On February 12, Omar Abdullah announced in the Assembly that he would constitute a committee of experts to look into demands from some areas to create yet more administrative units. The expert committee would present its report to the Cabinet within three years for ‘appropriate action.’ This announcement was simply meant to silence the reported competitive clamour rising from various areas after the cabinet cleared hundreds of new administrative units across the state almost on the eve of Assembly and Parliamentary Elections.
As mentioned in this column on an earlier occasion, and also pointed out by many commentators and writers, the units already announced this year are not only unnecessary but have also been allocated in disproportion to regional populations. For example, the comparatively densely populated Kashmir Valley has been given a much lower number of the new units than Jammu, which will make a power shift from Kashmir to Jammu inevitable. Because, political delimitation will be the next logical demand – one sure to be met, and equally surely to go in favour of Jammu to replace the imagined-and-hyped Kashmir Raj with Jammu or, to be more specific, Dogra Raj. A democratic way of restoring the Treaty of Amritsar.
The practical aspects of the new administrative units may still be a political ruse. Because it will not be an easy task to make Rs 1500 crore available and employ over a thousand more government personnel. This may take years to achieve.
Let us take a look at the existing number of administrative units in the state and compare it with the situation when new units become operational:
S: No Units Jammu Kashmir Ladakh
1 Existing 239 223 39
2 New 337 274 48
3 Total 576 497 87
Interestingly, the State Government has not kept any budgetary provision (for the new units) in the current financial year. The Finance Minister, Abdul Rahim Rathar has totally evaded the issue of any budgetary allocations for the creation of new administrative units. It is said that the whole issue is being looked into by the Planning and Development Department along with Finance Department.
There also is an unfortunate and wide gap between the perceptions of the common people and those of the intellectuals (if the term has any relevance) over the issue. People in general seem to have been swayed by the creation of new administrative units, but conscious sections see the exercise as a political instrument to disempower the masses, particularly in Kashmir.
Certain things should have been made clear to all. One, that the actual number of created units is much higher than needed, as borne out by the recommendations of the Mushtaq Ganai Committee. Two, Jammu has been disproportionately preferred over Kashmir which has a bigger population. Three, the two districts of Ladakh already enjoying privileges under the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils have been unnecessarily given more leverage. Four, the whole issue of creating administrative units has politically a negative impact on development. Much of the work of patwaris will be limited and even become redundant when digitization of revenue records is completed.
Five, in practical terms, more administrative units mean more state authority, and legitimization and availability of instruments of state violence virtually at people’s door steps. Six, it is going to make the lives of people more difficult financially because the government will have to increase taxation, and cut the already thin social service sector. That is, the masses will have to pay for yet another crop of employees and middle-rung officers. Seven, in hundreds of villages and localities, land prices have begun to go up even before their new administrative units have actually come into existence.
Eight, it also shows the success of the ruling coalition that has been able to sell the idea to the people, though there is rethinking in some areas about the exercise having a much different meaning. Nine, it is shows that the so-called separatist groups are actually living on the periphery of society, unable to think realistically and change the course of events.
Thus, the creation of new administrative units in a disproportionate and unjust manner is going to harm the interests of the people and not to benefit them. It also proves that people lack political awareness about affairs that concern their lives and the real issues of empowerment. It may be added that the deep structures of the government will make substantial dents in local empowerment for which Panchayati Raj was put in place. Now a sarpanch will have to function as His Master’s Voice under the administrative control of the local Naib Tehsildar and police officer. Thus the entire game of empowerment with Panchayat Raj will be under the thumb of local administrative authorities. And further, people are bound to feel the impact of such non-productive, non-developmental schemes for a very long time.