NC’s image makeover ahead of polls will cost state dearly, say experts

SRINAGAR: The image makeover of ruling National Conference-Congress coalition following its shameful loss in the recent Lok Sabha elections appears to be coming at a financial and social cost to J&K.
The ruling alliance had to bite dust in the Parliamentary elections held in April-May—all candidates of the coalition partners lost to those of BJP in Jammu and PDP in the Valley.
Ever since the defeat, both the parties have been taking drastic “corrective measures” to undo everything they feel caused their defeat. The measures included enhancing the retirement age of employees by two years, revoking the controversial employment policy, withdrawing ban on SMS, while mass employments of youth and creation of more administrative units are in the offing.
However, the desperate image makeover-measures taken by the government in hope to appease voters ahead of the upcoming Assembly polls are not going to be free of cost for the state. Experts say the measures will affect the economy and harm the society, and that the social and financial costs will have to borne by the state in near future.
The government created 659 administrative units in February, incurring upon the state an estimated financial burden of Rs 1500-1600 crore. And now, as an apparent part of its image makeover process, the government has initiated the process for creation of even more units, which can lead the state towards an “economic disaster”.
“The creation of 659 units was done to appease the voters without keeping in mind the principle of equality. Now, to end that disparity caused between Jammu and Kashmir regions by the units’ unequal distribution, the government is going to create more units,” former chairman of Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir (FCIK) Shakeel Qalander told Kashmir Reader.
“Creation of more units is going to have serious financial implications when the creation of 659 units has already put a huge financial burden on the state. It is going to be an economic disaster for the state,” he added.
The state is the largest employer in J&K, having around 500,000 employees. It means roughly five percent of the state’s population directly depends on the state exchequer for livelihood. And to pay the wages of these employees, the state needs about Rs 16,000 crore annually, of which the major share is provided by New Delhi, given that the state’s annual income from all sources is less than half of it.
But by scrapping the employment policy which was created to dissuade the youths from taking government jobs and with intentions of youths’ mass employment ahead of the elections, the government is going to have more employees to feed in future.
“When the number of employees goes up, the annual wage bill will also swell. How is the state going to generate the money to pay its increasing number of employees? We are literally going to become dependent on New Delhi for running the state,” Qalander said.
“The next government will have to bear the brunt of these policies,” he added.
A significant measure taken by the government post its defeat in Lok Sabha elections was fulfilling the employees’ long pending demand of enhancement in retirement age from 58 to 60 years.
While it may delay for two years the annual financial burden of providing due monetary benefits to retiring employees, noted economist and former economic advisor to the state, Prof Nisar Ali, says the move is detrimental for the society.
“The enhancement in retirement age may not have any immediate financial implications, but it prevents the government from employing youths every year. And with unemployment on rise, it is going to hit the society in a big way,” Prof Nisar told Kashmir Reader. He, however, expressed satisfaction over scrapping of the employment policy, which, he feels, was unjustified.
“On one hand the government is saying that it wants to employ youth, and on the other hand the process of employment has been stalled by enhancing the retirement age,” he said. “Since this is election time, one can expect decisions to be made without much thought given to their financial and social implications.”