A Quiet Surrender

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The National Conference led government was keen to protect district cadre jobs for home districts alone. But when the moment arrived it chose to save itself. Kashmir Life reports how sacrificing people’s interest for power is becoming a standard practice of Kashmir statecraft.

Omar Abdullah presides over NC Provincial Committee Meeting.

It has happened earlier too. Politicians swearing by the policy have dumped it for their political gains. In 2003 Peoples Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti went public saying that she would prefer to lose power than dump the amended state subject law. PDP’s ally Congress was opposing the bill.

Eventually, Congress managed to have its way despite Mufti’s firebrand rhetoric, as the PDP chose power over policy. Something similar has happened again, just recently, though away from the public gaze. On August 31 Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar was supposed to sign a letter to the Speaker seeking the consideration of J&K Civil Services Decentralization and Recruitment Bill.

Privileged sources told Kashmir Life that everything was in place including the letter. Behind the scenes, however, the Bill aimed to protect district cadre jobs from the onslaught from other districts had created tension between the ruling allies National Conference (NC) and Congress. NC wanted the bill passed, Congress opposed it. Sources told Kashmir Life that Congress threatened to withdraw support to the government over the issue.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had flown to New Delhi to convince the Congress leadership. In the afternoon Sagar received a message from New Delhi – don’t sign the letter. Sagar followed the brief and tensions between the allies eased. The government survived, so did the problem.

In coming days tensions within districts, however, are only expected to increase. The day government skipped the bill submitted by a joint select committee, tensions were rife in Jammu where local candidates were at war with the candidates that had come from other districts for interviews.

Similarly in Kupwara local candidates recently protested the appearance of candidates from other districts. Congress was not always against the bill. In fact, it was former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad who had assured a law to protect the district cadre jobs during his tenure. The party, however, took a U-turn on the issue recently and warned Omar against its passage.

Cracks within Congress were visible in the assembly itself when the two of its veterans Taj Mohi-ud-Din and Madan Lal Sharma locked horns over the issue with the former pleading the Kashmir and the latter pleading the Jammu interests.

“Let us see what happens till the next session,” a senior NC leader told Kashmir Life. “Congress had reservations against the bill for a long time and they could not resist making it an issue.”

The Issue

It all began way back in 2004 when the High Court quashed a selection list from Rajouri district citing lack of legal cushion to the practice of having district cadre posts. J&K recruits its manpower in three cadres – the state cadre, the division cadre and the district cadre. But the practice lacking a supportive law helped judiciary create a hole in the recruitment policy. Altaf Naik, the then advocate general, however, says it is a much older issue. “It was somewhere in 1999 when the High Court quashed a police recruitment list. The state went in appeal before the division bench and eventually to the apex court,” said Naik.

The court believed that for all recruitments, the state is the unit and a state subject can apply for any position anywhere in the state.

But officials say there has been no clear direction to the state’s recruiting agencies Public Service Commission (PSC) and Services Selection Board (SSB) in particular, that they should alter the age-old practice of taking non-local-district applicants for jobs supposed to be filled from a particular district. But the change in the practice opened a floodgate.

“We were not entertaining applications from non-concerned districts till 2003 and then something happened somewhere and it was all open,” said a senior SSB official. All of a sudden the reservations meant for state cadre positions were forced at divisional and district level. The situation triggered a mess.

Impact

Individuals belonging to districts other than districts of domicile are occupying a good chunk of positions in government services, both in divisional and district cadres.

If the Services Selection Board’s (SSB) selections during the Fast Track Recruitment Drive involving the appointment of 6210 positions is an indication then Kashmir is losing its berths to ‘outsiders’. Of the 3689 positions that SSB filled in Kashmir in the district and divisional cadres, 657 were taken by candidates belonging to various districts of Jammu. Interestingly of the 2521 posts that were filled in Jammu region, only two Kashmiri applicants were appointed.

But this “discrimination” has gone strictly as per the rules. J&K has a large chunk of positions in jobs and professional training, reserved for particular categories. It is eight per cent for scheduled castes (SC), ten for scheduled tribes (ST), two per cent for other social categories (OSC), two per cent is meant for reserved backward areas (RBA), three percent for people living at and around actual line of control (ALC) besides six percent for ex-servicemen and three percent for physically handicapped. Unlike SCs, STs, ALCs and handicapped, all other reservations seem to be more political in nature. RBA, for instance, is a plain case of politicians using their influence in creating vote banks. After every ten years, Backward Classes Commission is supposed to exclude areas that have ceased to be backward from the list but it has rarely happened. Over the years hundreds of villages have been included in the list and the last additions took place six years back when 29 more villages were added.

For every 100 admissions, recruitments or promotions, this means 52 per cent seats are reserved. Under the new dispensation, all these reserved categories started travelling from one district to another for jobs creating a mess. Right now the situation is that there are teachers in Kashmir peripheries who have come from remote Jammu belts.

As the candidates from one district started applying for jobs in other districts, tensions began. The first major agitation took place in Udhampur where the home applicants fought pitched battles with job seekers from other districts. Authorities postponed the interviews and the entire exercise was shifted to Jammu.

State Intervenes

Udhampur agitation started reflecting the crisis at the political level. With their base in Udhampur, Panthers Party leaders Harshdev Singh and Balwant Singh Mankotia were the first to raise a rebellion in the state assembly when Ghulam Nabi Azad was in the chair. After threadbare discussions, Azad assured the house that a law will be drafted to deal with the new situation. Though it did not stop the job seekers from Jammu staking claims over the district cadre jobs, especially by the SC and ST everybody knew that law will take care of the imbalances that the system was gradually encouraging.

By the time the draft legislation – J&K Civil Services Decentralisation and Recruitment Bill, 2009 – was placed on the table on February 28, 2009, NC was at the helm of affairs with Congress as the ally. Introducing perhaps one of the finest pieces of legislation, the Law Minister Abdul Rahim Rather talked in detail about the inevitability of having a law that would protect the rights of a particular district in recruitment rules henceforth.

“The High Court quashed the entire selection list on the ground that since the residence in the district was not a requirement under the rules, the selection could not have been restricted to the candidates of that particular district only,” Rather said in the detailed statement of objects and reasons for the new legislation. “Consequently, thereafter the practice of restricting the recruitment to district cadre posts for the local candidates of the particular district was given up with the result majority of the district cadre posts were occupied by the candidates belonging to other areas or districts.”

Rather enumerated the problems that the new system brought in. “After getting employed, the candidates of other districts and towns are not willing to serve in the areas in which they are appointed particularly in the rural and far-flung areas. They remain inclined and more interested in getting themselves transferred to their native districts or urban areas on one or the other pretext including security and health grounds. With the result, the majority of the posts in rural districts become vacant despite having been filled up by the recruitment agencies in those areas. Being multi-lingual and multi-cultural state, the candidates belonging to other areas are unfamiliar with the living conditions, culture, climatic conditions and the local dialect of the concerned areas are not able to effectively communicate with the people of the area in which they are appointed.” Law minister clearly said that the phenomenon has defeated “the very purpose for which the district and divisional cadres were created.”

Social tensions were also referred to by Rather. Youth in peripheral belts, he said, are resentful thinking the urbanites having better educational standards are eating away their employment opportunities. He talked about the agitation in Udhampur and the fierce protests registered by the lawmakers in the House cutting across party lines.

Apart from defining the three cadres of employees, detailing the process of promotions from district cadre to division cadre and finally to the state cadre, the J&K Civil Services Decentralisation and Recruitment Bill, 2009 suggested all departments will have separate seniority lists.

The bill’s beauty, however, was in section 14 – ‘reservation in appointments’. It reads: “Notwithstanding anything contained in the J&K Reservation Act, 2004 or any other law for the time being in force in the state on the subject, vacancies for appointment by direct recruitment in each district and divisional cadre shall be reserved for SCs, STs and socially and educationally backward classes to the extent as the ratio and proportion of the population, as per the last available census, of the concerned district or the division, as the case may be.” However, the percentage of the reservation shall in no case exceed 50 per cent.

But when the bill was supposed to be taken up for passage on the last date of the session, it triggered ruckus with members from almost every party except the NC opposing it. Raking up different issues, BJP, Congress, Panthers Party and even a few from PDP opposed its passage and instead suggested the draft legislation be sent to a Select Committee. Watching its allies opposed to the idea, NC agreed and the bill was sent to a Joint Select Committee (JSC) on March 12. With Rather as its chairman, JSC comprised Prof Chaman Lal Gupta (BJP), Harsh Dev Singh (PP), Sardar Rafiq H Khan, Abdul Gaffar Sofi (PDP), Yusuf Tarigami (CPIM), Mir Saifullah (NC), Ghulam Ahmad Mir (Congress), Rachpal Singh and Ashok Kumar.

Bill Purged of the Nicest Clause

The JSC had three sittings and an amended bill was submitted to the assembly on July 8, 2009. There were not many changes but section 14 was deleted altogether. Though reservations for particular categories would remain in vogue, the “purged” bill would still have closed the doors on inter-district appointments. The bill was placed on the table on August 31 in the recent budget session and was supposed to be taken up for consideration and passage a day later. But that never happened and the house was adjourned sine die.

Off the media gaze, it had actually triggered controversy within the ruling alliance. Insiders told Kashmir Life that Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand lead the assault on the bill with a bunch of Congressmen and “like-minded lawmakers from BJP and PP” and a situation was created that made Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s Delhi visit inevitable. Though Omar had given his point of view on the issue to the Congress leaders and convinced a few of them but as the pressure mounted from Congress it led to a new situation where his throne was in the doldrums. (It was Prithvi Raj Chouhan who did most of the talking from Congress side.)

Eventually, a message was flashed to Srinagar asking Ali Mohammad Sagar not to seeking the bill’s consideration for passage.

Why Did It Happen?

The Congress turnabout on the issue has to do with Jammu divisions’ advantages in the altered processes. Job seekers from Jammu, especially from districts with sizable chunks of SC and ST population, gets more jobs from places with no or least reserved category populations (read Kashmir).

Then there are other problems too created by the new order. “I am aware of the cases,” says an SSB official, “in which the SC, ST candidates apply for positions in six to seven districts and then deciding which one they should actually accept.” They take only one job but mere applying at other districts keeps the positions occupied until it becomes clear that the person is disinterested.

It works like this. If 2200 jobs are given at 100 berths to each of 22 districts of J&K in district cadre, it offers interesting comparisons in three different scenarios.

(1)  If the bill’s now-deleted section 14 is invoked it will create a situation like this: In Jammu district 28 of the 100 jobs will go to the SC and ST, 20 to RBA, three to ALC and two to SOC category applicants – a net deduction of 42 jobs in addition to the handicapped and the kins of ex-servicemen. Same will be the case in Udhampur and Kathua. In Srinagar that is now without Ganderbal and Kangan, and lacks any SC, ST, RBA, ALC category population, more than 90 of the 100 jobs will be available in open merit. Cumulatively SC and STs will get barely 34 jobs in Kashmir division (excluding Ladakh) against 193 jobs in Jammu division strictly as per the population ratios.

(2) If the ‘purged bill’ currently hanging fire will be implemented, it will create a scene like this: In Jammu district, SC and ST will take only 18 of the 100 jobs. In Srinagar, 100 jobs will be up for grabs but 41 jobs will remain unfilled in absence of the relevant applicants – SC, ST, RBA, and ALC. Of them 18 jobs shall remain reserved for at least three years till they are de-reserved fore open merit, process officials say is more cumbersome and difficult now. From Kashmir region’s 10 districts 180 jobs will go to SCs and STs but only 34 will be filled up. In contrast, from Jammu’s 10 districts, they will fill up all the 180 available seats.

(3) In the prevailing situation that NC is keen to continue, for the time being, SCs and STs would get 180 jobs each from Kashmir and Jammu divisions and all the positions would be filled up. Seven of Kashmir’s 10 districts – which are far away from LoC, will have to spare a total 21 jobs for the people living on LoC, a category usually being filled up by people from Jammu. There are cases in which people living on International Border have managed certificates of being residents of LoC and have grabbed the jobs, insiders in SSB said.

Excluding Ladakh, SCs and STs would end up getting 227 jobs from 20 districts in scenario (1), 214 in scenario (2) and 360 in the prevailing scenario (3). Since Kashmir Valley lacks sizeable chunks of reserved category population, it would be areas with plenty of such populations – Jammu, Udhampur, Kathua, Rajouri and Leh, that would fill up vacancies here. And if Rather’s strong argument in the assembly is taken into account with scores of such cases in which the ‘employed’ have fled back home, Kashmir ends up paying up for the services to a non-local that (s)he will neither deliver nor will permit any other person to do so.

From demography to depriving the deserving, many people attribute different motives to the sudden opening of the floodgates to non-locals at the zenith of Mufti Sayeed’s era. Though officials say strictures were passed by the court earlier as well but the new system was religiously followed when PDP was in power. A few see it a new “statecraft experimentation”. The incumbent government is clear that the system is unjustified and would add to the social and economic tensions. But its survival has come in between. There was a possibility of NC and most of PDP (not less than 19) jointly voting for the passage of the bill but the Congress this time does not want to take the issue to that stage. Last time it actually had to put in more efforts to sabotage the Women’s’ Domicile bill at the stage of voting when Congress and PDP were divided on the issue despite being allies. Then NC was supportive of the PDP move but something happened somewhere that nobody could control.

SIMMERING HISTORY

In Kashmir, political issues have always been there but invariably it was the economic exploitation that has triggered major developments in the recent past. Some of these developments did create historic landmarks.

The first recorded agitation (Shalbaaf agitation) against the autocracy took place on April 29, 1865 when thousands of Shawl weavers (there were 27000 working on 11000 looms then) came out in protest against the exploitative taxation (then the weavers had to pay Maharaja Rs. 20 per head per year plus 30 % duty on sales). They assembled to register their protest outside the Zaldagar house of Pandit Raj Kak Dhar, who headed the Dagh Shawl Department. The army was called out and the weavers were fired upon. Many jumped into Jhelum and 28 corpses are recorded to have been recovered. This bloodbath preceded the May 1, 1886, the Labour day. Hundreds were arrested (some of them in Bahu Fort and Ram Nagar Jammu) and two of them later died in custody.

It was almost the same uprising in April 1924 when hundreds of workers of the state-owned Silk Factory came out in protest. Autocracy ordered army out and the unrest was quelled. Apart from the excesses being committed upon the workers, the main reason for the agitation was the plan to install a boiler that would have spared a number of workers. Agitators were fired upon and a Punjabi Muslim was asked to probe. The delay in submission of his report forced the hungry protestors to resume the routine.

Barely a few years after, the Kashmir Pandits were up against the autocracy. They petitioned Maharaja seeking a ban over the entry of outsiders, especially the residents of Punjab, into the state that, they said, was marring their employment opportunities. This led to twin royal decrees on April 20, 1927, and June 27, 1932, which eventually became the state subject law of J&K. These proclamations were incorporated in section 6 of the state constitution when it was adopted in 1954 and were diluted for the first time in 2003 when a bill to strengthen the law fell flat owing to “coalition compulsions” between PDP and Congress.

In November 1931, unrest forced Maharaja Hari Singh to appoint G B Glancy as head of a five-member Commission to probe the grievances of the predominantly Muslim population. One of the recommendations it made was that Muslims should get an adequate share of employment. Maharaja on March 22, 1932, accepted the report in its totality which eventually triggered a brief counter-agitation by Kashmir Pandits that history remembers as Roti (bread) agitation.

Post-partition, power dynamics changed a bit. All of a sudden there were irritations in the name of regions and the communal tensions were there in the background. The appointment of Justice P B Gajendragadker in 1967 by Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq and later in 1979 the justice S M Sikri Commission by Sheikh Abdullah had alleged denial of opportunities (by Kashmir to Jammu and Ladakh) at the core of it. The two commissions viewed things differently and differed diagonally in their recommendations. Interestingly it was a commission that nailed the “economics” of Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad soon after he was ousted under Kamaraj plan.

But the “unfair distribution” of power, resources and opportunities continued to dominate the scene. The last crisis was the agitation in Leh that among other things included a social boycott of Muslim minorities for a long time. The grouse was the perceived ‘colonization’ of Leh by Kashmir Muslims traders who were coerced out of the desert. This eventually led to the creation of an autonomous Hill development council for Leh in 1995, a year before a prolonged gubernatorial regime was replaced by Dr Farooq Abdullah.

More recently, the massive unrest in Kashmir last summer peaked when hundreds of thousands of people marched towards the LoC. That was in retaliation to the economic blockade that BJP and its like-minded groups spearheaded in Jammu and prevented any in-ward and outward movement impossible. At least two Kashmir drivers were roasted alive in the agitation.

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