Some Local Officers Who Have Anti-India Sentiments Are Crippling Functioning Of DDCs

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Clash of egos, interests have sabotaged process

There is confusion. We Need Training Sessions To Streamline System 

The gulf between Srinagar and New Delhi was born because democratic institutions in J&K were never allowed to flourish. No serious efforts were made to strengthen the grass-root democratic structures.

The argument over the development of Jammu and Kashmir – or the lack of it – continued on two lines of thought. Those favouring the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir said Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was a roadblock. They claimed that constitutional provisions applicable to the rest of the country were not applied to J&K because of Article 370. As a result, historic amendments made to the Constitution for strengthening the Panchayati Raj Act were not applicable to J&K. The argument was that the 73rd and 74th amendment to the Constitution of India revolutionized the Panchayati Raj system in the country. But J&K could not benefit from it because the Act did not apply here. The counterargument against this was that J&K had its own Constitution. Those provisions of the Constitution of India which were applicable to the erstwhile state of J&K were tempered with, rather breached. This resulted in the disempowerment of the people of J&K and the democratic structures here.

The argument made by the antagonists was that manipulation of electoral democracy, rigging of elections, and a host of other measures weakened the foundations of democracy in J&K. The interesting angle herein is often missed by both schools of thought. Elections in J&K were manipulated (if at all) when Article 370 was invoked. Every nasty thing was affected when Article 370 was still there in the statue book. Therefore, the argument that Article 370 was a guarantee for a flourishing democratic culture Jammu and Kashmir is fundamentally flawed. Article 370 was most effective for the politicians of Jammu and Kashmir. They conveniently used it for politics around its abrogation or its restoration. This still holds true.

For the strengthening of Panchayati Raj institutions in J&K, abrogation of Article 370 has not helped a bit. This is not because of any fallout of the abrogation. This is because the mental makeup of the bureaucratic structure in J&K is such that with or without Article 370, they are resolute not to allow democratic institutions to take root in J&K. A major distinction needs to be made here. The intentions at the highest level of the government cannot be questioned. There is seriousness at the highest level in providing a support system for the democratic institutions in J&K. Unfortunately, the localbabus seem to have consciously resolved to uproot the democratic structures, particularly when it comes to Panchayati Raj institutions.

The inherent drawback, particularly in Kashmir valley post the inception of militancy in 1990, is the lack of credible faces in participatory democracy. That said, the babus need to understand that those who contested or will contest in future are doing so at great personal peril. The system and the state must provide due recognition to those who dare to challenge the non-state terroractors, their ecosystem and their sponsors across the border.

The Indian state has earned respect globally and continues to emerge as global leader because of its democratic values and its commitment to strengthen the democratic structures. Babus have a bare minimum role in making this country great. Unfortunately the mindset of local babus in Kashmir even today is the major roadblock in strengthening the democratic institutions. For deeply analyzing this malaise, KZINE spoke to people’s representatives associated with the Panchayati Raj system. All of them said that the bureaucrats are to be blamed for the failure of Panchayati Raj in Kashmir.

THE THREE-TIER PANCHAYATI RAJ SYSTEM

The three-tier Panchayati Raj system includes Gram Panchayats at the village level, Block Development Council (BDC) at the block level, and District Development Council (DDC) at the district level.

Gram Panchayat: Every village has a Panchayat. Registered voters of the village elect a president (Sarpanch) and a Vice-President (Panch).

Block development Council:
 Composed of elected members of the area, and the Block Development Officer.

District Development Council:
 Headed by an Additional District Development Commissioner (Additional DC) as Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson of the council representing the district. Functions at district level.

The three-tier system was not there in Jammu and Kashmir before the abrogation of Article 370.

Some officers don’t want the Panchayati Raj system to work. They feel that their interests shall be thwarted if DDCs and Panchayats get empowered

SAFINA BEIGH, Chairperson District Development Council (DDC)

The three-tier system is a self-governance concept. From the grass-root level, it has some golden points. In the form of sarpanches and panches, villages get economically as well as politically empowered. People don’t need to move from one MLA to another for their development works. Today the Sarpanch has the authority to get all these works rolling. Development as well as involvement is in the hands of people. We get public participation from village level. There is no problem with funds. In fact, the budget is more than enough. The main motive of Panchayati Raj is employment generation in rural areas. There are avenues for youth engagement through the Directorate of Rural Development and other departments. With the Panchayati Raj system, women got a chance to take part in the development process. Development leads to peace. Misgovernance leads to alienation.

Across political lines, no government wanted this system to strengthen, because if the Panchayati Raj system became strong,MLAs would lose their powers. So the government and the MLAs halted the implementation of this program. It was the prime minister’s policy to strengthen the system. The LG government tried their best to implement the Panchayati Raj system and conducted fair elections. Despite the ruthless ways of the militants and the conflict, people participated in the election. This was the first successful election of Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370. It raised people’s expectations from the elected DDC members.

“The Process Is Being Sabotaged”

The three tier system is going to complete one year soon but there are teething problems. We understand that when new systems are established, the implementation process takes time. But there are some officers in Jammu and Kashmir who don’t want this system to work. They feel that their interests shall be thwarted if the District Development Committees (DDCs) and Panchayats get empowered. Some DDC members complain about the officers. But they don’t understand the politics behind why they are not being allowed to function. Paralysing the functioning of the DDCs and the Panchayats is the handiwork of some bureaucrats who have anti-India sentiments. They know that DDCs and Panchayats are one of the best outreach programs from the Central government to the people of Kashmir. So they don’t want to make it work. Their hidden agenda is that this is a process being promoted by the Prime Minister, so this process has to be sabotaged.

The second reason why DDCs and Panchayats are not able to perform well is that Jammu and Kashmir is a Union Territory. UT officers consider themselves superior. They don’t want to surrender their powers. For example, if J&K UT gets a chief minister tomorrow, he/she shall be a toothless tiger – a CM without any powers. These are the main reasons why this system is shaking. It is not able to stabilize. Unfortunately some DDC members have started considering themselves as Super MLAs. That is why I am requesting the LG to start training sessions. It is important because the officers will get to know of the powers of DDCs. Simultaneously, the DDCs will get to know about their jurisdiction.

There is a lot of confusion. It is very important to have training sessions so that the system gets streamlined. This can be the best system if both sides work with cooperation and coordination. The system is accountable, it is very transparent and corruption can be controlled easily. It should be continued the way the prime minister has committed.  A serious message should be sent to the Administration. We have Deputy Commissioners in Kashmir who don’t even receive the phone calls of DDC chairpersons or members. This institution isn’t getting the respect that it deserves. The members aren’t getting the respect that they deserve. But they too expect a lot from the officers. There is also the issue of accommodation for sarpanches, panches, DDC members. There are many security concerns in Kashmir. Panchayat members are usually more vulnerable to attacks. It is not easy to provide security to all of them. We understand that it will take some time to arrange things.

When We Participated In The Elections, The Govt Made A Lot Of Promises. But Officers Don’t Cooperate With Us

Riyaz Ahmad, DDC Member, Devsar B, District Kulgam

When we participated in the elections, the government made a lot of promises. During election days, the SHO would come to pick me up along with escorts. But after the elections, they have kept us like prisoners. Now you won’t find any difference between us and Central Jail prisoners. In fact they have more facilities than us.

We wanted to make this three-tier system successful on the ground level. But we are not able to fulfil people’s promises. We don’t receive public calls now because no work is getting done through us. If we tell Block Development Officers (BDO) or Assistant Commissioner Development (ACD), “Please do this work,” they do not comply with our request. They do not agree with us.  No officer is ready to cooperate with us. They don’t have to support us in any wrongdoings but genuine works should be done at least. We are DDC members by-election but we are not allowed to stand even in the District Planning Committee. We don’t have any platform where we can keep our points, where we can discuss issues. Officers don’t let DDC members meet the Lt Governor. They don’t let us reach them. Sometimes they give us security reasons and sometimes they ignore us. They only take us to those meetings where they want us to be present. Not where we need to be present.

Recently the newly appointed young KAS officers were posted in rural development and as BDOs. They don’t know anything about public dealing. They should be sent to the Revenue Department first where they can learn things.I agree that during the tour, we learn about Panchayats of different states. But it is not tours that will really help us. Training in our own state about our duties, responsibilities and powers – that shall truly help us. No training took place after the 2020 election. To grab the government’s money, the officers take members for a tour. There is a difference between training and a tour. For us, training is more important. For instance, the Panchayat of Punjab and Kashmir isn’t the same. The SHO of Punjab isn’t allowed to enter any village without the permission of the Sarpanch. But here the Sarpanchcan’t tell SHO not to enter the village because we have security reasons here. Also, if the Sarpanch dares to tell the SHO not to enter the village, he will be booked under Public Safety Act (PSA) the next day. What we immediately need is training where all members shall be told about their rights, duties and powers. As a DDC member, I have never received any training except once in March 2021. It was scheduled to be held in Jammu for two days. Due to some protests, the program was not successful.

Departments are not cooperating with us

In Kulgam district, plan for Rs 250 crore approximately shall lapse because the departments are not cooperating with us. When we make the plans, we first ask the departments about their estimates. But they refuse to give estimates. They say – send us plans, then we will see about estimates. For instance, I made a plan of Rs 2.5 lakh for a transformer. The department prepared the same estimate for Rs 7 lakh. For the panchayat spending also, we should follow the pattern of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF). This way, estimation shall be submitted first, then feasibility check done, then work executed.

The government has initiated a great step of removing deadwood from all departments. Currently, we have 50% deadwood in all departments. They are even violating the Panchayati Raj Act by giving the tenders to the local mafia and not to those who we recommend. Babus are not giving us the respect we deserve.

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