The major impact will be on the area held under Jammu division which will more than halve to 8921 sq kms from its current area of 26239 sq kms.
“There is this fear (among Jammu people) of becoming minnows in the state that is preventing the creation of our hill development councils,” says a government officer from Doda, pleading anonymity.
Hashmi says that in every power setup, the people at the top level try to retain their power as long as they can. “Same is happening in Jammu as the people in Jammu district are thwarting any plan that they feel will undermine their position.”
The people of these regions feel that the administrative set up in Jammu district does not contain any representative from these regions, which results in lack of coordination, non seriousness for projects, backwardness and alienation.
There have been attempts by certain quarters in Jammu district to paint the agitation for hill councils on communal lines. “It is simple that the region is Muslim dominated and rightwing parties in Jammu will never want us to get our due share,” said a senior leader in Rajouri asking not to be named. “They are even threatening communal riots in case such a council is granted. They are making it a communal issue by saying that Hindus will not be safe there.”
The leaders cite the example of Leh and Kargil where people of different faiths are living happily. “Besides, the council will be under the state administration. It is not that we demand an independent land,” he said.
The leaders of the region rue the fact that Jammu lobby has almost complete control of state administration and no political leader has powers or guts to confront them. “Of course there are issues with the bureaucracy but when there is strong political will nothing can stop it from being established,” says Khalid Najib Suharwardy, who brought a private members resolution for the establishment of HDC for Chenab valley, in the legislative council in the current session.
The resolution was passed with overwhelming majority and it will be now sent to Chief Secretary and will ultimately be referred to cabinet. “We are trying to block all escape routes for government, let us hope for the best,” says Suharwardy.
Ironically, the government in its answer to the resolution had stated that Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban do not suffer from any disadvantage due to geographic location like Ladakh region. So granting of HDC will not serve any purpose. While reacting to government response Suharwardy said, “It (government’s response) is far from reality. There are some places in the Chenab valley region where there are no roads and areas remain cut off even during summers not to talk of winters.”
Participating in the debate Vijay Bakaya, National Conference member of the elder house lamented the government attitude towards the resolution. “In NC’s vision document, there is clearly written that the party is committed to replicate the successful model of Kargil and Leh HDC’s in every far flung area,” said Bakaya. “But when answer is sought from government, they say it will not serve any useful purpose.”
Sheikh Rehman, former MP from Doda and a member of Legislative Council had also moved a bill for Chenab Valley Hill Development Council in State Assembly in 2000. Government assured him that the issue will be resolved with the regional autonomy bill. The bill was brought but was never implemented and HDC creation remained a dream.
A Select Committee was also constituted in this regard and even after its report favoured the creation of CVHDC, nothing was done. Regional autonomy is as old as the modern J&K. Both Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah had announced at a joint press conference on 24 July 1952 that the constitution of the state when framed would include the vital aspect of regional autonomy. Till date, barring HDC’s in Ladakh, no region was given any administrative autonomy.
Council member and Sheikh Abdullah’xs officioal biographer Mohammed Yousuf Teng says there is a greater need of the creation of HDC’s after the successful experiment with Ladakh HDCs. “If it is not done, then we will be accused of engaging in a dual policy and step motherly treatment towards some regions and we will have no answer to it,” Teng said in the council.