A High Aim

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Government budgets are normally part of the economic spaces of the states but in resource-deficient places like J&K, the government continues to be the top spender. J&K’s gross domestic produce stands at Rs 1,32,307 crore and the state government has its expenditure kitty of Rs 64,669 crore for 2016-17. That makes the state government a key player in the economic space of the state and its policies are considered more crucial to the ups and downs of a surging consumer market that still survives pretty insulated from the rest of the mainland.

On this basic fact, over the years, oft-repeated political argumentation has been superimposed in such a way that J&K has been reduced to a state of perpetual dependence, literally surviving on alms. This has created a psychological barrier on the minds of the thinking lot and made political class to perpetuate the belief as it suited in balancing the razor-edge walks between Delhi and Srinagar. Devolutions from federal pool were lifted as “right” and “gifted” as “favour” in Srinagar.

After many decades, one person emerged out of India’s policymaking institutions, flew to Srinagar and launched his crusade to undo the misinterpretation of the state’s resource management – the “arrogant” Finance Minister of the state, Dr Haseeb Drabu. He may not have prescription to all the maladies that J&K faces, but he wants to see the basic decency in arguments we make, the expenditure we book and the assets we create. His capacities and integrity are well acknowledged. But his evolution speaks a story of his experimentation with the “dependent consumer economy” that he is now handling.

Drabu’s initial engagement with Kashmir was his reaction to what was happening in Kashmir at the peak of turmoil. By then, he was serving India’s main developmental policy bandwagon, the now-dissolved planning commission.

Early 2003 was his homecoming when he became state’s economic adviser. As his suggestions were implemented by the successive finance ministers, the public finance started exhibited a shift. Though the kitty surged, the real change was in the fiscal infrastructure, and J&K’s beginning to have its share in from the huge multi-lateral funding that was routinely coming into the plains till Punjab’s borders were touched. The flyover is the last in the series of those plans that Drabu drafted at the peak of his advisory tenure while managing funds for Baglihar, Kashmir’s only ‘power centre’. Most of his interventions were that of an “outsider”, somebody who was on the margins of the system.

His tenure in J&K Bank was his maiden experience with the economic basics of the state. As its CEO, he did not only reverse the system of investment but also handheld a “gang” of entrepreneurs who now separately control nearly Rs 3000 crore empire in Kashmir, something that is rare in state’s economic history. Then a situation emerged and he was pushed into politics.

As the finance minister, last fiscal, he read his “short and sweet” budget full of ideas and initiatives. Ten months were too short a span to even implement the easiest of them all. But this tenure helped him understand how the system works at a place that lacks a clear connect between the visible state and an invisible state. Now he feels that unless the state’s mandatory basics are not visibly accountable, entire resource will get into bottomless pit that exists even beyond Dal Lake. That “frustration” has played the key role in his budget proposals for 2016-17.

At the core of heart, the deal-making ideologue continues to be the hardcore economist, who intends to find solutions for basic frustrations of the commoners. Spare him from the ‘politics’ and let him work and improve the change that he has been talking about for a long time. Let the privilege of his keenness to think for the street stays un-breached.

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