The Prime Minister's economic package for Jammu and Kashmir is a welcome decision, but real development can take place only after peace returns to the State.
"PROGRESS is a relay race. Every new generation takes up the torch of progress from the hands of its predecessor, thinkers and heroes. Today we are the inheritors of that torch."
These are words in the preamble in the historic Naya Kashmir Manifesto, which was adopted by the National Conference in 1944 at its annual session at Sopore. It was using this economic and constitutional blueprint that revolutionary land reforms were introduced in the State after Independence. Land was transferred to the tillers without compensation, benefiting millions of poor households directly and changing the economic and social landscape of the State.
Sixty years later, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tried to strike an emotional chord with the Kashmiri masses on November 17, when he talked about fulfilling the dream of `Naya Kashmir'. The Prime Minister announced a Rs.24,000-crore plan, which he described would reconstruct the economy, reform the government, regenerate entrepreneurship, revitalise the institutions of civil society and redefine the political paradigm and context in the subcontinent.
The main thrust of the economic plan is on the electrification of all villages in the State by 2007, which would account for three quarters of the total plan. Emphasis is also given to the health and education sectors, as is clear from the proposal to open health centres across the State and also 11 degree colleges. The Prime Minister announced the immediate creation of 24,000 jobs, which include 15,000 jobs for women in pre-school children centres. It has been estimated that another one lakh jobs will be generated by the electrification projects. Another important announcement is the lifting of the ban on further recruitment into State government services. The plan also tries to boost the ailing tourism industry by promising technical assistance to tourism and hospitality professionals.
As soon as the Prime Minister left the State, there was controversy in the local press about whether the plan would help the State at all or would create more fiscal problems for it. A huge chunk of the Rs.24,000 crores - Rs.18,000 crores - is to be spent by the Centre through the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) to improve the State's transmission and distribution systems.
Jammu and Kashmir Finance Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig told Frontline that the criticism was totally uncalled for. He said: "We should be grateful to the Central government for the funds. The State government has been given Rs.6,000 crores to spend on developmental schemes and it is the people of the State who would directly reap the benefits of the Centrally sponsored schemes as well."
But there are some hard questions to be answered. The lifting of the ban on recruitment has put the State Finance Ministry in a perplexing situation. During the National Conference regime, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) had been signed between the State government and the Centre, according to which the former agreed to stop further recruitment in government services in order to reduce the wage bill. The present financial state of the Jammu and Kashmir government is no different, despite the ban on recruitment. Although in 2002-03 the number of vacant posts stood at 14,525, the deficit did not decrease owing to increased pensionary and gratuity commitments. Muzaffar Baig said: "There is no scope for further employment in the government sector owing to the tight financial position. Already a considerable portion of resources go to meet the wage bill, at the cost of development."
More important than the size of the plan is its priorities. In the past, urban-centric economic planning by the State government created a dualistic society with the rural sector lagging behind in terms of employment and social indicators. Successive studies have shown that with little investment, a lot of change could have been brought about in the rural areas. For instance, the per capita milk production in the State is among the highest in the country, with a production of 6.66 lakh tonnes a year. Dairy development is still a subsidiary activity.
The economic package for the State has raised a more fundamental question of federal finance. Should the transfer of funds from the Centre to the States not be determined by constitutional and institutional arrangements? The criteria of such transfers are supposed to be determined by the Finance Commission and the experts of the Planning Commission. But there is a third category, in which the Central government gives grants to the governments in the State for specified projects, either wholly funded by the Centre (Central sector projects) or requiring the States to share a portion of the cost (Centrally sponsored schemes). As this is a discretionary transfer it may depend upon the political relations between the parties in power at the Centre and in the State. For getting more such transfers, the successive governments in Jammu and Kashmir have allied with any party in power at the Centre, ignoring the unpopularity of such a decision back home.
But the really egalitarian and rapid economic growth of the State can take place only when peace returns. And peace, for the moment, remains a dream. The militants in Srinagar, by striking 200 metres away from the venue of the rally organised for the Prime Minister's visit, reinforced this point. Two militants armed with AK-56 rifles, pistols and rocke-propelled grenades, took up vantage positions on the foothills of the Shankaracharya hillock overlooking the venue of the public rally. A fierce gun battle continued for about four hours, in which two militants were killed, three soldiers and three civilians sustained injuries. A spokesman of the militant outfit Al-Mansoorain, a shadow organisation of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, claimed responsibility for the attack. It said the attack was to convey to the Prime Minister that "the people of Kashmir could not be tamed with economic packages".
Coincidentally, two days before the Prime Minister's visit, a decision was taken to reduce the troop level in the State. The day the Prime Minister arrived, a battalion of the Army, numbering 3,000 soldiers, was de-inducted from the Khannabal area of Anantnag district in south Kashmir. This was followed by the de-induction of a battalion in the Sunderbani area of Rajouri district and 1,200 soldiers from Uri in Baramulla district. The decision to de-induct forces was termed a "calculated risk" by the Prime Minister. The first battalion to be de-inducted was part of the Rashtriya Rifles, which manages the counter-insurgency operations in south Kashmir, the hotbed of militancy. The de-induction of troops is no doubt a risk. Not too far away from Khannabal, where a battalion was de-inducted, militants unleashed a campaign of political killings; the Bijbag area of Communist party of India (Marxist)-held Wachi Assembly segment militants killed the daughter of a political worker associated with the CPI(M). Similarly, another Communist worker identified as Ghulam Ahmed Lone was killed in Hajan in the same belt. A number of areas in south Kashmir still remain infested with militants.
Even though the infiltration has gone down in the State compared with last year, the number of civilian killings remains almost the same. For instance, in 2004, on an average 65 civilians were killed in the State every month; in 2003 the figure was 66. Most of the civilian killings have been in the remote areas, where protection for the intelligence sources of the armed forces is poor.
The real worry for the security planners is the ratio of militants and security personnel being killed. In 2003, it was 4.75:1, which became 3.5:1 this year. This despite the fact that the total number of militants in the State, according to Army Chief N.C. Vij, has shrunk to 1,700 as compared to over 3,000 a year ago: a clear hint that there is the need to improve the fighting capabilities of the security personnel by providing them with even better protective gear.
Casualties in the case of static deployment, particularly in the urban areas, have been fewer this year. Most of the casualties among soldiers have been with respect to patrolling parties in the rugged terrain. For instance, on November 21, an Improvised Explosive Device near Surankote, killed an Army Major and two jawans.
In the winter season, the Army commanders supervising counter militancy operations have one message for their troops: "Do not relax, hunt them [militants] out." The reason: in the winter the advantage of surprise lies with the troops, which is not the case in the summer when the maize crop enables the militants to lie in wait for ambushes. In the coming winter in Jammu and Kashmir, the troops have two formidable tasks. One is to protect the civilians in the remote areas of the State, amidst the de-induction of troops, and the second is to carry on with their commander's message for the winter.