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.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Indulgence and Consequences

Two related commentaries - an editorial in the Rising Kashmir on the new Vice Chancellor's reaction to wasteful expenditure in the University of Kashmir, leading up to the next commentary on the Kashmir's mounting debt

Stem the Rot

Misuse of public money and human resource is not the phenomenon confined to University only but this has plagued the whole state

Kashmir University Vice Chancellor Prof Talat Ahmad has made some startling revelations about the misuse of public money in the highest of learning in Kashmir. In an interview to this newspaper Prof Talat made an interesting point saying that Delhi University (DU), where he was till recently working as a Professor, is ten times bigger than KU.

But DU is far behind in having “luxury” of official vehicles with KU surpassing it with 110 vehicles. DU, he mentioned has just 10 vehicles. Not only the misuse of vehicles but also a flood-gate had been left open for “temporary” appointments in the University to please politicians and adjust favourites. Surprisingly many departments have been complaining of shortage of staff. This state of affairs had not only led to instability in the University but also left it in a financial crisis. If earlier reports are to be believed at one point of time no money was available for paying the insurance premium for this fatty fleet of transport. Vehicles are surely for use to enhance quality of work in any institution but in the University most of the vehicles allotted to different faculty members and administrative officers have remained parked for long time or have been used by their family members. Since the nature of work of most of the officers is confined to campus with not much field work, the vehicles purchased have not gone well with the financial health of the University.

Now that the new VC has plunged to stem the rot and streamline the overall functioning of the University with special focus on these issues, the move should be welcomed. Not only the top echelons of power but also the staff of University should support the VC in this endeavour. The VC has also pointed out other shortcomings, which need to be looked into to rationalise the functioning. He has also acknowledged that the University has a strong foundation, teachers are good and students have zeal to learn. He is specifically impressed by the Library system which he says is the better than other major universities in India. While sound health of many wings would help him to take it to new heights he must put an end to misuse of public money and make those accountable who have become habitual of “making hay while the sun shines”. Misuse of public money and human resource is not the phenomenon confined to University only but this has plagued the whole state.

With Jammu and Kashmir having 40 percent surplus manpower in the government state, there has been no effort to rationalise the use of manpower. Human resource in this state has been misused to an unimaginable limit at the top level of officialdom. A recent revelation about Islamia College of Science and Commerce suggested that the Principal of the College is trying to get another extension and for that he has been keeping his lower staff at the disposal of a senior bureaucrat in the Secretariat. At least three employees are reportedly working at the residence of the bureaucrat who is all set to help in getting third extension. Misuse of human resource is part of the larger “disease” of corruption in this state. The VC of Kashmir University must have many more challenges and one among them would be to discourage lobbyism and sycophancy, which has remained the hallmark of the functioning of the University. He would be doing service to Kashmir if he pushes the faculties towards real research to make the centre of excellence as envisaged by him in the interview. KU has produced hundreds of meaningful and proud administrators, scholars, academics, technocrats and political leaders in the past. Its strong foundation would help the society further to get the best of minds chiselled to take it forward towards development and prosperity. Prof Talat has a challenge to realise that dream and hope that he succeeds in that in coming years.

Debt Trap

Where a limited fiscal deficit in an economy is desirable, uncontrolled growth in liability is perilous. That J&K has an aggregate liability of Rs 26,000 crore is obviously not a healthy sign for this moribund economy. The State Finance Commission has revealed in its report that J&K’s liability during the past 20 years has unstoppably been on an upward progression. It has gone from a Rs 3,300 crore to Rs 26,000 crore during this period, showing a staggering 20 per cent annual increase, which according to the report is the highest in the entire northern region. The liabilities, the report says, have grown from Rs 3,358 crore with a percentage increase of 17 in 1991-92 to Rs 24,800 crore at a percentage increase of 19.17 in 2009-10. Of the total liabilities the market borrowings stood at Rs 10,213 crore at the end of March 2010. The internal debt proportion is more than 60 per cent of the total liability and is much higher compared to neighbouring states of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.

The dismal fiscal picture gets only accentuated by the limited sources of income available to J&K. It is no secret that apart from the plan funds and financial devolutions J&K gets from the Centre, there is very little resource base for it within the State. The tax and non-tax revenues in J&K over the years have not shown much growth in comparison to the steep increase in expenditures. Where as the Centre government, to bring down its fiscal deficit, can utilize its monetization option— albeit there are problems attached to it— there is no such option available to the states in India. States, particularly those which are backwatered in India have limited options to bring down their fiscal deficits or repay their liabilities. The increasing fiscal deficit pushes these states to more borrowings, which in turn enhances their interest burdens. Same holds true about J&K. The State over the years has seen tremendous increase in its liabilities while it has been not in a position to contain its fiscal deficit. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India in its latest report pointed that the J&K’s fiscal liabilities increased by 18 per cent to Rs 28,735 crore in 2009-10. According to the report the overall fiscal liabilities of J&K State increased from Rs 23,287 crore in 2008-09 to Rs 28,735 crore in 2009-10. The CAG report, which was tabled in the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly previously, said the fiscal liabilities of the State have increased by 18.31 per cent during 2009-10 over the previous year.

To bridge the gap between its incomes and expenditures, the State falls back upon different sources to raise finances. No wonder then a considerable portion of our budget goes into meeting the interest liabilities. The state government would do good to devise a policy to bring down its fiscal deficit, though admittedly there can be no shortcuts to deal with this problem. However, that should be no reason for us to be complacent with the situation. One must understand that if the things move ahead unchanged in the coming years, it would be extremely difficult for the State to come out of this debt trap. The need of the hour is that the State devise a policy which would see at place a no nonsense mechanism to deal with the challenge of public debt management. The State could set up a Public Debt Management Office where the public debt issues could be dealt with. This office could explore new avenues to get debt to the State at low cost which ultimately would help it to bring down its interest payments. Similarly, there is no alternative to the government except to contain its non-productive expenditures in the administration. The government can also think about imposing certain taxes on the high-end tourists, nationalized banks operating in the state, telecommunication companies getting huge revenues from J&K.

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