Done in by the dons

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Home Minister P Chidambaram was requested by the state government to review the development projects in J&K. It may not have helped the state but it did offer the home minister a glimpse of the officialdom that runs the most sensitive state in India. Kashmir Life reports one of the many problems that J&K’s bureaucracy faces.
Given P Chidambaram’s vast experience in managing the surging finances for India, he thought it appropriate to ask state planning commissioner S L Bhat about the resources that J&K generates from its own means. Bhat passed the question on to Economic Adviser Jalil Ahmad Khan who responded to it after he was asked the same question by the Home Minister four times. And the final answer was blatantly wrong – Rs 550 crores, which is less than one-sixth of the total income that J&K gets from its own resources.
Bhat, an officer otherwise with better track record, however, faced another embarrassment when asked about the functioning of the Border Roads Organization (BRO). Chidambaram wanted to know whether its performance was good or bad and Bhat wanted to remain non-committal.
But it was not Bhat alone. Atul Dullo, Health Commissioner, had no idea of the number of  ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers. Naseema Lanker, perhaps the first female KAS officer to rise to a senior position, also lacked information about the number of projects taken up in Housing and Urban Development sector. Power Commissioner Sandeep Nayak could not respond to a special query about where the state government would manage its equity in the power projects from if J&K intends to take up these projects.
It was a huge embarrassment for the government. Though the cabinet has expressed displeasure and the chief secretary S S Kapur has communicated cabinet’s displeasure to his secretaries and commissioners, the meeting has fetched Chidambaram a joke – Omar Abdullah is a good chief minister with inept officers.
The situation did not change after this as well. When Omar Abdullah flew a select group of bureaucrats for a meeting with Confederation of Indian Industry honchos in Delhi, it was Mehboob Iqbal’s turn. Responding to Sunil Mittal’s pointed question about the follow up to the Prime Minister’s task force on Kashmir (Dr C Rangarajan committee to which Mittal was a member), Iqbal unleashed statistics about the Prime Minister’s Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana.
“It was clear that he was responding to a question that was never asked. So somebody stopped him,” informed sources told Kashmir Life. “And the tragedy is that he did not know about the status of the report of that task force”.
After the Rangarajan committee report was drafted, it was submitted to prime minister and finally to the Planning commission where it is still lying without any follow up. Interestingly, the state government was given around 100 copies of the report just for information. It was, however, not circulated among its officers.
“Officials, whether from IAS or KAS, are not incompetent,” a former minister said. “There is a problem in their functioning and the style of leadership that has evolved over the years.”
Usually, it is the under secretary level officer who drafts the policy and then all other ranks uphold what is being suggested. Only in rare cases is this being questioned. “This is a role reversal because usually we see secretary or commissioner as the main policy maker which he or she is not. This rank, in most of cases is barely a bridge between the subordinate officers and the minister. So he or she never applies mind,” the former minister, who wishes not be named, said.
The real crisis is with the political leadership which is getting increasingly dependent on the officers on what their priorities should be. Usually they see short term gains ignoring the real issues their assigned sectors face. In the current dispensation, barring Abdul Rahim Rather, there is nobody who can claim to be a sector specialist.
How the officials are taking their political bosses for a ride is demonstrated by last week’s SIDCO board meeting in Srinagar. It showed profits and among other things income from interest. But nobody asked its new boss how SIDCO could be a profit making entity when it is purely meant to create infrastructure only? The answer lies in SIDCO functioning. The tradition in this PSU is that it receives funds for specific projects and instead of investing them into projects, it deposits them as FDRs. It definitely fetches the corporation some interest money but at the cost of the projects. No minister has been intelligent enough to point it out.
Whenever politicians intervene, they do it for all the wrong reasons. Earlier this year, the Rural Development Minister and his secretary were at loggerheads. Grapevine in the secretariat corridors is that the minister wanted inclusion of party workers under BPL so that they get food at subsidized rates – an issue that is already taking the shape of a racket in J&K. The officer refused to oblige and the crisis made headlines, albeit smaller ones.
The more recent controversy is that of former Power Development Commissioner Aftab Ahmad Chewa who was removed and attached to PDD for “misconduct”. In a meeting of the Central Electricity Authority on May 21, Chewa had stated that the political interference was responsible for most of the power pilferage. The assertions were recorded in the minutes of the meeting following which the decision of attaching the officer was made.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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