Srinagar: whose baby is this, by the way?

NC calls it ‘home’, for PDP it is ‘centre’, yet this city cries for love

Dateline SRINAGAR

ARJIMAND HUSSAIN TALIB

Two feelings are distinctly perceptible among the people of Srinagar today – frustration and helplessness. Systematic marginalisation and disempowerment in recent years feeds frustration. The inability to be able to influence decisions related to its well-being fuels helplessness.
Lack of a strong voice, joblessness, abysmal public services and basic amenities, crumbling infrastructure and over population feed the frustration. But where is the solution?
For understanding the pattern of this historical and great city’s marginalisation, a brief revisit to recent history is a must.
Having born and grown up in Srinagar’s Chattabal neighbourhood, a place synonymous with high political activity - from Bakhshis to G M Shah, from Jamaat-e-Islami to some prominent Pandit political figures - I somehow see Srinagar’s systematic disempowerment with three distinct types.
Type-1 disempowerment proceeded through the pre-90s era, which basically manifested in political disempowerment of J&K state as a whole. Hardly any political formation of the state could stop that.
The rebellion era of the 90s witnessed Srinagar’s Type-2 disempowerment – the disempowerment of Kashmir, the region. That was the time when Jammu and Ladakh regions quietly and smartly walked into the power spaces left vacant by Srinagar in that chaotic time. National Conference’s (NC) brush with power in 1996 was of little consequence then. Hardly anyone from Kashmir did anything meaningful to arrest that process of marginalisation. The priorities then were different, and, in retrospect, flawed, and even misplaced.
In popular perception in Srinagar, the city’s Type-3 marginalisation began when PDP came to power in 2002. Today even as PDP champions Srinagar’s cause, the party needs to do some reflection. Despite the fact that Srinagar witnessed some of the best developmental initiatives during its rule, something went wrong that made the party be seen as a “rural party” here.
When NC came back to power in 2009, primarily on the back of the eight seats it won with wafer thin majorities in Srinagar, it should have marked an end to the city’s sense of marginalisation. Ironically, that did not happen.
Meanwhile, even as Sajjad Lone-led People’s Conference strongly speaks for Srinagar, the taste of the pudding is yet to be seen. Perhaps, time will be the best judge. 
Political analysts often cite the case of Srinagar district getting the lowest state funding as a proof of the city’s marginalisation. As a matter of fact state funding is only one of the indicators that determine the extent of Srinagar’s disempowerment.
In today’s political system, Srinagar’s ability to influence decisions is the lowest in the state today, considering its population. The city today has one of the lowest representations in government services. Srinagar is almost invisible in the civil secretariat, judiciary and police today. Ironically, the NC MLAs who represent the city seem not too visible in the places of power where decisions about this city are made.
In the other political domain, even as Srinagar has figures like Mirwaiz Omar Farooq and Yasin Malik, the fact is that they are inconsequential in the political arena where real power rests today.
For political parties in electoral process, “equitable development” of J&K state has remained a convenient political mantra. But the question that often arises is this: is the treatment that Srinagar gets equitable?
Popular English dictionaries define ‘equitable’ as “implying justice dictated by reason, conscience, and a natural sense of what is fair to all.” This definition is clear enough to warrant any further explanation.
When Srinagar district got Rs 59.80 crore in contrast to Jammu district’s Rs 105.62 crore annual plan for this year, questions on equity do arise. When we take a look at the district fund allocations from 2007 onwards, even within Kashmir region, Srinagar has been getting the lowest funds in all the districts. Interestingly, that has been happening during the PDP-Congress rule as well.
At the Srinagar District Development Board (DDB) meeting in July 2012, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had recognised Srinagar’s lowest funding allocation as “an issue” and termed provision of additionalties to it as a “temporary arrangement.” While he had hinted for the problem to be redressed “in a phased manner” the question remains: who takes the final call on Srinagar’s plan size?
The sad part of this discussion is that it now quite often ends up as a Jammu-versus-Kashmir and Srinagar-versus-rest-of-Kashmir debate. We must take care not to degenerate this discussion to that level. We love Jammu as much as we love Srinagar. The development of rural Kashmir is as important as that of Srinagar. The question is of disempowerment and lack of equity.
And when it comes to equity, the State Finance Commission did some lovely work in developing clear criteria and indicators for district planning in J&K. But why aren’t people in power interested in its implementation? True, the government has hired the services of two consultants to come up with an implementation plan, but the question is this: do these two gentlemen have a time deadline for their assignment?
The fact is that District Development Board (DDB) mode of consultation for Srinagar has become a mere formality. In rest of India District Planning Committees (DPCs) have shaped into decent forums of consultative planning, wherein defined criteria are followed for funds allocation. Why can’t we have a similar system?
In November 2011, the City Mayors Foundation – a global advocacy think tank revealed that Srinagar was the 92nd fastest growing urban areas in the world in terms of economic growth. So how do we align our visions to this situation?
And the biggest question of all: Do the people of Srinagar expect their marginalisation to end while remaining aloof from the electoral system? Are they content with 5-10 % of them choosing people to represent them all? These questions need debate and not avoidance anymore.
The columnist is a technical consultant in international development, covering Asia-Pacific and Africa regions

Lastupdate on : Sat, 17 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 17 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 18 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST




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