Budding Panchayati Raj system will be harbinger of change in Jammu and Kashmir: Governor Satya Pal Malik

Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik has said that the budding Panchayati Raj system will be the “harbinger of change” in the state as the empowerment of people through grassroots democracy has been one of the biggest achievements.

The common citizens in the state are getting tired of turmoil, and focusing on development and efficient governance, Malik said while addressing the dignitaries at the fifth meeting of the Governing Council of NITI Aayog at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Saturday.

The governor said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s landslide victory has given hope to the people of Jammu and Kashmir that steps would be taken by the Centre to restore peace and normalcy and put the state back on the path of rapid development, growth and prosperity.

He said that there is a sense of “fatigue and a yearning for change” all around the state.

“One of the biggest achievements of the state has been the empowerment of people through grassroots democracy,” Malik said.

After a long gap, the state had elections to urban local bodies in October and the second-ever Panchayat elections in November-December, he said.

“We are confident that the budding Panchayati Raj system will be the harbinger of change in Jammu and Kashmir in the future,” Malik said.

In spite of boycott calls by mainstream parties and the Hurriyat and death threats by militant organisations, people came out in droves to vote for local representatives, the governor said.

“The turnout was 74 per cent. This was in a state which could not hold bye-elections to a Parliamentary seat two years earlier. All this was without any loss of life.

“Today, the state has a vibrant Panchayat Raj and municipal system which is fully empowered with complete delegation of funds, functions and functionaries,” he said.

“It is this rise in people’s aspirations that is giving us hope for the future,” Malik said.

There is an energy in the system which is palpable. People want to take charge of their development works at the local level and manage their affairs. The state is fully supporting this through legislative changes and administrative support, the governor said.

“Jammu and Kashmir has been suffering from the ravages of armed militancy for almost 30 years now, mostly fed by external actors.

“Violence had become a way of life in some parts of the state, with people living under constant fear of terrorists and the government having to provide for their security. At times, the state has had to take hard measures to ensure that there is peace and normalcy,” he said, adding that the consequence of militancy and violence has been that the state has had to suffer on the development front.

The battle against militancy has been taken to the door step of the militants who are now on the backfoot, he said.

“After neutralising a record number of militants last year, the number of militants neutralised this year is over 110 and the pressure is palpable.

“Recruitment of new militants is coming down rapidly. Last year, the Amarnath Yatra was conducted without any incident or death. We will, with the help of the Central Government, have an equally peaceful yatra this year as well,” Malik said.

People recognise the importance of peace for development. And as they gradually take things into their hands, matters will only improve, he said.

“People’s aspirations have, however, placed an onerous responsibility on all of us to deliver on the promise of development,” Malik said.

In order to further this effort, the state is organising a week long ‘Back to the Village’ programme from June 20 to 27. All gazetted officers of the state will stay in a Panchayat for two days.

“They will connect with Panchayat representatives, attend Gram Sabhas, see how government services are at the bottom, understand local needs and identify potential areas for improvement. This is a first in Jammu and Kashmir.

“We are new to this. But when I see the enthusiasm in my officers and the hope among the people, it gives me the assurance that the future is bright for grassroots democracy,” Malik said.

The state too has been taking initiatives on its own, outside of the Centre’s assistance.

“We have doubled the number of colleges in the state from 98 to 200, an expansion which will have a long term impact. We have added over 240 high and higher secondary schools. The number of medical seats in the state has gone up from 500 to over 1000 in one year, probably a first for any state.

“We have set up 11 nursing colleges, two cancer institutes, children’s super speciality hospitals, and so on,” the governor said.

“People are now enthusiastic about the future. The time has also come to reach out to the youth to enable them to enjoy the fruits of development fully,” Malik added.