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SOURCE: THE HINDU

Lieutenant-Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Manoj Sinha speaks on his three months at the helm, the land amendments in J&K, the Gupkar declaration and the Shopian encounter.

It has been three months since you were appointed Lieutenant-Governor. What has been your major focus?
One of the first things I noticed was that the ordinary citizen had no platform to express grievances. A system via District Collectors as well as Divisional Commissioners and Inspector General rank of police to designate specific days in a week for public grievances was set up. These platforms have been institutionalised, and I review it every month. Secondly, social security schemes suffered in comparison to construction-related government spending. I focussed on upping that, and I can say that 16 out of 20 districts have shown more than 95% coverage in terms of social welfare schemes. Jobs and skilling are an important aspect too.

It is instructive to know that J&K and Bihar have similar numbers of government employees whereas Bihar’s population is 11 times that of J&K. For the last 70 years, for many reasons, private employment could not be boosted, and while we have started recruitment for 11,000 government posts and an additional 13,000 to come up, we have undertaken to develop as a skilling hub and to set up industry in the State. For example, Ashish Chauhan of the Bombay Stock Exchange said that three-month programmes for youngsters who want stockbroking or insurance agent skills will be set up by him. The Tata Group has also committed for two hubs — one in Baramulla (which is ready) and another in Jammu, which will be ready in November. The aim is to engage with 80% of the youth by 2025.

When you speak of public grievances, political parties and people’s representatives are important conduits of grievances. Major leaders of political parties were arrested after the reading down of Article 370 and there is hardly any political engagement currently. It was also expressed in some quarters that a new layer of leadership in the State would emerge from local bodies such as panchayats and municipal corporations, but that doesn’t seemed to have happened either.
In 1992, when the 73rd Amendment was brought in, a three-tier Panchayati Raj system was envisaged for the entire country, but in J&K this was limited to two tiers. The necessary amendments have been made, however, and local body polls for the district development council will be notified any day now. I believe this will strengthen grassroots-level democracy and development, and the participation of local representatives will deepen the roots of democracy. I believe this is part of the political process and is the best kind of political process. I acknowledge that some leaders of political parties were not free earlier, but there was a system of assessment under Principal Secretary, Home, which would review the matter and, as of now, I don’t think any major political leader is under detention. Our country is a free country and people are free to engage in political activity, which these leaders are doing and the country is also watching, listening.

The events of August 5, 2019 saw major leaders of political parties under detention. It is being said that this has finished off the middle ground in politics in Kashmir.
My priority, as far as I see, is the development of J&K, engaging the youth, and creating an environment for prosperity. Political parties, on their part, are free to engage in political activity, there is no proscription. It is up to them as to which direction they take. Much of it is unfortunate and we have to see how we can change that.

By unfortunate, do you mean statements on seeking Chinese help to restore Article 370?
I feel that those who have held Constitutional positions in the past should remember that they had once [been] sworn into office on the Indian Constitution. That maryada (decency) should be maintained. Secondly, many of this very set of people have gone before the Supreme Court on these and related matters, reposing full faith in the Indian judiciary and Constitutional system. Having done that, shouldn’t they wait for the court’s judgment? My second suggestion would be to remember that it is only in India that there is full freedom to say what you feel.

The recent amendments made to land-related laws in J&K have elicited strong opposition in both the Valley and Jammu, with apprehensions that there is some sort of plan for a demographic change via land acquisition by outsiders.
If some people want to misguide people, they can say what they want. The truth is that 90% of land in J&K is agricultural and no one from outside can buy it. The amendments did away with some older laws, some [that were] mutually contradictory, that had become redundant. For example, in an earlier law, a ceiling of 182 kanals had been fixed for private holding, after that it was amended to 100 kanals, [and] in 1976, these two provisions existed together. Secondly, there was an unfortunate law that required government’s permission to plant orchards and harvest the fruit; now we have freed that. These were old agrarian laws, and to make a shift to a modern economy, we made some changes. We have selected 6,000 acres of land for an industrial park and other industry will also be facilitated. We want private enterprise and industry for creating more jobs for the youth in J&K. We are expecting at least ?25,000-30,000 crore worth of investment after our new industrial policy is cleared by the Union Cabinet. The false propaganda being spread about these amendments need to be seen in the context of the J&K High Court order in the Roshni Act case where, out of 3,48,000 kanal land, 3,40,000 kanal land was given away for free in questionable circumstances. The honourable High Court said that the government was only a trustee of the land and had no rights to give such land away for free.

I am telling you with great responsibility that these amendments are on the lines of the laws in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in terms of protection of land and rights of the local population.

Can panchayat polls be held with panchayat-level workers having been killed in the last few months?
The polls will be notified in a day or two and some forces want to disrupt these processes. We are trying to ensure security for all. The situation is pretty much under control. There are some who want to block deepening of democracy, it will not be allowed to happen.

The Shopian encounter [in which three labourers from Rajouri were killed] was a very regrettable development and happened just as you took over.
This was an incident of around July 22-23. I reached J&K around August 7 to take over as Lieutenant-Governor, and read about it in the newspapers. I immediately asked the Army people to look into it. The response from the Army was positive, and when we found that a mistake had been committed, there was an honest attempt at some restitution. I myself went and met the family members of the Shopian victims and gave them Prime Minister Modi’s message, and condoled with them. I am firm that the innocent should not be targeted, even when we don’t spare the guilty.

The Union government has said that there would be restoration of Statehood to J&K. When can we expect that to happen?
This was a solemn assurance by the Union Home Minister Amit Shah on the floor of the House in Parliament and it will be done.