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INDIA: With No IT Sector, Kashmir Lags Behind

Sana Altaf

SRINAGAR, Jun 28 2011 (IPS) - At a time when information technology has revolutionised life across the globe, Kashmir in north India lags behind the rest of the country, and the world, because it has no IT industry to speak of.

Officials and local residents say an IT sector would solve the unemployment problem in the Kashmir Valley, and prevent the exodus of young people studying information technology or searching for jobs in the industry elsewhere.

In India, one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, the IT sector employs more than 2.5 million people and accounts for over five percent of the country’s gross domestic product and export earnings. India’s outsourcing industry is expected to hit 225 billion dollars by 2020.

But those figures exclude Kashmir. “The absence of an IT industry is a big void in Kashmir today,” Nazir A. Dar, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), told IPS.

Although mobile phones and the Internet have drastically changed the modes of communication here, IT industries and parks are still unknown. This has largely affected the youth who are forced to pursue IT jobs outside their home state. Thousands of Kashmiri youth are working in different IT companies elsewhere in India and abroad.

“Information technology is the most important sector in this century. But we lack it,” said Khurram Farooq, who works for an IT company in Bangalore.

Farooq says it was due to the absence of an IT sector that he had to move out of Kashmir. “If Kashmir had had an IT industry, I would never have come to Bangalore to find a job,” he said.

Sarah Ahmad, an IT student in Kashmir’s engineering college, feels anxious about her future given the absence of prospective jobs in the Valley. “I was fortunate to get admitted into Kashmir’s engineering college. But now I don’t know where I will find a job,” says Ahmad.

“I do not know how things will turn out. I don’t want to leave Kashmir and my family,” she adds.

Ahmad criticised government for neglecting the careers of Kashmiri youth by not paying attention to the IT industry. “Kashmir has talented youth but our authorities do not seem to be much concerned about their future. It is bizarre not to have an IT industry in the 21st century,” said Ahmad.

The problem is not just limited to IT-related jobs. Even provisions for IT education are limited. Kashmir Valley has only one government engineering college, the National Institute of Technology (NIT), and one private school, the Srinagar School of Management (SSM) College of Engineering and Technology.

SSM provides only diplomas in IT, while it is the NIT that offers degrees. Students who could not be accommodated in NIT have to move out of the state or study abroad.

SSM principal Dr N.A. Shah told IPS it is imperative to develop the IT industry to secure the future of Kashmiri youth. “Our intelligent and hardworking youth are suffering because we do not have proper IT education and IT industries here,” he said.

Thousands of IT-inclined students leave Kashmir every year, he added. Students studying civil engineering courses are well absorbed in various sectors in Kashmir but those from the IT field suffer.

Shah expressed concern for the poor and underprivileged who could not afford the expense of educating themselves outside Kashmir, and then settling there for jobs. “Their future gets ruined,” said Shah, who also sees the need to build the infrastructure for IT education and related jobs in the Valley.

With the educated but unemployed youth now numbering around 300,000, the development of the IT industry is seen as a means of fighting unemployment. Besides, IT is also considered the impetus for the state economy to grow.

“The IT sector will not only fight unemployment but will provide a boost to the state economy which is largely backed by tourism and handicrafts,” said Nazir of KCCI.

Kashmir’s Minister of Science and Technology and IT Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi blamed the conflict and disturbances in the Valley for the delay in the entry of IT companies.

“Unrest and disturbances are a major setback in this respect because multinational companies (MNCs) feel insecure in setting up their companies here,” Mehdi said.

Last year, some companies had shown willingness to establish their offices in Kashmir, but the six- month unrest forced them to hesitate before taking any step.

“It is not that the MNCs and other IT companies don’t give us a positive response. But they feel insecure. They do not want to come to a place which is insecure and where work is affected,” said Mehdi.

He also revealed some initiatives being taken at the government level to set up the IT sector, and said land in the outskirts of the Valley had been earmarked for an IT park. “It will be funded by the government of India. We are pursuing the legal part and hope to work on it soon,” Mehdi said.

He added that the government intends to provide all possible incentives to various IT companies to motivate them to set up their offices and branches in the Valley.

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