Bouquets, brickbats as Azad completes a year in Kashmir
1 November 2006
Indo-Asian News Service
Srinagar: As Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad completes one year in office, a string of problems confront him - the continuing separatist campaign is just one of them.Frustrating power shutdowns still plague the state, militant and terror attacks have not stopped, militant suspects keep dying in custody of security forces and of course there are frictions with his ally People's Democratic Party (PDP).Most important, Azad's lofty promise of eradicating corruption from public life remains an elusive dream. Corruption is still widespread although checked in some places,Azad, who assumed the reins of power on Nov 2 last year, spearheaded a pro-active drive against graft, warning the corrupt and unscrupulous in the administration of dire consequences.'Innovative and novel laws have been enacted to curb corruption, downsize the ministry and prevent defection by political representatives. When I took power, Jammu and Kashmir was ranked the second most corrupt Indian state,' Azad said, highlighting his achievements. 'I enacted a pioneering law wherein ill-begotten property of corrupt officials could be confiscated. Eight such properties have been acquired while 45 are under investigation.'He went on: 'Historic measures at the political, developmental and administrative levels have been taken. Eight new districts, three sub-divisions and 13 tehsils (village blocks) have been created.'Azad has removed the blanket ban on recruitment in government services to address the colossal unemployment among Kashmiri youth. His officials have identified 23,000 new vacancies. According to Azad, when he became chief minister he found that in the last decade developmental work worth Rs.18 billion had started without administrative approval. 'I have done away with this system.'Said advocate Riyaz Ahmed: 'Jammu and Kashmir is the only state to have such sweeping anti-corruption laws. The government can attach and auction property of corrupt civil servants. So there is enough teeth to nip graft but the chief minister's initiative is defeated due to lack of will in his administration.' Azad defended himself against complaints of custodial killings by security forces that keep pouring in from different parts of the state.'The last one year saw the least number of custodial killings and disappearances since militancy began in 1990,' he said.But separatist leaders dispute the claim. 'How can anyone speak about accountability when security forces remain unaccountable for their actions?' asked Syed Ali Geelani, chairman of the more vocal Hurriyat Conference.Azad's problems are manifold. Besides fighting deep-rooted corruption, he must create employment, contain excesses by security forces, bring militancy under control, provide electric power to energy-starved Kashmir, and woo tourists to a state where guerrillas continue grenade attacks.Sadly for the chief minister, the common man on the street is not impressed by whatever good Azad has done during the last 12 months.'We are told to be ready for 10-hour cuts in electric supply though the winter season is yet to start. Government officials still treat us like slaves, and we have to pay bribe for everything, from a ration ticket to subject certificate. Ministers abuse power for their relatives and friends. Where is the change?' asked a disgruntled Ali Mohammad, 48, who lives in the outskirts of the city.Azad says he is doing everything possible. 'I am doing my best. I don't have a magic wand to change everything overnight.'