Former Home Secretary G.K. Pillai has said Omar Abdullah didn’t empower local bodies when he was Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister as he did not want to risk his chair and introduce the reforms that would have brought about drastic socio-political change in the troubled state and spawned a new generation of grassroots leaders.
In an interview to IANS, Pillai said empowering the local administrative bodies was crucial to improving the situation in the state, particularly the Kashmir Valley where an ongoing unrest has left 76 people dead and thousands injured in an unending cycle of stone-pelting protests and counter-violence by security forces.
“In 2010, over 75 per cent of Kashmiris had voted during the panchayat elections. There were overwhelming expectations. But these local bodies did not have much power and nothing much really happened. Currently, in Jammu and Kashmir, local panchayats do not have any power and steps should be taken by both the Centre and the state government to empower them,” Pillai said.
He said in 2010, during Omar Abdullah’s meeting with then Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Pillai (then Home Secretary), the Chief Minister was “advised” to work to empower the panchayats in the state.
“Omar said that he would try. But he got back to the Centre stating that there were hurdles as the MLAs were not allowing this to happen. If I take a sanguine stand, my chair will be at risk, Omar had then informed the central government,” Pillai said.
The 73rd constitution amendment that gave immense functional autonomy and financial powers to the panchayats in other parts of India could not automatically become applicable in Jammu and Kashmir because the state has its “own Constitution”.
Pillai said empowering the local panchayat bodies can go a long way in bringing about drastic socio-political changes in Jammu and Kashmir as it will give village-level leaders the power to work on developmental works and also end the “monopoly” of the existing leaders.
“Local people in Jammu and Kashmir expect the panchayats to work on drainage and village roads. But in the absence of power and money, nothing can be achieved,” the former bureaucrat said.
“In the rest of India, we have seen panchayat leaders coming to Delhi as parliamentarians. This is perhaps not possible in Jammu and Kashmir,” Pillai said.
He urged the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership to impress upon the PDP-BJP government headed by Mehbooba Mufti in the state to bring necessary changes in law to empower the panchayats.
“BJP is in power in Jammu and Kashmir; they must do it. They must ask the PDP leadership to give powers to the panchayats for tangible results,” he said.
Pillai also said that over the years “undue importance” has been given to the Hurriyat leaders even by the central government agencies.
“I have said that the Hurriyat can be ignored. The Hurriyat leadership can be ignored at least for two years if they are not interested in talks. We must help create a new set of leaders in panchayats in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
When asked whether the Hurriyat has “mishandled” the situation by declining to meet an all-party delegation as was being suggested by official sources in Delhi, Pillai said: “These issues are peripheral and minor. We should work to empower the local people.”
Pillai maintained that even the separatist leaders understood that “India is running a democratic set-up and they need not be afraid of us”.
He recalled that around 2010-2011, separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had told the Home ministry top guns that he is “not afraid” of the Indian establishment as it will “not exceed limits” unlike miscreants in Pakistan.
Pillai maintained that in states like Kerala, the monopoly of the MLAs and state-level leaders is discarded completely.
“Considering the lack of powers of the panchayat leaders in Jammu and Kashmir, the rest of India seems a paradise. In my native state Kerala, though the state assembly passes the budget, nearly 40 per cent of the developmental works and social welfare schemes are implemented by the panchayats. Hence there is no monopoly. That model is worth emulating,” he said.
Pillai hoped that there will be improvement in the situation in Kashmir Valley in the next two months or so when the apple harvest season sets in.
“Common people are more interested about day-to-day affairs, jobs and children’s education. Once economic activities gain speed, things will hopefully improve,” Pillai asserted.