Administrative Mess

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With state assembly elections round the corner ruling NC seems to have scored over others by pitching for new administrative blocks. But nobody bothers to ask how these new units will sustain in a cash starved state. Suhail A Shah reports the chaos that has blurred party lines and pitched people against each other    

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Residents of Litter, Pulwama on a hunger strike.  Pic: Younis Khaliq

On 15th of January some people in Litter area of Pulwama district in South Kashmir went on a hunger strike, demanding a Tehsil status for their area.

Amid deliberations and a visible discord within the coalition partners, National Conference and the Congress Cabinet Sub-Committee, headed by Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand, has finally put forth recommendations for creating less than 1000 new administrative units across the state. The coalition partners managed to the break ice after the State Congress, on intervention of the Party High command, showed flexibility.

The process no doubt created a political uncertainty in Kashmir but the more worrying aspect about the formation of new administrative units is that the people have been pitted against each other. While the Sub-Committee is all set to reveal the recommendations in the coming days it will be interesting to see how people in different areas, who have been demanding up gradation of their areas, will react to the final report of the CSC.

Literally every alternate neighbourhood in Jammu and Kashmir is demanding up gradation of their area. The gravity of the situation can be fathomed by the fact that on 15th of January 40 delegations, representing different parts of the Jammu region, met the CSC members in Jammu in a single day.

 Everybody in Jammu and Kashmir, including the coalition partners Congress, seems to have reservations about the formation of the new administrative units given the financial liability it is going to be for the state exchequer. The state chief however remains adamant to the extent that speculations were rife about him resigning if the Congress does not cooperate.

While some people argue that the hunger strike in Litter was a politically motivated one and just about a dozen people participated, it has opened a Pandora’s Box.

People demanding Tehsil status for Lasipora in Pulwama.

People demanding Tehsil status for Lasipora in Pulwama.
Pic: Younis Khaliq

The strike managed to catch little media attention; however the impact it has had on ground has been nothing less than a dominoes effect of sorts. Close on the heels many other villages in Pulwama and the neighbouring Kulgam and Islamabad districts were up in arms, demanding up gradation of their respective areas.

The government has been very cautious in not revealing the recommendations of the CSC; however an occasional leak or a rumour has managed to create a stir in this already restive state.

Ironically, the people seem keener not to have the names of their neighbouring areas on the up gradation list, than to have their own. Every protest that has erupted over the last fortnight or so has been fuelled by people hearing rumours about their neighbouring areas being pitched for up gradation.

Evidence indicates that same has been true about the hunger strike in Pulwama. There were no protests whatsoever in the area until rumours about their neighbouring Lassipora village being given Tehsil status started doing rounds.

“Ours is a much bigger village and should be made a Tehsil, however politics is being played over the issue,” said Umar Jan, a local Congress worker, who led the hunger strike.

The debate over the Cabinet Sub-Committee’s (CSC), constituted by the government,  recommendations was triggered a month back in North Kashmir’s Baramulla district when two neighbouring villages, Kreeri and Wagoora, were pitted against each other for securing a Tehsil status.

The issue has brought people, not only of Wagoora and Kreeri but of other places as well, face to face and there has been a rising animosity between people who have been living in absolute harmony with each other for centuries now.

Protests and shut down ever since have been the order of the day in many areas, with people demanding their areas to be up graded to a Sub-District, a Tehsil, or a Block.

Howsoever keen the Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, might seem to implement the recommendations of the CSC there have been voices even within the National Conference warning of serious social ramifications.

It was during the autumn session of Jammu and Kashmir State Legislative Assembly that senior National Conference leader and the Law Minister, Mir Saifullah, warned against tabling of this politically sensitive proposal and the impact it is going to have on ground.

Despite being worried about the present situation on ground and how people have started infighting, the social observers maintain that the plots of dividing the people in Kashmir are not completely unheard of.

“The Indian state, over the years, has developed architecture to systematically pit people against each other,” says Farrukh

A CSC meet underway.

A CSC meet underway.

Faheem, a Kashmiri Social Scientist, who teaches at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai.

Faheem, while questioning the timing of the proposal, feels that the whole drama is being enacted to brush the misdeeds of both New Delhi and the State government in Kashmir under the carpet.

The National Conference, or to be more precise the Chief Minister of the State, have been arguing the proposal to be an attempt at decentralization of power. Whether it turns out to be so or not, for now it is proving to be divisive.

“If the idea is the so called decentralization of power, why now at the time of the elections,” says Faheem, citing the example of the Panchayats in Kashmir to support his argument.

“All of us have seen the fate of the Panchayts and how they have been instrumental in creating a divide within the society,” said Faheem.

 Besides, the proposal has also managed to create a larger divide within the three provinces of Jammu and Kashmir, adding to a long list of issues dividing the people already.

 Some Jammu based politicians have made no secret of their disagreement with the proposal and some have gone as far as saying that the Jammu and the Leh divisions are being neglected by the state government on developmental front.

The Proposal and the Viability:

Ghulam Nabi Azad led coalition government created eight new districts and 12 Tehsils in 2006, which were functional in 2007. The formation of further administrative units was sanctioned soon after that. A committee led by Dr SS Belloria was formed to conduct a survey and put forth the recommendations.

The report of the Belloria Committee, 2009, however was rendered inconclusive hence paving way for a new committee led by Mushtaq Ahmad Ganai.

Ganai’s report came on 14th of July 2011. According to the insiders the Ganai Commission had proposed around 950 new administrative units.

If the sources in the Revenue department are to be believed the initial cost of the formation of these units is estimated at about 850 Crores, “The state will need to spend more than 600 Crore on creation of infrastructure. Besides, acquisition of land will be another costly affair,”

There are recurring costs as well. Yearly salaries of more than 4600 employees, that need to be engaged after the formation of the new units, will run into more than 200 Crores.

In a further setback to the proposal, the Congress led CSC had subsequently increased the number of new units from 750 to more than 2500. The escalated number of units would have meant an inflated cost to kick start the formation of the units. Besides, the recurring costs would have swelled as well.

However that issue has been dealt with to some extent after the number of units were reduced to less than one thousand in a meeting between coalition partners held in Jammu, Friday afternoon.

What makes the plan all the more unrealistic is that it comes at a time when the Planning Commission of India has already denied a hike in the Annual plan of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. A 10 percent hike in the proposed Annual plan for the year 2013-14 was rejected by the PCI and the Annual plan was cut down to 7300 Crores.

How the state is going to cover the initial and recurring costs of the new 2500 administrative units remains a rather big question mark on the viability of the proposal.

Some civil society members questioning the haste the government is showing in creation of the new administrative units believe that it is going to be a miserable failure.

“The Pulwama district came into being in the year 1979 and 34 years down the line many government offices in Pulwama are still running from rundown rented accommodations,” said Mushtaq Ahmad, a civil society member from Pampore area of the Pulwama district.

Having a stock of the infrastructure in the districts formed in 2006, the future of the new administrative units seems bleaker. Shopian was one of the districts formed in 2006 and the district hospital in the area, 6 years down the line, is far from completion.

“Or for that matter the new colleges and the Panchayts,” asks, Rao Farman Ali, a civil society member from South Kashmir’s Islamabad district.

Ali argues that both the educational institutes and the Panchats were creation of hasty vote bank politics, “The fate of these things is in the open. The question is do we want to create purpose less units or bring the already existing ones into order,”

The politics of it:

The process of creating the new administrative units has created a political storm in Kashmir with almost every political party coming out in open to criticize the government’s move.

While the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) have been doing what opposition parties are supposed to, the Congress party being a part of the coalition, has its disagreements as well.

“It’s the blankness of Omar Abdullah’s report card that has unnerved him and as a result he is taking hasty decisions about the formation of the new units,” said Naeem Akhtar, spokesperson of the PDP.

He said that his party is worried about the fallout of the issue on ground level. Besides he questioned the move of engaging more Patwaris in the time of information technology.

“The Omar Abdullah government had kept this issue for the rainy day,” Akhtar says, “And my argument stands supported by the fact that it’s being used at the time of the elections,”

We also formed new units during our tenure, maintains Akhtar, but without creating a mess out of it.

The BJP sees the whole exercise as Kashmir centric and the party leadership raised serious doubts at the intention of the CSC on 8th of January, alleging that they were not taken onboard during the one week visit of the CSC to different districts.

Later on 15th of January a delegation from the right wing party presented a memorandum to the CSC, demanding four districts to be created in the Jammu region.

The memorandum produced before the CSC read that the BJP would like to place on record the step-motherly treatment successive Kashmir dominated and valley centric governments of the state have given to the people of Jammu and Ladakh divisions.

There has been strong resentment among the members of the coalition partner Congress, as well. Senior Congress leader and Minister for Medical Education Taj Mohiuddin has gone on record to say that the new administrative units will not serve any purpose till the already existing administrative offices are put in to order and made completely functional.

The National Conference General Secretary and Chief Minister’s Uncle Mustafa Kamal called the allegations by the opposition preposterous.

“This is a developmental issue and to play politics on it is a pity,” said Kamal, refuting the allegations that the Kashmir division was being favoured.

Regarding the opposition meted to the proposal by the coalition partners, Kamal said that it’s the Congress who has compiled the report and now they are making a fuss about it.

“Its these people (Congress) who went from place to place to conduct a survey and now they are crying foul,” Kamal said, “People are wise enough to see through the things and decide who is working for their betterment and who is not,”

However the Congress leadership despite their disagreements had to succumb to the pressure created by their ally, National Conference.

Soon after the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah took to the micro blogging site Twitter to express his disappointment with the delay in submission of a final report by the CSC, speculations went rife that the Kashmir Chief is going to sever ties with his coalition partners, Congress.

Omar However chose silence over the issue. The otherwise vocal Kashmir Chief did not issue any statements whatsoever regarding the rumours about his resignation.

The subsequent statements by the Congress leadership in Kashmir however did prove that they were under pressure from their coalition partners over the issue.

Following intervention from the party High Command in Delhi the State Congress Wednesday issued a statement asserting that they will support National Conference till the last day. Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand on Wednesday announced that he will submit its report earlier than the due date.

“We will support the government till the last day, and will submit our report before the February 1 deadline,” Tara Chand, who heads cabinet the sub-committee, was quoted by a TV news Channel as saying.

Visibly satisfied with the deadlock being broken, Omar Abdullah, broke his silence over the issue on Thursday. He asserted that his party won’t walk out from the alliance.

He instead blamed a few Congress leaders who reportedly want to go alone into the elections. “These voices are coming from Congress state leaders. They want to go alone,” Omar was quoted by a news Channel.

Besides, following Saturday’s meet, the Chief Minister must be pleased with having his way on the issue.  The parties were yet to issue a statement while this story was being filed.

The proposal and Elections:

2014 is going to be an election year with general elections and the State Assembly elections scheduled for later this year.

The chorus, that Omar is using the issue of formation of these new units for the forthcoming elections, is growing with each passing day. The political parties have a reason to believe so, given the timing of the proposal and the amount of emphasis the Chief Minister is laying on the issue.

Congress leaders in Jammu and Kashmir are wary about the mileage the National Conference is going to take out of the issue. They are doing everything they can to stall the process, without losing the support of their coalition partners.

“The escalation of new administrative units from 750 to 2500 is indeed a way to hinder the proposal,” said a senior National Conference leader, wishing anonymity.

He accepted the fact that the issue will provide some political mileage to his party and the coalition partners are playing a spoil sport.

On the other hand the principal opposition party, the PDP, seems acutely aware of the repercussions of the proposal but at the same time helpless, unlike Congress.

If what’s happening in Pulwama right now is an indication to what lies in store the PDP is going to have a difficult election ahead. The people in PDP dominated Pulwama are starkly divided on the formation of the new administrative units and they want their elected representatives to deliver.

“Sure we want to win the elections, but the more important thing at hand is the betterment of the people and this proposal is far from being even close to that,” said Akhtar.

He hopes that the people see through the façade and vote for the right candidates in the end.

“People are smarter than we think and well aware of the politics being played over the issue,” said Akhtar, “I am sure people will see through the whole drama intelligently,”

Amid all the chaos however it’s a win-win situation for the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Is the proposal gets a nod, he will have at least something to recount as an achievement of his 6 years in office, otherwise he can blame his coalition partners for hindering the process.

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