In just over four months since he took oath as the Lieutenant Governor of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir on August 7, Manoj Sinha has visited all 10 districts in Kashmir and six out of 10 in Jammu. His effort in this period has been to ensure that government programmes and services reach people within specified time limits. Simultaneously, he kickstarted the political process by facilitating elections to the District Development Councils (DDCs). He spoke to The Indian Express on a range of issues from the unraveling of the now-annulled Roshni Act to the timeline for Assembly elections and restoration of 4G services.
Based on your four months as L-G, what gives you confidence?
Over the last four months, I am convinced that people in J&K have a new belief… common people feel they will be heard well, and they will get justice…We have taken many decisions. The DC and SPs have been directed to meet the common man from 10.30 am to 11.30 am on all days, except Wednesdays and Sundays. I am happy that in about 16 districts, about 95 -96 per cent saturation — on works such as updation of ration cards with Aadhaar, Prime Minister’s Awas Yojana, pension, etc — has been achieved.
Every Wednesday, we have a ‘Mega Block Divas’ — in every district, 3-4 blocks have been identified, where all senior officials are present from 10 am to 4 pm, to provide information about UT and Central government schemes and address problems of people.
We have institutionalised a ‘grievance redressal mechanism’, the first such anywhere which is synchronised with the Government of India. Complaints made by people with the Centre are immediately directed to us. All these are monitored by DCs, the Chief Secretary and my office through a dashboard.
What was your impression when you first took charge?
I was a bit disappointed. For example, the number of government employees here more or less matches that in Bihar. But if you look at the population of the two, there is a huge difference (J&K: 1.25 crore, Bihar 9.9 crore). If you look at the Budget too, J&K has a budget of about Rs 1 lakh crore, and is comparable with many other states. Given these statistics, I feel resources have not been put to good use.
Have you met leaders of mainstream political parties such as Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti or Sajad Lone?
I have met the ex-MLAs and ministers of most parties. I have not met Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah. I have spoken twice with Farooq Sahab over the phone. I do not have any hesitation talking with anyone. I have heard them with intent, and tried to implement their constructive suggestions.
What have been their issues?
They don’t talk to us directly. But if someone has suggested that a particular road or bridge be built, then we have tried to implement these.
How has the Roshni Act and its annulment by the High Court unravelled?
The Finance Minister’s speech of 1990 said those who have illegal occupation of government land will be given ownership by paying an appropriate price. In 2001, 2004 and 2007, this was extended. For ownership of land in 2001, the rate prevailing in 1990 was taken; in 2004 too, the rate of 1991 was fixed. The doctrine or theory behind natural resources, be it air, water, forests, and government land, is these cannot be anyone’s personal property at whatever price. But these can be used for public purposes, or for the general public.
The High Court has given its judgement based on this theory. I welcome it, and its orders are being implemented despite difficulties. I believe this is the tip of the iceberg.
But how do you differentiate between the rich and influential, and poor and landless?
Should we treat those who have occupied large tracts of land along the same lines as those who have bought a kanal of land without knowledge? Can we equate wrongdoing by the two categories of people? We have requested the High Court that we intend to bring a law on this and allow ownership of land to the latter category based on today’s prices. The High Court has to decide. Is this wrong?
The High Court has asked the CBI to look into the cases. But the UT government is not keen on that as well.
We will provide CBI the necessary assistance. But we have requested that the UT government be allowed to constitute an SIT (Special Investigation Team); and let it be monitored by the High Court. What’s wrong with this?
The government wants ACB to continue with cases which name many government officials. Unwillingness to hand these cases over to CBI has raised questions whether the government wants to shield these officials.
There are just 19 cases where the Anti Corruption Bureau has already filed a chargesheet or is in the process of doing so. Transferring these to CBI will only lead to delays. And justice delayed is justice denied. And as far as the integrity of the ACB is concerned, I will say it with utmost responsibility — in the last four months, properties of many have been attached, action initiated against many corrupt — that none should doubt its credibility.
Waving the list in the public domain has been selective and many point out it was timed with the DDC elections, to taint those belonging to mainstream political parties.
The High Court delivered the judgment on October 9. It has been very difficult to prepare the list. This has nothing to do with the DDC elections. We are implementing the High Court’s order and as and when lists are compiled, these are being released on the website without any bias or prejudice. This will continue.
All mainstream leaders have been released but then the government restrains Mehbooba Mufti from stepping out of her residence or from holding a press conference. Why?
There is no restraint. On the day of polls, will the government provide security to her or conduct elections? This is India, a democracy, and freedoms are for all. Hence you can say whatever you want. She is a protectee, an ex-Chief Minister, and she wants to step out on a polling day. How can we allow it? We have not restrained her from holding a press conference ever.
There has been a demand for 4G across the UT. Your predecessor G C Murmu too said the UT did not have an objection to restore 4G services. Why is it still not being restored?
The issue is with the Supreme Court. It has been restored in two districts. The government has also assured that it will be restored gradually in other districts. Given the sensitivity of the region, and the matter pending in the Supreme Court, I do not think I need to give an opinion on this issue. We will move as per the government’s affidavit in the Supreme Court.
There are fears here Assembly elections will be put on the back burner after DDC polls.
In his August 15 speech from the Red Fort, the Prime Minister had talked about it. And everyone knows the fact that the Delimitation Commission is at work, not just in J&K, but four Northeastern states as well. Once the Commission’s report is ready, then it is the job of the Election Commission, and the Prime Minister has said it as well.
Which state doesn’t have a DDC, be it in south India or north. And Assembly elections are also held. So, where is the contradiction? Are we scared a new leadership is being created?
You have said you will have zero tolerance for corruption. But you, the LG, have an Advisor (Basheer Ahmad Khan), against whom there are grave corruption charges. How do you justify this?
If corruption charges are proved, let me assure you the person will not remain here, whosoever it may be. It is one thing that there is a prima facie charge of allegation, and another that investigations have revealed these to be true. Let us wait for the report.
Over the years, the gulf between the two divisions of Kashmir and Jammu, has only grown.
I think people must ponder over the reasons for this. But I believe that Kashmir and Jammu are our two eyes. Samaan bhav sey dono kay vikas kay liye humein kaam karna hai aur dono milkay hee iss UT ko aage badha sakte hai (We have to work towards the development of these two regions equally, and they can take the UT ahead only together). I think, if the administration’s intentions are clear, and the government is not favouring one over the other, then there will be no opposition.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah refers to the mainstream political parties in the region as ‘Gupkar Gang’. Doesn’t it hurt the political process?
This question needs to be put to the Home Minister. But all must understand that the Home Minister is also a leader of a party. As a leader of a party, he has every right to issue a political statement. If leaders in a political party can give certain statements, then others also have the freedom to speak their mind. Constitutional post hum hold kar rahein hain, humko iss say matlab nahi (I hold a Constitutional post, and I am not concerned about it). I need not comment on this.
With the change in land laws, there is concern that people from outside will come and settle here?
There is no treatment for imagined fears. Give me a single example of any outsider having bought land here. Since August 5, 2019, tell me a single name. I challenge anyone to name one person from outside who has bought land here. This is baseless.
But many provisions have been changed, which trigger this fear.
Old laws were outdated, and in many cases, were regressive. We have repealed 11 laws. For example, the ceiling of 182 kanals fixed in Big Landed Estates Abolition Act was suspended by 100 standard kanals in Agrarian Reforms in 1976, yet both continued to exist, creating contradiction and confusion. Shouldn’t this end?
Similarly, the old Agrarian Reforms Act prohibited ceiling of land distributed to tillers even after 44 years. This was leading to benami transactions and restricting next generations. Shouldn’t this end? Tenancy ended under Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976, but Tenancy Stay of Ejectment Proceedings Act of 1966 continues. Shouldn’t this end?
But there are no protections like the ones in other states such as Himachal Pradesh? You have also allowed contract farming.
Nobody from outside J&K can buy agricultural land. In J&K, 90 per cent of land is agriculture. Only 5 per cent land is government-owned. Only 5 per cent land remains, based on which many claim demography will change. True, we have said the government will develop industrial estates in this. Without land, how can industries be set up? Why shouldn’t the common man get access to a good hospital? We need industry for employment.