The new rules issued by Union Home Ministry for “smooth functioning” of J&K administration will significantly reduce the powers of the elected governments in the Union Territory (UT) in the future.
The Transaction of Business of the Government of Union Territory of J&K Rules-2019 make it clear that the Chief Minister would not have any say in matters related to Indian Administrative Service, police and Anti-Corruption Bureau.
The rule state that all proposals connected to public order, police, IPS officers, All India Service Officers and Anti-Corruption Bureau, shall be submitted to the Lieutenant Governor. Besides, the President will have a final say on any matter on which differences may arise between the office of J&K LG and Council of Ministers headed by the Chief Minister.
Breaking his silence on the issue, National Conference President and former Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah said the government of India was acting “like a ruler” and treating people of J&K as “slaves.”
“They are taking the decisions the way they wish to. What can slaves do? There was already no state; now there will be no Chief
Minister. They are destroying everything that existed here,” said Abdullah.
Abdullah, who is MP from Srinagar, said New Delhi has reduced J&K to a “powerless entity”. “All powers are vested with Delhi now,” he said. “Nothing matters now. They will do whatever they want to. They will continue to take such measures till they want to.”
When the J&K was reduced to a UT in October last year, the move significantly weakened the position of the Chief Minister under the new scheme of things as far as decision making on key subjects, from law and order to police, was concerned. Under the warrant of precedence, the position of J&K Chief Minister came down from 7th to 15th, much below the protocol enjoyed by the Chief Ministers of other states.
“These new rules are part of a pattern, post abrogation of J&K’s special status, to weaken the position of the Chief Minister and elected government of J&K,” said former Law Minister, Abdur Rahim Rather.
He said most of the decisions brought in by the Ministry relate to the Home and General Administration Departments – the two key departments which were the exclusive domain of the Chief Minister in the erstwhile state of J&K.
The Chief Minister of the J&K state was the “most powerful” among heads of all the states, said Rather. “These (rules) have further weakened his position after J&K was downgraded to a Union territory.”
While J&K is without an elected government since June 2018, the process to “disempower” it started soon after the Parliament read down Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution, paving way for implementation of the J&K Re-Organisation Act-2019.
Although J&K will continue to have a legislature as the UT, but with the loss of the statehood, the once “most powerful” Assembly, having the powers to legislate on all subjects, except those in the Union list, has been downgraded to a “powerless House.”
“That is why Arvind Kejriwal has been crying for statehood for Delhi all these years,” said Rather, senior National Conference leader, adding under the new order, J&K has been relegated to a “very inferior position.”
Political analysts believe that under the UT not only has the position of the J&K Chief Minister and his council of ministers weakened further, the LG will have the final say almost on even day-to-day matters.
“That is the ultimate disempowerment,” said political analyst Sidiq Wahid. Referring to the new rules, Wahid said it shows that there was an “absolute will in Delhi to control Kashmir with iron fist.”
“We all know for the fact that even when we were a state and we had Article 370, the local government had least say in decision making. This is now out in open and they (the Centre) have given it a legal framework,” said Wahid.
When reached out for his comments on the issue, former chairman J&K Public Service Commission, Muhammad Shafi Pandit said he has not studied the rules yet. “I don’t have even access to these rules,” he said.
According to MI Qadri, the former J&K Advocate General, the new rules were “part of a design” aimed to erode the powers of J&K and its government. “It is not the question of the institution of the Chief Minister alone but this reflects the gradual process of disempowerment of J&K,” he said.
Over the decades, Qadri said, J&K has been a “tale of deprivation of democracy.” “Now, there is hardly anything left?” he said.
These new rules have evoked strong reactions from other political parties as well. The National Panthers Party (NPP) has termed the rules as “repulsively bizarre” and a move by the government of India to “undermine the authority” of J&K legislature.
“The new rules will almost make the elected representatives redundant by snatching majority of the powers which are conferred upon them in a regular state,” said NPP chairman Harsh Dev Singh. “It is bizarre that under the new rules, the Chief Minister would not have the powers to transfer even a constable of police. Not only that, the Lt Governor can veto any decision of the legislature even if passed unanimously in the Assembly. It is an assault on the very soul of democracy.”
Former Chief Secretary Sheikh Ghulam Rasool said the Centre has the final say on distribution of the power in an UT. “There is nothing left for us now. We are a UT now, one of the entities in India. Our position is far below many states now. They have appointed a new Lt Governor, he is a politician and they want to give him powers to make decisions,” said Rasool.
He said while in an ordinary state the Chief Minister and the elected governments have powers to take decisions, but in UT, the Centre directly controls the powers. “And when there is remote control, you lose the political touch and then the entire system becomes insignificant,” said Rasool.