 22 hours, and during massive snowfall, power connection is restored in five to six hours.
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Unemployment is a major talking point. What are you doing to redress that?
We have initiated self-employment schemes for the youth, disbursing loans to 6,000-7,000 local people. A youth from Tukroo village in Shopian, who was allocated a loan of Rs.10 lakh, successfully opened the Haja restaurant and is today earning a net profit of Rs. 60,000 a month.
There have been record tourist footfalls this year. But tourism is confined to a few pockets such as Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonmarg. Are you planning to widen that ambit?
The LG administration is working round the clock to upgrade and expand tourist destinations. There was a time when tourists, even local people, dreaded coming to Shopian because it was seen as a militants’ hotspot. But today there is considerable tourist footfall to the local peer ki gali. We had over 10,000 tourists here [in Shopian], and major infrastructure development projects are being planned. We are also developing Aharbal waterfall on the Shopian-Kulgam border.