J&K in dilemma: Centre says ‘no’ to Rs 900 cr worth ULB grants

Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, Feb 11: Persi-stent efforts by the State Government notwithstanding, the Centre Government has rejected Jammu and Kashmir demand for release of around Rs 900 crores worth funds for Urban Local Bodies for undertaking series of developmental works on the ground that the grants can’t be released in the absence of elected bodies. The grants now running into crores were set to lapse as seven years have gone by without the elected Municipalities.
The decision, though inevitable, has come as a rude shock to the State Government, which was expecting some kind of relief from the Centre in release of blocked ULB grants to help carry out certain specified works. However, the Centre now wants the State Govern-ment to hold the ULB elections for securing future grants, which were due to them under 14th Finance Commission Award and other heads.
Official sources told the Excelsior that about Rs 900 crores worth grants for elected Municipalities since 2010-11, which were due to Jammu and Kashmir either under 13th Finance Commission Award and other categories, were set to be lost with the Government of India declining to release full, or even part payments, citing no election to the Municipalities for past seven years in the State.
The State Government had repeatedly taken up the issue with the Centre seeking release of grants as “exceptional case” on the ground that Jammu and Kashmir was going through very “extraordinary circumstances” in view of cross-border terrorism and internal unrest etc. It had asked for release of some of the grants as it couldn’t hold the Municipal elections in view of militancy and law and order problem.
“However, the State Government’s request didn’t have much impact with the Centre on the ground that there has been very specific provision that the grants would be released only to the elected Municipalities and the conditions can’t be relaxed under any circumstances,” sources said, adding that this has delivered major setback to the Jammu and Kashmir’s efforts to secure the held-up grants.
Jammu and Kashmir has lost Rs 400 crores worth grants, meant for elected Municipalities, under13th Finance Commission Award, which had ended on March 31, 2015 and other grants given to the ULBs around Rs 500 crores including 14th Finance Commission Award for first two financial years (2015-16 and 2016-17) during the past seven years as the elected Municipalities had ceased to exist in March 2010. The 13th Finance Commission Award had started from April 1, 2010.
Under 14th Finance Commission Award, Jammu and Kashmir was scheduled to get around Rs 300 crores worth funds for elected ULBs during 2015-16 and Rs 251 crores in 2016-17.
While the 14th Finance Commission grants can be re-validated by the Government of India if the Municipal elections are held, rest of the grants have almost been lost with no hope of their re-validation following Centre’s categorical `no’ to the State Government, which had projected such a demand giving some reasons for not holding the Municipal elections in the State for the past seven years. However, the “vague reasons” for denying the people elected ULBs didn’t find any justification with the Centre for releasing or re-validating the previous grants for the Municipalities.
The State Government had also asked for release of pending grants against certain “specified works”, sources said but added that the Centre Government was in no mood to oblige the State citing delay in holding the ULB polls.
The Municipal elections were last held in the State in January 2005 during the tenure of late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed when he headed the PDP-BJP Government. The elected Municipalities had completed their five-year term in March 2010.
With seven years now gone, the successive State Governments including then National Conference-Congress regime headed by then chief Minister Omar Abdullah and present PDP-BJP coalition Government earlier headed by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and now Mehbooba Mufti didn’t hold the elections to the Municipalities.
However, it was Governor NN Vohra, who had decided to hold Municipal elections in April, 2016 when Jammu and Kashmir was under spell of Governor’s Rule from January 7, 2016 to April 3, 2016. Almost all preparations had been made for holding ULB polls un April last but by then PDP-BJP revived their coalition Government and since then there has been no official word as to when the ULB elections will be held.