Governance and Development issues in Jammu and Kashmir

Jamal Kidwai, June 2011

The state of Jammu and Kashmir, as compared to other states of India, is one of the relatively better governed regions if we go by the number of people living below poverty line. According to the planning commission date of 2004-05, only 4.5 per cent people lived below poverty line in J&K compared to 28.3 per cent in India as a whole. However, such figures can be highly misleading because  they are a result of the legacy of the major land-redistribution programmes carried out by the state government soon after independence in a predominantly agrarian economy where nearly 80 per cent people are dependent on agriculture. Ninety-seven percent of the cultivators are small or marginal farmers, with average land holdings as small as 0.7 hectares. In past few decades the agriculture production has seen a major decline. The valley suffers from a 44 per cent deficit in food grain production, 33 per cent in vegetables and 69 per cent in oilseeds, all of which are imported into the state from the rest of India. The per capita income of the state is only two thirds of the national average, at Rs. 17,174 compared to Rs. 25,907 in India taken as a whole. There are almost no employment opportunities for the educated youth in the state.      
This paper the focuses on schemes related to “development” and “governance”. The two concepts are placed within quotes because we recognise that they are closely linked to providing a sense of justice in Kashmir. In the recent past, there has been a healthy critique of the the governments security-led approach in conflict zones affected by insurgency like Jammu and Kashmir. Sections of the establishment and civil society groups have been arguing that the most effective interventions to counter violence by radical groups is to transparently and democratically implement the Indian constitution in its letter and spirit. They argue that there are many Acts, schemes and provisions which have been incorporated in the constitution as a result of sustained struggle by marginalised groups like minorities, tribals, dalits, landless and women. MNREGA, NRHM, Right to Education, Domestic Violence Act, RTI are few important constitutional provisions that have come about as a result of these struggles. All these Acts/schemes are also applicable to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Unlike the security-centric Acts like AFSPA, these Acts are people-centric and are based on principles of democracy, justice and egalitarianism.
Unfortunateley there is very little research or studies either by the civil society groups or the government on the status of implementation of these schemes. There are only two studies carried out on such schemes over last two years. First by the Department of Social Work in the University of Kashmir in Srinagar and NAC member Harsh Mander in 50 villages of Kashmir and another by AMAN Trsut in villages of Baramulla district. According to the survey conducted by the University of Kashmir  on MNREGA, “researchers found it difficult to even find five job card holders in each of the surveyed villages under the employment guarantee programme JKREGS (the local version of the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA). The programme anyway was designed for failure, with wage rates until recently pegged at Rs. 70 rupees a day, whereas the prevailing wage rate is almost double this figure; and no work is provided in winters when hunger and the demand for work is highest. Many officials claim that there is no demand for public wage employment in the valley. But when wages were raised to a more realistic Rs. 110 a day, there was a massive expansion of demand. An unfamiliar state administration is still to gear up now to meet their statutory duty to provide work to all who seek it.”
Similarly, in a survey carried out by AMAN Trust in Baramulla district, it was found that in 2010 no job card holder ever got close to 100 days of work.  The officials insisted that MNREGA payment was made every 15 days directly to bank accounts. However, people in villages of Aramopra and Bonichakal who had worked on the said sites had not received payment. They were also not aware of how much they are supposed to receive for a day’s work. A resident of Bonichakal said that boys aged 13-14 year are made to work as proxy for their fathers. None of the block officials ever come to supervise the ongoing work. The AMAN survey found that the status of other welfare schemes in Kashmir is equally dismal and in many ways very similar to stories in most other states of India where the implementation of these schemes on the ground is ridden with corruption, lack of awareness amongst people and  bad governance.
A far more significant issue besides the implementation of these schemes relates to the larger political approach towards governance in conflict zones like Kashmir. A state where peoples carry a deep sense of resentment and alienation towards the Indian state. It is the political vision that dictates the design and implementation of the schemes. Some of the issues that need to be addressed in this context are as follows:
1/ It has been found that in Kashmir, like in the NE states, the Indian army is increasingly getting involved in the day to day matters of civil governance. They are organising health camps, childrens festivals and sports events like marathon races and building peace committees. The army and the India state believe that such activities as confidence-building gestures that will bring the defence forces and people closer. This approach should be challenged because it not only subverts principals of democracy but also undermines the spirit of governance as enshrined in the constitution of India. They should recognise civil administration is not the mandate of the defence forces. A better way to regain confidence of the people would be to withdraw draconian laws like the AFSPA, stop rampant human rights violations and punish the guilty.
2/ The government should recognise that Kashmir is region ridden with sustained violence, insurgency, insecurity and displacement. The design and strategies of governance and development should acknowledge this fact and they should be in tune with the prevailing reality. It goes to the government’s credit that it has launched some such schemes. However, they are hostage to bureaucratic and administrative loopholes which make them meaningless. Take for example two schemes implemented through the Social Welfare Department. The Rehabilitation of Militancy Victims (varying sums of money paid to the next of kin of a victim killed in a militant attack or to a person injured by a blast provided they have copies of FIR and non involvement certificates from the police) and the Without Discrimination (a central scheme to rehabilitate the children of militants in the form of monthly scholarships to those who are enrolled in schools). The AMAN study found that only 10 children in the whole tehsil are beneficiaries of the  Without Discrimination Scheme. Even though Baramulla is considered to the the most militant prone district of the state. The social welfare officer said that the reason for such few beneficiaries under schemes like Without Discrimination and Rehabilitation of Militancy Victims is that people do not have necessary documents like FIRs, etc because people feel insecure to go to police stations to register complaints and incidence of violence. To expect common people to approach a police station in Kashmir is unimaginable when people avoid going to police in “normal” states in rest of India.
3/ The government recognises the fact that there are hundreds of surrendered militants and others who have served their term in jail. Even though the state underplays the impact of conflict, it has admitted the fact that there are hundreds of half/orphans, half/widows and disappeared people. It will not be an exaggeration to claim that almost all the villages in the valley will have presence such people. The government must  first show the will to acknowledge their presence, second conduct a survey in a transparent manner to estimate the number of such survivors and finally design  policies and strategies that would not only give them a sense of redressal but also empower them to lead a dignified life.

4/ The AMAN survey found that besides being ridden in corruption, mismanagement and lack of awareness amongst people, Acts and schemes like MNREGA and NRHM need to be revisited when it comes to Kashmir. The conflict has displaced large number of poor artisans, weavers, and the shikarawallas. They are the largest section affected by conflict. As stated earlier, unlike other states Kashmir is relatively well-off in terms of agriculture and we do not find landlessness amongst agricultural workers like other states of India. Therefore schemes like NREGA should be redesigned to benefit those people livelihood depended on the activities mentioned above. Similarly, it is a well-established fact that thousand of people in Kashmir are victims of trauma they have faced due to violence. However none of the district hospitals have any resources in terms of doctors or expertise to conduct trauma counseling. At the moment this crucial issue is being addressed only by the civil society groups.
Governance and development are ideologically loaded concepts. When they are addressed through the prism of law and order and security they not only alienate people but also subvert democracy. Unfortunately the Indian government has adopted this paradigm of governance in Kashmir. Instead what is needed is a more democratic and inclusive approach of development and governance. An approach that prioritises justice and compassion over security and policing. Unless that is done, schemes like MNREGA, NRHM, RTI and others are bound to fail.

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