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.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Various Perspectives on the Government Employees Strike

Javid Iqbal and Firdous Syed provide their perspectives on the latest cause for everyday misery in Kashmir

(Dr. Javid Iqbal, 63, was born in Srinagar. He attended the D.A.V. School, Srinagar, and graduated in Medicine from the Government Medical College (GMC). His professional service in medicine includes work in the Middle East for three decades. During his days at the GMC, he captained the cricket team. He enjoys writing and staying close to his children in far away lands.

Mr. Firdous Syed, 44, was born in Bhaderwah, Doda, and had his schooling in Jammu. He is currently the Chairman of the "Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Development Studies," and associated with the J&K National Conference. Between 1989 and 1991, he led the Moslem Janbaaz Force, a militant group, and was jailed from 1991 through 1994. In 1996, he publicly renounced the gun culture, and is an active member of the Kashmir civil society.)

Another showdown in offing!

Dr. Javid Iqbal

The ink had still to dry on the proceeding noted in all party meet, when there seems to be another showdown in the offing, as the stalemate continues over meeting the demands of government employees, who seem to be unwilling to give the government any breathing space in the relentless perusal of their demands. As happens almost without fail, pay hikes, release of arrears to government employees results in price increase of all commodities. In addition inflationary tendencies are seen in real estate, the price of land available for housing exhibits a hike getting much beyond the savings of majority of those, who want to build a decent dwelling. Government being the major employer with private sector playing an insignificant role, the salaries and other emoluments of government employees has a major impact on how the economy runs. Whatever employment the private sector provides in J&K state is gross under-employment. The pay of a private school teacher in many instances equals that of a domestic servant from Bihar, Jharkhand and Eastern UP, sometimes even less.

The hike in prices eats into whatever the government employees get in addition to the existent salaries, so there is hardly a benefit involved in their repeated agitations to get more and more. On the other hand, the fate of those, who are not riding the white elephant; small traders, the peasants, artisans becomes miserable. They do not get a penny more, but suffer the effect. And we may not loose sight of the fact that government provides employment to merely 4.50 lakh persons. However the pay and perks of the privileged plays havoc with the rest of the people living in the state. News reports have it that an all party delegation from Jammu and Kashmir will call on the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to seek special financial help for meeting the demands of the state government employees. The state government needs around Rs 4200 crore to pay the 6th pay commission arrears of its employees. It is reported that the decision was taken at an all-party meeting convened by the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. To do so might be obligatory for the state, however while seeking this additional money, it might do the state a lot of good to seek advice of some top economic consultants on ways and means to check inflation, which may follow as is usual with such huge releases.

Retirement age issue, among the list of demands has faced opposition, as it should, being ill advised in a society, where un-employment and under employment is a major issue. No consensus could be evolved on the enhancement of retirement age of the government employees from 58 to 60 years. The opposition of political leaders across the political spectrum was, as per news reports too evident. And even the general consensus stands against it. One would like to believe, as seems to be quite obvious, that the demanding employees might have their off springs joining the long cue of those waiting to get employment! In the state of Kerala, the state with highest literacy rate, it is reported that the retirement age is still 55, the age at which the government employees here too would retire in years of yore. Initially central government hiked the retirement age, giving ideas to state government employees in various states. The Keralitis seem to have put more thought to it than seen elsewhere. The maverick independent MLA from Langate, Engineer Abdul Rashid might have been conveying the sentiments of many in opposing the demand saying that it will be a major roadblock for the unemployed youth of the state. “The retirement age should instead be reduced to 57 so that the menace of unemployment can be fought”, he reportedly said.

With the efforts to convince the employees to provide breathing space to the government seemingly failing, the government seems to be mulling over contingency plans in case the employees’ proceed on with their threat to go on a strike. It is reported that a high-level meeting was held in the civil secretariat in Jammu to chalk out a strategy and put in place a contingency plan if the employees resort to agitation path. As reported, a three-member official-level crisis-management committee, comprising Khursheed Ahmed Ganai, Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister and two commissioner secretaries Basharat Ahmad Dhar and Sudhanshu Panday were, reportedly in touch with the employees’ leaders in an effort to break ice and avert agitation. Those who have been invited include the Employees Joint Consultative Committee (JCC), Civil Secretariat Non-Gazetted Employees Union (CSNGEU) and Employees Joint Action Committee (EJAC). This is in the face one of the agitating groups ‘EJAC’ having already announced four-day strike from Saturday, while ‘JCC’ has given seven days strike call from April 5 and ‘CSNGEU’ has called for two-day strike on April 5 and 6. These unions jointly represent more than 4.5 lakh employees, who are not ready to budge on their stand. Abdul Qayoom Wani, leading JCC has stated “We will call off the proposed strike only if government agrees to release the first installment of arrears”. The other unions EJAC and EJCC have excluded emergency and essential services from the purview of the proposed strike, however threatening to include the essential services, besides, launching indefinite strike “if the government failed to come to a final conclusion on their demands.”

Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Muhammad Sagar, who is a member of the cabinet-sub committee engaged in negotiations, is reported to have revealed to the pressmen that the committee would apprise the employees’ leaders of the government’s initiatives regarding the issue. The minister as reported holds the view that the “employees should not have called for a strike when they are already engaged in a dialogue process’’. Cabinet Sub-Committee, headed by Finance Minister, Abdur Rahim Rather, is scheduled to hold separate meetings with the leaders of the employees, which would be the second round of talks being held with the leaders of the employees unions. The first round of talks between the Government representatives and the employees’ leaders was held on March 19. In that meeting the government had sought time till March 31 to look into their demands. That date has already expired and the employees seem to be in no mood to concede more time; hence the ominous showdown.

The chief minister reportedly told the all party meeting, ‘the government was already overburdened with the whooping salary bill of Rs 9200 crore annually.’ The huge burden, which put brakes on developmental works on the anvil, should at compensate the society at large by a work ethic and norm. That unfortunately is not happening. Workwise the performance has to improve, so that the huge governmental machinery instead of being seen as drag on the economy is seen as contributing to the human factor involved in developing an economy. While chief minister and deputy chief minister have rushed to New Delhi obviously in connection with employees strike and district recruitment, it is implied yet again that as and when arrears are cleared, inflation should be closely watched, as prices hike with state largesse offered to employees. In addition, come what may emergency medical services should be left out of the showdown. Human lives should not be put at stake.

Making People Suffer

Firdous Syed

Self-seeking, dictatorial attitude is in our bone marrow, it seems to have become part of our DNA. Most of the time, pro-freedom leadership, particularly the militants are berated for forcing their way. Actuality, resistance leadership is not the only culprit; power politicians and trade union leaders too are involved in worst kind of one-upmanship. Leaders belonging to entire spectrum do not miss any chance to project themselves as people friendly. Judging by their public conduct, leaders claiming to be public representatives’, trade union leaders, or for that matter civil society activist, have little regard for any public good.

Intensifying their agitation, state government employees [unjustly] once again resorted to strike. Seemingly, state government is in no mood to relent; this has created an atmosphere of confrontation between government and its employees. With strike entering 6th day today, administration has come to a standstill. While government is at the brink of collapse, there is no end in sight to the miseries of the people. Schools are closed, studies of children have effected badly, and patients are suffering for lack of proper medical care. Two capital cities and other important towns are stinking for want of garbage collection; places of inhabitation have been turned into virtual cesspools.

Who is to be blamed for this mess? Both government and its employees. While accepting the recommendations of sixth pay commission, government would have been aware of its financial implications and dire financial condition it was in. Did it not know then that the wage bill is going to be in the tune of 11, 525 crores? They must have also known about 4200 crores of arrears, why it dangled out a lollypop of thirteenth finance commission? Chief Minister may be new to the job, it should have been known to his fourth or fifth time finance minister, how much stubborn finance managers of government of India are? Moreover when government of India is itself facing the huge budget deficit, 7/8 percent of its total GDP, for it to dole out 4200 crores to cover the arrears of state government was next to impossible. Government should not have raised the expectations of the employees at the first place. Real crisis management is not to shift the crisis for other day.

Government should have told its employees straightaway at the time of implementation of the sixth pay commission; enhancement of pay is possible not the payment of the arrears. Besides employees blame that the officers belonging to IAS and IPS cadre have been (already) paid their arrears. If it is true, government can be accused of practicing double standards, one yardstick for superior bureaucracy another for middle and lower rung of its officials. Government lacks financial prudence, due to inept handling it has allowed a crisis to build-up. Employees are on warpath, government has resorted to strong arm methods. No one is in favour of any confrontation; it serves everybody’s interests if government is able to resolve the issue with its employees amicably. Taking tough stand first and later yielding under pressure makes government a laughing stock. Government should weigh its options carefully. If it is in position to concede some of employees demands, it should do it without wasting any time and making it an ego problem.

Precipitating a crisis is easy. Employee’s leaders should also be aware of the problems faced by the public owing to repeated prolonged strikes. Employee’s leadership should not consider themselves above public criticism. In public opinion, for imbursement of arrears there might be some scope of consideration. Enhancement of retirement age from 58 to 60 is completely unpopular with the people, mainly the unemployed youth. This is a bizarre logic of employees: Enhancement of retirement age will save 800 crores for two years and the savings made should be paid as first installment of the arrears. They want to have the cake and eat it too; Ladoo in both hands and one in mouth. And after enhancement of the retirement age, will they again not go-on strike for imbursement of rest of the arrears? And where from government will mange the rest of the amount? By again raising the retirement age? Employees are part of the society, by their irresponsible behavior they should not add to the miseries of the people. If government is unable to pay, will the employees go on strike endlessly? If it is not irresponsible and anti people behavior, what it is? Employees might have a reason to go on strike, what is the fault of school going children and sick patients. Complete health services not the OPD’s and emergencies and education department should for all the times be kept outside the preview of strikes. If employees are not ready to listen to the reason, government should at least declare health and education as emergency services. And force its employees to come back to work, else begin fresh recruitment. The rule of ‘no work no pay’ will not save sick from dying; people do not fall ill according to a strike schedule. Ruining children’s future is a criminal act, if teachers are unable to understand, government should make them understand, sooner the better.

Government gone topsy- turvy, presents the scene of a dysfunctional administration. Some may argue, when was this government functional to have become dysfunctional? It is true; however employees strike has proved, proverbial last straw on the camel’s back. Fifteen months ago, NC-Congress coalition had assumed the office riding high on the agenda of good governance. Today even staunch supporters of the coalition government have grown wary due to its abysmal performance. Corruption has surpassed all previous records. Bureaucrats are typically blamed for malpractices; minister’s chambers have become den of corruption. Apathy of officialdom is more than apparent; there is no disposal of people’s grievances.

Development works look healthy only on paper; developmental activity on the ground does not correlate to the huge expenditures being made in a hush-hush manner. On one hand developmental activity is going on at a snail's pace, on the other there are reports of huge financial irregularities being made. On the last day of financial year, government released payments worth than Rs 900 crores-- “We have released payments worth around Rs 900 crore in 114 treasuries situated across the state.” Nine billion is a whopping sum; approximately 7-8% of the planned budget. Such a huge disbursement on the last day of financial calendar by no means can be described as efficiency; rather this highlights the grave financial mismanagement. Roughly 8% of the budget spent in a single day that too when utilization is around 80% is self-explanatory. It only explains the inability of the government to fully utilize the development budget in a planned and transparent manner. How much out of this nine billion is genuine expenditures and the amount siphoned away by the crooks is any body’s guess. But this is not the real story. Information provided by the government itself to a question asked in the assembly highlights the real rot. Till January 2010 government could spend only Rs 2244 crores. In January, the first month of fourth quarter it was able to spend “Rs 2885.01 Cr, 52 percent of the total annual plan of Rs 5500 Cr.” Utilization is not achievement, expenditures made should also reflect on the ground. During winter, real construction activity comes to a halt in majority of the areas in J&K, how government was able to spend 60% of the budget in lean months is very difficult to envisage.

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