Developed Villages Enjoy Backward Area Tag
UT Admin Must Review Backward Villages List, De-Notify Undeserving Villages
Sub District Hospital, Degree College, Fire and Emergency Services, Sub divisional Magistrate, Two first class Magistrates, two dozen Higher Secondary Schools, big number of English medium schools, police division, police station, local development authority. These are the features of a large number of villages notified as ‘backward villages’ in Kashmir.
The erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir had 6553 villages. Out of this, 2763 villages of Jammu and Kashmir have been notified as “backward”. This indicates that about 42% of the total villages are still backward.
Hence supposedly, nearly half of the Jammu and Kashmir lacks basic facilities like roads, water, education facilities, health care centers and electricity. This is an interesting situation indeed. On one side, the government claims all-round progress and development in Kashmir. On the other side, it continues to officially accept that half the villages here are “backward”.
How The Game Started
In 1995, reservation for residents of backward areas was announced. At that time, only 18% of the total villages of Jammu and Kashmir were backward. As per current figures, 42% of the total villages are officially notified as backward villages. Do these so-called backward villages really lack basic facilities, or is this a game that the former politicians played to favour their respective constituencies?
The answer is the latter. From time to time, politicians of the ruling party exploited the government schemes for “backward villages”. They enriched their constituencies in different ways. At the same time, they also gave their constituencies the “backward” tag so that the people would doubly benefit from the government schemes.
If the village residents are benefitting, what is the problem? The problem is that thousands of youth from villages that are actually backward do not get the support that they deserve. These meritorious youth burn the midnight oil, but they are not able to get government jobs. Youth from affluent villages with superior education facilities corner these jobs even though they may not have worked so hard for the same. This injustice is punishing the aspiring youth from areas that are truly backward.
It is a sham that the government continues to list many affluent villages as “backward”. The former ruling elite brazenly violated the norms for notifying their respective constituency villages as backward villages, even though their villages had all the basic infrastructural facilities. Shockingly, some former ruling politicians notified all the villages of their constituencies as backward villages.
This subterfuge continued for decades. Successive regimes focused only on notifying more and more villages as backward. None of them attempted any revision of the list of backward villages, so that those that were not backward could be de-notified. Not a single exercise was initiated by any ruling party to examine that if a village had been provided with a rich and thriving infrastructure, it should be de-notified as a backward village.
Backward Villages And The Reverse Shift
An interesting phenomenon has been observed for many years. A sizable number of people have shifted their permanent residence to the so-called “backward villages” so that they or their children are able to get government jobs by getting the benefit of reservation.
In 2017, Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission (JKPSC) observed that many elites, including politicians and bureaucrats, had been undue beneficiaries of the Reserved Backward Area (RBA) category in many state gazetted services. At that time, JKPSC had written to the Governor that the entire list of the villages notified as Reserved Backward Areas should be reviewed. JKPSC had also recommended that areas which had progressed on socio-economic indicators should be de-notified as “backward villages”. JKPSC had recommended that the villages that are truly backward should be notified as RBA so that the benefit could be extended to them.
Govt Stipulation Ignored
Periodic revision of notified backward villages not done
Despite government stipulation, no periodic revision of notified backward villages has taken place till date. Section 11 of Jammu and Kashmir State Commission for Backward Classes Act states the following: “The Government may at any time, and shall, at the expiration of ten years from the coming of the force of this Act and every succeeding period of ten years thereafter, undertake revision of the lists with a view to excluding from such lists those classes who have ceased to be backward classes or for including in such lists new backward classes. The Government shall, while undertaking any revision referred to in sub-section (1), consult the Commission…”
What The Ground Survey Reveals
Kokernag has 51 villages, of which 50 are notified as Backward Villages. Among these, 15 villages from are Larnoo tehsil and 35 villages are from Kokernag tehsil. I recently visited Kokernag to examine if this truly was a backward area.
I found two degree colleges, one in Kokernag and another in Larnoo. There is one sub-divisional magistrate office in Kokernag, Two First Class magistrates and nearly 15 higher secondary schools.
Examine what all Kokernag boasts of. There is the Kokernag Development Authority, Kokernag Municipal Committee, fire and emergency station, one sub-district hospital, a number of public health centers, many English medium schools, a dozen branches of Jammu and Kashmir Bank, many ATMs, four lane National Highway and what not. I was shocked to note that in the tehsil offices of both Larnoo and Kokernag, these flourishing towns are notified as backward areas.
Given the “backward” status, Kokernag continues to enjoy reservation. Many villages do not have similar facilities. They lack strong facilities for transport facility, electricity and drinking water supply. These villages deserve to be considered as backward areas.
These include Kachwan, Halan, Nowbugh, Lessoo branard, Narsangar, Keharpora, Rein Athar, Khretti, Dessu, Daksum, Mathindoo, Guridraman, Hayatpora, Khallhar, Gadwail, Ahlan Gadole, Lohar Senzi, Fremoo, Watnar and many more. But these villages continue to suffer. On the other hand, many other villages are flourishing centers, but they enjoy the backward tag. These include Bindoo Zalangam, Larnoo, Akingam, Hiller, Bidder, Vailoo etc. These villages have every kind of facility, but they continue to enjoy the backward tag and hence the reservation rights.
The situation is strange indeed. Many villages which are classified as “backward” have seven to eight taxi stands. One can see thousands of Sumos and Taveras here, which offer regular transportation facilities to people. These areas are rich with natural water springs.
Kokernag is a popular tourism destination of Kashmir. Thousands of tourists visit Kokernag garden, Dandipora park, Daksum forest area and Sinthan Top. These areas are popular tourism hubs. National Highway 244 passes through the area. It connects the two major divisions of Kishtwar district. One is main town Kishtwar, and the other is the Warwan-Marwah area. Transporters make a good profit plying in these two routes. The average literacy rate of all the villages in Kokernag area stands at more than 67%.
There are some villages adjacent to the villages of Kokernag. These villages do not have proper road connectivity. They do not have proper infrastructural facilities. But they are not within the constituency limits of Kokernag. They are part of the Dooru Shahbad constituency. The two constituencies are separated by a stream. So these villages are backward in terms of infrastructure. But in government records, they are recognized as developed areas.
Villages like Arre Dehruna, Maantipora etc are considered to be developed areas. A young man pursuing higher studies who hails from Mantipora Dehruna village told KASHMIR CENTRAL that due to wrong categorization as “backward village”, the careers of thousands of meritorious students from other areas has been put at stake.
The youngster told KASHMIR CENTRAL, “I appeared in a recent university entrance examination for a post graduate degree. Despite having good points I could not secure admission. Students who had scored much less than me got admission because they carried the ‘backward reserved area’ tag. It is really annoying how aspiring youth of Kashmir are being ill treated. But those who have reservation tag enjoy the creamy layer of everything,” complained the youngster.
Backward Area Tag Courtesy Former MLA Peerzada Mohd Sayeed
Kokernag got the backward area tag with the blessings of three-time MLA Peerzada Mohd Sayeed of the Congress. Sayeed left no stone unturned to convert his entire constituency into RBA.
Same is the case with the Noorabad Constituency. All villages within Noorabad constituency have been notified as backward areas.
Influential politicians from Itoo family, Sakina Itoo and her father Wali Mohd Itoo, also had a good hand in notifying all villages of the constituency as Backward. Sakina Itoo was elected once as MLA and her father was elected twice as MLA.
There are hundreds of villages which are far from urban areas. They are deprived of all the basic facilities, but still they are not regarded as backward category.
Mir Muzaffar of Sheikhgund Shangas Anantnag told KASHMIR CENTRAL, “Our village is 2.5 kms away from the tehsil headquarter Shangas. We have one primary school and no other structure of the government. The village has only one electricity distribution transformer for 250 households. We lack proper road connectivity, for which we keep requesting government officials. Everyone assures us that our genuine demands will be fulfilled, but nothing happens on ground. We deserve to be notified as backward category but this has not been done. We request the LG to order a review of all backward category villages and issue fresh notification in favour of deserving villages. This monumental step will ensure justice for the poor people residing in backward areas.”