[stextbox id=”info”]Onset of militancy in 1989 witnessed Srinagar bound convoys bringing soldiers and guns to Kashmir valley and employees of central government departments and central banks fleeing to set up their offices at Jammu. Amid tall claims of the return of normalcy after two decades, the ubiquitous soldier and a cosseted Raj Bhawan continue to represent New Delhi in Srinagar. MAJID MAQBOOL reports.[/stextbox]
In 1989, the Indian army and paramilitary forces took over the security of Jammu and Kashmir. Twenty years later, security agencies are still the most prominent representatives of the Union in the form of soldiers in khaki with guns slung across their shoulders standing guard on the streets of Srinagar.
The mass exodus of central government offices from Srinagar which never returned despite a sharp decline in violence has not only alienated Kashmiris from India but also deepened the feeling of regional discrimination.
The offices had not been relocated temporarily. At the time of their closure, 67 central government establishments including subordinate offices and corporations employed 14,743 persons, out of which 11,278 were non-Muslims, mostly Kashmiri Pandits. Later around 800 local employees were recruited as part of the special Kashmir-specific drive to run some of the commercial organizations like banks and insurance companies.
RBI, the banking regulator, was among the most important central government institution whose regional office was shifted to Jammu, permanently. The local entrepreneurs had to bear the brunt.
“The absence of RBI office from the valley over the years has caused heavy losses to the business community of Kashmir,” says the president of FCIK Shakeel Qalander. “The local entrepreneurs could not approach the regulator of banks (RBI) as there was no office in Kashmir for seeking clarifications or complain in case grievance had to be registered against a certain bank.”
The central government Ombudsman scheme, which is applicable in all the states functions to register complaints against a particular bank. Business leaders in Srinagar say that entrepreneurs of the valley have been deprived of any of its benefits since the shifting of offices to Jammu.
“The office of RBI that was permanently stationed in Jammu ensured that nobody from Kashmir for the past 20 years would take benefit from this scheme,” said Qalander.
Traders also complain that the absence of the regional RBI office in Srinagar also meant that there was no regulator to keep a check on the high interest rates charged by different banks in Kashmir. “An assistant director rank officer was made in charge of the Kashmir office but the officer would move back to Jammu along with the biannual darbar move,” says Qalander.
The Industrial Development Bank of India Limited, commonly known by its acronym IDBI, is one of India’s leading public sector banks. Its office too permanently moved out of the valley and never returned. Along with Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI), IDBI continues to operate in Jammu.
Offices of State banks like Panjab National Bank are also centered in Jammu. “Although PNB has an office in Srinagar, their decision making office is in Jammu,” says president KCCI Dr Mubeen Shah. “If all the central government departments and agencies have offices in Jammu, why can’t they have a parallel office in the valley?”
“Whichever central department concerns our economic development, it should have an office in the valley,” he says.
National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), a central government agency with a capital base of Rs 2,000 crore provided by the Government of India and Reserve Bank of India operates through its head office at Mumbai, 28 regional offices situated in state capitals and 391 district offices at districts. The regional J&K office of the Chief General Manager NABARB J&K, Shri A K Mathur, is based in Jammu.
Dr Mubeen Shah says the shifting of central government offices to Jammu has adversely affected the business community of the valley. “Funds take time to get disbursed and the implementation of various centrally sponsored schemes also takes time,” he says. “If the offices were in Srinagar, our people could go there anytime and get the funds on time as the processing of cases would be speedy. This way there is a disconnect because we can not approach the decision making authorities frequently,” he adds.