Srinagar, Feb 6: The much-hyped creation of new administrative units in Jammu and Kashmir – the infrastructure for which will alone cost Rs.1,500 crore – appears to have created more problems than it has solved for the ruling National Conference (NC)-Congress alliance.
There was high-voltage political drama when Chief Minister Omar Abdullah threatened to resign if the Congress members of the cabinet sub-committee formed to recommend the new units did not do so before Feb 1.
The Congress ministers said the decision to create the new units was politically motivated to favour the NC in the Muslim majority Valley while the Congress stood to lose in the Jammu region. The ripples generated by Abdullah’s threat reached New Delhi and the Congress high command called the party’s state leadership to defuse the deadlock.
NC patron and Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy sources Farooq Abdullah invoked 10 Janpath’s intervention to defuse the situation.
In extended deliberations, the Congress ministers were told to include their own recommendations in the sub-committee’s report for “addressing the aspirations of all the three regions of the state”.
Finally on February 1, Abdullah announced the “historic decision” to create 659 new administrative units consisting of sub-divisions, tehsils, nayabats (naib tehsils) and block development offices.
What is otherwise expected to help better governance through decentralization of powers to the grassroots level appears to have stirred a hornet’s nest here.
Areas that have been given new nayabats are angry because they believe they deserved tehsils and those given block development offices are fuming because they believe they also deserved a tehsil.
And villages where none of the new units are to be set up are up in arms.
Dozens of protesting delegations from different districts of the Valley have been holding protests in summer capital Srinagar on a daily basis since February 2 seeking setting up of new administrative units at their places. On Wednesday alone, 10 delegations held demonstrations here.
The controversy over the new units has come handy for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said the NC, having failed on all fronts, now intends to create a new political discourse during which villages are now pitched against each other seeking the new units or opposing those who got them in preference to others.
How does a fund-starved state like Jammu and Kashmir sustain the new units? From where do huge funds come for creating infrastructure for the new offices? Who’ll pay for the manpower required to run the new units?
These are questions which need to be answered despite the chief minister saying the new units would not put any extra financial burden on the government.
But then, But then, Urban Development Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora of the Congress has pointed out that apart from spending Rs.1,500 crore on creating infrastructure, an additional Rs.260 crore will have to be spent every year on salaries and other allowances. To put this in perspective, the Kashmir government already finds it difficult to meet the annual Rs.15,000 crore salary bill of its 400,000 employes, perhaps the largest – given its population – in any Indian state.
What must add to the burden of the state exchequer is the fact that together with the the new units, the state government has also decided to make the basic revenue offices of the patwaris co-terminus with the panchayats.
This means the new administrative units across the state would now be over 2,100 and not just 659 because making the patwaris co-terminus with panchayats would take their number itself to 4,098. At present, the revenue administration of two to three villages in each panchayat is supervised by one patwari.
Much more than the improvement the new administrative units might bring to governance in the state, their dispensation has become a status symbol which no village or area is prepared to do without.
Would the protests seeking new administrative units change the political idiom in the state? Would separatism and mainstream politics take the backseat as Jammu and Kashmir goes to national and state polls in 2014?
Hardliners like senior separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani said: “Giving chocolates and toffees in the shape of promising new administrative units would not deter Kashmiris from their cherished goal of freedom.”
Going by the public jubilation in the areas where the new administrative units have been announced and the anger in those where they have not been announced, Kashmiris appear to have got a new agitation slogan: “Tehsil laingay, varna jaan daingay”, (We will get a new tehsil or we will give our life).
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)