Is bureaucracy averse to restoration of democratic Govt in J&K?

Harsh Dev Singh
It is now more than 4 ½ years that J&K is without an elected govt. The centre is ruling the erstwhile state since June 18 when the Legislative Assembly was suspended and subsequently dissolved. Shortly thereafter the state was dismantled thereby creating two Union Territories as independent units of governance. The most weird experimentation with J&K indeed. The Governor was replaced by Lt. Governor and retired bureaucrats appointed as his Advisors with powers of Ministers to aid and advise him in the conduct of affairs of the govt. Several serving bureaucrats were also conferred with ministerial powers under the Govt Business Rules on the pretext of streamlining the functioning of various govt deptts.
55 months down the line, it is time to ruminate on our predicament. How does the common man feel about the continued proxy rule in J&K? The first and foremost problem faced by the general masses is that of accessibility. Whom to approach? In the absence of popular govt, the poor and un-influential have hardly any access to the corridors of power. The bureaucrats do not have any connect with the masses. They are not answerable to the people unlike the political leadership. They are not accountable to the public the way the popular govt is. A typical example of authority sans accountability. It is being believed that bureaucracy also does not want to part with unbridled powers being enjoyed by it and is hence creating hindrances in the restoration of a democratic Govt in J&K. The people therefore continue to suffer for want of access and lack of accountability on the part of Bureaucrats ruling the roost.
The last over four years have witnessed unprecedented protests and demonstrations by varied sections of society in support of their demands. People have often been taking to roads for provision of even the basic amenities and restoration of essential services with an utter lack of response from concerned quarters. There have been widespread public demonstrations for ensuring regular water supply, un-interrupted power, adequate health care facilities and proper road connectivity especially in rural and remote areas with the Babus concerned paying a deaf ear to the shrill cries of the public. And while the GoI is making tall claims of having ensured 100% electrification of rural areas, there are dozens and dozens of villages where in power connections have not been provided till date. Surprisingly, there are several households in various villages which are served power tariff bills without having been provided electric connections. And still no one to listen despite repeated complaints by affected people.
The Advisors and Secretaries had through conducted “Janta durbars” during the first year of the imposition of Central Rule in J&K. But they also failed to inspire the public in view of their lack of productivity. The Advisors marked the public representations to their junior officers who hardly responded to the concerns highlighted therein thereby making a mockery of the whole process. The cosmetic “public hearing” campaigns, the sojourns of central Ministers and “Back to villages” programmes of the ‘Babus’ too had failed to satisfy the general masses who missed the much needed delivery on the ground. Complaints of the public are being hardly entertained. Grievances portal has become almost defunct. Public Services Guarantee Act (PSGA) exists only in the papers with the officers discarding the public representations in the most contemptuous manner. RTI law is also being treated casually. Seven Commissions were dissolved with no action taken to revive them. Democratic process is being delayed and denied on one pretext or the other. The sentinels of democracy have been belittled and humiliated. Only last year we witnessed the Legislative Assembly having been used as a film studio for shooting TV serials and the legislative council converted into a crèche, a play way school for children of secretariat employees.
The emphasis during the past four years seems to be on sloganeering rather than delivery. There is a complete mismatch between promise and performance. The delivery in fact has been in inverse proportion to the articulation of promise itself. The loudly trumpeted slogans of development, employment, peace and progress appear to have fallen flat. There has been escalation in terrorist related activities. The recent drone attacks in Jammu besides grenade attacks in Rajouri sector amply demonstrate as to how militancy is spreading its tentacles in the hitherto peaceful Jammu region. The announcement made in August, 2019 of providing 50,000 Jobs fast track basis and another made in February, 2020 of providing 84,000 Jobs during the Budget session of Parliament in New Delhi have only proved a hoax triggering huge resentment amongst the educated unemployed youth. The advertised posts are being put to action with huge rates fixed for almost every govt Job.
While the govt is indulging in narcissistic self flagellation and self praise, the fact remains that J&K continues to suffer, to bleed. The Jammu region in particular has suffered most heavily. Its most significant projects including Artificial Tawi Lake, Jumbo Zoo, Mubarak Mandi Heritage project and development of Tawi on Sabarmati pattern have either been abandoned or stalled. If Jammu got anything, it is renaming and a new nomenclature for its chowks and crossings besides wine shops in abundance and Toll plazas at multiple locations.
Development has came to a grinding halt with corruption having spread its tentacles like the bubonic plague. Those who question the policies of the govt are treated with derision and contempt. Right to hold peaceful protests which is a hallmark of Indian democracy is often denied. People are suffering for want of civic amenities. Several State bodies including SAC, SIC, SCDRC, SCPWCR, have been disbanded without providing suitable alternative forums thus adversely affecting the poor litigants who had pinned hopes in such commissions. Several daily rated workers have been terminated. Several casual and need based workers are apprehensive about their future. The college and 10+2 lecturers engaged on academic arrangement/ contractual basis feel downgraded in view of their conversion to daily rated workers. The activities of opposition leaders, despite their nationalist credentials, are kept under surveillance. And there seem to be two sets of laws in the State. One for BJP and other for opposition parties. While the opposition parties have been divested of their security and official accommodation during the last three years, BJP leaders and workers continue to enjoy the luxury of a fleet of security vehicles with huge deployment of police personnel with them besides their continuance in Ministerial Bungalows and other govt accommodation. And while the poor, indigent masses and small farmers are being dispossessed of their marginal land holdings in the name of encroachments, the rich and influential are being protected and patronized.
A flourishing transfer industry seems to be the most notable feature of the present bureaucratic rule. Hardly a day passes without lists of wholesale transfers of officers and other employees not having been effected. Motivated and whimsical transfer have taken a heavy toll of governance in the new UT. The mechanism of transfers in J&K has invariably become plagued with the menace of favouritism, nepotism, monetary and other extraneous considerations with hardly any regard for individuals suitability and efficiency for the prescribed Job. What mattered most in the transfers was the bureaucratic clout and proximity to corridors of power thereby jeopardizing the very concept of transparency and accountability. Non compliance with prescribed norms and arbitrariness had led to highly capricious and politicized transfers providing ample scope for corrupt practices. A teacher of Kathua District was taken by a bureaucrat to Srinagar to serve as his domestic aid and used as a cook with none to take cognizance of the highly disparaging act of the said officer despite several complaints.
Thousands of youth engaged on contractual, consolidated basis have been dis-engaged during the present regime. The terminated employees belonged to Health, Education, PHE, PWD, I&FC, Power besides other Deptts. Hundreds of employees engaged under proper procedure under SRO-24 in Health Deptt have been terminated in the most clandestine manner. The RMSA subject specific teachers appointed after following proper selection procedure were arbitrarily terminated. The contractual teachers/lecturers in schools and colleges were being engaged and dis-engaged as per the whims and fancies of helmsmen. The Rehbar-e-Khel, NYC, NYV, NHM, MGNREGA, Asha and Anganwari workers were made to work on nominal honorarium with none to listen to their repeated cries for enhancement of emoluments and regularization.
In nutshell, the centre’s proxy rule through obsequious bureaucrats and defanged experts requisitioned from other states has only antagonized the common masses and made confusion worse confounded. Should it not end immediately to pave the way a responsive and people friendly govt? Your comments please.
(The author is Chairman Aam Aadmi Party J&K State Co-ordination Committee)