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India plans massive hiring drive for govt workers in Kashmir

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India Kashmir

An elderly Kashmiri man selling sandals walks through a closed market in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. India's government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, imposed a security lockdown and communications blackout in Muslim-majority Kashmir to avoid a violent reaction to the Aug. 5 decision to downgrade the region's autonomy. The restrictions have been eased slowly, with some businesses reopening, some landline phone service restored and some grade schools holding classes again, though student and teacher attendance has been sparse. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

NEW DELHI (AP) — India says it plans to hire tens of thousands of government workers in its part of Kashmir after revoking the disputed region's special constitutional status, under which it had autonomy and outsiders could not buy land or hold private-sector jobs.

Satya Pal Malik, the New Delhi-appointed governor, called it the largest recruitment drive in the region, with officials planning to fill up "50,000 vacancies in various government departments in the next few months."

At a news conference Wednesday in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, Malik also announced that the government is willing to commit $700 million to help apple farmers. Indian authorities believe the move will expand the region's economy, to which horticulture, particularly apple orchards, is critical.

Indian officials have characterized their surprise move to strip Kashmir's special constitutional status as a way to boost its economic potential. They are also planning an international investment summit in the region as India has seen a slowdown in its economy.

Many people in Kashmir believe the loss of special status has nothing to do with the region's economy and see it as a form of aggression from the Indian government.

India's government, led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, decided Aug. 5 to downgrade the autonomy of Muslim-majority Kashmir and instituted a security lockdown and communications blackout to avoid violence. Authorities say they have eased some of the restrictions.

For decades, a separatist movement has fought Indian rule in Kashmir, which is split between Pakistan and India and is claimed entirely by both. Some 70,000 people have died in clashes between militants and civilian protesters and Indian security forces since 1989. Most Kashmiris want either independence or a merger with Pakistan, which is India's bitter rival.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his first address to the nation after revoking Kashmir's special status, said the region now has "the potential to become the biggest tourist destination in the world."

Indian Home Minister Amit Shah also said earlier this month that revoking the status will "kick start" development.

State data, however, shows Kashmir's gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services in the state, has risen from $16.7 billion in 2012 to an estimated $21.9 billion last year.

In contrast, India is grappling with economic growth that has slowed to a five-year low of 5.8% in the quarter from January to March. Declining industrial output and automobile sales have further raised fears of a deeper slowdown in the country.

Malik assured people of peace and said normalcy will soon return to Kashmir. He said mobile phone services in 10 districts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir will be restored and mobile phone services also will be back in the northern Kupwara and Handwara police districts in the Kashmir valley.

Malik spoke hours after India's top court took up challenges to ending Kashmir's special status and asked the government to explain its stance.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that Malik acknowledged at his news conference that Indian paramilitary forces used pellet guns during protests in Kashmir.