TL: By August 5 this year, abrogation of Article 370 will complete one year and all state laws seize to exist and the constitution of India is directly implemented in the Union Territory. You got a historical opportunity to serve as its first Lieutenant governor. Can you share your experience?
LG: It was a good experience. I came here with the hope to do something good for the common people. I am working here to strengthen the grass-root democracy to ensure maximum participation of common masses both at political and administrative levels. Most of the central laws that were implemented in other parts of the country have now been directly extended to Jammu and Kashmir for the larger benefit of people. We are working tirelessly to restructure the UT administration and also modified the public policies. Our goal is to ensure the speedy implementation of developmental projects, both sanctioned by UT and central government. Alongside that, all the incomplete mega developmental projects which faced the negligence are reviewed and completed on a priority basis. Invoking accountability, bringing efficiency in administration and making it pro-people is our core belief. Jammu and Kashmir administration is setting up an example of efficiency and deliverance and whenever they wish they can bring the changes overnight as they are doing now.
TL: You have been focusing more on administrative issues. But the fact is that our administrative infrastructure is outdated and undervalued. We have no File Tracking System, Single Window System and on the ground, the situation has not changed if we believe in facts. People still suffer the same way they used to pre August 5, 2019?
LG: After we started “back to village programmes”, we came to know the problems existing at the grassroots level and are accordingly being addressed with the implementation of relevant schemes. As you know in remote and rural areas, there is a problem with the internet and we have set up drop boxes for the complaints from the locals to redress their grievances. An Ayushman Bharat, a universal scheme has been launched to incorporate all the people of Jammu Kashmir. Information Technology related infrastructure is being expanded in the schools and colleges of rural Jammu and Kashmir and youth-oriented programs are launched in the IT sector to train them.
I agree the File Tracking System is not in Jammu and Kashmir yet but we have begun the modernization of infrastructure with digitization of land records, the digitization of treasuries and the work is underway to digitize records so that the funds once released from bank accounts until spent on ground are monitored efficiently without any irregularities. The efforts are also on to set up a Common Service System so that the permissions from municipalities, and other related services can be granted through a single-window system in a time-bound manner. But right now we are facing issues as our administration is yet to be streamlined in urban local bodies. If the restructuring of administration is not done and we set the single window system, it won’t yield any results.
TL: Before the abrogation of Article 370, a sustained campaign was launched and UT’s administration was accused of massive corruption and financial irregularities. What did you see firsthand as you head this administration now?
LG: See, I believe wherever there is public participation with the local administration the chances of corruption are less. The Jammu and Kashmir was suffering for the same reasons. It is evident from the non-implementation of the 73rd and 74th amendment that empowers grass-root level leaders. The devolution of powers was nowhere and that has resulted in minimum public participation in the governing system. The empowerment of the public ensures checks and balances in the system. In the meanwhile, my administration has put the double strategy in place and those who mainstream themselves and work efficiently are appreciated and those who refuse to change themselves and believe in old practices have to face the music. That is why you see the Anti Corruption Bureau being empowered and some cases are even handed over to CBI for investigation purposes depends upon the gravity of case. Recently, massive gun license scam was unearthed in Jammu Kashmir and many high profile arrests were made. Another scam was recruitment in Jammu Kashmir Bank. Right now we are targeting big fishes and I am assuring you no one will be spared.
TL: The people of Jammu and Kashmir were promised massive development once the article 370 is abrogated. What happened to those promises? Where is the development?
LG: The people’s aspiration is genuine with regard to development. We are working in the same direction and the funds were also received from the central government. There will be more funding as we are assured by centre. But due to COVID19 pandemic, we received a setback. Since last two months, the work has begun on crucial infrastructure projects like roads, power, and drinking water facilities. Under JalJeevan Mission, we are targeting to reach up to 2 lakh households by the end of this year to provide them drinking water facility, these are not individual based schemes where you get the money the next day you can distribute it among people. No such schemes can be built overnight and needs time. All these schemes have started and in some cases, the tenders have been released while in many other schemes the work has begun. Those who question our work let me tell them that till 2018, only 20 per cent of funds approved under Prime Minister Development Package (PMDP) were utilized. In the last 18 months, the utilization has gone up to 50 per cent.
TL: You mean to say the money was never an issue, then why development evaded J&K?
LG: I can’t give you the specific reason but it seemed a case of lethargic approach by the concerned departments and no priority was set, besides administrative failure. It may also be the case of misplaced priorities. Our administration has completed almost one thousand languishing projects and this could have done earlier but didn’t happen and that is the reality.
TL: It is to be believed that Jammu Kashmir administration is very tough to handle. Do you agree now?
LG: Everything is going good here. I counted hundreds of good works done by them. The same could have been done earlier as well.
TL: You mean political leadership was lacking will power?
LG: The truth is that all of that is happening now what earlier could not happen.
TL: In Jammu and Kashmir, you have two regions with different political, regional, and social aspirations. How you are dealing with both under the same administrative setup?
LG: In every state and region, there is a specific culture, economy, and tradition and they fight for its promotion and protection. It is not exclusively in Jammu and Kashmir. And I think it is a good thing. Not only with Article 370, the region where there was no Article 370 they too share concerns related to their culture, tradition, and of course economic interests. A misconception in Jammu and Kashmir has been created that it has a unique culture. For me, I again say it is a perception created by vested interests because the same concerns are in Gujarat, North East and in other parts of the Country. But while you have to work for the protection of your culture, traditions, and language at the same time the development is required to create job avenues for the youth. No parents would want their children jobless after providing them quality education. So you need to work and rise above with a realistic approach.
TL: Recently implemented Domicile law triggered huge fears of demographic change and cultural aggression among the local people. Can you assure them that nothing much is going to happen?
LG: The domicile law is for those who are already here but were denied the residency rights. No one is coming here and being granted the domicile certificate immediately. Those who acquire the residency rights are Gorkhas, Valmikis, and those who have been living and working here for a long time. It is not a procedure to offer immediate residency to any random person coming from outside. Triggering apprehensions among the common people is the job of some vested interests, the way they talk of unique identity and culture. In the 1950’s the reorganization of states took place for the protection of language and culture since then many states like Jharkhand, Utrakhand were created and there are no such apprehensions the way such perceptions are built-in Jammu Kashmir UT. No one shall have fear of anything.
TL: Jammu Kashmir is rich in natural resources but has a poor economy. What are your focused areas to boost its economy?
LG: Jammu Kashmir has a unique agro-climatic zone and in the same sector fruits, agriculture, horticulture has a huge potential to grow and we had submitted the investment policy in the same zones. Food processing, crop grading, and expansion of agro-based industries are our thrust areas. Given to rich mineral resources in UT we had also planned to boost the sector. We have made it clear that only eco-friendly industries would be set up here to ensure its flora and fauna is protected. Hospitality, tourism, electronic and IT industries and service sectors would also be encouraged here. No chemical factories that would spoil the beauty of Kashmir and pollute its air and waters would be allowed.
TL: Daily wagers in the past were underpaid and exploited for over 10 to 20 years. But they see no hope even now when the article 370 is abrogated?
LG: This problem is pending for last 20 to 25 years to settle this problem and to secure the livelihood of all daily wagers; we have set up a committee. We will ensure their livelihood is secured but they need to wait until the committee files its report. It’s is our priority.
TL: The sand blocks were auctioned to outsiders for the first time and it has rendered thousands of people jobless?
LG: The auctioning of sand blocks didn’t happen for the first time. Earlier it was done physically but now we did it through e-tendering. It is a different question that big blocks went to outsiders. We wanted that locals shall be benefitted but we have some problems with environmental clearance in allocating the small sand blocks to secure the livelihood of people associated with the business. And we are working on it.