Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir officially split into union territories

New Delhi split the state into the two union territories, which came into force on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 01 November 2019

Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir officially split into union territories

  • It is the first time in India’s history that the status of a state has been downgraded in this way
  • On August 5, India repealed the special autonomous status of the disputed region

NEW DELHI: India’s disputed Jammu and Kashmir region officially ceased to be a state on Thursday when the territory was divided into two union territories: Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir.

This is the first time in independent India’s history that the status of a state has been downgraded in this way. A union territory is a centrally administered unit ruled by a lieutenant governor, who is the representative of New Delhi. The local legislative assembly has limited political powers and must always defer to his will.

On August 5, authorities in New Delhi repealed Article 370 of the constitution, which granted a special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir. It also split the state into the two union territories, which came into force on Thursday.

Indian Administrative Service officer Radha Krishna Mathur was sworn in as the first lieutenant governor of Buddhist dominated Ladakh on Thursday. Girish Chandra Murmu, an IAS officer known as a close ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was sworn in as lieutenant governor of Jammu and Kashmir.

Ladakh will not have a legislative assembly. Jammu and Kashmir, which used to have a two-tier system — the Legislative Assembly (lower house) and Legislative Council (upper house) — will now have a single chamber with no authority over law and order, which will be controlled by the lieutenant governor. Only Indian flags will fly over government buildings, with the flag of Kashmir consigned to the pages of history.

“Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are taking a step towards a new future today,” said Modi during a political rally in his home state of Gujarat to mark the anniversary of the birth of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first home minister.

“Article 370 only gave separatism and terrorism to Jammu and Kashmir. It was the only place in the country where Article 370 was present, where in the past three decades more than 40,000 people were killed and many mothers lost their sons due to terrorism. Now this wall of Article 370 has been demolished.”

He added: “The government does not want to draw territorial lines in Jammu and Kashmir but wants to build a strong link of faith, and focus on the emotional, economic and constitutional integration of the entire country.”

Harsh Dev Singh of the Jammu-based National Panthers Party, said: “The division of the state is an insult to the sentiments of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. New Delhi has hurt the sentiments and dignity of the people.

“This was a state that used to have its own prime minister — it has now been handed over to a junior officer. This is the biggest affront to the feelings of the people of not only the valley, but also Jammu.

“It is an absurd argument to suggest that union territory status will lead to further development of the region. Modi’s government could not carry out any development in the past five years when they were part of the government in Srinagar; now by demoting the political status of the state they talk of development. It sounds strange.”

He added: “With the role of the mainstream political parties getting limited it’s the people of the state who are being disempowered. No doubt the people of the valley are very upset but the people of Jammu are more angry because the Hindu Dogra ruler of Kashmir belonged to Jammu.

“Normalcy in the state is possible only when the people and political parties of the state are taken into confidence.”

Ravinder Kumar Sharma, a member of the Congress Party from Jammu, said: “The people of Jammu and Kashmir have been disempowered, and the manner in which the Indian government has taken such a crucial decision about the fate of the state will further destabilize the region.”

He added that the government’s actions have further alienated people in the valley and given credence to separatist forces.

“In three months, we have not been able to restore normalcy,” said Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, executive editor of the Kashmir Times. “The lock down in the valley continues and people are still detained. In a situation where there is complete uncertainty, it is difficult to believe that anything will change by converting the state into union territories.

“It’s not about the change in the status of the state, it’s about the restoration of complete democratic norms and how the government is going to address the anxiety of the people. The very foundation of the change ushered in the state is highly undemocratic. How you expect that democracy will thrive in this situation? The future to me looks bleak, unless the government has some magic lamp it can use.”

Thai rice farmers shun ‘big agribusiness’ and fight climate change

Updated 51 min 26 sec ago

Thai rice farmers shun ‘big agribusiness’ and fight climate change

  • Traditional Thai rice farmers earn around 3,000 baht a month ($100)
  • Rice is a staple in the diet of around three billion people globally

MAE RIM, Thailand: Battling drought, debt and ailments blamed on pesticides, rice farmers in northern Thailand have turned to eco-friendly growing methods despite powerful agribusiness interests in a country that is one of the top exporters of the grain in the world.

Walking through a sea of green waist-high stalks, farmer Sunnan Somjak said his fields were “exhausted” by chemicals, his family regularly felt ill, and his profits were too low to make ends meet.

But that changed when he joined a pilot agricultural project for the SRI method, which aims to boost yields while shunning pesticides and using less water.

“Chemicals can destroy everything,” the 58-year-old said, adding that the harvest in his village in Chiang Mai province has jumped 40 percent since employing the new method.

There have been health benefits too. “It’s definitely better, we don’t get sick any more,” he added.

SRI was invented in the 1980s in Madagascar by a French Jesuit priest, and the technique has spread globally.

It works by planting crops wider apart — thus drawing in more nutrients and light — and limiting the amount of water that gets into fields, which helps micro-organisms flourish to act as natural fertilizers.

In a plus for debt-laden farmers, it also uses fewer seeds, and they are encouraged to use plants and ginger roots that naturally deter insects rather than chemical alternatives — meaning fewer expenses.

Traditional Thai rice farmers earn around 3,000 baht a month ($100) but Sunnan was able to increase his income by 20 percent after adopting the SRI method.
“I’ve finally got rid of my debts,” he told AFP.

Rice is a staple in the diet of around three billion people globally. But agricultural workers are locked in a vicious cycle: beset by drought and floods brought on by climate change, the farmers contribute to the disruption as their fields release methane and nitrous oxide, two greenhouse gases.

With SRI, paddy fields are not permanently flooded, which reduces methane emissions by 60 percent, according to Tristan Lecomte, founder of Pur Projet, a French company supporting the technique.

The project also helped Sunnan plant trees around his crops to reinforce the water table.

According to Lecomte, rice yields can jump from 20 percent to more than 100 compared to the traditional method.

Southeast Asia, where agriculture supports millions, is slowly embracing SRI.

The US-based Cornell University created a center specializing in the technique in 2010 and more than two million farmers in the region — especially from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos — have been trained.

In Bac Giang province in northern Vietnam, net profits for farmers were as much as 226 percent higher after adopting the SRI method than when using traditional ones, according to Abha Mishra, who led a large project on behalf of the Asian Institute of Technology.

The Philippines, which grows rice but is also one of the world’s leading importers, is also interested in this method and the Ministry of Agriculture has started training farmers.

The method is also used in parts of India, China, and Africa. But, while there is support from NGOs, as well as some scientists and authorities, it still has a long way to go before widespread adoption.

It faces resistance domestically from agribusiness as there is no new hybrid seed or fertilizer to sell.

Industry lobbies are very active in Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand, one of the largest users of pesticides in the world.

And they recently won a big battle over chemical use in agriculture.

Thai authorities, who had committed to ban controversial glyphosate, backtracked at the end of November, deciding that “limited” use would eventually be allowed.

The use of two other herbicides has also been extended. Lecomte says the other challenge potentially impacting the rate of adoption is the SRI method is quite complex to learn and it is labor intensive.

“You have to plant one by one and closely control the amount water,” he explained, adding that the extra manual effort required means some farmers don’t want to try the method, and others give up early on.

Sunnan admits that his workload is heavier but the financial and health benefits make it worth it in the end. He added: “It is safe for our body, and the environment.”