As the CPI (M) legislator, Mohammad Yousuf Taragami, in recently concluded Assembly session was speaking on the proposed government move to post a senior bureaucrat as head of the J&K State Backward Area Commission, Minister for Social Welfare Sajad Gani Lone intervened and informed him that his Ministry would see how many backward areas in Kulgam constituency have left behind their backwardness. Taragami, who in his long speeches usually ends up saying nothing, got perturbed over the blunt response of the Minister and after a pause, murmured that he was ready for the exercise.
Whether Lone was teasing Taragami or he was serious, the government must go for the revision of the areas declared as backward over the years. In fact the only exercise the commission should do is to go for mass revision of the areas declared backward and also identify creamy layer among the backward category and deny them any further opportunity to use the category to get reservation in admissions, or in government jobs.
The perception is that those availing benefits of the backward class category are mostly in the creamy layer. They are at the high positions in the government; their children study in the best schools in Srinagar or Delhi. It is the government vehicles which drop and pick their children from their schools. They have residential houses in Srinagar and Jammu and flats in Delhi. Yes, they have cottage huts in the backward areas and that is the sole reason they are entitled to the backward class category.
The government has not carried out any exercise to ward-off this perception. Instead, the legislators have been coming up with a list of areas to be declared backward in their constituencies and the government is always seen in the consideration mood.
In some backward areas, you will find them having all facilities including schools, health centres, good roads, over 75 per cent or above literacy rate and almost everyone having a government job. That is why in the neighboring areas, you will see people agitating that their area should also be declared as backward.
J&K State Commission for Backward Classes Act states that the government should take revision any time after ten years to exclude those who have ceased to be backward classes or include new areas in the backward classes. For decades on the government has not done any revision of any backward area and has not de-notified any area, which otherwise was mandatory under the law.
Look at the criteria to declare any area backward: It is whether the road connecting the village is macadamized or not, what is the main sources of lighting, main source of fuel, toilet facilities in average household, main occupation of earning of livelihood, average area of landholding of household or family, number of households in traditional occupations like barber, shoemaker, washerman, carpenter, mason; average income of family, number of male workers who are engaged in subsidiary employment like coolies, daily wagers, agriculture labourers; education status sex-wise, distance from primary health care, distance from nearest sub-district hospital, main source of drinking water, total number of unemployed of the area registered with the employment exchange etcetera etcetera.
Now for argument's sake fix the criteria to Srinagar city, Sopore town, Baramulla old town, Anantnag old town and you will realize that they deserve to be declared backward areas. Which road has not a hole in Srinagar or in Sopore and Baramulla towns? Or which road in Srinagar or Sopore is macadamized? Find out people having subsidiary employment like coolies, daily wagers, or labourers and you will mostly find them either in Budgam or in Srinagar.
In any backward village, you will not find a Kashmiri barber, shoemaker or washerman. In backward areas, these "traditional occupations" have been now occupied by the outside state laborers. Kashmiri carpenter is an endangered species, and Kashmiri mason will soon join the endangered list. Our national occupation is to seek contractual and daily wage works in the government departments and then move to the High Court to seek regularization of the contractual jobs.
Only criterion for declaring the area as backward has remained political consideration and the powerful politicians are responsible for such regressive notions of development. You cannot kill merit and talent in the name of affirmative action when the very affirmative action is serving only a creamy layer of the society and is not helping people who are genuinely in need of the affirmative action.
If there is economic stagnation in Kashmir it is because of pro-India political class here. They are responsible for every mess in which we are. Industry in Kashmir has never got a push from the government.
Every MLA is keen to declare his area either backward or a tourist destination. MLA Kupwara, Bashir Ahmad Dar, had this logic that his area should be declared tourist destination. He informed the Assembly that there is some Raja Ram ki ladi in his area and this could attract tourists, hence it should be declared as the tourist destination. This is the grand vision! Other MLAs have the similar notion for attracting tourists to their areas.
Not a single MLA in the just concluded Assembly session asked for establishing some factory in his area, something which could have made us manufacture something and would have provided an employment in the private sector.
The only plea of the MLAs was to declare some areas in their constituencies either a tourist destination due to Raja Ram ki Ladi or a backward area. This must end. Sooner the better. That is why the revision should start and it should start from Kulgam.