Located on the banks of river Jhelum, Baramulla town in north Kashmir that was also known as the gateway of Kashmir before partition, has been turned into a neglected district headquarter – both politically and economically. The Rs 176 crore mega project, funded by Asian Development Bank (ADB), initiated a decade ago was shelved due to political tussle between mainstream political parties.
This ancient town has found its mention in the famous historic books and is also known as the Garrison town as it hosts strategic 19 infantry division of the Army that overlooks the Line of Control in sensitive Uri, Gulmarg and Nowgam sectors, despite located at a strategic place, the town has been neglected by consecutive governments led by various mainstream political parties.
“This town has been mentioned in old historic books and its history dates back to thousands of years. Famous Chinese traveler, Hiuen Tsang, who visited Kashmir in 631 AD also visited this town and spent some time here. It was a very historical place with ruins of yesteryears at Ushkara and Kanispora in the town,” said Dr Ghulam Mohammad Ajar, a scholar.
Being the major town and stopover on the Jhelum Valley Cart road that connected two parts of Kashmir, this town was visited by Mahatma Gandhi and Ali Mohammad Jinnah. “Before partition, this town was considered as the gate way of Kashmir, but it lost its relevance with the passage of town. This was the town where Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians lived peacefully, however, after emergence of militancy, Hindus left the town and its adjoining areas,” said advocate Mudasir Naqashbandi who practices law at district court Baramulla.
Naqashbandi said that this town is looking towards politicians for its turn around. “In past five decades very few developmental works have been initiated by different governments here. Only hallow promises are being made,” he said.
Keeping importance of town in consideration in 2006 – 2007, the J&K government had announced a new project and named it as ‘Greater Baramulla’ envisaged for bringing this town on the path of development. The project was to be funded by ADB and many works were to be executed by Economic Reconstruction Agency (ERA).
Locals, however say that the project became the victim of the tussle between the PDP and NC, with later using every ploy to scuttle the project during its rule.
“We face political victimisation because many politicians think that people in the town have sympathy towards separatist leadership and don’t vote during elections,” said Traders Federation general secretary, Tariq Mughloo.
PDP legislator for Baramulla Javeed Baig, however, said that it was not only Baramulla but projects were prepared for five districts in J&K with outside funding. “The project and its blue print was prepared in 2006 and 2007, then there was a change in the government. In 2011, a team of foreign officers visited Baramulla, unfortunately in the old town there was some stone pelting and the team could not go to places in old city. Later, the projects for all districts got shelved,”he said.
Baig, however, said that the government is planning several new projects for the town Baramulla and its adjoining areas as it is not on the top priority. “We are making all our efforts to make this town a model town.”
Known for its communal harmony, even few Pandit families who had left in early 1990’s returned to town in 1996, most of them are businessmen who are living in the temple complex at the main market. “When we returned, we were promised sky by the government, but with the passage of time government forgot us,” said Bhawani Shankar, who owns a medical shop in the main town and shuttles between Baramulla and Jammu.
Despite official apathy, the town is famous for its 112-year-old missionary school – Saint Joseph’s School which is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Jammu-Srinagar, has more than 3000 students of north Kashmir on its rolls.
The shrines of Janbaz- e- Wali, old Jamia Masjid, Gurudwara Chatti Patshahi and Shilpatri temple located within the radius of one kilometer are major attractions in the town and the symbols of communal harmony. However, these prominent places too are facing neglect due to official negligence.