The Healthy INFORMERS

Strife has led to the rise of a huge breed of whistle-blowers in Kashmir. Barring the anti-corruption whistle-blowers almost every other informer is making good of it. So the health ministry decided to tap the emerging trend by catching law-breakers.

The health ministry will be paying Rs 25000 per whistle-blower for every identification of a facility where pre-natal sex determination takes place. This, they say, will help them to implement the Pre-natal Diagnostics Techniques (PNDT) Act with vigour and precision. They have set aside Rs five lakh for 20 first cases, 10 each in Srinagar and Jammu.

The idea is aimed at addressing the skewed sex ratio that provisional statistics of the census-2011 exhibited. Compared to the sex ratio of 892 in 2001, the provisional data of census 2011 suggests it has nosedived to 883 which is much below the all India average of 940.

This has plunged J&K to the number two status in the bottom of the all India states list with lowest sex ratio. J&K has lost nine points in 10 years creating a situation in which J&K is just behind Haryana that tops in the list of low sex ratio with 877 females for every 1000 males.

After the provisional data crept to the newspaper front pages, the government launched a two pronged strategy to undo the numerical gender imbalances. Apart from launching a crackdown on the sonography and ultrasound clinics across the state, it initiated a fresh block-level survey of all the births in last five years. So far the government has locked 78 ultra-sound clinics 54 in Kashmir and 24 in Jammu. Still, 180 clinics operate in Kashmir and 80 in Jammu.
Health Minister Sham Lal, however, is not ready to share the findings of his ministry’s block level survey. He says there is not much variation but he is unwilling to get the survey findings into the public domain.

Making PaK PAY!
Put simply, the J&K government is asking the trans-LoC traders to collect VAT from the consumers in PaK who purchase the goods that cross the LoC from Uri and Poonch. It has paralyzed the trade for the third consecutive month now. This crisis has led them to protest on Srinagar streets almost every week.
Traders say they are willing to pay VAT on whatever they import. But they cannot pay VAT on goods they export to PaK because the buyer does not fall under any administrative control of J&K. Under VAT system, the seller and the buyer need to exist within a territorial boundary.

Ever since J&K was sliced into two parts, both sides have remained drowned in symbolism that they care for each other. J&K assembly has set aside 25 berths for PaK and the Muzaffarabad assembly has 12 seats for Kashmiri refugees. Backed by Delhi and Islamabad, both the halves of the erstwhile state have been staking claims over each other.  The only difference is that while 25 seats in J&K legislature remain as a constitutional provision, the 12 seats in PaK are being filled.

The only two events that made an effort to get them somehow closer was the opening of the twin route for travel and trade to designated individuals and items. Even that is in crisis. Especially, the trade that was initiated soon after an economic blockade of the valley by Jammu in 2008. It lacks enabling systems like currency, banking, communications, and dispute resolution mechanism besides part of the physical infrastructure. It even lacks an identity and people do not know if the zero-duty trade falls under export-import or is just domestic exercise. Though politicians are used to terming it as “intra-Kashmir” trade, it lacks legal sanctity that has led state’s commercial taxes department to levy VAT.

Despite all this the CBM picked quite fast and survived as a blind barter in which the buyer does not know the seller. Right now nearly 300 traders are affiliated with the barter and the cumulative transactions (by December 2010) have crossed Rs 500 crore as more than 9000 trucks crossed the LoC. But now it has ceased to happen, at least for the time being.

Taxing PROBLEMS
They are paying and the kitty is increasing every passing year. Yes, people in J&K are paying Income Tax. For the last fiscal the gross income tax collection from J&K was Rs 1179.73 crore which is apparently more than the power tariff that the state government collected!Chief Commissioner of Income Tax K S Pathania, last week, informed the media that they collected 27 percent more over Rs 924.2 crore gross collections during 2009-10. This was despite the summer unrest that devoured almost half of the year in Kashmir and disrupted the entire consumption and production chain within the state. The growth on year-on-year basis is eight percent more than the all India growth of 19 percent.

J&K Bank continues to be the biggest tax payer of the state. In last fiscal it paid Rs 300 crore. After many years it moved its filing of returns from Jammu to Srinagar. For the first time, IT seized ‘unaccounted wealth’ of Rs 20 crore of eight local businessmen – three cases from Srinagar and five from Jammu. Just one of them surrendered Rs 16.20 crore. Those from Kashmir surrendered Rs 52 lakh, Rs 40 lakh and Rs 90 lakh. All the three are in the healthcare business.This much of tax was paid by 11410 thousand individual tax payers and 603 companies, which makes up merely over a percent of state’s population. Officials say J&K has the capacity to pay much more. Pathania said as the gross collections surge, the refunds witness an upswing.Against refunds of Rs 40 crore in 2009-10, the IT department refunded Rs 344 crore in 2010-11. The Tax Deduction at Source (TDS) has increased by more than 150 per cent during the last one year.

Meanwhile, the IT department has initiated cases for tax evasion cases against top separatist leaders M Yasin Malik, Showkat Bakhshi, Shabir Shah and Syed Ali Geelani besides his son-in-law Altaf Ahmad. IT has gone to the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Srinagar that has already issued notices to some separatist leaders for allegedly concealing particulars of their income and evading tax payment.

The Money PUSH
Finally, it is over. The Planning Commission of India has approved the plan for the current fiscal and the season of board meetings is about to start. J&K has Rs 6600 crore of plan and an additional Rs 1200 crore for implementing various projects falling under the Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan (PMRP), an overall 10 percent step up over last year.

As one quarter of the year is already over, the government has to run against the time to book the expenditure. The situation is more critical in areas like Ladakh and parts of Kashmir and upper reaches of Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban and Reasi where the working season is limited. The Planning Department is expected to prioritize the allocations for such districts. In 2010-11, the government could spend only 93 per cent of Rs 6000 crore worth plan and Rs 675 crore out of Rs 1200 crore in PMRP.

Official statistics available in public domain suggests that of Rs 6600 crore, Rs 5422.25 crore would be for capital expenditure and Rs 1177.75 crore on revenue expenditure. The sectoral allocations envisage spending Rs 2320 crore on Social Services, Rs 946 crore on general economic services, Rs 931 crore in transport sector, Rs 647 crore on general services, Rs 472 crore on energy, Rs 324 crore on agriculture and allied activities, Rs 138 crore on rural development, Rs 364 crore on special area programmes, Rs 300 crore in irrigation and flood control, Rs 139 crore on industry and minerals, Rs 10 crore on communications and Rs 4.5 crore on science, technology and environment.

On the PMRP front, Rs 358.51 crore would be utilized for strengthening power transmission and distribution (T&D) network, Rs 191.29 crore on Mughal Road, Rs 120 crore for releasing second installment of counterpart fund to Asian Development Bank, Rs 14.70 crore for 10 more degree colleges, Rs 8.38 crore for five more ITIs, Rs 94.41 crore on  construction of two room tenements for Kashmiri migrants, Rs 127 crore for acquisition of land under Prime Minister’s Ghram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) roads and Rs 285.71 crore on rehabilitation of people displaced from Dal and Nigeen lakes.

Though system of financing the plan is awaited but generally it is a good allocation given the spending capacities of J&K government. Besides, the state would get more than Rs 500 crore under various central sponsored schemes as well. In fact chief minister Omar Abdullah thanked Planning Commission and the PM. But after the 120-minute meeting with the commission was over and the officers amid congratulations to each other were talking about Rs 315 crore that the Commission did not approve. Finance Minister was heard telling officers not to talk about it. What were these Rs 315 crore meant for?

Facing The MUSIC
It was a double speak that lacks a parallel in recent times. A government of India counsel appearing in two cases – one each from J&K and Assam, involving two different security agencies, spoke two different languages. And it led to some scathing observations from the court.

Centre’s senior counsel Ashok Bhan appeared in the Panchalthan case and pleaded that the stay that the apex court has granted in its trial be lifted. It has been one of the most debated cases involving immunity to the security forces under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

It dates back to 2000 when unknown armed men barged into the Chittisinghpora village in south Kashmir and massacred 35 Sikhs. Within a couple of days after the army and the police claimed they killed five accused militants. After another massacre of civilian protestors, the investigations established the slain were civilians who were kidnapped, killed and roasted in a staged encounter. CBI was entrusted the investigations after a series of turns and twists. CBI filed charge-sheet against a number of army officials including Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Lt Col Brijendra Pratap Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idress Khan of 7 Rashtriya Rifles.

Army termed the charge sheet illegal saying under AFSPA it needs prior clearance from the MHA and Defence Ministry, a contention CBI turned down. Eventually army went to the apex court and got it stayed. A number of similar cases are linked to the same stay and the state and central governments are keen to get the stay vacated. It was in this backdrop that Bhan pleaded for vacating the stay. He sought prosecution of the officers on the ground that the special law gave no immunity to the personnel from prosecution for criminal acts.

Appearing in another case involving CRPF in Assam, Bhan said the personnel cannot be prosecuted because they are enjoying immunity under the CRPF Act.
A diametrically diverse view from the counsel of central government irked the court. “How can you adopt diametrically different views?” the Bench comprising Mr Justice BS Chauhan and Mr Justice Swatantra Kumar asked Bhan, who admitted the dichotomy in his response was his “professional compulsions.” He insisted the court to de-link the two cases and deal with them separately.

But it triggered scathing observations from the bench. “You cannot say that an Army man can enter any home commit a rape and say he enjoys immunity as it has been done in discharge of official duties,” the apex court remarked. The bench observed that the issue involved vital questions of law relating to public and would be taken up immediately after the vocation is over. The bench asked the government to clarify whether the army / paramilitary personnel enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution for any penal offence committed in discharge of their official duties including fake encounters and rapes vis-?-vis AFSP Act, Section 197 CrPC and Section 17 of the CRPF Act. It also sought to know if the CBI should conduct a preliminary inquiry into such killings before registering an FIR against accused the army / paramilitary personnel.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here