The Perils of Political Myopia
Structural Reforms About Statesmanship, Not Partisanship
JUNAID AZIM MATTU
Our State is in need of structural reforms – to deny this would be to defy gravity. One of the foremost reforms that we need is the devolution of power to the local tier of governance. The first leap towards this goal was taken with the conduct of the Panchayati Raj Elections in 2009. While the empowerment of the Panchayats is a work in progress, a lot has been achieved. Revenue and expenditure, planning and implementation functions of 14 key administrative departments have been devolved to the local village level – a strong impetus to our vision for local self-governance.
The efforts to liberalize power and empower the common-man is a vision that consists of numerous integrated systemic reforms – some through legislation, some through changes in administrative architecture and some through drastic changes in the way the government perceives grievances and addresses them.
The decentralization exercise initiated by the State government that recommends the creation of new administrative units is a historic, landmark reform that will make our administrative system more transparent, more accountable and more reflective of local ground realities. Decentralization is indispensable to a holistic process that wishes to eradicate corruption and wastage in capital expenditure, welfare schemes and development in the State – especially in rural areas.
The landmark Right to Information Act, the empowerment of the State Accountability Commission (SAC) and the State Vigilance Commission (SVC) – are efforts in this general direction. The people of our State like people elsewhere, are desirous of a greater say in the way they are governed. This is expressed unambiguously every single day, in the form of constructive debates on governance related issues, issue-based engagement of locals with representatives and in a growing clamor for greater accountability.
The creation of new administrative units will bring the government closer to the common man – in the most far-flung areas of this State. It will increase the influence of local populations in the crafting of policies that directly affect them. While other initiatives provide tools to empower the citizens, a well-coordinated, decentralized administrative framework is essential to carry out this systemic empowerment.
This exercise is in continuation of the creation of new districts by Sher-e-Kashmir Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in 1975 and more recently by Ghulam Nabi Azad in 2006. The Azad-led government created eight new districts in 2006, four in Jammu and four in Kashmir – partly in compliance with the Justice Janki Nath Wazir Commission of 1984 and partly on the basis of assessed ground realities. (Wazir Commission had recommended only one new district for Kashmir Province while as it had recommended three new districts for Jammu Province).
In the aftermath of the creation of new districts, Azad Sahib in 2007 constituted the Dr. S S Bloeria Committee to look into increasing demands for creation of new sub-State administrative units across the State. In 2009 the Bloeria Committee report was found to be inconclusive and the five-member Mushtaq Ganai Committee was formed to carry out an analytic exercise to recommend the need for new administrative units. The Mushtaq Ganai Committee submitted its report in 2011 – and the present exercise is based on inputs from both the Bloeria and the Ganai Committee Reports.
There has been an isolated, hyperbolic emphasis on the “financial implications” of this initiative. Talk of financial costs without taking into account the estimated financial savings that this decentralization would bring about – is an assortment of half-truths. The costs (both capital and operating) that this exercise would incur are well justified given how the creation of new administrative units would lead to better transparency and lesser wastage of funds. Numerous studies have proved the cost-saving benefits of administrative decentralization. And J&K is no exception.
There has also been a misplaced set of accusations that the government is doing this for “political mileage”. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Ironically, when Congress (under Azad Sahab) created eight new districts in 2006-07, PDP blamed Congress (then its ally) of trying to get “political mileage” out of this exercise. Back then, Congress brushed aside these apprehensions and justified the cost-implication by projecting the benefits of decentralization. Lo and behold, the script it seems remains the same in 2014, while the roles have reversed. The process of the creation of new units has been more democratic and feedback-oriented than it was in 2006-07. The Cabinet Sub-Committee has met hundreds of delegations from all three regions of the State and has taken into account their demands.
An administrative system that is based on a decentralized, branched-out network of sub-State units and is based on a coherent and explicit mechanism will perform better than one that is not. Omar Abdullah has taken a principled stand on this issue as a statesman, not out of any political considerations – neither to leverage our position with the UPA ahead of the upcoming polls. As he has said categorically, we are not fair-weather friends of the UPA and we will never be a part of the NDA. However, the need and interests of the people of this State need to be acknowledged and addressed. They deserve nothing less. NC is committed to safeguarding the interests of this State and its people.
(Junaid Azim Mattu belongs to J&K National Conference. Views are personal.)
Lastupdate on : Fri, 31 Jan 2014 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 31 Jan 2014 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 1 Feb 2014 00:00:00 IST
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