ATM, the differentiator

However, neutralizing the fear is the most important development

Let me begin today’s column with a quote from my archives. Actually, it is a small extract from the speech of M. Y. Khan, former Chairman & CEO of J&K Bank, which he delivered at Dehradun some two decades back to the civil services officers of 17-20 years’ seniority on ‘Transforming the Indian Economy’. During his interaction with the participants, he was asked about the rapid growth of J&K Bank. He surprised the participants when he said that it was the ATM that triggered transformation in the bank’s operations and its brand image in the rest of the country. He was quick to elaborate that his ‘ATM’ was altogether different from others' ATMs (automated teller machines). What he meant by ATM was Accountability, Transparency and Merit.

Remarkably, the era of M Y Khan is known as the transformative period of the bank as it emerged one of the strong players in the banking industry at the national level. The bank’s corporate headquarters at Maulana Azad Road, Srinagar, is a constant reminder for all generations to come about the growth bank achieved during his period.

Meanwhile, the point of sharing this extract from the archives is to evaluate the impact of this ATM (accountability, transparency and merit) on governance which we have been witnessing in the post-August 2019 in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir. Actually, the system was in haywire as accountability, transparency and merit (ATM) had succumbed to the turmoil during the last three decades and made the people suffer. In fact, the absence of ATM during all those years inculcated a sense of extreme fear among the people and it was almost impossible for them to complain about discrimination happening at various levels. In other words, fear loomed large among common people  and unfair practices were rampant in the pre-August 2019 era.

On the pretext of a fearful environment, genuine demands of the people were hardly met and most of the time, overall development of the region remained out of focus. And amid all this mayhem, J&K’s youth remained at the receiving end with an uncertain future with a burden of pitiable past.

Historically speaking, from time to time the past has scripted innumerable miserable tales of the region’s (J&K) youth. The tales are testimony that the power of youth has always been exploited by the powers around, whether the mainstream politicians or the so-called separatist cadres. Their sentiments and feelings were always exploited, mostly through the culture of fear, by the powers at the helm of affairs to paddle their own political boats.  In other words, most of the political set-up fashioned the mentality of the youth to suit vested interests of those who held the reins of power and hardly channelized their energy for overall development of the region. Strengthening the relationship between a government and the youth has never been a priority in the past. People at the helm of affairs were not listening enough and not seeking participation of the youth which led to declining confidence among the youth on the governing system. Favouritism, nepotism and encouraging corrupt practices and legalizing it by bending the rules have remained hallmarks of the previous system.

Now the current system of governance is rightly using the ATM factor to eradicate the menace and bring relief to the common masses. Of course, the youth have been the major beneficiaries of the renewed policies in the last couple of years.

It’s also a fact that allegations of poor quality of governing institutions, the high level of corruption, influence of special interest groups, lack of competition, dedication, competence and sincerity on the part of all who were in powerful positions in the past always dominated the narrative. No doubt corruption is all pervasive and no society is free from it, but here in J&K, the terrible nature of its size and the haughty manner in which it was treated, had accelerated the youth’s distrust in the system. 

Precisely, in the last three decades, the region suffered from a stagnant economy and high unemployment menace. The system failed the youth to translate their dreams into realities and no light at the end of the tunnel was haunting them for all these decades. 

Now the things have and are radically where the present of the J&K youth is no more pathetic. Major corrections in the system have opened a new era for the youth where a bright future is guaranteed once they help themselves to capitalize on the opportunities to board the bus of nation-building.

Today, the economic outlook of the region is worth mentioning. In the last couple of years, the business environment of the region has been witnessing unprecedented vibrancy as the region has almost got rid of three decades of turmoil. And for the first time in history, the region has emerged as a preferred global tourist destination. Apart from traditional recreational tourism destinations, the potential for adventure, pilgrimage, spiritual, and health tourism is being explored. If the natural beauty and picturesque locations have made J&K a favoured destination for tourists across the world, it’s the safety factor now which has distinguished the region from its past security challenges. In other words, J&K has emerged as a safe tourist destination unlike in the pre-2019 era.

Under the flag of union territory, the region has scripted many success stories. According to data revealing developmental initiatives, the year 2021-22 saw 14.64% economic growth and tax revenue shot up to 31%. The law and order situation has improved appreciably in J&K, and this year the highest number of 1.88 crore tourists visited J&K.

The Rs 1.18 lakh crore budget, which was passed by the lower house of parliament on March 21, focuses on promoting sustainable agriculture, facilitating investment and industrial growth, generating employment, and doubling its GDP in the next five years. Development expenditure for FY24 has estimated at Rs 41,491 crore, while revenue expenditure was pegged at Rs 77,009 crore.

The budget set a target of about 300,000 youth to be covered by self-employment programmes in FY24. Continuing its focus on developing infrastructure, an elevated light metro rail has been proposed in the capital cities of Jammu and Kashmir. A total of 29 new projects for development of industrial estates and setting up of medicities in Jammu and Srinagar will be rolled out during FY24.

The government plan envisages that in order to improve electricity supply, power generation capacity will be doubled in three years with the addition of more than 3,000 MW of capacity. Work on the 540 MW Kwar hydroelectric project will commence in 2023-24. Improvement in daily hours of power supply with 24 hours in urban and 22 hours in rural areas is being aimed at. 9,000 solar agriculture pumps will be installed under PM-KUSUM. 80 MW rooftop solar power plants will be installed at Jammu and 3 MW at Srinagar.

The above stated progress report has been possible only when, firstly the culture of fear has been neutralized and secondly, the system stands loaded with accountability, transparency and merit (ATM). It’s pertinent to mention that accountability and transparency are major building pillars for governing a place like J&K. Through the accountability process, government institutional workers have been made to perform their activities in the best interests of the public. At the same time, citizens are being made accountable for their behavior and actions. All the actions and initiatives taken in the interest of the welfare of the region and its citizens have been made transparent to restore the trust of people in the governance system. In other words, transparency has eradicated (and continues to eradicate) all barriers and enables information access to the public. Besides, transparency facilitates procedures, rules and regulations that protect the citizens of the region.

To conclude, it’s the ATM factor that has enhanced the relationship between government and people. And, today people, more particularly the youth, feel more connected and safe to pursue their goal of peace, prosperity & profits.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)

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