In the days following its August 5 decision to scrap the special status to Jammu and Kashmir, the Centre had said that the move would “usher in a new era of development” and bring private investment to the region. The shutdowns post-August 5 have, however, meant that the administration is struggling to meet these promises.
The communication shutdown, particularly the suspension of Internet, has been among the biggest roadblocks. Given that most government work is now mandated to be either tendered online or has procedures that mandatorily require online work, most of these projects are stuck. Though landlines andpost-paid mobile phones have been restored, over 20 lakh prepaid mobile phones and mobile and other Internet services remain deactivated in the Valley.
While infrastructure projects have come to a grinding halt because of paucity of labour, the uncertain law-and-order situation and the communication blockade, projects to be undertaken by the panchayats have not even taken off in most districts.
Sources in the J&K administration said the government has disbursed over Rs 500 crore to all panchayats in Kashmir. However, most sarpanches The Sunday Express spoke to said no work had begun on the ground.
While most were unwilling to come on record, Manzoor-ul-Islam, a sarpanch from Kangan in Ganderbal, said, “I have sent my resignation to the deputy commissioner. We put our necks on the line for these polls. But it has been a year and no work has taken off on the ground. Now the winter will set in and nothing will happen for the next six months either. The August 5 decisions have delegitimised us among local people.”
The state administration agrees that work on the ground has not picked up, barring in a few areas in Kupwara. “We are struggling. Our first disbursement happened in March-April this year. These included disbursements for 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18 and the first installment for 2018-19. However, by the time the plans were made, gram sabhas constituted and the bureaucratic exercise completed, it was late July. And then, we had the shutdown in August,” said an official.
The official added that the money has been released under the 14th Finance Commission and deposited in the accounts of the sarpanches. However, separate bank accounts for various schemes are yet to be opened.
The Internet blockade has also hit work in rural areas. “According to Government of India rules, all the work at the rural level, whether through panchayats or the MGNREGA, has to be geo-tagged. Pictures of projects need to be uploaded at different stages of work completion and digital signatures are required for approval of payments. These can happen only after an SMS is received on the registered mobile number. None of this is working as of now, so no work can take off either,” said another official.
To top it, there are many panchayats in J&K that are still vacant, mostly in South Kashmir, because no one contested. The administration is now planning a re-election in these constituencies after the Block Development Council elections are over. While administrators have been appointed in such panchayats, in the absence of Internet, not much work has taken off here either.
The administration is struggling too. Only recently, it set up a camp office in Delhi to meet the World Bank deadline for disbursal of Rs 1,500 crore for infrastructure projects in the state. The administration was supposed to tender out all the work before the disbursal of funds, but it was unable to do from Kashmir because of the communication blockade.
Lack of visible work at the panchayat level must rankle Delhi as Home Minister Amit Shah has repeatedly said in Parliament and outside that the government has taken development to the grassroots through last year’s panchayat elections and that a new political class would rise from among the panches and sarpanches.
To make up for the slow pace of projects on the ground, the administration has decided to take Central welfare schemes to more people in the state. According to an official, the government has identified 85 beneficiary-oriented schemes, out of over 350 Central ones, where broadbasing can be done – Old Age Pension Scheme, Minority and Scheduled Tribe Scholarship Scheme, PM Kisan pension scheme and PM Jan Dhan Yojana, among others.
“We have decided to have 100% coverage for all these schemes. For example, six lakh people are currently benefiting from the Old Age Pension scheme. But our survey has found that there are 3.5 lakh more people who are eligible for this. Delhi is ready to provide more money and delivery will begin soon,” the official said.
Under the back-to-village programme, where state administration officials were sent to the interiors to take stock of development work and measure the needs of the people, the administration has already released Rs 1.5-2 crore to all deputy commissioners. “They have been asked to begin work but things will move at a better pace only after normalcy is restored,” the official said.