Guardian Secretaries

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Jammu and Kashmir has changed a lot in terms of population and the government in the last seven decades. At one point of time, there were quite a few administrative districts and the scarcely populated state was being managed so well. On the flip side, however, there were the issues of poverty, exploitation and centuries-old system of absolute taxation. There was no crime because the people had nothing to fight for.

Post-partition, as the people got rights over their lives and the resources – to a fair extent – the administration started taking shape. Soon after, the development became the only mantra of the seat of power in Srinagar and Jammu despite the tensions at regional, lingual and the political basis. As different levels of governance started working with the sole development objective, the administrative set up changed. Now Jammu and Kashmir has 10 districts each for Kashmir and Jammu and two for the arid Ladakh desert, the newest division of the state.

Over emphasis in development has created a maze of the governance structure. There are multiple layers and too many implementing agencies. There are dozens of schemes and scores of stakeholders. In this labyrinth of developmental governance, the essence of the development story is lost. The political class would come up with its own priorities and that would upset the scripts that would emanate from the districts or descend from the civil secretariat itself. In the end, it was always the poor Deputy Commissioner who had to answer to multiple queries from diverse stakeholders. How bad the development story has been in Jammu and Kashmir was exposed last year when an audit of the hanging projects was carried out by the Chief Secretary B V R Subramanium.

In districts, there are issues that need to be tackled at the senior-most bureaucratic level. If the bureaucrats are directly linked to the districts without a middle tier, the situation has the possibility of improvement. That is exactly being done right now.

Last week, the governor’s administration gave 22 districts to 22 secretary-level officers, some of them principal secretaries. They will be in- charge of these districts and the Deputy Commissioners would be involving them more often for guidance and settling the inter-departmental issues that usually take ages for settlement. The concept is good but it remains to be seen how it operates in the state.

The model is quite an old one. It has successfully been implemented in Gujarat and it has helped change the development story. Now it remains to be seen how better it will operate at a place that is passing through one of the most interesting phases.

The move came within weeks after the government sent almost 4500 officers to the Panchayats across the state to understand the problem that people face and to know the priorities they have at local levels. This was vital to know before investing almost Rs 3500 crores to the new tier of ground zero development where not every Panchayat is a notified body. Though the survey was carried out, it is not immediately known if the government has created its own priority list. Now with a lot of administrative secretaries involved directly in the districts, the development story will soon unveil its newer and finer details.

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