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Unlock Jamia

In order to ensure that the Friday passes off peacefully, the governance structure has taken a completely extremist approach: to keep the Jamia Masjid locked. It has been sixth week when the grand mosque that has dominated the history of Kashmir since the medieval era, is locked. Now people are drawing comparisons between the peak of Sikh rule and the BJPDP government. Lahore durbar had locked the mosque for many decades fearing the assembly of subjects may trigger a revolt. In order to ensure the disuse of the sacred space, they had converted it into a warehouse. It continued that way till the Jullundur cobbler’s Muslim son became the governor of Kashmir and he threw the locks open.

Kashmir is perhaps the only Indian state that is predominantly Muslim. It is being ruled by a local party in alliance with a right-wing party. The closure of the grand mosque does convey many things beyond the security challenges that usually are termed to be the main reason.

In Kashmir, politics and social change has historically revolved round the mosque. A thought process that the spaces of faith should be completely secularised may be a good power point presentation but literally it lacks a relevance to the hard realities rooted in the history of the place. Right now, it might be Mirwaiz and other separatists, trying to use the mosque for their politics. But they are simply following their senior like Sheikh Abdullah whose politics rarely moved out of the pulpits till he landed in the Chief Minister’s Office. He in fact rebuilt a shrine and rediscovered its political worth, a system that is still unchanged and unchallenged.

This is also a fact that Kashmir is passing through uncertain times. But at the same time, the state has, over the years, invested massively in creating a system that believes it has the capacity to face and manage the challenges that an unpredictable space can throw up. It is high time; the government avails the options of outreach and gets the stakeholders on board in undoing the historic wrongs which could have serious repercussions within and outside history books.

Traffic Management

Traffic management and the related issues, in the summer capital of the state, get mostly debated thrice in a year; on two Eids and at the time of annual ‘durbar’ move from Jammu to Srinagar. For rest of the year, it is left to a seriously outnumbered and scarcely equipped force of a few hundred traffic cops.

The city traffic chief, in an interview to this newspaper earlier this year, had said that the traffic police would be getting additional man-power for augmenting the 450-odd personnel manning the city roads. Nothing seems to have happened in that direction, so far. Srinagar is perhaps the only city where means of mass transport are 7-seater utility vehicles. These vehicles not only cater to inter-district routes but are within the city as well. Using these small vehicles for public transport is an aberration that needs to be undone sooner than later.

The traffic mess on our roads is not because of presence of a large number of vehicles but because of the absence of a reliable and efficient public transport system. Without addressing this issue, traffic woes will continue to get messier.The government needs to give serious attention to rebuilding the public transport system in the state through policy initiatives, regulations, incentives for private operators to procure large vehicles and by revitalising its own transport corporation.

There is an urgent need of using multi-dimensional strategy of augmenting the traffic police force, creating a better road network and more importantly providing the city with a proper public transport system.

J&K’s Central Law

There have been quick reactions to the passage of an amended central government law that aims at collecting statistics in the state of J&K. When it was being discussed in the Rajya Sabha, the Congress lawmaker Jairam Ramesh asked the treasury benches: what kind of statistics you want to collect in the state which you are currently unable to do? Have you taken the state government on board? These pointed questions were not answered by the concerned minister and it has added to the suspicion that state’s special position is in danger, yet again. These tensions are coming within a fortnight after the state government managed getting a Presidential Order on GST that is clearly different. State government has not been responsive to what is happening in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. This situation sometimes exhibits itself in a way that could add to the crisis.

The fact of the matter is that statistics is something that is secondary to every activity that falls in the defined roles and responsibilities in J&K state. It is part of state list, central list and the concurrent list and is strictly in reference to the activities clearly mentioned. In central list, the centre has the right to collect the statistics and if it is state, it is the prerogative of the state to collect the same. The constitutional agreement between the state and the centre has not given either of the two a sole right to collect statistics. They are within their rights to collect the statistics of the activities mandated by the constitutional relationship.

J&K government passed the Collection of Statistics Act in 2010 and it clearly mentions that it will collect the statics pertaining to its activities and will not get into the activities of the central government operations in the state. Earlier in 2008, the Lok Sabha had passed its act but it excluded J&K. Officials in the state government said this had created a legislative gap. This gap was addressed by “limited amendment” to the central law last week. Or that is what concerned officials believe.

Given the fact that Kashmir has lived in continuous suspicion of the central government’s constitutional activism in the state, there is a strong possibility of the misgivings. Well before it becomes the new GST controversy, the state government must explain things.

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