Post Article-370 scrapping, the Central Government is busy planning big interventions as the Jammu and Kashmir is gradually moving towards becoming the Union Territory (UT)
Ahead of the removal of the Jammu and Kashmir flag from the Civil Secretariat in Srinagar, the governor’s administration had sent two teams of officers to study the working and systems of the Union Territories (UT). A team each is visiting Pondicherry and Delhi. They will submit their reports at the earliest.
Officials’ privy of the developments, however, insisted that there has been an exercise already done detailing how the systems would work under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill of 2019 that Parliament passed on August 6. The bill divided Jammu and Kashmir into two UTs: Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. The two UTs will be operational from October 31, 2019, to coincide with the birth anniversary of SardarValabbhai Patel, India first post-partition Home Minister. Unlike Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh will have no assembly and will be directly ruled by a Lieutenant Governor.
The parliament was enabled to redraw the boundaries of Jammu and Kashmir after the President invoked his rights under Article 370 and issued the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order of 2019 on August 5 that scrapped The Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order of May 14, 1954. The 1954 Order that was considered the mother of the special status envisaged a proviso to Article 3 of the Constitution of India suggesting that “no Bill providing for increasing or diminishing the area of the State of Jammu and Kashmir or altering the name or boundary of that State shall be introduced in Parliament without the consent of the Legislature of that State”. As the Order was junked the LokSabha was empowered to redraw the borders under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill of 2019.
The law gives a year for a Central committee to divide the assets and liabilities between the two UTs. The employees would continue in their posts for another year until their allocations are determined. The Central government will be controlling the police and the law and order of the state. Matters related to land; rights over land tenures, transfer and alienation of agricultural land, land improvement and agricultural loans will be under the domain of the elected UT government. Both the UTs, however, will have a common High Court.
The bill has implemented 106 central laws with or without amendments to the UT of Jammu and Kashmir. It has retained seven state laws on the statute book with amendments. As many as 153 state laws and 11 acts promulgated by the governor were repealed by the new bill of the parliament. Besides, the bill provides for retaining as many as 166 state laws, which were in vogue at the time of reorganisation. Though there is no clear indication, a senior IAS officer said the UT will be born debt-free as the MHA will take over the entire liabilities of the state.
Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) that will literally be the direct ruler of the Jammu and Kashmir has already sent a detailed communication to the state government seeking identification of issues, if any, that would require any intervention in the roll out of the UT.
India Today quoted official sources saying: “Central ministers will visit Jammu and Kashmir one by one to assess the situation, expedite the development programmes and possibly interact with people in coming days.” Right now, the Cabinet Secretary is monitoring the situation. So far, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Tribal Affairs Minister ArjunMunda have visited the state last week. “All central ministries and departments have been asked to come up with Kashmir Action Plan to look into various development programmes and their implementation.”
In anticipation of the UT roll out, Satya Pal Malik, Jammu and Kashmir governor told a August 28, news conference, arranged exclusive for the TV medium, that while the Article 370 has gone forever, there will be, however, no effort to dilute the “identity, culture and heritage” of the UT of Jammu and Kashmir. He, however, did not offer any details. He said he is saying this on behalf of the Prime Minister NarendraModi.
Malik’s assertions on protecting the identity of the erstwhile state might have been the outcome of the demands that were raised by BJP in Jammu and in Leh seeking protection against non locals to acquire land.
DrNirmal Singh, former Deputy Chief Minister, had sought safeguards like a “domicile” certificate, so as to “protect the interests of locals in respect to land and state jobs”. After supporting the abrogation of the special status, the Indian Express reported that “the BJP too seems to have sensed that this might gain traction in Jammu after the waning of the initial euphoria.”
Breaking away from the traditions, Jammu did not celebrate the abrogation of special status as many expected. There were some functions by the BJP, migrant Kashmiri Pandits and non-local workers but the residents remained indifferent. Almost a similar sentiment is report from Ladakh, mostly from Leh where the Buddhist population does not want any kind of ethnic or demographic dilution or any shareholding in the opportunities. Kargil that will also be part of the UT of Ladakh, however, continues to be on a protest strike against the decision. This is, despite the fact, that a section of politics in Kargil – mostly from the PDP, has switched sides and joined the BJP.
In anticipation of the rollout of the UT system, the Prime Minister NarendraModi is expected to announce a major developmental package for the UT. It will cater to the requirements across sectors of state economy and the state’s bureaucracy is currently working on it. Nobody has any idea of the size of the package but indicates suggest it will be around rupees one lakh crore. There is a possibility of setting up of a Railway Coach Factory, somewhere near Kathua, in addition to a rail loading facility in Jammu and somewhere in Pulwama. This is pre-requiting to the cargo movement once the railway line between Baramulla and Jammu is fully operational. Though the line was supposed to be ready by 2025, the Modi government is working to make it operational by 2023.
“This is important because the entire emphasis of the reorganisation has been on the development deficit of Jammu and Kashmir,” one official said. “The possibility of its announcement is anytime before September.”
The second important development that is in the pipeline is the investors’ summit. This is expected to take place somewhere in November and the efforts are underway to ensure that every corporate has some kind of involvement, sources said. Home Minister Amit Shah is reportedly personally involved in roping in businesses to get into Jammu and Kashmir.
Though it is too early to get even an idea about what is being planned, the sources suggest that top groups including TATA, Ambanis, ITC and many others are committed to invest. Officials are talking about one major investment in horticulture sector in which a group is keen to set up a pulp juice facility in Jammu that would require almost one lakh tons of apple a month. The group is seeking certain concessions to make its operations viable, sources added. Officials say it will reduce the non-A category fruit from getting into the market and thus improve the rates. It will, they expect, trigger major investments in the post-harvest infrastructure. The controlled atmosphere storage (CAS) that is already an emphasis area in Kashmir is getting additional concessions under the new package that the Prime Minister is announcing, the officials believe. State’s industries department is working to revive the marble mining that has been facing problems for the last 30 years.
Even the governor, interestingly, said his government is working with various central agencies to put together a scheme to provide a minimum support price for apple. “NAFED was willing to commit over Rs 5000 crore for procuring over 50 percent of apple production in the state,” an official spokesman quoting Satya Pal Malik said. “This would benefit over 7 lakh apple farmers.” Malik also announced recruitment of 50,000 youth in the state government for which, he said; his administration has already started the process. This, he insisted, is the biggest recruitment drive in Jammu and Kashmir’s history.
Within days after the reorganisation bill was passed by the parliament MukeshAmbani had committed to make certain investments. Officials said the group is exploring the options for investment. Carnival Cinemas, a multiplex chain, is planning to set up 30 screens across Jammu and Kashmir and five in Ladakh.
Sources indicated that Modi government may revive the deal with UAE under which Ameer’s wholly owned Dubai Ports (DP) may set up a dry ports in JamIts CEO had visited Jammu; days ahead of the fall of the Mehbooba Mufti led BJPDP government, and visited the site that the erstwhile state government had identified for the facility. The dry port is one of the key demands of the industry in Kashmir and Jammu.
However, there is no word about the elections. The last assembly was dissolved by Governor Satyapal Malik in the 2018 fall. Since then Jammu and Kashmir is being directly ruled by the central government through governor Malik. The abrogation of the special status and the reorganisation of the state also took place during this period.
The new assembly, that of the UT, will be a truncated version of the state assemblies across India and literally powerless. Its Chief Minister will be a subordinate in decision-making to the Lieutenant Governor. The government is non-committal over holding of the elections in near future. Indications suggest that the elections would be held only after a new delimitation would take place across Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP has been insisting that Jammu region is lacking adequate representation in the state assembly because it has pockets where the population is more but the seats are quite less. It is also talking in terms of hard areas and difficult geography that the earlier delimitation processes have not taken care of.
Though the delimitation can be announced any time, it may, eventually like to wait for the outcome of the 2021 census. That essentially means that the recommendations of the Commission may not be available by 2023. There are strong voices in Delhi suggesting that the 2021 census should be done with utmost strictness so that every individual is accounting for. There is possibility of even linking a number to an Aadhar card issued by the system already.
“The number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir shall be increased from 107 to 114, and delimitation of the constituencies may be determined by the Election Commission in the manner hereinafter provided,” the Reorganisation Bill, 2019 reads.
But the election debate seems too early as the entire political class is still in custody. It is still not known, how this class will react to the Himalayan changes that took place since they were restricted to their homes or the specially designated jails? There were some reports about some officials from the central government meeting them but these were rubbished by the government.
However, the governor’s administration is working quite fast towards holding the Block Development Board elections across the state in September. This, officials say, is essential for creating the mandatory second tire of the development system within the Panchayat Raj framework. Panchayat and local body elections were held last fall in which NC and PDP avoided participation, a decision they regretted later. Though most of the Panchayat’s, mostly in Kashmir, are yet to notified for one of the other reason, the governor’s administration is moving ahead for the BDB polls.
Interestingly, the BJP is working overtime to have its candidates ready for the BDB and if held, for the assembly elections as well. Even outside Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP has planned a spectacle across India over the scrapping of Article 370. The “mass contact programme” will involve 35 big towns and 370 tier 1 and 2 cities, Hindustan Times reported.
“The party feels that Kashmir is one such issue when the entire country needs to speak in one voice and the decision to strip the state of its special status received support from across political and ideological divide,” the newspaper reported. “This is the second such outreach by the BJP on Kashmir issue.”
The newspaper said the programme is aimed at achieving five key benefits: to prolong the memory of the scrapping of Article 370 in peoples’ minds for political benefit; to counter the alternative narrative that was outcome of negative international media coverage; make the scrapping part of party’s ‘nation-first’ discourse; to re-engage cadres during non-election season; and to improve its tally in the elections of three key states going to polls between October and December.
Meanwhile the Supreme Court has set up a five judge bench to hear the petitions challenging the parliament’s scrapping of Article 370 decision. The hearing would start in October. There are as many as 14 petitions before the Supreme Court linked to Kashmir including 10 challenging the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. These pleas were filed by a variety of persons, including lawyers, artists, bureaucrats and politicians. The prominent petitions include former Home Ministry-appointed interlocutor for Kashmir, Radha Kumar, retired air vice Marshal KapilKak, MP Akbar Lone, former IAS officer Dr Shah Feasal, and lawyer SoayibQureshi. Cautioning the court against taking any steps on these petitions, the Attorney General KK Venugopal while terming the Kashmir situation “sensitive” had pleaded: “Any move in this issue is being projected in other parts of the world as something else. Enemy countries are taking advantage.” But the Court issued notices to the government and listed the case for October.
By then, however, the major headlines about Kashmir would be over because the leaders from South Asia will speak to the UN General assembly in New York in September only. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is slated to speak to the UNGA on September 27. Prime Minister Modi will also be flying personally to make the speech, reports appearing in the media suggest.
With diplomacy busy in its own war, far away from Srinagar, the focus on ground continues to be on law and order. There have been not more than four militancy related incidents since August 5. Apart from two gun-battles, militancy killed two nomads in Tral forests and a merchant in a Srinagar locality. However, tensions on the Line of Control (LoC) are unabated. Reports in the media suggested some tensions in Gulmarg belt where there has been BAT action and retaliation. No details are, however, known. Meanwhile, the Army Chief, General BipanRawat flew to Srinagar on Friday. He will be reviewing the overall security situation.