Tale of a city and 8 MLAs

As Srinagar gets the lowest development funding this year too, the rationale comes into serious question

DATELINE SRINAGAR

ARJIMAND HUSSAIN TALIB

Srinagar as a district, and as a legendary capital city, is a subject of deep curiosity. Let us take these ones first: why on earth does this district receive the lowest annual development funds in the state? How do the eight legislators (MLAs) of the ruling National Conference (NC), who represent this city in the Assembly, view this?
These are very straightforward questions, but the reason straightforward answers are elusive is that the 12-20 per cent of the district’s population that chose their MLAs in 2008 does not constitute a critical mass. Just because there is hardly any accountability to the rest 88 per cent of the population, answers to these questions skirt naturally.
First let us ask this: who takes the final decision about the quantum of the funds Srinagar should get? Is it the Chief Minister - as head of Srinagar District Development Board (DDB) - on the advice of his party MLAs and the Planning Department officials or the Planning Department officials on the advice of the Chief Minister, the Congress MLAs and possibly NC MLAs too?
This is rather an unkind and a blunt question, but that is how it is.
For understanding the pattern of Srinagar’s marginalisation, let us go back to 16th July, 2012 when Srinagar’s annual DDB meeting was held.
The administrative officials, supported by facts and figures, clearly highlighted that Srinagar district was getting the lowest per capita annual funds in the division, and even possibly the entire state. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah echoed the concern, with a promise that “the wrong trend will be set right.” Srinagar’s eight MLAs nodded in agreement.
It is like déjà vu. The same concerns were voiced in Srinagar’s 2011 DDB meeting as well. Omar Abdullah and the city’s MLAs made the same promises.
Omar went a step further saying that instead of providing the additionalties, which he acknowledged was a temporary arrangement, the plan allocation of district Srinagar needed to be enhanced. But he had a caveat: “since the problem had accumulated from the past many years, an overnight solution to the problem was not possible.”
The DDB meeting of Srinagar last week was like a replay of the previous two meetings. Srinagar got the lowest plan funds. Omar repeated his “plea” to the Planning Department to revisit Srinagar’s case. Additionalties were announced. And promises were made.
While Omar himself acknowledged that district Srinagar does not receive funds under various Centrally-sponsored schemes in various sectors, putting it to a huge development disadvantage, hardly anyone has questioned the rationale for lowest funds for Srinagar. Is the rationale political or technical?
The Rs. 35 crores made available to Srinagar under Special Area Development Programme this year is not a formally institutionalised system. This approach does not provide an alternative to a more formal system dictated by credible social, demographic and economic indicators.
One of NC’s MLAs, Ali Muhammad Sagar, in a discussion in the Legislative Assembly in March 2011 blamed PDP for “lowest” allocation of funds under district plan during its rule from 2002 to 2005. What explains the lowest funds for Srinagar during NC’s own rule?
Just because there is not enough money available to Srinagar, it is a pity that its planned big projects will not see any inauguration ribbons soon. There will be hardly any money to expand the entrance to Srinagar from South Kashmir at Athwajan. Parimpora for North Kashmir residents will continue to be a nightmare. Jhelum beautification extension will continue to be a mirage.
As the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) hasn’t shown any interest in funding the flyovers at Rawalpora crossing, Bemina Junction and Shalteng crossing, the chaos on Srinagar’s roads will play on.
When it comes to Srinagar’s eight MLAs and MLCs the development demands they put forth at the DDB for their constituencies make very interesting case studies.
While on one hand those demands reflect the scarce available funds, they, on the other hand, also reflect a certain pattern of target prioritization. While most MLAs demand works of micro nature for their traditional vote bank areas, the larger development needs of integrative nature of their constituencies are normally missing. Most of the demands of Khanyar and Zadibal constituencies revolve around renovation, expansion and beautification of shrines.
National Conference has been blaming the PDP of discontinuing Srinagar’s big projects when the latter came to power. But then what happened with the lovely projects PDP government initiated in Srinagar during its rule?
Blame game is not going to help Srinagar. It is a city of more than 1.2 million people, with at least 5 lakh floating population of tourists, armed forces and other visitors. The city’s development deficit, especially of the areas which do not constitute traditional vote banks, do not require any standard development formula for explanation. Srinagar’s mess is all too visible.
One of the most striking cases is that of west Srinagar’s vast suburban areas whose infrastructure development remains under Budgam district’s administrative jurisdiction.
Last week when a friend from New Delhi visited my home at Shah Anwar Colony, Hyderpora – part of the same suburbs - he equated its road condition to the remotest village of a tribal land in Chhattisgarh.
Then there are some technical and political questions which go beyond Srinagar district.
Since 2007-08 Kashmir region has now been receiving the lowest per capita funds allocation in the state. In 2011-12 as Ladakh received Rs 13017, Jammu received Rs 5743, Kashmir has received just Rs 4558 per capita plan allocation.
What is highly questionable is that the Special Task Force (STF) projects worth Rs 550 that the government of India sanctioned for Jammu and Ladakh in the wake of 2010 unrest in Kashmir are sliced from the state’s annual plan. Where does Kashmir figure in this calculus?
The recommendations made by the State Finance Commission headed by Mahamood-ur-Rehman for a system of funds allocation that is logical as well as equitable are yet to be adopted by the state.
It is possible that Jammu and Srinagar cities may fetch around Rs. 1000 crores under the cenrall-sponsored JNNURM this year, but let us not forget the conditionalities which we will hardly be able to fulfil. JNNURM is not a freebie.
Srinagar needs ownership, and not promises never fulfilled.
The columnist is a technical consultant in international development and a contributing editor with Greater Kashmir

Lastupdate on : Sat, 27 Jul 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 27 Jul 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 28 Jul 2013 00:00:00 IST




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