Non-locals, most of whom left after the recent spate of targeted killings, make about 80% of the valley’s semi-skilled and skilled workforce.
The migration of non-local labourers in the aftermath of recent civilian killings in Kashmir has resulted in a workforce crisis.
Since October 2, at least 11 civilians have been killed in Kashmir, including five non-local labourers, causing panic throughout the valley. Many Kashmiri Pandits and non-Kashmiri workers have fled the region.
Fear among non-native workers after targeted killings
Kashmir was a second home for Mohammad Riyaz, a Bihar resident, who works as a mason. But he’s now getting ready to depart early for his home, where his family is concerned about his safety and has begged him to return.
Sultan, a painter from Bihar, says he spent the last 15 years working in Kashmir. “In Kashmir, we never feel threatened. However, recent killings of non-local labourers have raised concerns about the situation,” he says.
“My family is concerned, so I am returning home. If the situation improves, I will come again next year,” Sultan told Digpu News.
Kashmir’s agriculture, horticulture is reliant on non-local labour force
The economy of Kashmir would be severely harmed if the majority of non-local workers leave early. Farmers are likewise concerned about non-local labourers leaving.
In Kashmir, apple harvesting is in full swing. In general, non-local labourers work in agriculture and horticulture, and agriculturists and horticulturists have enormous difficulty in getting their normal job done without them.
“Apple picking season is in full swing right now. We need to pick apples and deliver them to different Mandis. We don’t have enough people to pick fruit since we don’t have enough workers,” Shafiq Ahmad, a resident of Pulwama, said.
As per Shafiq, everything has come to a standstill in the valley after the non-local labourers started leaving. “We would make about Rs 10 lakh a year from apple cultivation, but I’m afraid we’ll lose a lot of money this year since we don’t have enough labourers,” he lamented.
Horticulture is the basis of Kashmir’s economy, employing around seven lakh people directly and indirectly. Horticulture accounts for 7% of Jammu and Kashmir’s Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP).
In the valley, fruit is grown on more than 3.38 lakh hectares of land. A total of 1.62 lakh hectares are covered by apple orchards.
Construction activities also badly hit due to shortage of labour force
As non-local labourers started leaving Kashmir, construction activities in the valley have come to a standstill.
Due to the scarcity of local labour, the non-local workforce has aided in meeting Kashmir’s labour demands, and their migration under the current scenario has harmed development efforts in every district of the Kashmir province.
According to rough estimates, at least 80% of Kashmir’s semi-skilled and skilled workers are from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and a few other states.
Every year, around five lakh labourers from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, and West Bengal travel to Kashmir to make their bread and butter.
Besides aiding in two vital sectors of agriculture and horticulture, non-local skilled labourers are used extensively in the PMGSY, Economic Reconstruction Agency, Roads and Buildings Department, cement plants, and brick kilns.
However, the concerned government officials also have nothing much to do because non-local labourers are hesitant to work on development projects in the current atmosphere.
Labour force shortage amid high unemployment astonishing
The unemployment rate in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir was recently pegged at 21.6 per cent (in September 2021) by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a Mumbai-based business information firm. Not only is the unemployment rate higher than the national average (6.9), but also the worst among India’s other states and UTs.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI) has released extraordinary monthly retail inflation data, which indicates that inflation in Jammu and Kashmir is 7.39 per cent, which is greater than the national figure of 4.35 per cent.
Given the two deteriorating vital statistics about UT’s economy, it is astonishing to witness the present reliance on the non-local workforce.
The local population over the last many years have been excessively dependent on non-local labourers and prefer small-time jobs than involving themselves in agriculture. In contrast, more preference is given to government jobs because of the limited opportunities provided by the state of the private sector in the UT, especially the valley of Kashmir.
Government jobs are the most preferred by the people in Kashmir, given the volatile atmosphere that is witnessed frequently and which sometimes results in sudden job losses in the private firms and businesses.