This interview was conducted in-person a few days before the tragic events of 5 and 7 October in which five civilians were killed in Kashmir, four of them non-Muslim.
In an elaborate interview to Swarajya’s Tushar Gupta, Lt Governor of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, discusses the recent developments in the UT, how infrastructure could prove to be an enabler for economic prosperity, government outreach programmes and their impact on the ground, and the question of eventual statehood and delimitation.
The interview also touches upon the emerging threat from Taliban, the future role for the political parties, and what plans the Centre is working on and implementing post the revocation of Article 370. The edited version of the interview, which was conducted on 26 September 2021, follows:
Swarajya: To be the Lt Governor of Jammu and Kashmir is a mammoth task. There have been many governors before, but you took up the mantle almost a year after 5 August 2019, the revocation of Article 370, and to be the governor here is unlike being the governor of any other state or union territory given whatever transpires within this region is in the eyes of the world and there are geopolitical implications of it, so please begin by telling us about your experience, especially after the revocation of Article 370.
Lt Governor Sinha: My appointment was in August 2020, and if I remember correctly, I was informed by the Prime Minister on 4 August 2020, and I took the oath of office on 7 August 2020, thus almost a year after the revocation of Article 370, I came here. As a social and political worker, I have worked in several other sectors, but when the Prime Minister told me about the appointment, I wondered where I was heading, but after a conversation with him, and the way he acquainted me with Jammu and Kashmir... I believe it’s an important responsibility for any Indian and I am engrossed with all my sincerity in bearing this responsibility.
It has been 13 months, and there is a lot of talent and untapped potential here. The people are also good here, with a lot of talent, and I believe that it should be put to good use and they should be in a position to avail the right opportunities.
Two, I also believe that Jammu and Kashmir, across the world, has been a subject of discussion for other reasons mostly. In the last one year, we have attempted that the Union Territory is not known for those reasons but for other reasons. If I am to speak about the government’s policy, it is not about buying peace, but we are trying to establish peace. This is the basic difference, and there is a paradigm shift and I am enjoying this task.
Swarajya: My second question would be about the Covid-19 pandemic, given the year you took over, the situation on ground was difficult. In August last year, the cases were still on the rise. In India and across the world, there was no information about the vaccines or their timeline. There was this state of confusion, two years, three years, and the ones who were overly pessimistic even declared that India would not get a vaccine for five years. Today, the entire country is witnessing a very successful vaccination drive. So, after the deadly second wave and a successful vaccination drive, what do you have to say as a representative of the government about the work done here in that regard?
Lt Governor Sinha: When I arrived in August last year, took oath on 7 August, and the next day itself, on 8 August, I visited the hospital here, the medical college, and after my conversation with the officials there, whatever difficulties I came to know about, I ensured immediate solutions for them. One of the decisions that I took on the spot was related to the paramedical staff. I felt there was a need for increasing the strength of the paramedical staff, therefore we took this decision at the spot that 100 members of the paramedical staff, both in Srinagar and Jammu, must be admitted on an urgent basis.
A few days later, the first wave began to subside. At that time, we were aware of the efforts being undertaken by our scientists towards developing a vaccine for Covid-19, and the Prime Minister was also monitoring the progress on a regular basis. Though there was little clarity as to when the vaccine would be there and therefore prevention and Covid-appropriate behaviour were the only way out back then. Slowly, the cases began to decrease.
When the second wave hit, I can say that Jammu and Kashmir, even at the peak of the second wave, never faced a situation where people were denied oxygen beds. I trace this back to a decision we took in the administrative council, back on 29 September, where we decided that all our district hospitals, they all would have oxygen generation plants. When I took over in August last year, our oxygen generating capacity was a little over 14,000 litres per minute (LPM), and the majority of it was in Kashmir division and within Jammu division it was quite less.
Thus, when the pandemic hit us, during the second wave, and during the peak, we had an approximate oxygen capacity of 48,000-50,000 LPM, and today, we have crossed 74,000 LPM, and hopefully, we shall reach 90,000 LPM in the weeks to come. There was no dearth of medicines, and I am grateful to our doctors, paramedical staff, and corona warriors and volunteers who devoted themselves to the people and toiled endlessly without worrying about their own health or lives.
I visited many different hospitals and medical colleges to ensure that these warriors remain motivated. Yes, people in this part of the world have lost their loved ones, and I pray to god that their pain is eased and as an administration sensitive to the needs of the people we have a separate cell in the social welfare department by the name of Saksham. We, as the government in the Union Territory, have pledged to help the families who lost their loved ones during the pandemic.
Earning members who departed during the pandemic, we are helping their children with scholarships. Arrangements have also been made to ensure a pension for their aged-parents, and work is being done to ensure what other benefits can be made available to them under the existing social welfare schemes.
Another decision taken is that one member of each family would be helped with a self-employment opportunity through subsidised financial assistance. A lot of assistance also came from the PM Cares Fund, and other efforts to help the families of the deceased are being made. Two huge hospitals of the DRDO have also come up in Srinagar and Jammu so that the treatment needs of the people during the pandemic can be catered to.
Coming to the question of the vaccine, there is no doubt that when the vaccine finally arrived, some people across the country tried to create uncertainty around it which resulted in a lot of hesitancy amongst the people. However, reports of a successful campaign from the ground here have reached other parts of the country. I believe that this vaccination drive is a public service delivery and technology has been a critical enabler in this.
In the far-flung areas, where technology cannot be availed, our health workers, traversing through snowy roads and travelling for 15-20 kilometres, ensured doorstep delivery of the vaccine. I am happy to inform you that during the early weeks of the vaccination drive, we were one of the few states to have completed the 100 per cent vaccination target for the above-45 population. Today, in the above-18 age-group, we have crossed the 80 per cent threshold for the first dose and the second dose coverage is more than 33 per cent. Compared to the national average, we are much ahead, and by October 15, we are aiming to ensure 100 per cent first dose coverage for the above-18 age-group.
Two districts, however, already have 100 per cent coverage. Samba was the first to complete, but Poonch too achieved 100 per cent coverage only a couple of days ago. Many districts in the next four-five days would complete 100 per cent coverage. Thus, to tackle the pandemic, there are two routes, vaccination and appropriate behaviour, and we are attempting efforts on these lines. Each Friday, or Saturday in some instances, we have a taskforce for Covid-19 where we sit and deliberate, and from there, all the leading officials including DCs, SPs, DGPs, IGs, and other members of the task force decide on decisions and Covid-related efforts for the week ahead.
Swarajya: One of the good things this year, as I recall from my arrival at the airport, talking to some hoteliers here, and even through my general observation around some tourist spots like the Dal Lake is that the tourist season is finally here, after a long gap of two years. In 2019, post-August, tourists could not come, and in 2020, tourism across the country was hit because of the pandemic. This year, tourism here has got a boost and people from across the world are confident about visiting Kashmir which is a reflection of the work done by the government, given they believe that there is peace prevailing within the valley. Locals are also happy about it. Thus, what are your thoughts on the economic support that is needed to overcome the pandemic, and the resulting economic progress as a result of the continuous peace in the valley?
Lt Governor Sinha: I would disagree a bit there, for tourists came to Kashmir even last year. Post-May, when the pandemic restrictions came in, the count decreased, but if I talk of July this year, more than a million tourists came to Jammu and Kashmir. In August, the count was more than 1.1 million people. Each day I receive a phone call from some part of the country, complaining about the lack of room availability.
Tourism is a great contributor to the local economy, and I feel not two but after many years tourists are coming to the valley in such numbers and that is a welcome step.
Swarajya: If we talk about the infrastructure now, please. Tourists will continue to come, and the infrastructure would only increase and the government’s push has also been towards infrastructure. Even the Prime Minister, each time he has mentioned Jammu and Kashmir, has stressed on infrastructure, not only for the locals but also for the tourists. Thus, what are your plans on the infrastructure here, both short and long term.
Lt Governor Sinha: To give you the macro perspective, let me start with some background to this. If you look at the budget of Jammu and Kashmir, and if you compare it with the budget of other states, the picture does become clear. Firstly, the population is around 1.25-1.30 crore. The budget given by the Centre this year for the Union Territory is around Rs 108,000 crore. Before this it was to the tune of Rs 100,000 crore, and before that Rs 90,000 crore, if we look at the last three years.
Even before that, there was no dearth of monetary allotment during the budget made for Jammu and Kashmir by the Centre. There is a difference from other states when it comes to the funding pattern. For other states, it is in the ratio of 60:40, where 60 per cent comes from the Centre, but in the case of Jammu and Kashmir, it is 90:10, that is 90 per cent of the assistance comes from the Centre.
Now, if you compare it to Uttar Pradesh with a population of 23-24 crore, but a budget of around Rs 500,000 crore; Bihar with a population of 13-14 crore has a budget of around Rs 300,000 crore. Take any state and the per capita allocation of budget here is 8-10 times of any other state.
Also, the question of government employment. There are more than 500,000 people currently employed in the government services. This is more than the number in Bihar. Three, when, during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee tenure, the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana began, the aim was to give road connectivity to villages with a population of 1,000 people. For other states in the country, it was 1,000 but for hilly states it was reserved at 500 people, Jammu and Kashmir being one of them.
Soon, saturation was achieved for villages with a population of 1,000 people. Then, the criteria were modified and villages with a population of 500 were to be given road connectivity. Consequently, the criteria for hilly states changed to 250 people under the PMGSY. It pains me to tell you that this scheme is coming to an end in March 2022 and I recently requested for an extension of this scheme.
I reached out to the Minister for Rural Development, requested the Prime Minister and Home Minister to give a special dispensation to Jammu and Kashmir and give us eight months more. There are several reasons for this. In principle, an agreement has been reached, but even then, there are around 975 villages without road connectivity and we are formulating a scheme for that. Through our budget, each year, we are connecting 100-125 villages and discussions for a comprehensive plan with the government of India are underway.
The other critical sector is the power sector. In the last few years, several important reforms have been ushered in the power sector, and there has been commendable progress in the work of rural electrification, getting electricity to each home, or the availability of electricity. Even the states that were termed as backwards, today have villages which have electricity for 20-22 hours each.
People in the valley have never seen snow and electricity together. Last year, in Gulmarg, during a Winter Sports Festival, I spoke to the people as to how snow and electricity have been witnessed for the first time here. Even for Srinagar and Jammu, we weren’t in a position to be able to ensure 22 hours of uninterrupted electricity supply during the winter months. Even after so many years, after power generation capacity is 3,500 megawatt (MW) which is not enough to meet our demands.
In the last six-to-eight months, thanks to the intervention of the Prime Minister, we have had an MoU with the NHPC, and in the upcoming four-to-five years, we shall add another 3,200 MW power generation capacity. Several projects that were inaugurated decades ago have not been completed so far. There is a complete list of them. I am thankful to the Prime Minister and the government of India for their efforts in ensuring that these projects now move towards the completion phase.
While we are increasing the power generation capacity, our transmission and distribution lines suffered from lack of investments. Several projects from the last 10-12 years were incomplete, and we are now working with a short-term, medium-term, and a long-term plan so that there is a quality power supply all times of the day for the people.
Given the scale of industrialisation that is imminent under the schemes announced by the government of India, incentives worth Rs 28,400 crore would be given. However, wherever the incentive has been given, industries went for the incentive and not for manufacturing, and therefore, a lot of deliberation went into the formulation of the policy.
Now, we have linked the incentive to the GST and GST will only be applicable if there is manufacturing, so industries will have to come here which will aid employment prospects. Until now, most employment was only in the government sector and not in the private sector, and the government has now ushered another avenue in employment for the youth under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
I am happy to inform you that as of today, we have investment proposals to the tune of Rs 26,000 crore, and these are proposals that have deposited the fees and a detailed project report (DPR). A policy has been approved to allow for industrial use of private land. Several big industrialists are already scouting for land and while the exact data is unavailable, I have had the opportunity to speak to three-four such industrialists.
I firmly believe that in the next two-three years, investment to the tune of Rs 50,000-60,000 crore would arrive, and it would add close to a million jobs in the private sector. Industry would require electricity, and across the country there is no dearth of electricity, and while our capacity increase would require four-to-five years, we are in a position to import electricity from any other part of the country, and therefore, work is being done on the transmission and distribution lines on war footing.
I would like to further elaborate on infrastructure here, in two-three broad points. The Prime Minister has announced two AIIMS for the Union Territory, two central universities, IIM, IIT, seven new medical colleges, two cancer institutes, a bone institute, five nursing colleges, and therefore, health and education infrastructure has been given a boost by the government of India.
Now, let me come to the road infrastructure. There has been a significant increase in the network of national highways here. Recently, the Z-Morh tunnel and the Banihal Qazigund Road Tunnel have been opened for commuters. From now, Sonmarg would be accessible during the winters as well. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari is coming down here tomorrow (12 October) and four national highways from Srinagar are being built.
There is a lot of work being undertaken in the Jammu region as well. The work for the Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway is going on. Earlier, the situation of infrastructure in the region was not that good but due to the efforts of the Prime Minister and the government of India, the kilometres under the national highway have increased and many projects have been completed or will be completed in the coming years.
Railway infrastructure has also received a major boost. The work on Chenab Rail Bridge, the highest rail bridge in the world, is 95 per cent done. I hope by the end of the next year, or by 2023, Kashmir would be connected as far as Kanyakumari by a railway link. Flights have also increased in the recent months and there are talks of starting international flights from Srinagar. In Jammu, a new terminal is being built. Because of the short runway in Jammu, flights had to operate on a 60-70 per cent passenger capacity as compared to a normal flight which led to an increase in fares. We have terminated the clause of load penalty airlines had to pay and now they can operate at full capacity. International flights and air-cargo will also be started soon as well. Overall, this would better the air connectivity of the region.
Thus, power, roads, health, air and rail connectivity, due to the intervention of the Centre and due to the transparency that has been ushered in the workings of the local administration, rapid progress has been made on the infrastructure front.
BEAMS and GFR have been implemented completely and work progress on small projects, despite Covid-19, has been doubled. District CAPEX has also received a boost and work is being done with the cooperation of local leaders. There has been a 2.5 times increase in the district budget as compared to last year, of around Rs 12,600 crore, and amongst the projects undertaken, 75-80 per cent projects would be completed this year itself. A system has been put in place that no project work can be carried out without administrative approval and a transparent tender process. No bill would be accepted without geo-tagging, and for every work done, a physical verification would be carried out.
Thus, due to a new system in place, all projects, be it small or large, rural or urban, progress has been made possible. Under the Prime Minister Development Plan, there were 54 projects, and the work on them slowed down due to the pandemic. However, work on many of them is complete, and a majority of them would be completed by the end of this year. Jammu and Srinagar would be developed into smart cities, and a proposal along with a detailed project report for the metro network, 25 kilometres in Srinagar, and 23 kilometres in Jammu, has been submitted to the Centre. I am anticipating an approval in the next 2-3 months.
Swarajya: I have two-three follow-up questions. One, you talk about investments of around Rs 50,000-60,000 crore in the next two-three years. Which industries do you think the investments would be largely focussed on. Tourism is one, agro-processing has great potential too, given the apples of Kashmir are famous world over. There is untapped potential in logistics and e-commerce, given there are 1.25 crore people in the Union Territory. So, are these sectors on the investment radar too, and which other sectors?
Lt Governor Sinha: Broadly, proposals we have received are for manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, food-processing, cold-chain storage, dry-port, and even healthcare, so we are indeed receiving proposals for different sectors. I am optimistic that we shall also get domestic investments and foreign investments.
Swarajya: The other follow-up question I have is about the local parties. Given the scale of infrastructure work your administration is undertaking, and there are land acquisition problems, labour union problems, and then there are these local parties who haven’t taken any interest in the local infrastructure for decades, are you witnessing any resistance from them?
Lt Governor Sinha: I believe the people here want peace, prosperity, and progress. When people desire change and development, any kind of resistance is futile.
Swarajya: Allow me to turn to some political questions now. The first question after the revocation of Article 370 was that would Kashmiri Pandits be able to come back. There are many Kashmiri Pandits residing in Jammu today, but what about Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir where they once had houses? Is there a short-term, medium-term, long-term plan to rehabilitate them?
Lt Governor Sinha: Not since the revocation of Article 370, but from a very long time, and I would like to use Kashmiri migrants, and not Kashmiri Pandits because there are members of other communities too, more than 44,000 families are registered in the office of the relief commissioner of which 1,200 are Sikh families, 1,800-odd are Muslim families, and the rest are Kashmiri Pandits.
The government of India, long ago, had allotted a package of 6,000 houses and 6,000 jobs for the displaced Kashmiri Pandits. When I took over, around 3,000 jobs had already been given and around 700 homes had already been allotted. I reviewed the allocation of jobs, and I realised that for several reasons, their appointment was being blocked, and therefore, I made some changes to the system.
I am happy to inform you that, today, the vacancies for the remaining 3,000 positions, barring 132, we have conducted written examinations, and there is no interview for Class-3 and Class-4 posts, and the verification process is underway. They are expected to join by October end later this year.
About houses, work on more than 2,500 houses has begun. Work on 1,500 houses is progressing at a rapid pace. For the remaining houses, we have identified the land, a detailed project report is almost finalised, but this was something that has been long-pending and we are merely ushering towards completion.
Now, in recent weeks, on 13 August 2021, a decision has been taken at the administrative council. In 1997, a law was passed in the state for the Kashmiri migrants. The law was related to the properties of Kashmiri migrants that were impacted by distressed sales, or unauthorised occupation, but for some reasons, the law could not be implemented.
We have come up with a website, launched it, and Kashmiri migrants, anywhere in the world, can apply through that website listing their property that has been impacted by a distress sale or illegal occupation. In that case, it would be the responsibility of the DCs to physically verify the property in question and submit a report within 15 days. I estimate that we have received 3,200 applications and I further estimate that 50-60 per cent of these applicants will have immediate solutions.
In most other cases, the law will also take its course, but I would try to ensure that the Kashmiri migrants wronged by the events of the 1990s are able to rightfully reclaim their properties.
Swarajya: There is no doubt about the intent of your administration or the government at the Centre, but there is the challenge of time, given the exodus that happened in the 1990s, it would be a challenge for the DCs too, given the properties in question would have seen several occupants in the last 30 years. Thus, isn't your work even more challenging factoring the time that has passed since?
Lt Governor Sinha: Yes, that is definitely a challenge, but the law is quite clear on these aspects. For instance, if there is a patch of land in a certain district, and there is a designated circle rate per kanal. For instance, if the circle rate is Rs 10 lakh/kanal and I bought it for Rs 3 lakh/kanal, it does amount to a distress sale. The permission to sell that piece of land, who is responsible for the permission to be given, and has the permission been given at all, and it is not like that we cannot work within the framework of the law to solve this problem. Yes, it is a challenge, it is a problem but I firmly believe that this task can be accomplished with success.
Swarajya: One more follow-up question. The end of Article 370 also meant the rightful end of Article 35A, one that was discriminatory in nature. There were many refugees from west Pakistan, there are Valmikis too, though a majority of them are in Jammu, there are Gujjars and Bakarwals. They were not covered by most fundamental rights, say like access to government jobs. If the daughters of the state married outside the state, they could not inherit ancestral property, and so on. Have there been any outreach programmes by the government for these communities? For instance, Gujjars and Bakarwals could really do well with schemes like Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana Gramin.
Lt Governor Sinha: All these unjust discriminatory laws were against the interests of the Valmikis, Gurkhas, against farmers, women, and against the refugees of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. All these laws have been changed or removed and we have implemented more than 850 central laws here. Around 205 state laws have been repealed. Around 130 state laws have been modified. Reservation has also been introduced and a commission under the leadership of retired justice G D Sharma is looking to identify other castes eligible for reservation and their report is due soon.
About Gujjars, Bakarwals, and other tribal groups, I believe that for the longest period of time, the state setup was unjust to them. In 2006, the Forest Right Act was passed and became a law in 2008, and therefore, for their economic sustenance, for their livelihood, the law was present for the forest land to be made available to them. However, due to Article 370, the same law was not applicable to Jammu and Kashmir.
On 1 December 2020, we implemented the same law here and I am happy to inform you that over 21,000 applications have been received for the same. In Srinagar, we distributed the certificates for individual and community land rights to around 600 people. The same exercise was also carried out in Jammu and work is being carried out at a rapid pace here. People who were alienated by the system will be given justice.
Similarly, we have changed laws that were discriminatory towards women. We are also trying to help out the refugees. Thus, the discriminatory laws of the state are no longer applicable and the inclusive laws of the Indian Constitution are applicable here. I would also like to add that the land laws here that were hindering the progress of the region, have also been modified. For instance, anyone can pursue high density plantation irrespective of the land holding size. Earlier, to plant an orchard, the permission of the revenue minister was necessary. We have removed that barrier. These historic laws have been done away with.
Swarajya: What about the houses for Gujjars and Bakarwals, and other central government schemes whose benefits could not reach the people here?
Lt Governor Sinha: They did not have the land for the houses, and now we are giving them the land, and they will now get the benefit of several government schemes. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs runs several programmes. We are building a tribal bhawan, schools and scholarships for the children of the tribal groups are underway, for their employment, a programme by the name of ‘Mission Youth’ has been introduced.
Swarajya: The Prime Minister will be inaugurating the National Digital Health Mission tomorrow, and you also spoke at length about the healthcare infrastructure and economy. I wanted to know if there is an outreach programme for the people here? Do people also know about these rights, something they were denied since 1947?
Lt Governor Sinha: Yes, we are trying our best to ensure the message of this new administration reaches the people. I told you about the certificates we gave to the tribal groups. There are programmes in every district where tribal groups are present, both in Kashmir and Jammu.
Swarajya: This also includes the Kashmiri Muslims who would not be aware, perhaps, what rights and schemes they are eligible for?
Lt Governor Sinha: These outreach programmes are without any religious bias. I am happy to inform you that the penetration of the central government schemes, when I took over in August last year, was not satisfactory. We thus launched a special drive to help people with various schemes, say ration cards or Awas Yojana. Our idea was to ensure that the officials in each district, DCs and SPs, would engage with the public for an hour, barring Wednesday and Sunday, and would listen to their grievances.
On Wednesday, a special programme at the block level, in three or four places of a district, is held, and with all the officials present. Whatever grievances the people may have, they can seek all the help there and many issues are also solved. During the second wave of the pandemic, we had halted such programmes, but now we are starting it again. Every month, there would be a programme where I (Lt Governor) would randomly select grievances from the districts and ask the officials there about the progress. The process has been digital, due the pandemic, but there is a growing sentiment amongst the people that the administration is concerned about their issues and grievances.
Swarajya: One question the entire country has been asking, and has been looking for an answer to, especially since you took over, and it has been pending for years now is that of delimitation. Jammu, for a very long time now, has been demanding an increased representation with the state assembly, and it was opposed by the local parties in Kashmir for obvious reasons. What are your thoughts on delimitation? Can we expect it anytime soon? Please share your thoughts on the question on statehood?
Lt Governor Sinha: I would like to add two things here. The Delimitation Commission is a body created by the Election Commission of India which in itself is a Constitutional Body. The laws relating to the Delimitation Commission have been formulated by Parliament of India. Thus, it would be improper for me to elaborate on this issue.
However, I would like to add that the chairman of the Delimitation Commission, Justice Ranjana Desai, and the Chief Election Commissioner were here for four days, two days in Kashmir region and two days in the Jammu region, and they interacted with over 275 delegations. The work of delimitation is underway.
The reports that were requested by the commission have been made available by the administration. Issues have been raised by the people of Jammu and the local parties here in Kashmir as well. We trust the Delimitation Commission to do justice to all the stakeholders in this process. The Prime Minister has also spoken to the nation in his 15 August speech stating that the work of delimitation is underway, and once it is completed, elections for the state assembly will be held.
Even the Home Minister has stated in Parliament that assembly elections would be held post the delimitation process. Some people put forward this question that if elections could be held in Assam without the delimitation process, so why not in Jammu and Kashmir. I recommend these people should read the State Reorganisation Act. There has been an increase in seven seats in the assembly, and it is clearly mentioned in the State Reorganisation Act that elections would be held only after delimitation. There are several questions that need answering first. Who would decide the boundary of the new seven seats?
Thus, I believe that the people of the Union Territory and the entire country should trust the word of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister, and the process of delimitation will be concluded soon.
Swarajya: Another perspective that is floated, as an idea, as a theory, and no demand is being made for it, is that Ladakh has been separated from Jammu and Kashmir, so can the government also consider bifurcating Jammu and Kashmir altogether? For Kashmir to remain a Union Territory for a longer period of time is necessary, given the security situation, and Jammu can be a state where the development agenda can be more localised and suited to the needs of the local population. What are your thoughts on this? Is this an idea worth a discussion, at least?
Lt Governor Sinha: I would like to talk about Ladakh first. For a long period of time, the people of Ladakh wanted to be a separate region from Jammu and Kashmir. Way before the revocation of Article 370, there was a council in place to deliberate on it. Parliament of the country took a call on that.
Think-tanks can deliberate on any issues, and they can have their perspectives. However, there is a lot of rumour mongering that is prevalent here. I can say this with responsibility that as of today, the government of India has no such idea or intention to further bifurcate the Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir. However, for the progress of Jammu and to ensure there is no more alienation of any form, that is something both my administration and the government of India are looking to ensure.
Swarajya: I started my interview by stating that the events of Jammu and Kashmir have geopolitical implications, and as the geopolitical situation in the neighbourhood evolves, the ground reality here also evolves. When you took over, a long period of peace and prosperity had been ushered. However, merely a few weeks back, there was a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. Even the Prime Minister, speaking at the UNGA, spoke about not letting Afghanistan turn into a terrorist haven. Taliban has also spoken on Kashmir, Pakistan has its ideas. Is the local administration ready for this potential threat, and what would be the countermeasures in place? Alongside, there was the demise of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and while many anticipated large-scale violence, nothing happened. Thus, there are a lot of people ready to spark the underlying fire in the region, including the local parties. Mehbooba Mufti too, recently, compared the situation in Afghanistan to that in Kashmir, threatening the Indian state. Thus, what are your countermeasures for such anti-social elements?
Lt Governor Sinha: I would like to add two things here. Both the local administration and the government of India are well-acquainted with these threats. The necessary preparations are being made on war footing and I would like to assure the people of Jammu and Kashmir that we are in a position to tackle any threat. I must add that the coordination between the army, paramilitary forces, and the Jammu Kashmir police is excellent. While I cannot discuss the operational details, I can tell you that high-level meetings have been held, discussions have been concluded, and strategies have been put in place.
I would also like to add that the people here, especially women, are not in favour of the ideology that Taliban advocates. They are completely against it. The determination shown by the Prime Minister at the UNGA talking about Afghanistan, I believe that is the right step.
Our neighbour, for the longest period of time, has been attempting to create instability in the valley, but they have not succeeded before, and they shall not succeed in the future as well. I would like to assure the people that our forces are well-equipped to tackle any challenge that may arise in the future.
Swarajya: What are your thoughts on the Durbar Move?
Lt Governor Sinha: The Durbar Move that was present here earlier, it has not been completely done away with. I would like to stress this. Some people are indulging in rumour mongering but I would like to reiterate that the Durbar Move has not been eliminated. Yes, the 200 trucks worth files that would move from Jammu to Srinagar and then Srinagar to Jammu, that has been done away with, and the entire office has been moved online.
Even during the pandemic, both the administrative centres were functioning, and even this year, at the peak of the second wave, the move happened. Thus, given the movement of all the employees to Srinagar, there was a probability of the virus spreading. I would like to add again that employees would keep moving between both the administrative centres but with an e-office in place, transparency has been ushered in, and there has been an increase in the pace of work. Earlier, files used to be lost, but that is no longer the case. The Chief Secretary, using the dashboard, can track the progress of a file. Other principal secretaries can do the same.
Technology is a huge enabler in curbing corruption and where there is the absence of any online structure, corruption is rampant. Therefore, we would like to move as many processes online as possible.
Swarajya: You spoke of government employees and corruption, and quite recently, there was this news of six people being suspended because they were involved in anti-national activities. Have there been more such suspensions? Also, why are we witnessing such actions now, not before?
Lt Governor Sinha: I started by saying that the principles have changed, that there has been a paradigm shift, and the policy of this government is to establish peace and not buy peace. In Article 311 of the Constitution, there is a clause that relates to people who are indulging in anti-national activities, supporting or participating in terrorist activities, or in the funding of such activities, and if there is sufficient evidence available against them, we can go ahead and initiate legal proceedings.
When the Constitution was formulated, Dr B R Ambedkar and Sardar Patel agreed to it, and I believe it was inculcated in our Constitution for a reason. We are merely using that clause, and we are using it against people who are a threat to the nation, who are participating in terrorist activities, who have been shielding terrorists, involved in terror funding. There is a committee under the leadership of the chief secretary that has other officials too looking into each case. Such employees do not deserve to be employed by the government of India.
The presence of such employees also lowers the morale of other honest employees, and until today, 27 such employees have been permanently suspended. In the future too, such suspensions would be carried out without any interference.
Swarajya: Youth integration is very important. Children today who are under the age of 14, what they see today is what they will advocate tomorrow, and build upon tomorrow. Even the Prime Minister is very passionate about the youth potential. What these children may hear from their parents and grandparents and the picture of Kashmir being put forward to them through the government outreach programmes is very different, and rightfully so. So, what are your thoughts on this?
Lt Governor Sinha: We have a multi-pronged approach. One, to inculcate scientific temper amongst students through education. We have also made changes to the curriculum of the students. I won’t get into the details of it, but it is more on the lines of what is being taught across the country. Two, to get students acquainted with new technologies. In Baramulla and Jammu, two new technology centres have been established in partnership with Tata Technologies, and the equipment in these centres is at par with some IITs. We want the youth to come forward and therefore, in partnership with the industry, we are making 14 more such centres.
Mission Youth is a separate programme with several schemes. In collaboration with the Bombay Stock Exchange, we are starting a 360-degree financial course where students are trained in several sectors, say insurance, investment, banking, etc. Many such sectors are being included. There is immense focus on skill development too.
Under the ‘Back to Village’ programme, last year, more than 20,000 youngsters were given financial assistance in their pursuit of entrepreneurship. This year, our target is 50,000, and even if 100,000 youngsters arrive for the assistance, there is no dearth of money. We want more participation from the private sector as that would result in better employment prospects for these youngsters.
There is focus on cultural diversity too. Sports infrastructure is being given special attention and wherever there is space available in districts and panchayats, sports infrastructure is being built in every district. An international cricket stadium, named after Shri Arun Jaitley, is also coming up. Both Jammu and Srinagar stadiums are now international. If I am to speak about the budget, the sports and education budget, combined, precedes Maharashtra by only Rs 75 Crore, and the population of the state is almost 10 times.
Thus, sports, education, self-employment, skill development, engagement of youth, engagement of women entrepreneurs through self-help groups (SHGs) is on the agenda. This year alone, 11,000 SHGs are being formulated that would encompass more than 400,000 women. Eight students from Jammu and Kashmir this year have cracked the UPSC, and two girls have made it to the Indian Air Force. This is the new Jammu and Kashmir. These are going to be the role models for the future.
Swarajya: There was a lot of hesitancy earlier when it came to the celebrations of 15 August, but all of it has changed this year, given the number of events and local participation. What are your thoughts on this?
Lt Governor Sinha: When I came here, I realised, after being visited by a lot of locals, that they were either not told about the 15 August celebrations, or asked to stay away from such celebrations. Instead, 14 August was celebrated more than 14 August. This year, we decided that each school, each panchayat, would celebrate the Independence Day, and I am happy to inform you that there was a dearth of the tricolour and we had to import them from outside the state. There was an atmosphere of great joy and celebration and tricolour can be seen everywhere. Even the locals want more integration with the rest of the country, and it is their intent that has resulted in the successful conclusion of the Independence Day Celebrations.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.