Srinagar: The Government of India has given itself the right to access all types of data from Jammu & Kashmir, a state that because it is recognised as a “disturbed area”, the police, the paramilitary, and the armed forces “shall provide such assistance as would be required by the concerned statistics officer.”
The Collection of Statistics (Amendment) Bill 2017, approved by the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, empowers the Government of India to collect statistical data from Jammu and Kashmir despite J&K having its own act – the Jammu and Kashmir Collection of Statistics Act 2010 – under which the J&K government carries out its statistical surveys.
Though the Government of India has claimed that the recent amendment to the Collection of Statistics Act 2008, which was brought in by the UPA government, “will not impact” the special status of J&K under Article 370 of Indian Constitution, legal experts as well as civil society members here have a different opinion.
Senior advocate Zaffar Shah told Kashmir Reader that “there will be high risk of manipulation and fabrication” as under the new Act there will be no “credible authority” that can “re-verify” the collected information.
“The ruling parties particularly (at New Delhi) can exploit the data collected from here for their own interests and objectives. There is no one who can re-verify whether the data collected here is correct or has been manipulated at some level,” he said.
Questioning the inclusion of J&K in the amended Act, Shah said that that J&K’s own Collection of Statistics Act 2010 has basically been overridden.
The Congress government had kept out J&K from the Collection of Statistics Act 2008, following which J&K framed its own statistical law. Now, with the rightwing BJP heading the government in New Delhi, the amendment is being seen as a step towards integration of J&K with the rest of India.
The bill for the amendment, aimed at facilitating the collection of statistics on economic, demographic, social, scientific and environment aspects, was introduced by Minister of Statistics and Programme Implementation DV Sadananda Gowda in the Lok Sabha on March 20 this year.
Now that the bill has been cleared by the Rajya Sabha, a number of rules mentioned in Collection of Statistics Rules 2011 will automatically be implemented in J&K, one of which states that government forces will have right to “assist” the statistical officer, designated by GoI, in collection of statistical information.
“In case of statistics in disturbed areas, the police, the paramilitary, and the armed forces shall provide such assistance as would be required by the concerned statistics officer,” reads section 10 (3) of the official copy of Collection of Statistics Rules 2011.
In J&K, designated as a disturbed area, it is quite likely that more than civil officers, it will be soldiers who will go about collecting information.
The civil society in Kashmir as well as the business community has already opposed the amendment. People in the Valley have usually remained wary of data being collected by the government. Now when an Indian official or solider knocks on their doors to seek personal information, it is likely that they would hesitate in revealing the information.
“The hostility between soldiers and people will be a big barrier in the disclosure of information. The Act will create a lot of problems when it is implemented,” Shah said.
Members of a number of opposition parties in New Delhi have already urged the government to take the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly into confidence before passing the Collection of Statistics (Amendment) Bill 2017.
The BJP-led government, however, has justified amending the law, saying it doesn’t cover matters listed in the Union and Concurrent list for J&K, which has led to a “legislative vacuum in respect of the statistical matters in the Union List or Concurrent List applicable to Jammu and Kashmir.”
Asked why he did not oppose the bill, Member Parliament and PDP leader, Fayaz Ahmad Mir said that he didn’t attend the session when the bill was being discussed. He said he had arrived back to Valley to prepare for the party’s foundation day. “We will do something to safeguard our autonomy,” he said.