Functioning of District Development Councils

Mahesh Chander Sudan
We, the people of Jammu and Kashmir, have been passing through an experimenting phase as regards functioning of Development Councils especially during administrative governance of resources through LG and his limited team of advisors. The concept has been recently introduced largely to create fertile environment to convince people about implementation of J&K Reorganization Act 2020 and to minimize likely criticism from international community towards largest functional democracy of India. History witnesses the fact that the state of J&K gained strategic value for India and Pakistan during partition and it continues to remain an issue between two neighboring adversaries with fragmented territorial occupancy by Pakistan and China both. Despite numerous sincere efforts by Union Government for almost seven decades, the Kashmir issue remained a boiling pot that resulted in worst religion based homicide and migration of half a million natives of the valley to other parts of India. Administrative set up of the Union Territory has undergone changes and is in the process of settling down with modified three tier arrangement that may initially affect the productivity of the PRIs.
While presiding over a recently held meeting with Chairmen DDCs and associated administrative staff, Manoj Sinha, LG JKUT conveyed his concern for underutilization of funds on Capital expenditure head (15-20% of allotment) and expected bureaucracy to involve for optimum utilization of resources in creating desired development infrastructure and asked them to adhere to timelines for ongoing projects. The issue of formation of five Standing Committees as mandated by the PRI Act 2020 also attracted his concern and a timeline of one month got fixed for completing the formation of all committees by concerned officials. It clearly indicates the paralytic administrative approach in instituting District Development Councils and lack of serious involvement by responsible leaders to ensure two way feedback systems for almost one year leaving poor people of JKUT to struggle for their existence. As the concept of District Development Councils replaces District Planning and Development Boards, it calls for intricate professionalism to prevail for achieving desired result in five core sectors of public services. It is also strange to accept that an untested formula of governance through PRI institutions has been applied to newly formed Union Territory though it was meant to usher democracy at grass root but without any precedence to emulate. Administrative mechanism installed to run the unique form of governance under temporary constitutional arrangement of LG and his handful advisors not only proved inefficient but caused irreparable loss towards state welfare. It may not be out of place to mention that people of JK have suffered enough political experimentation during past couple of years, first time in the history of Indian democracy, a full-fledged state has been reduced to UT status contrary to the tradition of promoting UT to state status, only state to have been stripped of special status granted constitutionally unlike few other states who continue to enjoy privileged status under Article 371 and this amount to discrimination in handling the erstwhile state of J&K.
While moving bills in Parliament, the Home Minister out rightly advocated for abrogation of Article 370, 35A and reorganization of the erstwhile state into two Union Territories and assured house that it would not only settle long outstanding security issue but usher Jammu and Kashmir into new era of development. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are yet to feel the comfort of development as the ground reality does not support it. The constitutional amendment to Panchyati Raj Act for paving way to form DDCs through an electoral process took more than a year and the progress made thereafter through this module speaks for itself. The mandatory formation of standing Committees, planning and Financial commission to help activation of PRIs is yet to see the light of the day. No doubt this module has uniquely been applied to newly formed UT like hit and trial method of treating COVID-19 continued till the time vaccine and other related medicines are developed by scientists and medical professionals. It is felt at this juncture that Union dispensation has treated the issue of J&K in adhoc manner without any plan and time tested method.
We are running out of time and it is in the right earnest to reset the path and workout a diligently drawn comprehensive plan to handle law and order, concerns of displaced people, sustainable economic growth, counter unemployment issue and progressively reestablish democratically elected popular system of governance to regain trust of people in the system. Lack of well laid political network for almost four years has scared people away from the inclusive governance of public resources. This political void created fertile ground for unilateral dispensation of governance discouraging inclusivity in the process and heralding unchecked bureaucratic culture in Government sector.
It is expected that system would be helped to function for itself and a holistic approach would be made to ensure functioning of development councils in the right spirit of 73rd amendment of the constitution of India so that three tiers of the Panchayat Raj Act would function in a coordinated manner for real-time on ground development as envisaged and expected. However, restoration of statehood and other democratic processes for installing parliamentary democracy in the JKUT as mandated by constitution of India deserves due priority. Jai Hind, Jai Bharat.
The author is Wg Cdr (Retd)