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.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Extravagance of a Bankrupt State

It cannot get any worse than it is in Kashmir since it is both a corrupt and a bankrupt state as the investigative report in the Kashmir Times shows

Extravagance of a Bankrupt State

Jammu: Despite facing acute financial crisis and struggling to clear pending debts and liabilities, Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to pick this moment of economic distress to extend its generosity towards the privileged lot in the state.

Much like the moves in the past that ensured ostentatious lifestyles for all erstwhile chief ministers of the state and princely salaries along with massive perks for the legislators, the present government has embarked on the course of further trebling the salaries of the latter.

The breaking news of the day, meanwhile, is: Tech-savvy Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has cleared the proposal to give laptops to all "honourable members" of J&K Legislature so as to "enable them to access the records and administrative work of their constituencies anytime and anywhere thus enabling them to do a better job."

As per the official notes: The Chief Minister and his team of ministers use laptops to stay updated on matters related to civic amenities such as electricity, roads and other aspects essential to the day to day functioning of the state. (Special (Unofficial) Note: Wonder, how many honourable legislators would be able to use them!) The legislators may get laptops before the budget session of the state legislature beginning from February 22. The Legislative Assembly has 89 members and the Legislative Council has 30 members.

NOW - just a cursory glance at some of the screaming headlines which dominated the better part of the year-2009-10:
*Cash-starved J&K owes Rs 519 Cr to power providers.
*Financial crunch comes in way of release of around Rs 45 Cr due to State Road Transport Corporation (SRTC) employees on account of CP plus GP Fund since 1999. Reports state that many pensioners in between committed suicide.
*After 100 days' strike, the SRTC employees get two months' salary out of eight months' pending salary.
*State government employees are clamouring for the release of arrears as per 6th Pay Commission recommendations. Since cash starved state has no resources, it has requested Centre to 'bear the burden' (as always).
*The employees of autonomous bodies and corporations demand the benefits of 6th Pay Commission ... (the list is endless). Government's response: No money!

And here lies the catch!

The "poorest of the poor state" in the country J&K (as it is projected) has no money to give its employees, to pay its `promised' dues to the service providers in different sectors. Yet it has money to dole out laptops to the "poor legislators" (wonder if they too have any BPL category) of the state.

Hold your breath! Yet another startling fact would rattle anyone and everyone! Would you believe that the legislators of the "poorest of the poor J&K state" are the highest paid in the entire country? And soon they would get enhanced (three-fold) salaries and perks with the retrospective effect from September 2009. A legislator would get Rs 60,000, while a minister would get Rs 65,000. The salary of Chief Minister would be Rs 75,000.

Interestingly, even the Members of Parliament (MPs) trail behind our legislators as far as salaries on paper (excluding allowances and freebies) are concerned. One similarity can be drawn here that MPs have already been given laptops.

As far as MPs are concerned, their salary is Rs 144,000 per year, which works out to just Rs 12,000 per month.

Yet at present our legislators are drawing Rs.20000 as salary per month. Besides they get Constituency Conveyance Allowance of Rs.15000 per month, telephone allowance of Rs.5000 per month, Medical Allowance of Rs.300 per month. It accounts an aggregate of Rs 40300 per month.

Under the head of "Other facilities", they get Air/Railway reimbursement up to Rs 50000 in every financial year, Housing loan of Rs 2.50 lakhs for full term, car loan of Rs 2.50 lakhs again for full term. In this case, they would get the cost of car or Rs 2.50 lakhs whichever is less.

The flow of freebies doesn't end here only.

The legislators also get Rs 500 as DA within state during session and meetings of the Committees, Rs.500 plus 75 percent (outside state during study tours), TA by air (ticket plus 50 percent within state), by road at the rate of Rs.9 per kilometer within state. Outside the state where train facility is not available, they will avail TA by air, ticket plus 25 percent (outside the state during study tours).

They will get TA by train 2nd AC plus 50 percent (1st Class Actual) (Outside the state during official visit).

In addition to these freebies, they also get Constituency Development Fund (CDF) worth Rs 35 lakhs in every financial year.

As far as accommodation facilities are concerned, they can have single room in MLAs' Hostel at the rate of Rs 3 per day, two room set at the rate of Rs 5 per day.

Under the head of medical facilities, they can have reimbursement of medical expenses during hospitalization in government hospital within state.

They can avail treatment in recognized hospital outside the state after recommended by the Director Health Services (if the treatment is not available in the state). They can get advance 75 percent of the total expenditure.

As far as pensionary benefits are concerned, their basic pay is Rs.12500 plus 500 (medical) and also Rs.300 per year (subject to number of terms). Family pension is 75percent of the basic pension.

For accommodation, the rooms are provided in the MLAs' hostel subject to the availability of rooms.

However numerous allowances and freebies which MPs are entitled help them to surpass the MLAs/MLCs in this "status race", undoubtedly at the cost of "poor Indians".

Bureaucrats too live life 'King-size'

If the elected representatives get the 'icing', as far as the numerous allowances and freebies are concerned religiously following the dictum "Charity begins at home" and thus doling out perks (at the expense of Centre) among themselves only, can executives (bureaucrats) in the state be far behind?

No, certainly not!

With a bit of modification the adage "Like `Kings', like bureaucrats" fits the bill perfectly in their case too. Rather on certain accounts, even the "Kings" trail behind their "executives."

Officially speaking J&K is a bankrupt state, which is monetarily wholly dependent on the Centre. However the way 'unlimited freebies' are doled out among the bureaucrats, the "bankruptcy" becomes a confusing expression.

Be it accommodation, vehicles/petrol, telephones expenses, tour and travels, furniture/fixture, the bureaucrats live the life "King size." Right from the latest models of vehicles to the bathroom "mug" even, everything is at their disposal at the expense of tax payers' money.

The startling details on this account can be procured from the Estate department, which reveal as how "Samsung" TV is procured one year and the next year for the same bureaucrat, the latest model of Reliance (it may be LCD) is ordered. Going by the details, the "bigwigs" who run the administration, are not troubled to buy even a petty item like the bathroom mug. They, too, are ordered in bulk and replaced year after year along with the latest models of refrigerators, Air-Conditioners etc., without creating even a whimper.

Flower pots, wall to wall carpets, water-purifiers, you name a thing and it would be there at the disposal of executive class, both the deserving ones and non-deserving ones. Yet in majority of the cases, the records show that these facilities are availed as per "rules."

Interestingly as per the rules, only the Commissioner/Secretary level gazetted officers are entitled to all "heavy freebies", though even in their case the `norms' are fixed yet they are 'twisted' as per the whims by the beneficiaries themselves as ultimately they are the ones who run the administration.

Yet against rules, even many officers of the rank of under secretary, deputy secretary, additional secretary, special secretary are availing all these benefits out of way. Only yardstick is how much "influence they wield among their seniors."

As per the revised rules, the gazetted officers (beginning from the level of Commissioner/Secretary) can hire a private bungalow, the payment for which is made by Estate Department, in case the government accommodation (worth their status) is not available. The expenditure on furnishing too is borne by Estates Department.

The rules state that even the officers to the rank of Commissioner/Secretary will not get the government accommodation or HRA in case they have their houses at the place of their posting. However this rule, too, is flouted brazenly as many officers despite having their palatial houses in the two capital cities are availing the benefits of government accommodation, while renting out their own house, thus creating another source of income.

However, the officers below the rank of Secretary get only HRA as per the rules as per their basic pay. But in their case, too, the rules are conveniently breached, twisted as many non-deserving officers are availing the benefit of palatial government accommodation in the two capital cities.


* Decision of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to give laptops to legislators is a pointer towards 'perfect harmony' in coalition. Reason: Omar has realized the dream of his predecessor Ghulam Nabi Azad, who during his tenure had envisioned to arm legislators with desktop personal computers to transform the state into another silicon valley in the country.

* Each legislator in J&K gets Rs 20,000 as salary per month at present (soon this amount would be Rs 60,000 with the retrospective effect from September 2009). However the salary of a Member of Parliament is Rs 12,000 per month at present. (In both the cases, allowances and freebies are excluded).

* How many legislators can use laptops, would be an interesting question to ask. (Use Right To Information Act to find out the same besides updating yourself about their qualification. Mind it, for the legislators there's no qualification at all).


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