Kashmir Stands Much to Gain from Integration

5 August Anniversary: While politicians, ideologues and the separatists have focused on political issues, the question the average Kashmiri should be asking is whether he is worse off today than he was a year ago.

1 August 2020

Kashmir shops
A small town in the Kashmir Valley: Will they Benefit?

August 5 this year will mark the beginning of a new struggle in the Kashmir Valley: one between Kashmiri politicians highlighting the loss of Kashmir's special status and the government of India which seeks to focus on benefits accrued because of the abrogation of Article 370.

While politicians, ideologues and the separatists have focused on political issues, the question the average Kashmiri should be asking is whether he is worse off today than he was a year ago. For, at the end of the day, the incessant strikes, shutdowns and the thirty-year militancy has not helped anyone except the political classes (which includes the separatists), their collaborators and associates who have both legally and illegally amassed vast fortunes during the turbulence of the last three decades.

The working-class Kashmiri has been further impoverished as have the small traders and businessmen. The Covid-19 pandemic has further deteriorated the economic condition of the masses. To this section, the extension of Central government laws as well as associated schemes and economic development programmes have helped although this has not been sufficiently played up by the administration.

Huge financial leakages due to corruption, carelessness and maladministration have been plugged to a large extent. Traditionally, the state of J&K was known to be one of the most corrupt in the country. Most public projects took years to complete or were never completed although the allocated funds were spent. This further increased public cynicism.

In the past one year a number of pending projects have been expedited or completed. One of the most obvious ones was Srinagar's Rambagh flyover which was pending for years; it was completed and opened to traffic within months.

Similarly, out of the 63 projects sanctioned in 2015 under the Prime Minister's special J&K development package of Rs. 80.068 crores, up to June 2018 only 7 projects were complete whereas by June 2020 17 projects were completed. The J&K Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation (JKIDFC) was set up to complete projects languishing for as long as a decade. Out of the 2273 projects worth Rs. 5979 crore that were in the doldrums, 506 have been completed in one year while 963 will be ready by March, 2021. A number of other electricity, irrigation and infrastructure projects have been pulled out of hibernation and given a new lease of life.

Other positive benefits include:

Now that Central laws are applicable to J&K, various administrative measures to curb corruption and make the system accountable have been introduced such as the establishment of a Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) bench to adjudicate disputes in the bureaucracy, a vigilance commission (CVC) to check and an information commission (CIC) to make the administration more transparent. All this coupled with a massive drive by the anti-corruption bureau for the first time in 70 years is posing a check on the unbridled operations of an inefficient and corrupted bureaucracy.

The administration and rule-based activities have further been strengthened by the repeal of 164 state laws out of a total of 354 and the extension of 170 central laws to J&K.

To make the administration more responsive to the citizenry, several steps have been taken including improvements in the J&K Grievance Website which has been upgraded and made more user friendly. While this will help citizens making complaints, they will also be able to approach the information commission to question the administration on small and big matters.

The bigger picture is one of integration. History has shown that small, isolated economies and societies languish and eventually go into decline. It is only robust interaction with the wider world that invigorates society and economy. This process began with the end of J&K's special status and far from being a disaster for the people, will prove to be a long-term boon.

Today, J&K's economy is fully integrated with that of the rest of the country. With GST, online treasury management and schemes like the E-Kuber real time reconciliation of finances with RBI the local economy will only benefit, become more transparent and efficient. This will have a cascading effect and benefit the masses over time.

Perhaps the biggest boost the post-August 5 2019 measures have provided are to the hitherto disenfranchised and marginalised people of J&K. While the Kashmiris of the Valley have been complaining of oppression for decades, they have in fact been responsible for the horrible oppression of minorities, refugees and non-Kashmiri people such as the Gujjars. With one stroke all these people have for the first time in 70 years got rights and today can claim to be full citizens of J&K.

A recent news report mentioned that the hundred fifty thousand plus community of people who had fled from Pakistan after the Partition and settled down in J&K have been denied all political and basic rights till now. These people, known official as "West Pakistan Refugees" were barred from voting in elections, government jobs, scholarships, admission in colleges, welfare schemes, and owning land. They were virtually ''stateless'' in India for more than 70 years. The president of West Pakistani Refugees Action committee (WPRAC) Labha Ram Gandhi said, "Our people have decided to celebrate August 5 like Independence Day. We got real freedom after nearly 73 years of Independence. It is our Deepawali."

Such similarly disenfranchised groups have been made citizens by the issuance of domicile certificates which give them equal rights as other citizens. Groups that have benefitted include all kinds of refugees, Gorkhas, the traditional sweepers and cleaners (safai karmacharis) and Kashmiri women married outside the state (who under the old laws automatically lost all their rights including their property). The Pahari community so long marginalised have also got their rights.

The under-privileged, the backward castes discriminated against for centuries have now got the benefit of reservations in education institutions and government jobs. The Indian Constitutional Amendment under which child education is free and compulsory has been extended to J&K. Laws relating to the protection of senior citizens, the disabled, children and minorities are applicable in J&K for the first time.

The real question to be asked today is what and whose rights have been snatched by the 5 August 2019 abrogation of special status of J&K. The right of a society to deny benefits to other than a small coterie, a thin creamy layer? The right to keep minorities and other weak communities perpetually barred from basic citizenship rights? The right to keep the masses poor and without any form of state support? The right to keep society and economy caged within the confines of the Valley?

Politicians will rant and rave, the separatists and their militant partners will step up killings in their rage against the reforms and the privileged will condemn the Government of India as they have done for their problems all these seventy years, but the barriers taken down a year ago will eventually bring in the rejuvenating rush of spring from outside.

Md Sadiq

1 August 2020