Good Governance

CM Omar Abdullah making a speech during budget session.
CM Omar Abdullah making a speech during budget session.

The Coalition government is committed to provide good governance to the citizens of the State. The government shall endeavour to provide hassle free public interface in the areas of development as well as regulations. The government believes in delegation of authority to the field functionaries and to local bodies for improvement in services. The government is committed to holding of panchayat elections as early as possible so that the participation of the people in their own development and regulatory activities is ensured.

Wherever necessary, special purpose vehicles, authorities and boards shall be created to function in collaboration with the related stake holders for speedy decision making and collaborative implementation of programmes.

Making full use of information technology has become essential for transparency and good governance. Our Hon’ble Chief Minister has created a Special Task Force in collaboration with NASSCOM with a view to developing skilled resources in the State to participate in the national and global job opportunities in IT, IT enabled services, retail, tourism and other service industries. At least 5000 young professionals are to be made available by December, 2010. The Task Force also aims at developing an incisive IT policy for the State for development of IT Industry and the usage of IT to support other industries of the State.

A J&K e-Governance Agency or JaKeGA has been created by the Government as a registered Society in January this year. It aims to promote e-Governance in all important government departments and organizations. Some of its important basic programmes are to create core infrastructure, internet kiosks in private sector, seamless inter-operability and data exchange and a State Wide Area Network.

Strong presence of telecom sector is essential to give not only wide coverage to the telecommunication services to the people but also for development of IT based service sector. There has been noted reluctance on the part of Telecom players to enter the State or to expand their service base because of entry tax leviable on their high value equipment and communication tower material. The telecom companies which entered the state initially have obtained stay orders against levy of entry tax as also against charging of service tax by the State on a notion that the subject matter of service tax comes under the jurisdiction of the Centre. In order to break this impasse, I offer to forego entry tax presently leviable on these telecom players provided they agree to deposit an equivalent amount with the department of commercial taxes and sign an agreement with the State government to collect service tax and deposit the same with the State government. The advance deposit made by them shall be adjusted against the amount of service tax payable by them afterwards. I hope the Telecom Companies will come forward to take advantage of this offer in our mutual interest.

The Commercial Taxes Department of Jammu and Kashmir State has done extremely well in switching over to the Value Added Tax regime. The Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers has described J&K as one of the best VAT implementing State. VAT is a trader friendly regime with more stress on self assessment and essential information available with the Department has to be used meaningfully. The successful implementation of this regime depends on gathering of information from other sources and by cross verification of interstate and intrastate transactions. I am happy to inform the House that complete automation of the Department has been taken in hand at a cost of Rs.20 crore. All aspects of the Departmental working shall be covered under this project in due course of time. The major aspect of processing of returns and cross linking of information of inter and intrastate level should be in place by December, 2009. This will also settle a plethora of long pending demands of various Trade Associations regarding the working of the Department which would become fully transparent, more simple and efficient thereby decreasing the frequency of interaction/visits of the traders to the tax offices and reducing the compliance cost of the dealers who are critical partners in the tax administration.

Transparency

Transparency is the hall mark of good governance. We intend to follow a fully transparent policy in the matter of attaining the declared objectives of economic growth with regional balance, achievement of physical targets within the declared investment levels and impartiality of process. The House has already passed the Right to Information Act to enable every citizen of the State to access the information he may be interested in or to find out as to how the public money is being spent and in what manner or how the various government functionaries perform their official functions affecting the public life on day to day basis. Efforts shall be made to place most of such general and specific information on public websites.

Computerization of treasuries and Govt. accounts:

Computerization of the Government Treasuries was initiated by our government about a decade ago. Apart from procurement of hardware for 13 treasuries in the first phase, training was imparted to 700 Accounts personnel in handling e-accounts. However, the task has not been taken to its logical conclusion and the objectives of on line transactions, e-transfers and seamless accounting have not been achieved at all. Complete computerization of treasury accounts in the first phase and all government accounts subsequently in a time bound manner is essential for good governance. I intend to give a push to this un-accomplished task and get the project completed in a time bound manner through J&K e-Governance Authority which has initiated similar projects for Transport and Election Departments as well. Our aim is to develop full connectivity of all government accounts with the Bank and the Account General within two years time frame.

Prioritization of payments and efficient cash management in Treasuries:

Every payment by the treasury on behalf of the government ought to be a priority. Any delay on this account seriously compromises the credibility of the government and is against all the basic tenets of financial management. Inordinate delays in making payments in last several years manifested themselves into various types of demands such as asking for specially designated treasuries for making payments to the local industry, creation of revolving funds with SICOP and SIDCO to ensure timely payments, ensuring availability of funds with the concerned government departments corresponding to purchases made by them, etc. The then government made announcements about accepting such demands on the floor of this august House, in one form or the other, thereby indirectly admitting that the financial and cash management at that time had left much scope for improvement.

We inherited these difficulties but have tried to successfully cope up with them, notwithstanding the daunting challenges briefly mentioned by me in the beginning. Without making any tall claims in this connection, I only express my humble confidence that situation shall be, Inshaallah, reversed and we would not bear with any pendency in the government treasuries.

The official records and other valuable documents lying in record rooms and the Archives need to be digitized and preserved in all possible manners. The work has been somewhat neglected for many years. I propose to induce the concerned department to come forward with appropriate proposals for funding. In the meanwhile, I propose to keep a provision of Rs.5 crore to elicit their early response.

The work of digitization of land revenue records and its availability for all the concerned people on line has evaded the final solution despite the existence of a Centrally Sponsored Scheme. I propose to get this work completed at the earliest. Financial difficulties, if any arising, shall be fully taken care of.

Some important issues pertaining to Urban Local Bodies:

With the democratic decentralization, the Urban Local Bodies have been empowered to take charge of local self government. Their performance and initiative in some areas of public concern is indeed being appreciated. However, voices are also being raised by some quarters alleging delays in or denial of building permission in some cases, condonation of violation of building bylaws in some other cases, lack of sanitation and cleanliness within the municipal areas, in-sufficient system of redressal of grievances, etc. In respect of one Municipal Committee, the industrial units have alleged harassment in the name of charging of lorry adda fee from them even if they claim to be not connected with the use of such lorry adda.

It is for the concerned local municipal bodies to investigate as to what extent such allegations are correct and to provide remedies as may be required. We in the government feel that many of such grievances would not arise if the Local Bodies adopt absolutely transparent systems, simplify the procedures, go for complete automation in a time bound manner and create an efficient mechanism of redressal of public grievances. I offer to extend government support including financial help for making visible improvements in these areas. I hope that our local bodies shall respond to this gesture well in time so that IT based better and smoother systems of e-Governance are in place before the Award of the Thirteenth Finance Commission for Urban Local Bodies becomes operative w.e.f. 1st April, 2010.

Environment & Ecology:

Protection of our environment and checking pollution of all types is the prime concern of every responsive government. This is also our obligation toward our future generations. The Pollution Control Board primarily created for performing this task shall be further strengthened by us in the coming years. However, their focus should not blur because of demand on their time and resources for routine clearances. Well defined norms need to be laid down for compliance in a transparent manner so that the interests of development are not unnecessarily jeopardized. We shall have to ensure that  a time bound, simple and transparent mechanism is evolved by the Board to balance these twin objectives. Similarly, the mechanism for environmental impact assessment and clearances for projects of public importance will also have to be made time bound.

The ever increasing problem of disposal of bio-medical wastes hasn’t found a solution as yet in our State. Some stop gap arrangements have been tried and they have been found to be grossly inadequate. The health department have estimated the cost of investments for creating the requisite infrastructure at Jammu and Srinagar. The capital needs for the proposed infrastructure have been projected to the Thirteenth Finance Commission.

However, a reference to the Finance Commission should not mean that we start relaxing in the meanwhile. Every institution, big or small, whether in public Sector or private Sector should realize the gravity of the problem that bio-medical wastes are required to be handled scientifically before their disposal. Any institution violating the law shall have to be made accountable for its failures under a strict regulatory frame work.

Toll Plaza at Lakhanpur:

It is our unique feature that access into our state is available through a single point at Lakhanpur. As such, this entry point must symbolize the intrinsic beauty of our state and the quality of head and hearts of its people. We had initiated action on creation of a modern toll plaza at Lakhanpur. However, despite lapse of about a decade, the project is yet to be completed. I propose an allocation of Rs.10 crore for this purpose to complete construction work of all the buildings during the current financial year. After the construction works are over, a plan for beautification of entire surrounding area shall be taken up including construction of durable and clean spaces for parking of vehicles to avoid congestion, traffic jam or environmental pollution.

These infrastructural improvements combined with the improvements in the software of the Commercial Taxes Department and Excise Department shall ensure that the ambience of the Toll Plaza shall change from a chaotic, disorderly & congested commercial place into an arena of serenity, calmness and beauty for the commuters to have a few moments of relaxation before proceeding on.

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