Don't judge J&K government just on Article 370 and AFSPA
CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has initiated several reforms in policy, governance and in the bureaucratic machinery.
- Total Shares
In the run-up to the 2014 Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, I was touring the state extensively with chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, especially in the Jammu region. During our journeys and travels to various constituencies we would discuss the state of affairs in Jammu and Kashmir and, the large scope for development and progress. At the heart of the discussions would be the lack of basic amenities and resources, to the constituents of the state particularly in the remote upper reaches of the state. Mufti sahib (as he is addressed by most people of J&K) with his extensive experience in the state and national political arena, has an enviable clarity of thought and purpose (amidst the relentless hustle and bustle in the state) on his vision and actions. While he understood that issues such as the AFSPA and Article 370 are in the foremost of the nation's and state's interests, he is driven by his commitment to help the people of the state to move beyond being trapped in the vicious circle of these big issues. Like any other state in India, J&K too needs development on ground as it is lacking in several sectors including road connectivity, power, water and sanitation that require urgent attention. While the national media only debates on Article 370, AFSPA, rehabilitation of displaced communities and the "unnatural alliance" (which I personally see as a much needed, healthy tug of war between the two major regions of the state), the state government shoulders the responsibility to address issues holistically which includes; fulfilling aspirations of its people as promised in the Common Minimum Programme.
In the first 100 days of the government in J&K, the CM has initiated several reforms in policy, governance and in the bureaucratic machinery. Despite the unprecedented floods in September 2014 and an inherited depleted state treasury, the government has managed to keep the tourism sector afloat for the year 2015. Besides well known destinations in Kashmir and Ladakh, the government is actively working on and developing a comprehensive tourism plan for Jammu. A tourism plan for Jammu would be vital not only for the region but for the entire state with direct benefits in areas of employment, revenue and infrastructure. This plan excluding the already thriving religious pilgrimage (Jammu is known as the city of temples), is looking to expand railways, road connectivity and includes projects such as the ropeway (cable-car) to Bahu Fort across the Tawi and at Patnitop. The much delayed and anticipated restoration of Mubarak Mandi Palace is also top on the CMs tourism agenda, which is not only the historic pride of Jammu but also a unique architectural and cultural heritage for the country. The plan also envisages nurturing other destinations within the state which is abundant in Kashmir. Apart from the CMs personal efforts of involving and attracting the Bollywood film industry to promote J&K tourism, he has a lot more in his bag that will be revealed in the near future. Tourism and the services sector is the backbone of the J&K economy and serves as the sustenance for the day to day livelihoods of majority in the state.
Other key reforms include initiatives for girl child education and widows such as the Aasra scheme and the J&K state family benefit scheme for low income families which are some of the first steps in the right direction. Waiver of demand charges on electricity for seven months between September 2014-March 2015, waiving off 50 per cent of Kisan credit card loans for small or vulnerable farmers, and the abolition of irrigation tax are some of the other commendable initiatives.
However, the youth population in Jammu and Kashmir comprises over 30 per cent. The energy of this young generation needs to be channelled in the right direction through education, exposure and employment. The government needs to shoulder this responsibility by providing opportunities within the state and creating a conducive environment for young minds to thrive. A comprehensive youth policy that aims at utilising the potential of this vast talent pool needs to be implemented immediately. Sectors directly influencing the youth such as sports, education and skill development are some of the starting points for government action in this direction.
Having said that, it would be unfair to attempt to produce a report card for the government in such a short span of time. Though, one can take note of significant steps in the right direction that is changing the stereotypical and rhetorical perception of the J&K government. The government is striking a chord with all the stakeholders of the state on day-to-day issues with its responsiveness. Examples are several; including a very proactive education minister, a sensitive deputy CM, and an accommodating finance minister, swift handling of Sikh protests in Jammu, readiness during recent flood threats and a transparent police and administration. The government has also been responsive towards people's grievances on the ground, case in point; the swift removal of unnecessary and intrusive security bunkers in Srinagar city. This is just the beginning.