A year after Art 370 abrogation, J&K on new trajectory of growth, happiness
One of the most flagrant abuses of Article 370 was the denial of permanent resident to West Pakistani refugees, Balmikis, Gorkhas and women of the State who married outside
On August 5-6, 2019, India took the momentous decision to extend the entire Constitution of the country to the State of Jammu and Kashmir. But it did not stop there! Apart from ensuring that “all provisions of Indian Constitution as amended from time to time would apply to Jammu and Kashmir,” it went one step further to reorganise the erstwhile State into two Union Territories, the UT of Ladakh and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
That the erstwhile State had been sucked into a trap by its Valley-centric polity into a morass of insecurity, subversion, corruption and low economic growth with each facet reinforcing the other was long known and this was not on account of the shortage of resources. Clearly, by 2018 it became clear to the Union government that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir required serious attention and some strong measures.
What the government did on August 5-6, 2019 went far beyond what many expected. It not only extended the entire Constitution of India to Jammu and Kashmir by rewording Article 370 to that effect, but also passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019 reorganising the State into two Union Territories. The aim was a branch and root transformation of the entire region by rebooting the entire process of governance and administration with the central government constitutionally taking direct control and therefore responsibility.
The conversion of Jammu and Kashmir into a Union Territory means that law and order becomes the responsibility of the Central government. Indeed, here the results have been dramatic. Improved cooperation between the various agencies has led to the elimination and arrests of a large number of terrorists and over ground workers. Government employees, a section of whom would post separatist posts without being charged under the civil service rules, have now started to deactivate their SM accounts and disown their posts. The steps taken by the government since August 2019 have ensured that the predicted (even hoped for) bloodbath did not take place and by October 2019 many of the security restrictions had been relaxed.
Jammu and Kashmir One Year Later
Article 370 had been once described as a tunnel through which provisions of the Constitution of India could be applied to Jammu and Kashmir. Later it had become a valve with which the Valley-centric polity kept at bay all central government legislation that led to local empowerment and devolution of power such as the 73rd and 74th Amendments, The Forest Act 2006, Right to Education etc. It only accepted those provisions which increased the State Government's resources, examples such as MNREGA, GST etc. One of the most flagrant and egregious abuses of Article 370 was the denial of the status of permanent resident to the West Pakistani refugees, the Balmiki community, the Gorkhas and women of the State who married “outsiders.” This was accomplished by retrospective legislation and sometimes in blatant disregard to the law or court judgements where a High Court judgement ruling the last practice illegal was never formally notified by government order.
Once Article 370 was restated to extend the full constitution to Jammu and Kashmir, a whole slew of central laws became applicable to the State. But most dramatically after the Union Territory’s new domicile laws were framed, these communities who had resided in the State for decades became eligible to be a domicile of the Union Territory. This was the human element where calculated cruelty was brought to an end. While this grabbed headlines, the portents for other institutions were more dramatic.
Article 370 afforded Jammu and Kashmir autonomy, but this autonomy was used by the Valley-centric polity to centralise power. Panchayats which had been constituted by so much fanfare were routinely starved of funds and power. Even prior to August 5-6 when the State was under President's Rule, the state government had taken certain major steps towards community empowerment. The most important of this was rural empowerment by holding panchayat elections across the State followed by a “Back to the Villages” initiative where civil servants were supposed to spend 36 hours in the 4483 panchayats of the erstwhile State with the objective of energising panchayats, collecting feedback on delivery of government schemes and programmes, capturing specific economic potential and undertaking assessment of needs of villages at ground zero. The panchayats for the first time in history actually received considerable funds to carry out the functions entrusted to them.
The extension of the 73rd Amendment seals this status and constitutionalism their position. A similar story can be said to the local urban bodies which have been constituted and their status now constitutionalised through the 74th Amendment. The tribal communities of the Union Territory, Gujjars, Bakrwals, Gaddis, Sippis etc who dwell in forests will now receive the benefits of The Forest Act 2006 to which they were hitherto denied. The Right to Education is now extended to the Union Territory.
The impact of this is likely to be dramatic in the long run. The institutionalisation of participatory democracy and governance at the various levels will help to break the stranglehold of power of the Valley-centric polity leading the residents of the Union Territory to own the process of governance.
Infrastructure and Development
It has been long understood that poor delivery of infrastructural services led to low economic growth where Jammu and Kashmir was concerned. After the central government took charge there has been renewed thrust to get stalled projects off the ground. When it came to major projects listed in the Prime Minister's Reconstruction Plan in 2015, of the 54 of the 63 projects that remained in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the number of completed projects shot up from7 in July 2018 to 17 in July 2020. Bottlenecks that held up at least 9 projects have been removed. Road construction has been started and accelerated. Indeed, the new Banihal Tunnel which is about 86 percent complete will be thrown open next year. Again with respect to road connectivity, under the PMGSY, Jammu and Kashmir will build 5,300-km of roads in 2020-21 of which 4600-km are to be in Jammu province and 700-km in Kashmir.
With respect to rail connectivity, Kashmir is scheduled to be connected with rail by December 2022. The last remaining section, the 111-km Katra-Banihal section is targeted for completion in December 2022. Taking into account the growing urbanisation in the Union Territory which has led to the rapid growth of its capital cities, the government has planned a Light Rail Transit System (Metro) for Jammu and Srinagar. The DPR for the project has been prepared for Rs. 10,599 crores.
With respect to Hydel Power where the Union Territory’s potential is estimated at 20,000 MW and only 3500 MW generated, projects for about 3000 MW capacity projects have been revived and put on track. Work on 1000 MW Pakal Dul and 624 MW Kiru have commenced while the 800 MW Ratle and 540 MW Kwar have been put on fast track.
When it comes to irrigation and flood management, there have been dramatic movements on the ground. The Ujh and Shahpur Kandi mega multipurpose projects delayed by over 5 decades have seen the elimination of bottlenecks. While work on Shahpur Kandi (which will irrigate 53,927 Hectare land and generate 470 mill units of electricity) has commenced, the Ujh project has been fast tracked and is now ready to take off. It will generate 196 MW and irrigate 76,929 hectare of land.
Health and Education
Clearly, when it comes to infrastructure, the government has decided that this is not a bottleneck that the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has to live with. But it is not just infrastructure related to the economy that has received a boost. Even social infrastructure has got a leg up.
For example, when it comes to health infrastructure, of the total 144 existing projects of worth Rs 881 crores, 60 have been completed while the rest are on the verge of completion. But more significantly, when it comes to new health Infrastructure, Rs 4000 crore plan has been envisaged with two new AIIMS in Awantipora and Vijaypur, 7 medical colleges and 5 nursing colleges. Healthcare Investment Policy, Medicities Policy have been approved.
It has also been decided to extend Universal Health Coverage free of cost to all residents of Jammu and Kashmir. All residents of Jammu and Kashmir presently not covered under Ayushman Bharat-Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY) shall be provided free and universal health care under this scheme on the lines of Ayushman Bharat. This decision will benefit approximately 15 lakh families, (nearly 1 crore individual residents) currently not covered under PMJAY (Ayushman Bharat) and shall provide an annual health cover of Rs. 5.00 lakh per family.
With the ultimate objective of providing 24X7 power for all and removing bottlenecks, Rs 3500 crore is being invested in transmission and distribution infrastructure works across Jammu and Kashmir. And while in 2018, very few works had got off the ground, 60 percent of works have already been completed today (128 out of 213 projects have been completed) while full completion is expected by 2021. With respect to provisioning for water, 43 percent of Jammu and Kashmir’s rural households (7.86 lakh households) have a functional household tap water connection which is double the national average of 21 percent. A road map has been prepared to ensure 100 percent coverage of piped water supply to all 18.16 lakh rural households by December-2021.
On the educational front, higher education and skilling programmes are being speeded up. When it comes to governance, special attention is being given to ease of doing business and large tracts of land are being developed for industrial purposes. Roadshows with industrialists all the previous measures combined will culminate with the Global Investors’ Summit that is planned in the state.
The developments of August 5-6, 2019 were aimed to combine the power to administer and responsibility of delivery and vest them with the Central Government. Thereafter, the Union Territory administration even while dealing with COVID 19 Pandemic has let not its primary responsibilities suffer from negligence or inattention. Its emphasis on infrastructure and governance is to ensure that the Union Territory becomes a place where doing business is profitable and therefore attracts investors. Its emphasis on connectivity, power, education and skilling is towards that end even while ensuring that it meets its welfare obligations.
(The writer is a professor in University of Jammu; views expressed by him are personal)