Kashmir Autonomy Ball In PM Court

23 December 2009
The Telegraph (Kolkata)
Muzaffar Raina

Srinagar: A working group appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has recommended “autonomy to the extent possible” for Jammu and Kashmir. “The question of autonomy and its demand can be examined in the light of the Kashmir accord or in some other manner or on the basis of some other formula as the present Prime Minister may deem fit and appropriate so as to restore the autonomy to the extent possible,” the group headed by former Supreme Court judge Saghir Ahmad has said in response to a demand from, the National Conference (NC). Autonomy is the principal demand of the NC, the state’s biggest mainstream political party that in 2000 passed a resolution in the Assembly in its favour. The demand was summarily rejected by the NDA government, saying it was “anti-national”. State law minister and NC leader Ali Mohammad Sagar said his department was examining the recommendations. “They have used the term Kashmir accord and it needs to be ascertained which the pact the group is referring to,” he said. The autonomy resolution provided for complete autonomy and only four segments - defence, foreign policy, currency and communications – were to be kept with the Centre. It also sought changing the nomenclature of chief minister and governor to Prime Minister and Sadar-e-Riyasat (President), respectively. Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed these powers and privileges during the early 1950s but there was considerable erosion in the years that followed. In 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had set up five working groups to resolve the issues confronting the state on the eve of the second round table conference on Kashmir. It was then decided to take up these reports in the third - yet to be organised - round table. The separatists had refused to participate in the conference, insisting that mainstream parties had no role to play in a Kashmir solution. Four working groups had already submitted their reports but the fifth, which had the most important job of determining New Delhi ’s relations with Srinagar, was submitted to chief minister Omar Abdullah today after a long delay because of differences among the political parties. The group, in another significant recommendation, has given the people of Jammu and Kashmir the right to determine the fate of Article 370, which grants a special status. “It is for the people of J&K to decide how long to continue Article 370 in its present form and when to make it permanent or abrogate. The matter being 60 years old, should be settled once an for all,” the report said, rejecting the demand of the BJP to scrap the provision. The report, though accepting the demand of autonomy, has left the options open on the People’s Democratic Party’s self-rule proposal. “It (self-rule) appears to relate to autonomy in a wider context, which requires to be considered by the central government if and when approached with documents containing specific proposals of the self rule,” the report says, arguing the PDP had not presented the document containing its various aspects during the course of the proceedings. PDP’s Muzaffar Baig said they had an impression that more meetings with the working group were due, the reason they couldn’t submit the self-rule proposal. The report has come as a disappointment for several political organisations in Jammu and Ladakh. The working group has rejected the demand for Union territory status for Ladakh. “It is not recommended that the unity and integrity of the state of Jammu and Kashmir be compromised and the Union territory status for Ladakh is not recommended,” he said. The demand for delimitation of Assembly seats raised by Jammu-based parties, which could have allowed more seats for Jammu has not been accepted. “Since there is a constitutional constraint to make any changes till the year 2026, as a new Delimitation Commission can be set up only thereafter, the present position may continue,” Justice Saghir has said. On the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives unbridled powers to forces in arresting or killing people, the working group has said that a group of central and state officials and people’s representatives may be constituted which will review the application of the act to various parts of the state regularly to explore the possibility whether the act can be withdrawn from any part of the State.