Governor Satya Pal Malik hoisted the national tricolour at the Sher-e-Kashmir stadium here in the first Independence Day celebration in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of its special status.
After unfurling the flag, Malik inspected the parade of para-military forces and Jammu and Kashmir Police.
Restrictions were put in place here in the wake of the abrogation of the special status under Article 370 of the Constitution.
Addressing the gathering, Malik said the government was committed to the safe return of Kashmiri Pandits, who had fled the valley in thousands in 1990 during the height of militancy when they were threatened to either convert or leave.
Malik also said that stone-pelting incidents had come down as well as the recruitment of Kashmiri youth in terror outfits.
Terming the changes introduced by the Centre "historical", Malik said they would open a new door of development and help various communities promote their languages and cultures in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
"These changes have removed the hurdles for economic development and prosperity,” he said.
In the last speech of a governor before the state turns into a Union territory on October 31, Malik said it was surprising that in all the previous elections, focus of people was not brought on issues of 'Roti, Kapda aur Makaan (employment, clothing and housing)'.
On October 31, two Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh — will come into being with each governed by a Lt Governor. Home Minister Amit Shah has assured that when situation normalises in Jammu and Kashmir, it would be given the status of a state again.
"In the last 70 years people were led astray from the main issues of economic development, peace and prosperity. Instead of paying attention to these issues people were misled on issues which are irrelevant to their lives," he said at the Sher-i-Kashmir stadium in his address at the first Independence Day function in the Valley after the abrogation of special status.
The function was attended by National Security Advisory Ajit Doval.
Malik said the move will enable good governance, bring self-reliance and employment opportunities to people Jammu and Kashmir and most importantly the feeling of unity and equality with the rest of the country.
"I want to assure people of Jammu and Kashmir that their identity is neither at stake nor has been tampered with. Indian Constitution allows many regional identities to prosper... Nobody should worry that their identity will finish because of the steps taken by the Central government... This step can be used to promote language, culture and identities within the state," he said.
Local tribes which did not have political representation would now get it under the new system, he said.
"Kashmiri, Dogri, Gojri, Pahari, Balti, Sheena and other languages will have opportunity to thrive in the new set up. Various tribes and castes in the state who have not had political representation will also find proper representation," the governor said.
He said his government was committed to the safe return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley.
"I firmly believe that the complete return of Kashmiri migrants to the Valley is possible only with the support and cooperation of all stakeholders including the civil society of the Valley who share a social & cultural bond with the Kashmiri migrants," he added.
After unfurling the flag, Malik inspected the parade of para-military forces and Jammu and Kashmir Police led by SSP Manzoor Ahmed Dalal.
Prominent mainstream leaders were not present at the Independence Day function as they were detained as a precautionary measure. Second-rung BJP leaders, however, were among those sitting in the stands during Malik's address.
Unprecedented security arrangements were made in the city. All roads leading to the stadium were sealed but people with special passes were allowed to proceed to the venue.
This year, no school contingents took part in the Independence Day parade or the cultural programme that followed it.
A group of enthusiastic people visiting Kashmir shouted "Vande Matram" and "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" at the stadium.
Malik said the government has a zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism and sustained efforts by armed forces have ensured the defeat of terrorists.
There was a sharp decline in terror recruitment and incidents of stone pelting after Friday prayers, he said.
Talking about his one-year administration, Malik said he tried to empower people through grassroots democracy.
He said Urban Local Body elections in October and the second-ever Panchayat polls in November-December were held after a long gap and people came out in large numbers to send a clear message to terrorists and separatists.
Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy and Kashmiri apple and other fruits have already created a niche for themselves, Malik said.
"Investment Summit proposed later this year will focus on investment and expertise in these areas".
(with inputs from agenices)