Sat, 03 Jun 2023

Jammu (Jammu and Kashmir) [India], June 28 (ANI): The third Dogra ruler of J-K, Maharaja Pratap Singh was the longest-serving ruler among the Dogra emperors as he ruled for a span of 40 years from 1885 to 1925. His time as an emperor is seen as a period of modernization, peace, and enlightenment - especially for the Kashmiris.

He built a civilization and - set up local self-governing bodies, educational systems, health care facilities, modern infrastructure, and introduced democratic processes. Maharaja Pratap Singh was born on July 18, 1848 in Reasi (J-K).

After the death of Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1885, he was declared King by the British, who were already writing the document of his limited authority but greater responsibility in the State. Through his generosity and vision, Kashmir, more importantly, Srinagar, witnessed a significant social and cultural makeover by 1925.

The isolated Valley was connected to the world through two major road networks and River Jhelum which were further developed under his watch. The transportation and goods carrying systems of the River were regularized. In his praise, a notable British historian remarked that Maharaja Pratap Singh's kindness to all classes of the public in Kashmir, regardless of their birth, has won him the affection of his subjects.

His benevolence and kindness are seen as a benchmark, that no ruler after him could match. Unfortunately, as with the good ones, after his coronation, he had to face allegations schemed by the British who blamed him for associating with the Russians against them, which neutralized his authority.

Though nothing was proved against him, the accusation put him in a questionable spot for a while and soiled his image - which was exactly what the British desired. Later his position was restored but his powers were curtailed. Keeping this humiliation aside, he put his subjects' welfare first and dealt with the hand he was granted.

Ignoring and fighting the British indifference, the Maharaja built the first major mountain connectivity road in 1889 - the Jhelum Valley Cart Road - from Kohala to Baramulla. Slow and steady, it was extended to Srinagar by 1897. Later the Bannihal Cart Road, a highway connecting Jammu with Srinagar, was inaugurated for public use in 1892.

Apart from these highways, roads and tracks connecting Srinagar to Gilgit and Leh among other places were constructed. He had bigger ambitions for J-K.

Next in line was connecting Srinagar by rail. The groundwork and planning were complete but the execution took a back seat due to the high cost. The Maharaja also wished to build a 79-mile-long mono-cable ropeway from Jammu to village Doru, across Bannihal, and then Srinagar with 46-mile-long railways, which again saw financial restrain.

The British had it easier keeping JK separate from the Indian subcontinent and development was their last concern. Fast forward 120 years, today the Center has employed the world's most advanced technologies for the novel Kashmir Railway Project 2023 - the only railway line constructed in broad gauge on Indian mountains, daring to run the distance of 345 kilometres over major earthquake zones while being exposed to extreme temperatures.

The project is the highest altitude railway network in India (3,000 meters) - defying gravity on the impossible terrain of Pir Panjal. In the year 1887, Maharaja announced land settlement resulting in a clear definition of agriculturists' rights. It gave a sense of security to the cultivators, thereby increasing productivity and prosperity.

The revenue of the state grew more than double. By 1912 a model agricultural farm was established to give impetus to scientific ways of cultivation. And by 1929, more than one thousand Cooperative Credit Societies opened up with 27,500 members - smashing the culture of money lending. Begars, or forced and free labour, was finally abolished. The Maharaja also pioneered the movement to use the rich forest resources of J-K.

In 1981 the Forest Department was established. In the first year, it delivered a surplus revenue of two and a half lakh. In 1921-22, that figure rose to two million; and then to fifty lakh in 1929-30! Education was high on Maharaja's list. In his tenure, countless schools and hostels were opened. Primary education was free. A chunk of the budget was directed toward education.

Teachers were sent to training schools. Prince of Wales College (1907) and Sri Pratap Technical School (1924) were established in Jammu, and Sri Pratap College (1905) and Amar Singh Technical Institute (1914) were established in Srinagar. Girls' education was encouraged among his Muslim subjects; their early marriage was delayed through education and entrepreneurial opportunities. Maharaja also abolished the Muslims Marriage Tax.

If anyone at all was concerned about modernizing the healthcare sector, it was Maharaja Pratap Singh. Kashmir Mission Hospital was expanded and it became the prime destination for all health concerns. In 1889, two government hospitals were commissioned at Jammu and Srinagar, along with dispensaries across the villages and towns. Vaccination drives and preventative medicine were routine events.

Municipalities were established in the populous towns of Jammu, Srinagar, Sopore, and Baramulla, to improve sanitation and hygiene. In 1904 His Highness constructed a wide spill channel that diverted the Jhelum waters to prevent flooding. He set up irrigation canals in the length and breadth of the State - the longest and most important being the Ranbir Canal (Jammu), measuring 251 miles including its tributaries.

Costing Rs. 35,36,714 in 1911, the Canal propelled the turbines of two hydro-electric stations in Jammu. The hydroelectric initiatives had two goals - lightingindustrial purpose and dredging of Jhelum. Sericulture, Viticulture, and Horticulture were given a boost and a playing field, transforming them into prospering industries.

The largest silk factory of its time was set up in Srinagar for which the best quality cocoons and seeds were imported from Italy and France. Cottage industries and small-scale enterprises were encouraged. Maharaja Pratap Singh left this world on 23rd September 1925 at the age of 77.

His bravado against the atrocities of British authorities, his fatherly concern for His subjects, and his life's mission to develop the State of JK were a pursuit unmatched by any ruler after him. This hero will be remembered the time immemorial. (ANI)

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