The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected Indian states and Union Territories and Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have been no exception. Due to issues like lack of infrastructure and human resources, both rural and urban people were caged in the web of grief and misery wherein even to see one’s loved one last time who succumbed to Coronavirus became an act of privilege.
Focusing on the Rural Realities around the country during the pandemic, the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS) and IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, organised a panel discussion on Rural Realities | Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh Practitioners’ Experiences in Tackling the Second Wave in Indian Villages on 1 June, 2021.
This article is an excerpt of the presentation given by Swati Solanki and the IMPRI team which provided an overview of the COVID-19 situation in India with special reference to Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to set the context for the broader discussion on the topic by the esteemed panellists.
Jammu and Kashmir are located in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent centred on the plains around Jammu to the south and the Vale of Kashmir to the north. The union territory is part of the larger region of Kashmir, which has been the subject of dispute between India, Pakistan and China since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.
Legislation passed in August 2019 set the stage for changing the status of Jammu and Kashmir from statehood to union territory and splitting off a part of it, known as the Ladakh region, into a separate union territory. The change went into effect on 31 October, 2019.
Jammu and Kashmir, formerly one of the largest princely states of India, is bounded to the east by the Indian union territory of Ladakh, to the south by the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, to the southwest by Pakistan, and to the northwest by the Pakistani-administered portion of Kashmir.
The administrative capitals are Srinagar in summer and Jammu in winter. The area of the UT is 1,01,387 sq km with a population of 1,23,67,013 according to the 2011 census.
Jammu and Kashmir has 20 districts namely, Anantnag, Bandipore, Baramulla, Budgam, Doda, Ganderbal, Jammu, Kathua, Kishtwar, Kulgam, Kupwara, Poonch, Pulwama, Rajouri, Ramban, Reasi, Samba, Shopian, Srinagar and Udhampur.
The cultural, ethnic and linguistic composition of Jammu and Kashmir varies across the region. About two-thirds of the population adheres to Islam; Hindus constitute most of the remaining third. There also are small minorities of Sikhs and Buddhists. The union territory’s official languages are Urdu, English, Kashmiri, Dogri and Hindi.
Large orchards in the Vale of Kashmir produce apples, pears, peaches, walnuts, almonds and cherries, which are among the union territory’s major exports. In addition, the vale is the sole producer of saffron in the Indian subcontinent. Many industries have developed from rural crafts, including handloom weaving of local silk, cotton and wool; carpet weaving; wood carving; and leatherwork.
In addition to historical and religious sites, visitor destinations include the snow-sports centre at Gulmarg and many lakes and rivers.
Ladakh is administratively divided between Pakistan as part of Gilgit-Baltistan in the northwest and India in the southeast. In addition, China administers portions of north-eastern Ladakh. It consists of Kargil and Leh, two districts. It covers about 1,17,000 sq km and contains the Ladakh Range and the Upper Indus River Valley. Ladakh is one of the highest regions of the world.
Its natural features consist mainly of high plains and deep valleys. The high plain predominates in the east, diminishing gradually toward the west. In the heart of Ladakh, farther to the north, cultivation by means of manuring and irrigation is practised by farmers living in valley villages. Shepherds tend flocks in the upland valleys that are too high for cultivation.
Leh, the most accessible town of Ladakh, is an important trade centre located 260 km east of Srinagar. The climate of Ladakh is cold and dry. Vegetation is confined to valleys and sheltered spots. The principal products are wheat, barley, millet among others. Woollen cloth and other textiles are the primary manufactures.
Coming to the socio-economic indicators, about 73% of the total population resides in rural areas. The sex ratio for the UT is 883 and the literacy rate is 67. In terms of the progress made in SDG goals, the UT is ranked 19th and 26th in terms of per capita income.
The first and the second wave of the coronavirus has hit India very badly and the UTs of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have been no exception. As of April 2020, during the first COVID wave, Jammu and Kashmir saw a fatality rate of about 1.23%. In terms of the district-wise distribution of the COVID cases, as of July 2020, districts like Srinagar, Baramulla, Kulgam added to the largest tally of cases.
According to officials, Jammu and Kashmir have witnessed an increase in COVID cases at a pace of more than 8.12% this year. The situation is challenging if we compare it with last year’s April figures.
Seeing the rising number of cases, various states and UTs have imposed lockdowns in a phased manner and then unlocked them in phases. In terms of the total tally of cases in Ladakh, it is among the top 15 states and UTs with cases per million higher than the national average.
As of 21 May 2021, during the second wave, Jammu and Kashmir confirmed about 2.9 lakh total COVID cases with total deaths of 3,900. For the UT of Ladakh, the total confirmed cases stand at 18,000 and total deaths at about 180.
Various states and UTs have extended lockdowns to reduce the spread of COVID amid a deadly second wave, some announced a few relaxations. Jammu and Kashmir has exempted business establishments with certain restrictions and the lockdown in UT of Ladakh has been extended till 7 June.
In terms of vaccination drive, about 1.8 lakh people have been administered both the doses in Jammu and Kashmir and for Ladakh, about 1.5 lakh people have been given the vaccine. In terms of vaccine wastage, UTs of J&K and Ladakh both have higher rates.
The case fatality rate in Jammu and Kashmir was very low in the union territory compared to the national average. In Ladakh, the Union Territory has reported 190 fatal COVID-19 cases. The Union Territory is still reporting increasing cases and the peak has not yet begun to fall.
The COVID-19 cases are rising rapidly. On 1 April, the territory Jammu and Kashmir had registered only 461 cases, taking the total number of active COVID-19 patients to 2,874. Just over 3 weeks later, the total number of patients has risen by more than five times to 16,993.
On 17 April, the Union territory Ladakh recorded its highest ever daily spike this year with 362 new cases. The tourism industry is worst affected in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
There have been emerging issues in terms of health infrastructure and vaccinations. For the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, DRDO has established COVID beds in hospitals and ramped up oxygen supply. The state has inoculated more than 67% of its 45+ population, far more than the national average of around 44%. However, a high 10.8% vaccine wastage has been reported.
For the UT of Ladakh, there is a shortage of paediatricians and anaesthetists. The UT has fully vaccinated the highest population of 11% and 25% have received the first dose. However, poor internet connectivity is hampering the COVID-19 vaccination drive.
The government policy action has to be consistent with the development of health and economic sectors. Investment in public health infrastructure is a major aspect in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. Telecommunication facilities have to be set up in rural areas to support online education.
By monitoring entry points into the union territories, the number of new cases can be controlled in order to minimise the impact of the second wave and prepare for a third wave in moving towards a healthy and prosperous Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
Ritika Gupta, Sakshi Sharda, Swati Solanki, Ishika Chaudhary, Mahima Kapoor, Chhavi Kapoor, Arjun Kumar and IMPRI Team