Last month, a record number of officers up to the Principal Secretary level were out in the Kashmir periphery to listen to the people as part of the outreach. These visits that continued for a week were aimed at collecting certain basic data about the services, developmental scenario, economic potential and other demographic details of the places. The officers visited a large number of people, interacted with them, heard them patiently and came with a lot of data and deficit in the development story of the state.
Had the policy maker’s sought suggestions from the people about what information these officials should have collected, the Back to Village would have offered tons of data to explain the black and white of the development story besides the shades of grey. But well begun is half done.
The corridors of the civil secretariat are rife with tons of stories about what has been happening in the periphery of Jammu and Kashmir. One top officer was literally shocked to see huge swathes of land having been encroached upon by people silently. Another officer saw certain archaeological spots being literally vandalised by the people. Yet another officer was shocked by the quantum of built-up infrastructure that has never been used. Some officers were literally in tears after seeing the state and status of some of the schools where students have to move long distances to use open space for toilets.
Now the government has the data. By its own commitments, it has its objectives very clear. Though the political class sees the exercise as an idea to elbow out the public representative, the intention for having a firsthand experience of the crisis is not bad. This may or may not contribute to the new emerging ideation that a place like Jammu and Kashmir can wait for a democratic government until the state is put back on a development track.
The real challenge for the administration is to separate the major chronic developmental issues from the low hanging fruit. What is the harm in dove-tailing certain sponsored schemes to manage better washrooms for the schools? What prevents the local district administration from ensuring staff to the locked dispensaries and primary health centres? Why can not the government ensure the postal department works? In Kashmir, postmen hardly deliver posts unless they are registered where a receipt is vital.
If certain basics are taken care of quickly, the developmental narrative has a chance to take off.