The month of August marks the second anniversary of the reorganization of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), which converted J&K and Ladakh into two separate Union Territories, following the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A. During these two years there has been speculation on the extent of progress and development that J&K has witnessed. To put an end to such speculation, it is timely to review the development that the state has witnessed since the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A.
Recognizing the ambivalence created by the special status, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee took up the cause of Jammu and Kashmir Praja Parishad which had been demanding that the State be fully integrated with the rest of India under the same Constitution. During his visit to Jammu in August 1952, he once told a mammoth meeting: ‘I will get you the Indian constitution or lay down my life for it.’ Unfortunately, Dr. Mookerjee, who was a humanitarian, nationalist as well as the greatest statesman and parliamentarian of India, died in custody in Jammu and Kashmir while leading an agitation against the provision. With his death a long-drawn demand of millions of Indians, including the people of Jammu and Kashmir, remained a distant dream till two years back.
By recognizing Jammu and Kashmir as a Union Territory of India, the ruling party has rectified a historical mistake and barred the history from repeating itself. The decision has not only empowered the people from within but also given the capability to withstand any vagaries from outside. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are now able to secure the rights and privileges available to citizens all over the country.
Extending Good Governance
For the first time in seven decades, certain progressive laws such as the Scheduled Caste and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1954, the Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014, the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act, 1993, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forests Rights) Act, 2007, the National Commission for Minorities Act, and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, can now be availed by the people in the valley akin to 170 more Central laws which are applicable to Jammu and Kashmir.
Another revolutionary change that the ruling party introduced was the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Act, 2020 which notified Kashmiri, Dogri, Urdu, Hindi, and English as official languages of the Union Territory, thus, fulfilling another long-standing demand as well as boosting new aspirations and securing the future of succeeding generations.
There are other major initiatives to boost the development of the UT such as several major road projects, two new AIIMS and 7 new Medical Colleges which are under process of completion, the notification of new industrial policy worth Rs 28,400 crore package to accelerate industrial growth in J&K and create 4.5 lakh jobs, among others.
Ensuring accountability and accessibility
In the past two years, the Union Territory (UT) has availed constitutional advantage and protection as well as ensured financial stability by exercising Constitutional provisions that protect the rights of the people in case of failure of Constitutional machinery. The enforcement of the Right to Information Act, 2005 has ensured clarity of information to the citizens, prevention of corruption and promotion of accountability in the working of every public authority.
One of the momentous changes was the dissolution of the discriminatory legal provision which prevented women in J&K from retaining their rights if they married outside the state. Other measures which have ensured mainstreaming of the region are the direct supervision of the Central Vigilance Commission with regard to anti-corruption cases and the setting up of the 18th Bench of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) for the UTs of J&K and Ladakh.
Given the scenic beauty and rich resource availability of the land of J&K, the Central government is identifying and utilizing the productive capabilities of the different regions of the valley to trigger off the growth impulses, thereby, expediting the process of economic growth for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The establishment of the three-tier Panchayati Raj System and the election and constitution of Block and District Development Councils with the approval of the Union Cabinet for the adaptation of the Jammu & Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 are important initiatives in this direction.
The three-tier system, which was not there in Kashmir before, will strengthen grassroot level democracy by providing the opportunity to the people to elect their local representatives. As the power to manage local bodies will go to the people, the locally elected representatives will be able to participate in the district and block level planning and implement welfare schemes. A people-centric and community led approach, as experienced by the UT in the past 2 years, has facilitated development of democracy along with cultural and constitutional integration of Jammu and Kashmir.
In order to consolidate the democratic and development trajectory, Prime Minister Shri Modi held a high-level meeting with various political parties of J&K in June this year, who have also expressed their consensus to be part of the future trajectory intended to further strengthen democracy and development of the region.
The various initiatives along with the coming on board of various regional parties in the future vision of the Modi government under ‘Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas’ demonstrate leadership acumen and foresightedness. It can be said that in the last two years since the reorganization of J&K, the people-centric and community led approach has ushered in a new dawn, particularly by prioritizing the development of the region and grass-root democracy.
(The writer is Senior Research Fellow at Public Policy Research Centre)