OPINION: J&K regime must be held accountable

Author(s): Joginder SinghFor decades, the Union Government has accorded special status to Kashmir and the rest of the country has paid for this preferential treatment. It’s time the results begin showing Kashmir, an integral part of the...

OPINION: J&K regime must be held accountable

For decades, the Union Government has accorded special status to Kashmir and the rest of the country has paid for this preferential treatment. It’s time the results begin showing Kashmir, an integral part of the State of Jammu & Kashmir, has once again become the hotbed for separatists, terrorists and fundamentalists. Their writ runs all over the valley, despite the claims of the Government that all is normal in that State.
At the time of the panchayat poll in 2011, these elements had asked the people to not participate in the election. However, the panchayat poll, which was held after a gap of over 30 years, received an 88 per cent voter response and over 33,000 panches and sarpanches were elected in Jammu & Kashmir. At the time, the State Government had assured the newly elected panchayat members that they will be empowered and they will play an important role in local governance.
After the killing of at least three sarpanches in September just gone, by terrorists, several panches and sarpanches have reportedly resigned. The Jammu & Kashmir Government says that it is contemplating providing security to the panchayat members. This is an impractical proposition as the State Government will need an additional force of one lakh personnel, apart from weaponry, transport and residential facilities, to provide security to so many sarpanches and panches.
However, the ruling coalition partners in Jammu & Kashmir, that is the National Conference and the Congress, have been at loggerheads over the empowerment of panchayats. The process hangs in balance. The panchayati raj system is incomplete in the absence of elections to Block Development Councils and district-level bodies, which have not been held even a year after the panchayat election poll was organised.
A Union Minister who is from Kashmir and belongs to the Congress said: “Panchayat elections are rendered useless in the absence of required follow-up action like empowerment of panchayat units and creation of prescribed institutional framework for panchayati raj system.” With regard to the killing of sarpanches, he said: “It is a serious issue. The State Government should create a sense of security among the panchayat members and security should be provided in sensitive areas. We cannot let their life be in danger.”
The Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, however, has towed a different line. Instead of empowering the panchayats as per the 73rd and the 74th Constitutional Amendment, he said, “We do not require any such amendment.” The same Chief Minister had been persistently claiming that all is well in Kashmir and had even pleaded for removal of the Disturbed Areas Act from the valley, as well as reducing the presence of central security forces. The day after it was done, half a dozen policemen were killed by terrorists in Srinagar.
Now, after the killing of the sarpanches and panches, the same Chief Minister says: “These are attempts made by the militants and the Hurriyat to deviate the functioning of the panchayati raj institution. We have to accept these gunmen as most dangerous enemies and Government will take all the necessary steps to ensure the security of panchayat members... Recently we have seen these militants attacking the Wullar project of which the beneficiary was our neighbouring country (Pakistan). The attacks on members who work for the development of the State is again an indication of the intentions of militants to keep this State away from prosperity and progress.”
With regard to the increase in terrorism, the Chief Minister squarely blamed the Union Government. He stated: “If some people say that militancy in the valley has increased this year and footprints of security forces need to be enhanced, they have to answer how these militants sneaked into the valley. If their (Union Government’s security forces) are not preventing militants from sneaking in from Pakistan, what is the purpose of their deployment? Their area of surveillance is the Line of Control and they should tell what they are doing there.”
Unfortunately, the rulers just want to pass time in ‘ruling’ and not take difficult steps. The Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir has been looking towards religious clerics to issue fatwas for good governance. The Chief Minister has reportedly told a Srinagar daily that, “Mirwaiz has held the Government responsible for the valley reeling under darkness. We know our responsibilities and limitations. I hope he (Mirwaiz) in his next Friday sermon issues a fatwa against those who indulge in power theft.” The Chief Minister says that the State is losing `2,000 crore annually due to power theft.
Kashmir has received the most favoured treatment since Independence. For instance, it has always received large central assistance. Similarly, per capita expenditure on development activities in Jammu & Kashmir is `962, as against `270 in Bihar and `490 in Gujarat.
By itself, the State would not even be able to pay the salary of its staff, as 90 per cent of the Budget is underwritten by the Government of India. Its budget for 2010-2011 was `28,733 crore, and for 2011-2012 it was `31,212 crore, with 90 per cent as grants and 10 per cent by way of loans. In other parts of the country, States get central assistance in the form of 30 per cent grants and 70 per cent loans, The population of Jammu & Kashmir is just 0.8 per cent of the country, yet it receives 2.7 per cent of the national development outlay. Thus, the per-head allocation in case of this is `1,122 while the per head allocation in case of other States ranges somewhere between `67 and `300.
In the last four decades, people in the valley have been provided with subsidised food, subsidised firewood, subsidised salts, subsidised pesticides for their orchards, subsidised agricultural inputs, subsidised animal feed, and even liberal education loans for training in professional colleges outside the State. Indeed, there is hardly any sphere of life in which the people of Kashmir do not get preferential treatment.
The Government of India, therefore, owes to the nation to ensure good governance in that State. This would require it to be firm with the State Government. People who need to be treated with iron fist are being treated with kid gloves. After all, every Indian is paying for Kashmir, and the terrorists who hijack governance deserve no mercy.
Neither the Union nor the State Government will know it strength unless it faces the truth. Poet John Dryden rightly said, “God’s pampered people whom, debauched with ease, / No king could govern, nor no God could please”. Here, we need to replace the word God with Government, as this is the sad truth. Will the Government ever wake up?

Monday, October 1, 2012