Launching the National Rural Livelihoods Mission-subsidiary Umeed — the Rs. 755 crore empowerment initiative for nine lakh women in 143 community blocks — here on Saturday, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi said he had an indelible commitment to peace and progress in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Kashmir is very important to me. I come from Kashmir and I would like to see participation of womenat the local level. I would like to see Kashmir progress possibly as one of the fastest growing States in the country,” Mr. Gandhi said. Referring to his October 2012 interaction with the youth at the University of Kashmir, he said women’s empowerment, employment and capacity building among the youth and strengthening of the local body institutions were the marked features of his initiative.

Expressing his satisfaction over the flow of funds for the United Progress Alliance government’s flagship programmes in the rural development sector, Mr. Gandhi urged Union Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh to explore the possibility and “do something” to provide an untied yearly grant of Rs. 10 lakh for each of the 4,200 panchayats as a special case in the State. Mr. Ramesh, who accompanied Mr. Gandhi and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, made an on-the-spot announcement: “I’ll do something for sure within a month.”

Ghulam Nabi Aazad, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, and J&K Pradesh Congress Committee chief Saifuddin Soz also accompanied Mr. Gandhi, who skipped his scheduled visit to Doda and Bhaderwah areas of Jammu due to rain. He landed in Srinagar, stayed at a guesthouse for about an hour and drove all the way here. He also interacted with 30 young women from different self help groups in Khansahab, Lar, Chenani and Basohli blocks. Umeed is in progress in all the four blocks.

Mr. Gandhi asserted that the ambitious programmes like Umeed would not succeed until the women demonstrated high degree of self confidence. “Interacting with officers and bureaucrats, I often asked them for a definition of poverty. They never offered a convincing interpretation. Finally, it was a woman in Amethi who brought me home what poverty meant,” Mr. Gandhi said.

Mr. Abdullah counted female foeticide and drug addiction among the youth as the two “most alarming social problems” in the State. He implored women to fight both with every possible support from his government.

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