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, June 24, 2011

Non-Political Panchayat Elections Turn Highly Political

Ranbir is amazed at how mainstream political parties are locked in a bitter tug-of-war over ‘branding’ and ‘parading’ of newly-elected sarpanches and panches before the media

(Mr. Ranbir Singh Pathania, 31, was born in born in Jammu city. He did his early schooling from the J.S. Luthra Academy and the S.R.M.L. Higher Secondary School, Jammu. He graduated from the G.G.M. Science College, Jammu, with distinction, and went on to earn his law degree from the University of Jammu with distinction in the Constitutional Law. He is a practicing lawyer in the Jammu seat of the J&K High Court and subordinate courts in Jammu. Mr. Pathania has taken on prestigious cases like the Siddhra land scam, B.Ed. colleges scandal, etc. and is one of the vocal advocates for the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to root out corruption, preserve heritage and enforce the Right to Information (RTI) law. He is the General Secretary of jagriti Samaj and a member of the Advisory and Constitution Amendment Committee of the J&K Bar association. He was selected for the "Best Citizens of India" award by the Best Citizens Publishing House.)

Panchayats and Politics in J&K

The pulse and longing of the people of Jammu and Kashmir for Panchayati Raj has rightly been reflected in the form of overweening turn-outs in the recently held Panchayat elections. The cult and crescendo of public participation had been such that it outplayed state government
‘ wildest’ dreams and topsy-turvy its apprehensions. And if we go by the text of recent press-reporting, it looks as if mainstream political parties are locked in a bitter tug-of-war over ‘branding’ and ‘parading’ newly-elected sarpanches and panches before the media.

The state government has flown across criss-cross of the rumble-tumble taking time by the forelock trying to garner maximum credit out of the unprecedented voting graphs. Mahbooba Mufti surprises everybody by professing that sarpanches and panches backed by ruling regime have miserably lost in the Valley. Isn’t there anybody to tell these lame-duck politicians that the Panchayati Raj Act, a law unanimously enacted by legislators of all political parties, clearly stipulates that Panchayat elections in J&K shall be on non-party basis. Or if petty blame-fixings and point-scorings have become the very idiom of today’s politics.

Nonetheless, apart all this politicking, nobody is talking of giving functional and financial autonomy to Panchayats in order to make them as virtual, self-reliant institutions of local self-government committed to transfer power to the people.

It is but an open affair that J&K Panchayati Raj Act is a heartless piece of legislation. It had been only in the backdrop of addressing a passionate letter by this columnist to Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, urging her to protect Rajivji’s legacy in J&K that the entire Congress unit of J&K had risen in rebellion and the issue had ultimately to be settled in Coordination Committee of the ruling coalition. Thereafter, Bills regarding constitution of an independent Finance Commission and Election Commission for Panchayats came to be passed in the State Assembly.

The struggle for the best does not stop here. In order to establish a decentralized, participative and holistic Panchayati Raj, a more serious and sincere effort needs to be initiated on part of state government. Section 45 (3) of the Act envisages that top man of the top tier of Panchayati Raj (District Development and Planning Board) shall be a nominated man thereby making elected PRIs subservient to the bureaucratic will. Whereas in the rest of country, the district-level chairmen seek the mandate from sarpanches and panches. Thanks to the special status of our state. The issue of devolving actual and effective powers upon Panchayats and vesting of administrative control of departments/institutions working within their jurisdiction with Panchayats still hangs fire. There is no whisper from the government side regarding payment of honarium for elected sarpanches and panches. While the corporators elected in municipal areas are getting handsome allowances since the date of their election. Gram Sabhas have not been prepared as healthy and viable seats of deliberation. Provision for social audit of Panchayats is also missing.

And the most important aspect of ‘capacity-building’ of panches and sarpanches as well as Panchayati Adalats – that shall teach and train them as to what are their powers and how they have to act and react - is yet to be addressed. Least has been done to afford broadband connectivity to Panchayats in J&K and create e-PRIs while can provide a whole range of IT related services such as Decentralized Database and Planning, PRI Budgeting and Accounting, Implementation and monitoring of Central and State sector schemes, Citizen-centric Services, Unique codes to Panchayats and Individuals, Essential GIS based applications, On-line Self-learning medium for elected representatives and official functionaries. The concept of e-PRI has the potential to revolutionise PRIs as the symbol of modernity and efficiency and induce mass ICT culture. Furthermore every Panchayat needs a Community Facilitation Centre, library and a playground.

With a view to providing an alternative disputes redressal mechanism to the current justice delivery system that is expensive, time-consuming, procedure-ridden, technical and difficult to comprehend, Nyaya Panchayats Bill is also required to be immediately put into play in J&K. Establishing Nyaya Panchayats shall ensure participatory and people-oriented system of justice for the rural people in their respective villages with greater scope for mediation, conciliation and compromise.

All said and done, it seems that Panchayat elections have been reduced to a cosmetic exercise in J&K. The gospel of effecting a qualitative and cumulative change in the rural areas through Panchayati Raj seems to be a far-fetched reality over here. It seems that the powers-that-be are more inclined towards window-dressing and less towards substantive work. If gimmickry would have been able to deliver goods, J&K by now would have transformed itself into happy oasis of a state. The stiff-necked babus and weak-willed netas have joined hands in debarring Panchayats of their real powers. Rather they are scared of this ‘third force’ in the process of development and empowerment.

And another lee part of the affair has been that a genuine voice seeking fullest devolution of powers to the rural people is yet to be heard from the countryside. As Bernard Shaw says, “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”

Is it not possible that all political parties, pressure groups and individuals come on one platform and try to create a role-model Panchayat in J&K like a happy oasis in a storm-tossed sea seeks and transform long-cherished goals of rural empowerment and rural democracy into a sweet reality. Well the answer lies hidden only in the womb of future. And let us hope and pray for the best.

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