365 days after

As many as 173 people, including, among others, separatists and over ground workers, who were detained when the Article 370 was abrogated in August 2019. [File]

One year after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A and bifurcation of one of the largest princely states of British India, J&K, into two Union territories, the current political dispensation is still not able to address the fallouts of abrogation of Article 370. Has the Article 370 move achieved its objectives? or the idea of a so called Naya J&K was a mere political rhetoric.

“Can democracy be effective without active participation of its citizens”. We are living history without being part of it. While exchanging ideas with the youth of erstwhile state of J&K at a signature campaign aimed at highlighting the issues of unemployed Youth, We never thought that one day we will be writing and living our own history.

As father of History, Herodotus rightly said that “History can be studied Geographically and Geography can be studied Historically”. The uniqueness of vast civilisational and political history of J&K and its assimilating culture can be accredited to its unique geographical location in the Indian Subcontinent. The political history of J&K has been discussed in great detail across various National and International platforms but sadly there has been dearth of reference to its constitutional history. The constitutional history of J&K is unique and dates back to the period of 1846, the time when the Treaty of Amritsar led to the foundation of State of J&K. J&K had it’s own laws and provisions under RPC, Ranbir Penal Code. The circumstances under which J&K became the integral part of India aroused out of the partition of 1947 and the war between India and Pakistan. The instrument of Accession defined the relationship between India and J&K as it was the case for all the other princely state. J&K only signed the instrument of accession and not the instrument of merger.

On 5th August 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah from the floor of the Parliament announced the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A and moved a legislation which bifurcated J&K into two Union Territories. The entire country was normal but the erstwhile state was in commotion. Internet was suspended, land-lines disconnected and no media was allowed to report on the ground. Though temporary but Article 370 is still part of the Indian Constitution. Other than instrument of accession it was Article 370 which defined J&K to be the integral part of India. The government used the same Article to announce that the special status granted under this Article to J&K has ended. But a State with such vast cultural, linguistic, regional, ethnic and topographical diversity; was it a right decision to downgrade it into two Union territories or a humiliation to its people. J&K was the only state in India where you could find tropical, temperate, polar, cold desert under one sky. But today the erstwhile state of J&K has been reduced to a glorified municipality. From  administrative point of view it is not possible to run a territory as large as J&K if it continues to  be a union territory. With the abrogation of Article 370 came the idea of Naya J&K and a long list of announcements which aimed at changing J&K into a developed and prosperous region. Some of the proposed announcements were industrialisation, new job opportunities for youth, expansion of horticulture and handicraft industry, boost in tourism industry, reviving educational institutions and employment opportunities etc. But in reality because of extended lockdowns, internet curbs and uncertainties amid a Global Pandemic, the economy of Jammu and Kashmir has faced severe losses. As per the reports by JCI and KCCI, the economy of J&K has suffered losses of up-to 50000 crores with no relief or revival package from the central government annual budget.

The health and education sector is severely effected. At the time of a Global pandemic when every government is stressing upon online classes, work from home, health care from home, in J&K all this is very difficult at 2g internet speed. Because of lack of information outreach majority of students missed on their examinations and even couldn’t apply for jobs. With suspension of 4g internet services there online bidding for mining in Jhelum went to outsiders. The same happened in Jammu Division across the Ravi belt.  Whatever may be the circumstances but there never have been a case when the economy of Jammu and Kashmir was so severely effected.

Another announcement was to revive the educational and employment opportunities in J&K. Post the abrogation of Article 370 not even a single job vacancy has been filled in last twelve months. There is no roadmap for the Youth of J&K. As per a recent survey conducted by former governor of J&K, Shri Satyapal Malik, there are more than three lakh registered unemployed PG scholars in J&K and the number has increased many folds in last one year. As per Economic Times, In June 2019, the unemployed rate in J&K was at 15.89%, the lowest in the country during that period. Today, the number of unemployed Youth is running in lakhs. Moreover, post the abrogation of article 370 the notifications of all the already advertised gazetted and non-gazetted posts in various departments were withdrawn. The examination process including the states civil services examination, KAS 2018 is pending for last two years. The decade old UPSC age relaxation was untimely scrapped. One year after the abrogation of article 370 the employment opportunities still remain scarce. J&K is a classical example of a situation where more you are qualified the better your chances of being unemployed. This is quite evident from the fact that as per the new recruitment rules for fourth class employees, all the graduates and post graduates have been barred from filling up the application forms.

It’s like no governance after the reorganisation of UT. Recently the two districts of Ladakh observed complete lockdown alleging against discrimination over Jobs. Today, after one year of abrogation of Article 370, Ladakh is without any formal Bank, any recruitment agency and its various government departments are running understaffed. Many candidates from Ladakh who were earlier eligible for the posts of J&K Bank PO and Banking Associate have now been barred under the new domicile law of J&K. Many of our colleagues who have spent years in preparation for erstwhile states civil services examination are now ineligible to apply for the same and the future examinations will be conducted by UPSC. Looking at the limited employment opportunities and severe climatic conditions, many students from Ladakh are  thinking to apply for the New domicile law of J&K.

There are more than 600 unemployed engineers in Ladakh with no recruitment board in place. With a mere three lakh population and the area twice that of J&K, an integrated policy approach for J&K and Ladakh would have resulted in better administration of the high altitude cold desert region of leh and Kargil.

The new policy framework for J&K is somewhere undermining the ground reality. This can be the reason that the Central government while transferring the service matter cases pending in J&K HC to CAT Chandigarh or its circuit bench in J&K failed to appreciate the fact that how a service employee residing in far flung areas of Poonch, Kupwara, or Ladakh can drive down to the circuit bench for adjudication of his service disputes. After huge resentment and recommendation by the J&K HC, the policy decision was finally rolled back and J&K got the 18th permanent bench of CAT. Just like the decision on CAT, most of the new policy decisions were either amended or withdrawn after facing resentment from across the region. In the absence of legislatures, executive is arbitrarily framing and enforcing laws leading to grievances. After the abrogation of article 370 the direct implementation of the guidelines of NHAI and installation of new Toll plazas was unavoidable but it could have been done in a phased manner with a proposed plan of five to ten years. Moreover, it should have been followed by rebates and concessions to the local population. The sudden and unabated installation of new toll plazas have resulted in economic subjugation of the already disadvantaged population of Jammu region.

Though the new domicile law was historical and instrumental in ending the decades long struggle and misery of Valmiki Community, Gorkha Samajh and West Pakistan refugees but it also ignited the debate on protection of jobs and land rights of the people of J&K.

The region has a very sensitive ecological environment which needs to be protected from any kind of exploitation. Post the abrogation of Article 370 many reports and news of illegal mining, and forest cutting have surfaced.

Rather than a celebration, it’s time to assess the impact of the new policy framework, acknowledge the ground realities and address all the issues at hand.

Kanwal Singh and Sohail Malik are Research Scholars and Youth Activists from J&K.