Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, March 13, 2009

How State Politicians Work as a Cabal Protecting Each Other's Vested Interests

Every year a detailed report by the CAG on misgovernance, inept management and corruption in the State is tabled during the Budget session in J&K Assembly. And yet, no politician - even from the opposition - discusses its contents.

Following is an editorial in the Kashmir Images followed by CAG findings reported in the Kashmir Times

JAMMU: The Minister for Finance, Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Abdul Rahim Rather laid on the Table of the House, a copy of the report of Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) for the year ending March, 2008 as required by Article 15(2) of the Constitution of India.

CAG Report

It has become precedence that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India’s report is tabled in State Assembly only once the session reaches its end and therefore there are no discussions over the contents of the report. Presenting the report in the House has become a mere formality and that is why there never is any follow-up on the observations made in these reports and misappropriation of government money and violation of laws and set rules continues unabated.

The way the CAG report is taken non-seriously by the respective governments is one of the reasons for growing corruption in the state. In its latest report CAG has once again come forward with observations exposing rot in the government departments here. The report was tabled in the House Thursday by the Finance Minister and will again go unobserved. The newspapers may pick one or two stories but the government here has become so thick skinned that newspaper reports hardly have any impact.

It is an unfortunate state of affairs. Reports like that of CAG and the issues that are highlighted by media are basically for the correction of the government. But history stands witness that in Jammu and Kashmir, governments that be, have always shown scant regard to such reports and issues. In the arrogance of power, the governments, that be, have all along considered their wisdom as the ultimate and the result is for everybody to see – the state of Jammu and Kashmir is regarded as one of the most corrupt states of India.

Corruption can’t be done away with flowery speeches and tall claims. It needs a strong will and conviction on the part of the government. Corruption is a menace that is to be targeted from the top and then only one can expect desirable results. By arresting junior assistants, patwaris and VLWs, the government cand’t put a stop on this menace. As rightly suggested by MLA Langate in the Assembly if corruption is to be rooted out, all the three aspects – bureaucracy, police and politicians are to be put under scanner. If a minister discourages corruption, his department’s commissioner/secretary can’t dare to indulge in such practices and once he discourages the ill practice, message will do down to the concerned departments up to the peons.

Therefore the need is to target the menace at the top. By catching small fish and leaving big sharks free the government is making a joke of the whole affair. Besides, if government really wants to end the menace it has to take reports like those presented by the CAG seriously and follow the leads and reach to the bottom of the issues involved. The Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah has a very clean image and reputation but he has to understand that Jammu and Kashmir has always proved a graveyard of reputations. He has to stand by his reputation and image and take the corruption and corrupt machinery head on.

CAG indicts R&B for roads without bridges, bridges sans roads

Comptroller and Auditor General's report has indicted Jammu and Kashmir Roads and Buildings Department for making reprehensible plans leading to idle and unfruitful expenditure of Rs. 151.20 crores in various road projects across the state.
It has accused the department of working as per the directions of the MLA's and ministers rather then with application of mind. The report has in its transactions section stated that the department took up the work of providing road connectivity to five villages and executive engineer of R&B division at Handwara proposed construction of a 15.30 meters span steel bridge over Dangerwari Khul at Neelipora in Babagund area at an estimated cost of Rs.49.98 lakh for completion in two working seasons.

The reports maintains that the said executive engineer took up the work in December 2002 without getting administrative approval and the necessary technical sanction and got it completed in August 2005 at a cost of Rs.46.33 lakh. However, due to execution of extra items of work not provided in the original estimates, the work of taking up the construction of retaining walls could not be taken up.

The report asserts that taking up of the work by the department without accord of administrative approval and technical sanction led to execution of unapproved works resulting in irregular expenditure of Rs.46.33 lakhs on the bridge which had been rendered idle for the last over three years due to non-completion of the approaches.

CAG referred the matter to the state government in June 2008 but received no reply. Taking note of the blocking of funds, the report says that executive engineer of R&B construction division-IV on the directions of the then Chief Minister prepared a report for construction of a railway over-bridge at Channi Himmat in the outskirts of Jammu city at an estimated cost of Rs.8.05 crore which was subsequently revised to Rs.10.58 crore.

The amount included Rs.56.30 lakh for land acquisition and Rs.70 lakh for compensation of houses and shops. Again in anticipation of the administrative approval and technical sanction and without receipt of estimates from Collector, Land Acquisition, the department advanced Rs.1.05 crore to him. However, the residents of the area who land was coming under alignment of the flyover resented its construction and did not allow evaluation of the compensation which was to be paid.

CAG says that the department should have advanced funds to the CLA only after completion of the necessary formalities. But not doing so resulted in idle expenditure and locking up of Rs.1.05 crore. Similarly, failure of the department to acquire land before the allotment of work for construction of motorable road and bridge over Kandyar Nullah connecting around five villages rendered an expenditure of Rs.67.09 lakh unfruitful.

This works was also taken without administrative approval and technical sanction. CAG says that scrutiny of records of PWD department of Basholi revealed that executive engineer of R&B division at Basholi took up the work of construction of road from Machedi to Duggian without framing estimates and in anticipation of clearance by the forest department for the use of forest land.

But taking up the execution work of the work without the clearance from forest authorities and the requisite approvals from competent authorities resulted in an unfruitful expenditure of Rs.20.55 lakh. The department made frequent changes in the construction proposals of 66 meter vented causeway at Jahama over Kalamchakla-Jhama-Shahnagri road in Handwara rendering the expenditure of Rs. 13.87 lakh incurred on construction of abutments unfruitful.

Besides this, an amount of Rs.52.40 lakh on the procurement of the materials got blocked. In Rajouri, the department with intent of constructing a bridge to provide connectivity to 10 villages falling on left side of Rajouri River had proposed construction of a 134 meter span foot suspension bridge at Dhanwan Chakli at an estimated cost of Rs.79.31 lakh.

But due to the failure of the department in deciding about the type of bridge that was to be constructed and unauthorizedly incurring Rs.12.08 lakh thereon resulted in unfruitful expenditure of Rs.12.08 lakh and locking up of Rs.5.97 lakh.

Inept management in SRTC costs J&K Rs 36.12 cr

Inept administration, weak internal control mechanism coupled with rampant corruption in Jammu and Kashmir State Transport Department resulted in loss of Rs. 36.12 crores to the fragile state exchequer.

This spine chilling reality has been brought forth by the audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India for the year 2007-08. The report bears testimony to the fact that the department has remained lax throughout and preferred "Out of Way" mechanism over "Through Proper Channel" mechanism.

It has pricked at the places from where a persistent check on the maintenance, fitness and feasibility of the vehicles had to be ensured. The report has vividly accused the department of remaining lax towards the thorough enforcement of Motor Vehicles Act-1988 and being negligent towards effective revenue realisation.

After evaluating the report, it becomes apparent that non-conducting of inspection of vehicles resulted in non-recovery of Rs.9.25 crore during 2003-04 to 2006-07 and token tax of Rs.1.15 crore. Non-imposition of penalty due to over-loading of vehicles resulted in loss of Rs.25.72 crore during April 2004 to March 2008, the audit report says.

Interestingly, recent reports have also attributed the increasing frequency of road accidents to the same shortcomings which the audit report has pointed out. An oblivious state government has promised a new transport policy but prefers keeping mum over the inordinate delay in coming up with a draft proposal of the policy at the earliest.

The report has stressed that the department neither bothered about administrative inspections nor internal audit of the subordinate units despite the fact that the transport commissioner who is entrusted with the job of administration of motor vehicle taxes and fees in the state is assisted by three Regional Transport Officers (Jammu, Kashmir, Lakhanpur) and 11 Assistant Regional Transport Officers (ARTOs).

Out of these 11, 7 have are in Kashmir region and 4 in Jammu region. Picking up holes in the functioning of the department, CAG has said "The performance of the department with regard to motor vehicles tax was poor as it failed to recover registration renewal fees, permit renewal fee, penalty on account of non-inspection and license fee for issue of license to conductors."

It has added that there was lack of co-ordination between the departments resulting in non-recovery of passenger tax. The report says that scrutiny of records of Regional Transport Office (RTO) Srinagar has shown that certificate of registration (COR) of 932 non-transport motor vehicles, registered between April 1988 and December 1992, was not renewed. It has said that no action was taken by the RTO to realise the dues and as a result, renewal fee of Rs. 1.51 lakh remained unrealised.

It is important to mention here that COR of non-transport motor vehicles is valid for 15 years from the date of its issue. CAG goes on to add that after the cases were pointed out, it was stated by the then RTO Srinagar that the action could not be taken due to shortage of manpower. Moreover, the department failed to refer the list of defaulters to the Traffic Department for further action.

Referring to the issuance and renewal of permits of the owners of the transport vehicles, CAG has said that scrutiny of the records revealed that in nine transport offices, permits had been renewed only in such cases where the vehicle owners had voluntarily made applications for the purpose. "Neither RTOs nor ARTOs had made any exercise to review the permit registers periodically to identify the defaulters," CAG has pointed out.

Consequently, cases of non-recovery, short recovery were detected which included 126 permits which were due for renewal between 2003-04 to 2007-08 but had not been renewed, resulting in non-recovery of permit fee of Rs. 6.09 lakh. Based on the above sample, the most likely estimate of non-recovery of permit fee for the state as a whole for the years 2003-04 to 2007-08 was Rs. 89.94 lakh.

In 550 cases, Rs. 2.26 lakh was recovered short on account of renewal fee. Based on the above test check, the most likely estimates of short recovery of permit fee for the state as a whole during 2003-04 to 2007-08 was Rs. 22.41 lakh. In case of 55 vehicles, route permits were not obtained by the vehicle owners resulting in non-recovery of Rs. 4.50 lakh, points out the CAG report.

Based on above test check, the most likely estimates of non-recovery due to un-issued permits for the state as a whole for the years 2003-04 to 2007-08 is Rs. 55.22 lakh. CAG has regretted tat despite being pointed out, the department actually failed to identify and book the defaulters.

Audit scrutiny has further revealed that against 2,49,129 vehicles due for inspection in 14 Transport Offices during 2003-04 to 2006-07, inspections in respect of 1,39,522 vehicles only had been conducted resulting in shortfall of 44 percent. Non-inspection of the motor vehicles had not only resulted in the vehicles plying without fitness certificates but also resulted in non-recovery of Rs. 9.25 crore on account of inspection and additional fee.

The payment of token tax, as a one-time measure in respect of light motor vehicles was, however, made mandatory with effect from 9 December 2005. However, CAG has revealed that in RTO Jammu, licenses of 11 driving institutes were not renewed for periods ranging between two to 11 years resulting in non-recovery of license fee of Rs. 47,000. The reasons for non-recovery have not been received.

It is important to mention here that agents licence for carrying goods is required to be obtained by all the transporters and is valid for one year which is required to be renewed thereafter. CAG after the scrutiny of records found out that in Transport Commissioner's office, 70 cases of agents licenses were not renewed for the last one to 11 years resulting in non-recovery of licence fee of Rs. 10.69 lakh.

Making a mention of another serious flaw, CAG says that the fee for issuance of licence under the Rule was Rs. 3,250 which was subsequently (April 1999) reduced to Rs. 2,000 without issuing formal notification by the government. In Transport Commissioner's office, it was noticed that though the reduction of fees was not notified, fee had been charged at the reduced rate of Rs. 2,000 in 81 cases resulting in short recovery of Rs. 5.28 lakh between April 2003 and March 2008.

Further, in 56 cases, licenses had not been renewed for the period from April 2003 to March 2008 resulting in non-recovery of licence fee of Rs. 8.35 lakh. Scrutiny of the records revealed that in 40 cases, trade certificates had not been renewed between August 2001 and March 2008 which resulted in non-recovery of fee of Rs. 46,000.

Besides, no survey or inspection had been conducted from 2003-04 to 2007-08 to detect the defaulting dealers, violating the provisions of the Act. After the case was pointed out, Joint Transport Commissioner (JTC) stated that the registering authorities had been directed to identify the defaulters.

In order to check the emission in vehicles, Pollution Checking Centres (PCC) were established under Rule 115 and 116 of the CMV Rules. A licence is issued to such centres at the prescribed fee of Rs. 5,000 valid for one year to be renewed before 31 March every year on payment of fee of Rs. 2,500.

Scrutiny of records of the Transport Commissioner revealed that the licenses of four PCCs were not renewed for periods ranging between one and eight years resulting in non-recovery of renewal fee of Rs. 48,500. Besides, licenses had been cancelled in respect of three centres against which, renewal fee of Rs. 40,500 was outstanding.

CAG questions HEALTH of health Deptt - Detects idle investment of Rs 98.50 lakhs

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has detected failures of Health department in settling the land compensation issue before taking up the construction of a Public Health Centre in Anantnag which resulted in idle investment of Rs 98.50 lakhs and blocking of another Rs 42.50 lakhs.

The report filed by CAG said that scrutiny of the records of the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Anantnag, revealed that construction of Primary Health Centre (PHC) building at Vessu, estimated to cost Rs 1.51 crore, was taken up in November 2003 through Jammu and Kashmir Projects Construction Corporation (JKPCC).

For the PHC building which was constructed on a piece of land measuring five kanals, local Auqaf donated four kanals of land while another kanal was procured from a local resident.

However, the Health department utilized this land without getting the title of the land transferred.

The report further revealed that the project works included construction of main building, staff quarters besides approach roads and compound wall. While the work was in progress, the land-owner, whose land (1 kanal) came under the project, approached the court in July 2006, contending that the Health department has promised him compensation for the land besides engagement of his son as Class-IV employee in the department.

In September 2006, the court restrained the Health department from making any construction on spot, although by then an amount of Rs 98.50 lakhs had been incurred on the execution of works. Since then no action was taken by the department to get the stay vacated and resume the work on the PHC building, which incurred losses to the state exchequer both in terms of wastage of time as well as blocking of money spent on the project thus far.

The Health department had advanced Rs 1.41 crore to JKPCC during 2004-2005 to 2007-08. A revised cost offer of Rs 1.98 crore for completion of the project works was submitted in September 2007 by JKPCC to the Director Health Services, Kashmir.

CMO Anantnag, according to CAG report, stated in September 2008 that the completed Doctors’ quarters could also not be taken over by the department as the doctors were required to work in the centre which was still incomplete.

Thus, the departmental failure to settle the issue of land compensation before taking up the construction of PHC building at Vessu has resulted in idle investment of Rs 98.50 lakhs and blocking of Rs 42.50 lakhs with JKPCC for around three years.

The matter was referred to the government and Health department in September 2008, but thus far no reply has not been received, the CAG report points out.

And to sum it all up .....

Business as usual in the J&K legislature

More noise and walk-outs than debates and legislations (Kashmir Times)

The eleven day state legislature session that ended on Monday failed to be inspiring. At best it was an occasion for all political parties being represented in the august houses of the state legislature to use the platform to play to their respective constituencies in run up to the next Lok Sabha elections that were announced during the midst of the session. The only good that emerged is that the short session threw up several issues, though none of them was debated in a way that could have offered some constructive solutions.

Two major themes that formed part of the debate throughout the session were the unemployment and the issue of human rights. Both of them inspired more disruptions than healthy constructive debates. In fact, much of the assembly time was devoted to disruptions, noisy scenes and walkouts, a scenario that has become familiar in recent years in the legislative assembly and council.

A major chunk of the time was also frittered away in unproductive discussions and unimaginative, sometimes even factually incorrect replies, from the treasury benches. The government fumbled on several promises it had made including even the much hyped 'one job for every family' slogan and the announced decision of extra grant for the eight assembly segments of Srinagar district alone. The opposition too indulged in shadow boxing and nailing the government, sometimes with equally ill informed facts, rather than getting to the basic root of several serious issues that were taken up.

The human rights debate occupied the maximum time in the state legislative assembly and even though it was discussed and debated, the basic genesis of the problem was treated in the most cosmetic and hurried manner. The performance on the floors of both the state legislative assembly and legislative council eventually turned out to be a theatre of not just disruptions but also partisanship, revealing the narrow vision of the lawmakers of the state.

A major function of the state legislature, like the parliament is to legislate, that is formulate, table, discuss and decide on major policy matters and laws. As is the tradition, several bills were tabled and passed, but with the usual hurry that if one batted an eyelid, one may even have missed their passage on the floor of the august houses. If efficiency could be gauged by the swiftness of things, then perhaps the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly which passes a couple of bills within a matter of minutes, without being debated, discussed, rather without the distinguished representatives of the people even flipping through the pages of the copies of the bills they are provided with. This is not a phenomenon unique to the present state legislative assembly but has been in vogue for more than a decade.

Legislators in deep slumber or abject ignorance have been nodding their heads and saying their 'ayes' as bills have been tabled and passed as if a marathon is taking place and then realised much later what they said their yes to. One cannot forget that it was with a similar haste that bills on delimitation and the women's permanent residentship were passed some years ago, creating controversies that last till date.

Only a fraction of time in the state legislative assembly is spent on legislations, even lesser than the debate on some serious questions. That is why a bill that is so vital for democracy, Right to Information Act, tabled and passed with great haste twice before, had to be again brought up this year. Though Omar Abdullah needs to be congratulated for having brought some parity with the central act, after so many years of procrastinating, the final bill, passed in equal haste, failed to incorporate several suggestions made by activists, experts and common masses, which could have made a model bill for rest of the country. This despite the fact that for a couple of days, as promised, the draft of the bill was hosted on the government website for comments and suggestions, that could be incorporated. Eventually, all of them, without even debating their merits and demerits, were finally discarded in the dustbin. The final passage ultimately symbolised the careless elan with which business is conducted in both houses of the state legislature. Time some healthy debates and constructive suggestions or policies framed inside restore some of the weathered dignity of this institution on whose bedrock the very future of the people of the state lies.

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