Under a communications lockdown that entered its fourth week Monday amid signs of a “civil curfew” in parts of the Valley, Kashmiris are still trying to make sense of the August 5 announcement that took away the special status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, split it into two and downgraded it to a Union Territory.
But the government’s pre-occupation with maintaining law and order and conveying an impression of normalcy has not stopped its machinery from preparing for the reorganisation of the state set to come into effect October 31.
Last week, the J&K government issued orders setting up three committees, one for “devising the modalities for functioning of proposed Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir”; another to decide on financial matters in the proposed two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh and the third to deal with allocation of staff in the two UTs.
The terms of reference of the first committee relate to steps to be taken for the transition from the state of J&K to the proposed UT by various departments. The second will take decisions relating to “realisation and distribution of funds and other related issues” for the two UTs; the third will suggest “measures to be taken for providing staff to the proposed Union Territory of Ladakh and any other issues relation to staff of proposed Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir”.
A senior official said government departments at the Centre were “buzzing” with plans for the two new UTs. Several visits by senior functionaries from Union ministries have already taken place or are in the pipeline. Among the early visitors was the Petroleum Secretary but no details were available. Secretary and Joint Secretary-level visits from other departments are also scheduled.
Parallel to this, an official said, was a “huge push on development” and “empowering” of village panchayats. Saturday’s announcement of elections to Block Development Councils is part of this push. Members of BDCs are elected from among the sarpanches in a tehsil. But these had not been constituted since 2011 when panchayat elections were first held nor had the third tier of panchayat governance, District Planning and Development Boards.
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Instead, all decisions were being taken by District Development Boards, headed by a minister from the area with representation by area MLAs and member/s of Parliament, in which the panchayat commanded little or no influence.
The decision to set up BDCs was taken on August 2, just three days before the announcement on revoking J&K’s special status. The same government order also dissolved District Development Boards and ordered the setting up of DPDBs.
Also in the last week, the Governor announced a grant of Rs 5 crore to each district in the state to speed up development works.There are 20 districts in J&K and two in Ladakh. “That’s straightaway a Rs 100-crore push at the grassroots level,” said an official.
Now, after the high-profile Back to Village programme under which every gazetted official spent two days and one night in one gram panchayat each, covering all 4,483 panchayats in the state, feedback from the villages – officers filled out questionnaires after speaking to the people in each panchayat – is being collated by District Deputy Commissioners who are also the District Development Commissioners. Efforts are being made to prioritise projects so that work on them can begin, said officials.
As some of these projects may have already been submitted for approval for funds from the Rs 800 crore already released under 14th Finance Commission, the Rs 5 cr per district will act as an add-on, officials said.
The government is also speeding up the process of appointing 2,000 accounts assistants/data operators to help panchayats manage their money and in the digital uploading of projects for approval, electronic signatures and online transfer of funds.