Srinagar, Sep 17: In a major bid to curb separatist protests and stone pelting in Kashmir, the Government of India has approved a mega-financial package for Kashmir to engage youth in sports activities. To begin with, Rs 1000 crore financial assistance is all set to land in JK government’s kitty under a joint project of Union Sports Ministry and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for constructing state-of-the-art sports related infrastructure in every tehsil, block and district of Kashmir.
The proposal was mooted some months ago by JK’s Sports department headed by Taj Mohiudin and the amount was pegged at Rs 1000 crore. The project was forwarded to Union Sports Ministry for its approval.
“The Union Sports Ministry forwarded the proposal to MHA for their clearance and it was decided that both Ministries would jointly support the project. Initially, we were conveyed that Rs 700 stands approved out of Rs 1000 crore. But we continued to demand Rs 1000 crore,” Taj told Greater Kashmir.
He said the funds would be released soon. “With the help of Centre’s financial assistance, we would be able to revamp entire sports infrastructure.”
He said State’s only problem is land acquisition. “We are working on that front. As per the proposal, we will construct indoor and outdoor stadia in every area that has a population of 50000 people,” the Sports minister said.
The move, sources said, is purely aimed at curbing separatist protests and stone pelting which, despite large scale arrests of youth in the summer unrest of 2010, continues to be a ‘major worry’ for the Central and State governments besides security agencies.
“Since the State’s economy is in a bad shape, JK had to seek financial help from Centre in engaging youth in sports activities,” sources said.
The Sports minister admitted that with the help of state-of-the-art sports facilities in Kashmir, the government would succeed in tackling the “menace of stone pelting.”
A senior official in the Youth Services and Sports department, wishing anonymity, said it was after Government of India observed that Kashmir’s young population was engaging themselves in stone-pelting, they found the project worth studying. “They out-rightly accepted it. The project has been framed keeping in view how Kashmiri youth could be engaged in various sports related activities which also could help them earn a better living,” the official said.
He said once the government would cover Kashmir, the package would be extended to Jammu region.
He said as per the proposal, each tehsil, block and district in Kashmir would have an indoor and outdoor stadium. “Each district will get Rs 8 crore, while Rs 5 crore and 3 crore would be provided to each block and tehsil respectively to build state-of-the art sports facilities,” the official said.
Senior National Conference leader and Minister for Rural Development, Ali Muhammad Sagar, said people of Kashmir have become health conscious now. “There is a visible change on ground as parents want their children more active and sports are the best bet to opt for. The youth have become more attractive towards sports now. Earlier, there was less sports infrastructure, the Central assistance will obviously help State government to upgrade sports fields,” Sagar said.
He said youth, irrespective of their family conditions, poor and rich, are opting for sports in Kashmir. “Government is just acting as a facilitator. We want youth to engage themselves with sports. Government would definitely like if youth prefer sports over stone pelting.”
Hurriyat Conference (M) chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, said Kashmir struggle is on since 1931 and history bears testimony to the fact that no monetary benefit has changed the psyche of Kashmiris.
“Even in 1990, major packages were announced to curb the dissent, but both State and Centre failed. Even army tried its best under Operation Sadbhavna, they too failed to muzzle the freedom sentiment,” he said.
Mirwaiz said, “Kashmiris would receive the packages meant for sports and still demand freedom. As far as stone pelting is concerned, it is a reaction to policies of suppression as there is no freedom of expression in Kashmir,” he said.
Political observers said that stone pelting was not a new thing in Kashmir. “The supporters of those who are ruling Kashmir at present used to do same things—throw stones, hoist black flags, stage sit-ins etc,” they said. “What remains to be seen is how far Central package would affect the psyche of Kashmiri youth. History is witness that financial sops and other economic packages haven’t changed the nature of Kashmir issue so far. But since the fresh package is directly aimed at the youth, the future of Kashmir, only time will decide how effective Centre’s new plan would be.”