By: Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
Doda district is one of the richest districts of Jammu & Kashmir as for as its natural capital is considered. Inspite of having huge forests, water resources and best Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP), the district continues to be one of the most backward districts of J&K state. Spread over an area of 11,691 sq. kms, Doda is a hilly district with 92 % rural population.
District headquarter of Doda is located around 165 kms from Jammu and 235 kms from Srinagar. River Chenab flows through this district, and that is the reason this district is an important part of Chenab valley. Prior to 2007 Kishtwar and Ramban were also part of Doda district which are now two separate districts of Chenab valley.
Location of Doda
Doda is located at 33.13°N 75.57°E and has an average elevation of 1,107 meters (3631 feet). Doda town is located at an elevation of 5000 feet above sea level. Inspite of the fact that Kishtwar and Ramban were carved out of Doda 12 years back, the district continues to be the largest districts in the Jammu division.
More than 50 % people in Doda district speak Kashmiri. Other languages spoken in Doda are Sarazi , Dogri Baderwahi and Western Pahadi. Doda is also one of the backward districts of India as well. The district is surrounded by district Anantnag of Kashmir division on its North, district Kishtwar in the North-East, Chamba district of Himachal Pardesh in the South, district Udhampur in the South-West and district Ramban in the West.
Samarth Zilla study
Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies (RGICS) New Delhi is undertaking a research study in order to develop a framework for integrated district development and planning, called the Samarth Zilla (capable district) framework. The study is being undertaken in two each districts in nine states namely J&K , Punjab , Rajasthan , Uttar Pradesh , Madhya Pradesh , Chattisgrah , Orissa , Assam and Tamil Nadu. Two districts selected for study in J&K are Doda and Budgam. Both the districts have been chosen for a pilot study. The comparative study is being undertaken to understand why Doda is economically lagging behind Budgam inspite of having huge resources ? In the first instance a brief study was conducted in Doda district recently. I had personally visited the place and met several stakeholders there including local Deputy Commissioner, district officers of Horticulture, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Entrepreneur Development Institute, Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) etc. In addition I met a large number of local businessmen , farmers and other concerned persons. As per various studies conducted at state and national level Doda is economically very backward than Budgam inspite of the fact that Doda has higher literacy rate (around 63 %) than Budgam which has literacy of only 58 % .
Making Doda a capable district
Holding consultations, capacity building programs and undertaking round tables with local political, social and religious leaders so that they as well as the community is sensitised about the potential in Doda. Unfortunately people of Doda are themselves not aware of the fact that how rich their district is ? During the study and visit to Doda district i found that local political, religious and social leaders are not well aware about the potential Doda district has in different sectors especially tourism, agriculture and horticulture. There is an urgent need to sensitise the community leaders so that they create a pressure on the government for better planning and development of the potential sectors in the district. This part of development of human capital is very week in the district. Development NGOs in district are not at all visible. It is suggested that local youth be trained through fellowship programmes in leading development NGOs working in agri sector so that when they come back they become the agents of change in Doda. The SHGs associated with State Rural Livelihood Mission (SRLM) need to be taken on exposure visits. Agri and Tourism based vocational courses need to be started in Hr Secondary schools of the district under National School Qualification Framework (NSQF) programme run under project RAMSA.
Building Institutional Capability
It is observed that institutional framework is the key stone of the strategy for making Doda district a capable district or Samarth zilla or Mozoon zilla. For achieving this Government organisations working in different development sectors like Rural Development , Agriculture , Horticulture etc need constant handholding. Sher e Kashmir Agriculture University (SKUAST) Kashmir needs to have collaborative programme with SKUAST Jammu in view of the local demands in Agri sector. To handhold the Govt organisations in the district it is very important to involve prominent NGOs , research institutes working in agri and allied sectors so that they jointly create an atmosphere in the district to achieve the objective of samarthness. For proper market linkages the district administration and authorities at state level need to bring in
policy guaranteeing Minimum Support Price (MSP) of the local produce like olive , Rajma , walnuts , apple, corn etc . Furthermore the farmers need to be institutionalised into Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) and cooperatives which is not seen at all.
Road Connectivity and Irrigation facility
As Doda district is only connected to the rest of India through NH44 which due to frequent landslides and shooting stones remains blocked thus losing contact with other states. The condition of highway needs to be strengthened along with Doda –Kishtwar- Simthan road. Inspite of having huge water resources , most of the Doda villages are rain-fed and lack irrigation facilities. Several lift irrigation projects need to be taken up on priority. Directorate of Command Area Development Jammu has to play a key role in this direction.
Tourism can boost economy of Doda district. Inspite of having huge tourism potential handful of tourists visit Doda and adjoining places like Baderwah. Leading Tourism players and travel agents of national and international repute have to be invited to Doda so that they see the potential tourism sector has in Doda especially the adventure tourism like Para Gliding , Water Rafting , High Altitude hiking, trekking and village home stays. Pilgrimage tourism also has the best potential in this district.
NTFP and Apiculture
Non timber forest produce (NTFP) like Guchis , Mushrooms and other medicinal plants are found in great abundance in Doda but they are not properly marketed. Its production, sale and marketing needs to be taken up by a collaborative method involving state Forest department and J&K Medicinal Plants Board . Doda has the best wild honey, but on commercial basis apiculture is yet to be developed in the district.
There are many more agri based activities which have a huge potential in Doda like high density apple cultivation , walnut cultivation , dairy farming , backyard poultry farming etc. Only thing needed is will power and local demand from people. That can only be achieved by exploiting local human capital. By sensitizing people especially youth to create agri based start-up’s. As per the data available by EDI Doda , not even 10 % youth opt for agri based start-up’s in the district. Local political , social and religious leaders need be more visionary and development oriented. They need to impress upon villagers to see world beyond NREGA jobs. Corruption in Government offices is rampant and there is no accountability for Govt officials as anti-graft agencies hardly visit the district to see the utilization of Govt funds at grass-root level. Large number of funds are either misappropriated or get lapsed. Local politicians instead of demanding an administrative division headed by a Divisional Commissioner must demand an autonomous hill council for the area which includes districts of Doda , Kishtwar and Ramban. The olive farming which was taken up more than 30 years back has not been expanded even to one dozen villages inspite of the fact that wild olive trees called Kuh are found in abundance in Doda. The olive grafts can be inserted in these wild trees and that has worked with 80 to 90 % success rate in past. I have observed that local population in villages are fed up with farming. Some people have to create agri based start-up’s in the district so that people who are disillusioned follow them as their role models……
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Social Activist and Columnist. He is associated with Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies (RGICS) New Delhi
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