Reservation to Paharis, poor get Assembly nod as House passes 6 Bills

Bill for prevention of damage to public property referred to SC

Nishikant Khajuria
JAMMU, Feb 10: The State Legislative Assembly today passed six significant Bills, envisaging reservation to Pahari Speaking People,  poor amongst general category, amendment to J&K Panchayati Raj Act- 1989 and   extending term of  the Chairperson as well as Members of  J&K  Backward Classes Commission even as the crucial Bill to amend “Jammu and Kashmir Public Property (Prevention of Damages) Act 1985” was referred to the House Select Committee following vociferous resistance of the same by Opposition Members.
The Assembly also passed the Bill for constitution of State Road Safety Council and Road Safety Fund besides giving its nod to amend the Jammu and Kashmir Transfer of Property Act, Samvat 1977.
The Bill to amend “Jammu and Kashmir Public Property (Prevention of Damages) Act 1985” (LA Bill No: 9 of 2018), introduced in the Assembly on February 6, was today sent to the House Select Committee after the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs A R Veeri said that the Government was not averse to the same keeping in view the apprehensions of opposition Members.
Earlier, the Opposition MLA, including Ali Mohammad Sagar, Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, Nawang Rigzin Jora, Mian Altaf, Hakeem Mohammad Yasin, Mohammad Yousuf Bhat, Altaf Ahmad Wani and others opposed the Bill and demanded its referral to the Select Committee for further discussion.
They apprehended misuse of this law by the Government against its  political opponents and stressed that the Bill be either withdrawn or at least sent to the Select Committee.
However, BJP Member  R S Pathania and Independent MLA Pawan Gupta strongly supported the Bill. Pathania pointed out that right to protest is no more a Fundamental Right but only dissent. Pawan Gupta said that  the  Bill was not aimed to curb right of protest but only to avoid damage to the public property. “If there are apprehensions of its being misused, necessary amendments  can be made after passage of the Bill,” he stressed.
Pertinent to mention that this Bill envisages imprisonment and fine equivalent to market value of the damaged property and it was being viewed as a move to tighten noose around separatists, their organizations and stone pelters  instigating violence that led to damage to private and public properties.
The  Bill proposed that whosoever commits mischief in respect of any private and public property due to direct actions, whether declared or not, shall be punished with imprisonment, that shall not be less than two years but may extend up to five years with fine equivalent to the market value of damaged or destroyed property. The default in payment will lead to additional sentence of six months.
The bill also proposed that whosoever calls for direct action, whether he participated in such action directly or indirectly, which results in damage to private or public property, shall be deemed to be guilty of offence under the Act.
The Legislative Assembly, however, passed the historic Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill 2018, which envisages six percent reservation to weaker and under privileged classes of the unreserved category by restricting reservation of RBA to 15 percent instead of existing 20 percent.
It was observed that out of total population of 125 lakhs for J&K as per the census 2011, approximately 64 percent  of the population  is covered under the benefit of reservation under various categories, including SC (8 percent), ST (10 percent), Social Caste (2 percent and RBA (20 percent, etc.
Already 46 percent has been fixed to various categories and the remaining four percent is available as of now.  The Bill envisages that the percentage of  RBA reservation shall be restricted to 15 percent instead of existing 20 percent and  the percentage  so saved shall be utilized for economically poor class.
The Bill was passed in the House with a voice-vote.
The Legislative Assembly also  passed  a landmark Bill to extend reservation benefits to the Pahari Speaking People in the State. The issue was hanging fire for the past several decades.
The Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill 2014,  aimed at amending Jammu and Kashmir Reservation Act-2004 was introduced in the House by the Minister for Social Welfare, Sajad Gani Lone. It envisages three percent reservation to Pahari Speaking People in Jammu and Kashmir State
The Minister.  while explaining the objectives and reasons for introducing the Bill said the Pahari Speaking people are mainly concentrated in remote areas of the State and are a subject of considerable economic distress, which is being witnessed from their backwardness in reference to socio-economic indices.
He said they are backward socially, economically and educationally and mostly they are not able to compete with higher sections of the society who are better placed in terms of socio-economic position as also in terms of access to services like education and health care.
Sajad Lone said with the scheduling of Gujjars and Bakerwals as Tribes, the Pahari Speaking people are not able to derive any benefit even of the lower rung in respect of getting employment and other amenities, which testified that Pahari Speaking people are suffering from socio-economic backwardness and inadequacy of representation as a class.
The Minister said that the proposed Bill, therefore, aims at bringing the community within the ambit of positive discrimination as governed by the Constitutional principal of affirmative action and as applied to other marginalized communities of the country.
Several legislators,  included Ravinder Raina, Jewan Lal, G M Saroori, Usman Abdul Majid, Mubarak Gul, Vikar Rasool Wani, R S Pathania, Shah Mohammad Tantray, Yawar Ahmad Mir, Altaf Ahmad Wani, Shakhti Raj Parihar, Mohammad Shafi Uri, Javaid Hassan Beigh and Satpaul Sharma supported the Bill even as   they demanded that every area of Pahari Speaking People should be covered under the ambit of the Bill.
After thorough discussions, the House passed the Bills with voice vote.
It may be recalled that the Pahari Speaking People (LA Bill No 18 of 2014) was passed by the State Legislature to provide reservation to the community and then placed before the Governor who had returned the same raising some observation. Subsequently, the matter was referred to the J&K State Commission for  Backward Classes, which examined identification of Pahari Speaking Areas, criteria for identification of such areas and backwardness, inadequacy of representation and overall administrative efficacy of such area.
The Legislative Assembly also  passed a Bill to amend the Jammu and Kashmir State Commission for Backward Classes Act, 1997,  aimed at extending the term of the Chairperson and Members of the Commission for five years.
The Bill was introduced by the Minister for Social Welfare, Sajad Gani Lone.       Explaining the objectives and reasons to introduce the amendment Bill, the Minister said that it has been observed that upon expiry of term of Chairman and Members, the Commission remains non-functional for considerable time. “It is difficult to find suitable person to be nominated as Chairman/Members of the Commission, owing to the fact that the said person, should be well versed with the knowledge of the Castes/Backward class formations in J&K State,” he said and added that in order to overcome this difficulty, it was felt appropriate to extend the term of the Members and Chairman of the State Commission for Backward Classes to 5 years.
The Legislative Assembly also  passed a bill to amend the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 with a voice vote even as some Opposition Congress and some National Conference Members staged a walk out against the Government move on indirect election of the Sarpanches.
Explaining the reasons to amend the Act, the Minister for Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Law and Justice Abdul Haq said that the Government is contemplating to conduct the elections to the Panchayati Raj institutions shortly as the elections could not be held in the year 2016 due to obvious law and order/security situation in the Kashmir Valley.
He said the State Election Commission which has been empowered inter alia to determine and delimit the Halqa Panchayats in terms of the Act could not be constituted due to various reasons and in view of the population census, 2011 and the delimitation of various Administrative Units, there is a requirement of determining and delimiting the Halqa Panchayats in the State for which power lies with the State Election Commission which is not in place. “Accordingly, a need had arisen to amend the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 so that the desired object could be achieved”.
The bill seeks to amend the Act to provide that till the State Election Commission is constituted under the Act, the superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of electoral rolls for and the conduct of, all elections as well as the powers to delimit and determine the Halqa Panchayats in accordance with this Act shall vest in the Chief Electoral Officer.
Legislators Ali Mohammad Sagar, Mubarak Gul, Nawang Rigzin Jora, Rajiv Jasrotia and G M Saroori participated in the debate and suggested constitution of a Joint Select Committee to examine the amendment  bill. They apprehended horse trading in indirect election of  Sarpanches  and alleged that it would defeat main spirit of  the  State Panchayati Raj Act.
Amidst raising of slogans, the Congress Members staged a walkout while Ali Mohd Sagar. Mubarak Gul and some other NC MLAs kept opposing the Bill vociferously.  Even as the Minister sought to explain that the proposed bill was only to facilitate Panchayat elections in J&K, the NC Members pressed for sending it to the Joint Select Committee.
Amidst pandemonium by the NC Members, who also staged a walkout,  the House passed the bill through voice vote and the amendments given by Ali Mohammad Sagar where also rejected by the House.
In the virtual absence of the Opposition Members, the House also  passed a Bill to provide for the Constitution of a State Road Safety council and establishment of Road Safety Fund for implementation of Road Safety Programmes in the State and related matters.
A bill to amend the Jammu and Kashmir Transfer of Property Act, Samvat 1977, was also passed by the House through voice vote. The Bill is aimed to transfer and lease land in favour of  Jammu and Kashmir Energy Development Agency (JAKEDA), which is  working under the administrative control of Science and Technology Department and is mandated with promotion, development and implementation of Small Hydro Projects and Renewable Energy Projects in the State.