Two years ago in a manner that showed meticulous planning and confidentiality, the Government of India extended the entire Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and then proceeded to reorganise the erstwhile State into two Union Territories, the UT of Ladakh and the UT of Jammu and Kashmir. Clearly the aim was a branch and root transformation of a region that had so much promise but was not able to demonstrate its potential.
Shortage of financial resources had never been a problem. Even with generous and continued central government assistance, the erstwhile State had little to show. Compared to neighbouring Himachal Pradesh (HP) which also a mountainous State, its per capita income was 80% lower and NSDP 60% lower. This was because as compared to J&K, HP’s infrastructure where it be coverage of roads or power was far better and thus HP drew in productive investment. J&K inspite spending so much more on paper did not. This pointed to a business unfriendly policy regime as well as corruption linked leakages and inefficiency in public spending.
Thus sustained under-performance where the economy was concerned, an unsettled law and order situation which while geographically concentrated still paralysed the entire State
The decisions of the Union Government that were so dramatically implemented on August 5-6, 2019 signified that the Government was not willing to live with this problem any longer and thus had decided to take control and assume responsibility for the discharge of the duties that a government is supposed to do. It is now time to evaluate what has been accomplished what has happened in the two years since the Central Government assumed full charge in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir.
Jammu and Kashmir for quite some time was a constitutional paradox. The pre-amendment Article 370 but abridging powers of Parliament and restricting the Constitution in its application to the erstwhile State had given it autonomy but its communities were largely disempowered. In contrast in the rest of the Country the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments by constitutionalism the panchayats and the three tier system of elected governments as well as elected urban bodies had laid the foundations of grassroots empowerment. The devolution of powers and resources had become institutionalised over time. This was not the case in Jammu and Kashmir.
One of the most important initiatives of the UT Administration was grassroots empowerment. The Administration recognised that given the democratic decentralisation among the residents of the State and indeed the State bureaucracy was new that the mere holding of elections, constituting the bodies, notifying their powers and transferring funds would probably not suffice and that a certain level of hand holding was required and out of this realisation came the Back to the Villages Campaign (B2V). The aim of the B2V was to speedtrack the institutionalisation of democratic decentralisation. Unlike States which have had a long history of democratic decentralisation backed either by charismatic political figures or political developments, the process in J&K has been designed and implemented by the bureaucracy the very class that will be subordinated or at the very least cede space to elected officials of the panchayats, block development councils and district development boards in governance if the experiment is successful. This is an extremely rare development in the evolution of a polity but completely consistent with the Administration’s claim that one of the major goals of the Constitutional Developments of 5-6 August 2019 was the empowerment of its masses.
The resource allocation has been the result of consultations and active involvement of the elected representatives of all the three tiers of the 73rd Amendment Institutions, the District Development Councils, the Block Development Councils as well as the Panchayats which is a first in the history of Jammu and Kashmir. The allocations are based on Community-based plans prepared by the various tiers of the PRIs as per public need following a bottom-up approach to devise the optimal strategy for socio-economic development, sustainable and inclusive growth at grassroot level, strengthening of basic amenities, development of human capital by solidifying health and educational institutions. This epochal shift in Jammu and Kashmir’s distribution of finances from a completely centralised administrative unit to increasing devolution of finances would have been unthinkable before August 2019.
The manner in which the entire empowerment process has been planned and designed also has won the confidence of the masses. While the Panchayat polls witnessed boycotts in some parts of the UT, by the time the elections to the District Development Councils (DDC) were held after the necessary amendments to the UT Panchayat Act making it compliant with the 73rd Amendment, people across the UT were enthused and voted in large numbers. Significantly the results made it very clear that voters had not allowed the DDC polls to be used as a referendum on the Constitutional Decisions of the Union Government but had indeed exercised their franchise for community development as envisaged by the 73rd Amendment. Many districts witnessed the rise of true and representative of local/grassroots leadership coming to the fore and assuming responsibility for their communities.
Infrastructure: Building for the Future
The fillip given to infrastructure in the first year after August 5-6, 2019 continued without interruption in the second year as well. While the first year saw the moribund pace of implementation of the Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan pick up, the second year saw an intensification of work.
The Railways are on track to ensure the completion of the railway network to the Valley by December 2022. As far as road infrastructure is concerned, the 8.5 km Banihal-Qazikund Tunnel constructed at a cost of more than Rs 3000 crores has witnessed successful trial runs and will be operational shortly as scheduled. It ensures that traffic is unaffected by high snowfall that takes place in winter. The projects in the Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan continue to be implemented with pace and bottlenecks being removed. The construction/upgradation of the Jammu-Akhnoor stretch of the NH 144A continues at a brisk pace. The upgradation of the Baramulla Gulmarg has also commenced. Another important connectivity project is the Chenani-Sudhmahadev-Goha- Kishtwar route.
With respect to rail connectivity, the 359 m high Chenab Bridge, the highest Railway bridge in the world under construction will be completed next year. Kashmir is scheduled to be connected with rail by December 2022. The Udhmapur-Katra (25 Km) section, Banihal-Quazigund (18 Km) section and Quazigund-Baramulla (118Km) section have already been commissioned. The last remaining section, the 111 km Katra-Banihal section is targeted for completion in December 2022. 126km out of 174 km of tunnels completed on this section have already been completed. Taking into account the growing urbanisation in the UT which has led to the rapid growth of its capital cities, the government has planned Light Rail Transit System (Metro) for Jammu and Srinagar. The DPR for the project has been prepared for Rs. 10,599 crores.
When it comes to local roads and bridges, work on approximately 80 bridges vitally important for connectivity in the UT’s mountain terrain are being added currently. Large numbers of roads are being repaired/upgraded currently. In the urban areas, the numbers are still higher.
The erstwhile State had an unenviable reputation of embarking on projects which could not be completed. Over 1100 languishing projects have been completed in last one and a half year.
With the aim to encourage investment in industry as well as strengthen existing units the government formulated the New Industrial Development Scheme (J&K IDS) whose main objective is to promote employment. Apart from employment, skill development and sustainable development are also issues that the J&K IDS 2021 deals with. This scheme which has a proposed outlay of approximately Rs 28,000 crores will be operative till 2036-37. Geared especially towards MSMEs, it proposes to operate through generous incentives, tax exemptions mainly GST exemptions on plant and machinery and interest rate subsidies. It aims at industrial development that is geographically inclusive by planning to take industrialisation at the block level. The aim is to have a simple mechanism enforce to administer the scheme instead of a plethora of exemptions and be audited by an independent body. It is estimated that this policy will in short time attract investment that will employ about 4 to 5 lakh people. It will lead to skilling and the establishment of a milieu that will set forth a virtuous cycle of investment in the UT.
The constitutional integration of Jammu and Kashmir and its reorganisation was with an aim to ensure that residents of the region are able to pursue their goals unencumbered by bureaucratic sloth and empowered by education and local institutions. The work on infrastructure given a boost on the previous year continues frenetically. To this has been added the goal of community empowerment and democratic decentralisation where the bureaucracy has participated wholeheartedly. The government is now putting in a policy regime which begins the transformation of the region heavily dependent on government spending for employment and business opportunities to one which is based on productive employment. The unrolling of the J&K IDS 2021 is a step in that direction. Thus governance as well as economic growth and development is being handed back to the people of this region which was the logical corollary of the steps the government took on 5-6th August 2019.