They could have reworked it but not to the level that `44000 crore-package will get reduced to `3500 crore.
The J&K government under my leadership did what it could during the September floods. It’s only PDP that failed to pursue the relief package with the Centre. Former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah talks on a host of issues in an exclusive interview with GK’s Special Correspondent, Muddasir Ali
Your Government submitted `44000-crore memo to New Delhi for carrying our rehabilitation and reconstruction in flood-hit J&K. Delhi returned it asking the State to rework it. Why did it happen?
If they (Delhi) wanted more clarifications, the state government should have given by now. We didn’t have time on our side. We did the work, put the numbers and prepared an effective package. If there were any i’s to be dotted the state government should have done it. They could have reworked it but not to the level that `44000 crore-package will get reduced to `3500 crore.
It was a package meant for flood victims and rebuilding infrastructure, but included components like pending power liabilities and other items not related to flood. How do you justify inclusion of these components in the package?
Because these were essentially to mitigate the loss the State had faced during the flood. We had assessed the losses on account of damage that had been done by the flood to our revenue generation and was then required to balance scheme of financing. I am quite willing to concede that there could be areas that could have been further worked upon. This government (PDP-BJP) should have worked upon those areas. Who stopped them? Is six months not enough time? Assuming that the two issues you brought up required to be removed entirely or scaled down, does it take six months? Do you put entire package at jeopardy because of that? Today people whose houses got completely damaged have been given `3800 and the government is spending `30 crore to buy new cars for its ministers. It is a shame. You (government) choose to celebrate September 7 because it was the occasion that brought you to power. But then you add insult to injury by giving cars as gifts and tell people to take `3800.
Did you personally pursue the package with Delhi?
To the extent that I was Chief Minister and not bound by code of conduct, yes we followed it as aggressively as possible. We followed it with Finance Minister and Home Minister and, the PMO. Once election code of conduct was imposed, we were nobody to follow it up.
On September 29 last, your Chief Secretary told media that flood losses were to the tune of Rs one lakh crores. But then the government prepared a memo of only `44000 crore to take it up with New Delhi. Why this disparity?
I don’t recall Chief Secretary ever telling me that losses were of one lakh crore. The figure largely came from traders, business community and residents of Srinagar. Post flood we decided the package wouldn’t be put together in a traditional way with some officers working the numbers. An exhaustive consultation was taken up with civil society and stakeholders. Yes, that time they suggested one lakh crore. But we wanted to project a number that was more realistic and more acceptable thinking that `44000 crore would find favor with Government of India and one lakh crore won’t. We didn’t realize even it won’t find favor with Center. I am not aware of what Chief Secretary based that figure on.
Doesn’t this suggest the assessment was flawed?
No, not at all. We were left with very little time to pursue the package. The package was approved in our last cabinet meeting and soon after that code of conduct was imposed. Then different parties were suggesting that the package would be given only if the new government is elected and they don’t have faith in this coalition government…We were pressing for delay of elections because we knew that after elections there is no incentive for Government of India to give this money, once their (BJP) ‘Mission 44’ failed they would leave us to drown. We had insisted for postponement of elections so there will be pressure on Delhi to sanction the package. Today neither PDP nor BJP are concerned about the package.
National Conference is the largest opposition party in JK. Can you recall instances when it vociferously demanded rehabilitation of flood victims?
Yes, we did it when this government completed its 100 days in office. We hit the roads.
But that was more to score a political point?
Every move of ours is a political move. My every move will be political; we aren’t an NGO.
Was that one instance enough? You even didn’t raise the issue in Assembly?
You can’t come and shut the streets every day. No, we didn’t let the assembly run smoothly… our members were thrown out of Assembly for raising the demand. Also does it mean we are an effective opposition only when we create disruptions in the Assembly? Will the package not come by speaking? Will it not come by highlighting the issues?
Are you then satisfied with the role that NC played on rehabilitation of flood victims?
Yes, I believe the role of National Conference is to highlight every issue including flood rehabilitation. National Conference has spared no effort to highlight the failures of the State and New Delhi to sanction the package … Anywhere we go, we talk of the Rs 44000 crore package and that is our job.
Could your government have handled flood situation more effectively?
Of course, lot of soul searching has been done in terms of the events that took place. Looking at our own level of preparedness and trying to recall whether there were warnings as has been suggested. Quite honestly as I look at it now, we know that flood was coming and one could suggest that yes we could have done things like deploying manpower, arranging boats. But the fact is that nobody saw the flood coming, not at this level. We were completely on top of situation till September 5 and we were able to deal with it. It is on September 7 when entire city was inundated that we were completely at loss. Everyone was caught unaware, not just us, the army, the air force and the Government of India, everyone scrambled for first few days to get their response together.
Are you suggesting the agencies concerned didn’t warn you of the flood?
We had no warning to suggest that flood will be of this level. There was no warning. There was general MeT office warning that rain is expected.
Were the fast rising water levels in South Kashmir no warning?
They had gone above the danger mark in south Kashmir, they had gone very high. But then there was not even a single person to suggest me that bunds would breach, that water would go into areas that have never seen flood… Post flood we did the best under the circumstances. We were cut off from everywhere else. We had little islands in Srinagar to work from.
Government of India has asked State to foot the bill of rescue works that army undertook in Kashmir during floods?
If that was only thing that we were asked to foot I won’t mind. What I am more concerned about is other items that Government of India has added to flood bill and charged on that account. For instance, the liabilities on account of PMRP. How has it anything to do with flood? You released additional special plan assistance and club it in flood package. It has nothing to do with floods. It is worse than a joke. To make the matters worse state finance minister sat with Union Home Minister and Finance Minister in New Delhi and thanked them for it. He should have walked away and refused to accept this package announced by them. He was the first person who in the assembly undermined the package saying he didn’t know how this figure was arrived at. He should have thrown his weight behind the package and said we will do everything we can to try and mitigate the suffering of people.
September 7 will be observed as first anniversary of the flood. Why did National Conference put its weight behind a traders’ strike call on the day instead of taking the lead role in rehabilitation?
It reflects that there is common cause cutting across the political lines in highlighting the failure of this (State) Government to address the concerns of victims. This is not call by Hurriyat but traders. We supported it so did the Hurriyat.
Means you are satisfied to play the second fiddle?
There is no second fiddle in this. We are taking people’s cause and sometimes it means making common cause with the group that has similar interests and in this case there is common cause. I think it is also important that these things not be seen through political prism. Our call would have been seen as political move but traders’ call is a genuine cry by them that they should be heard.
The timing of your decision to announce your support is bound to invite criticism?
Who says we haven’t been supporting them. I had numerous meetings with traders to talk about and highlight this issue only, to commit our support to them. They are well aware of the fact that we have been silently and effectively supporting their cause to get the package from Centre.
There were assertions that you wanted to milk the package for electoral gains as polls were round the corner?
How can one milk a package that hasn’t come? It was our responsibility as the government of the day to address the vital issue. I would understand if package would have come and I would have stood to distribute the cheques and kept waving NC flag. Should we have kept silent knowing fully that November and December of last year would have gone in campaigning and January in Government formation? Winter was knocking at our doors and given how long it took for government formation by now there would have been no package even formed.
During flood the Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kashmir and announced a relief package. But till date there hasn’t been a word from New Delhi?
We were pressing for postponement of elections knowing that there will be no incentive for Government of India to deliver on the package post elections. We have an example in Bihar which got `1.25 lakh thousand crore package because of upcoming elections only. Same would have been true for J&K also. If the 44000 crore was announced before elections something might have come. Post elections they don’t even bother.
Wasn’t there an opportunity for New Delhi to come close to people of Kashmir?
They have let it go. It is too late now.
Does it speak of New Delhi’s step-motherly treatment with Kashmir?
I think it is more NDA and BJP’s step-motherly treatment. Centre in the past has responded. In the aftermath of 2005 earthquake Government of India responded and we got better package than what we got now.
Are you blaming Prime Minister and Government of India?
I am blaming the current dispensation at New Delhi and state government because they allowed the Centre to get away with it. When the State Finance Minister will tell Government of India I will only take what is due to me and not more, then why will Government of India give you?
Why didn’t you raise the demand for international aid as Chief Minister?
That time the requirement for international aid wasn’t necessarily felt as we were told that Government of India would do whatever necessary has to be done. I only know one instance where the aid offered by one country was refused and that was because the aid was to be divided or distributed in a very non-transparent t manner. The Centre told them (country) if you want to help then donate to Prime Minister or Chief Minister’s relief fund so that the money will go to everybody. There is only one instance I know of otherwise there was no offer of International aid to J&K from any other country. I have no knowledge if any other offer had come to New Delhi.
Whenever there has been a situation in Kashmir, be it floods or 2010 unrest, the State parties have been accused of siding with New Delhi instead of supporting people’s interests. Your response?
It is for the Government of the day to decide on its stand. I am not the government today. It is not the question of toeing the line of New Delhi. The parties stand up based on their political ideologies and for political point of view they represent.