Jammu and Kashmir

DDC administration in J&K is a sham, say members, who even three months after winning have no clarity on their role

Print edition : April 09, 2021

Foreign envoys interacting with panchayat representatives at Magam block in Budgam district on February 17. They were in Jammu and Kashmir to assess situation there, especially after the DDC elections. New Delhi’s neatly crafted narrative on the formation of the DDCs is that they represent the reinitiation of mainstream political processes in the U.T. Photo: PTI

Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha. Photo: PTI

Some three months after they were elected, District Development Council members are still unclear about their role in the administrative structure, leading them to believe they are just pawns in New Delhi’s attempt to showcase grassroots democracy in the Union Territory.

ON March 9, New Delhi’s the neatly crafted narrative on the formation of the District Development Councils in Jammu and Kashmir—that they represented the reinitiation of mainstream political processes and the decentralisation of governance and administrative powers—took a major beating as newly elected DDC members cutting across party lines skipped a two-day training and workshop programme in Jammu.

Although the trigger for the boycott was their unhappiness over a recent government directive that fixed their honorariums at shockingly low levels, the larger concern of the DDC members was the uncertainty about their role in the administrative structure even as New Delhi never tires of showcasing the DDC as an example of how it is devolving power to facilitate grassroots democracy in Jammu and Kashmir. There are 280 DDC wards in total, 14 in each of the 20 districts of Jammu and Kashmir. As the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly remains to be elected, the DDCs are seen to carry far more political weight than they would normally.

On March 8, the administration amended the warrant of precedence for the Union Territory (U.T.) and placed DDC chairpersons in a rank similar to that of Administrative Secretary, at serial no. 26. Deputy chairpersons are at no. 27, equivalent to Vice Chancellors of universities. DDC members, at no. 28, have been placed in a rank similar to that of block development council chairpersons or presidents of municipal councils. Roughly, this translates into a monthly honorarium of Rs.35,000 for DDC chairpersons, Rs.25,000 for deputy chairpersons and Rs.15,000 for DDC members, including Rs.1,500 as travel allowance and Rs.500 as telephone allowance. Frontline spoke to DDC members and found that regardless of which party they belonged to they were increasingly getting the sense that they were powerless tools created to support New Delhi’s exercise in optics in Kashmir, the aim of which was to create the perception that there was a sharing of power. But in reality, power eludes Kashmir’s elected representatives. The paltry honorarium they have been offered is being read as an affirmation of their apprehension.
Also read: BJP's tricks to get DDC chairpersonships

Sajad Lone, head of the People’s Conference, termed the DDC protocols a “disappointment and humiliation”. He said: “The problem is the new stakeholder created by the Union government post August 5, which is the bureaucrat, [is] ever powerful. He or she will never facilitate democracy and will see anybody elected by [the] people as a threat.”

Scores of DDC members from all parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), assembled in Jammu on March 9 and staged a demonstration demanding honourable pay and amenities and for Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to intervene on their behalf. The administration went into damage-control mode, organised a meeting between DDC members and the Lieutenant Governor on March 12, and then said that all issues had been resolved in a peaceful and amicable atmosphere. The Raj Bhavan issued a press note that stated:

“Reiterating J&K Government’s commitment to safeguarding the interests of DDC representatives, the Lt Governor observed that the three-tier Panchayati Raj system was established to empower the grass-root democracy. Now, the true democracy is flourishing in the UT, which is not merely about governance but feeling of fraternity, brotherhood, and attitude of respect and reverence towards each other. We have to work together to meet the developmental aspirations of the people. The administration will ensure the three-tier Panchayati Raj system is strengthened in the UT, the Lt Governor told the DDC members.”

However, leaders of the National Conference (N.C.) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) elected to the DDCs aver that issues are far from resolved. Kaisar Ganie of the N.C., who is a DDC member from Harwan-III ward, told Frontline that the DDC elections were probably held for the international community’s consumption as the government appears to be in no mood to decentralise power in Jammu and Kashmir, which has been under President’s Rule followed by Governor’s Rule ever since the BJP pulled out of the Mehbooba Mufti government in June 2018. “New Delhi wants a bureaucratic state in Jammu and Kashmir; Home Minister Amit Shah claims to be taking forward the three-tier governance structure in the Union Territory, but in reality [only] a handful of people wield power,” Ganie told this correspondent over the phone from Srinagar.

He said that as DDC members they had no clearly defined goals or powers. Abdul Ahad Dar, also of the N.C. and a DDC member from Budgam district, shares Ganie’s views. “[We have been given] little or no security at a time when mainstream politicians have repeatedly been targeted by militants. They have given each DDC member a PSO [personal security officer], but clearly DDC members belonging to the BJP have [better] security arrangements. It is next to impossible to go out freely and meet people and redress their grievances when our own security is not arranged for,” Dar told Frontline. He said that there were clear signals that the Central government did not want them to be emancipated as some three months after the elections, there was still a lack of clarity on their mandate and protocol. He also said that during the course of the election campaign the administration had mostly had him holed up in a hotel room. “They said there was a security threat, but it was obvious they did not want us to campaign freely so that their own candidates or those who are secretly aligned to them should win.”

Ganie said when they attempted to meet with and make representations to the authorities after the elections, they were kept waiting for a long time and the hearings would be half-hearted and end without redressal, cementing their belief that the election was just for show. “The BJP wanted to test [the] waters. The DDC elections were held [as a] test. What they wanted to know was if the Assembly elections were called, would their candidates and that of the Apni Party win or not. Now that the outcome was not to their liking, they are obviously dissuaded. Empowering us serves them no purpose,” Ganie said.
Also read: DDC members stage protest over pay

Mohit Bhan, PDP spokesperson, said that the entire process of the DDC elections had been discredited by the BJP’s many machinations thereafter. “The government created hype about grassroots democracy. But we all know how the PAGD’s [People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration] campaign was scuppered under the pretext of security threats. Our candidates were holed up in so-called safe houses, whereas BJP and Apni Party candidates were [allowed] to move freely and canvass. Despite that, when the PAGD emerged victorious, the poaching game began, undermining the people’s mandate and clearly underscoring that there was no intent in New Delhi to let elected representatives in Jammu and Kashmir call the shots,” Bhan told this reporter.

He further alleged that the Jammu and Kashmir bureaucracy was trying to limit the role of DDC members. “The bureaucracy has had a free say in administrative and governance issues, and it is obvious that they do not want that monopoly to end. Perhaps that is the reason the DDC members are yet awaiting a protocol and defined jurisdiction over government departments.”

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