Wasteful visits

The sheer volume of press releases issued by the information department has always given a misleading picture of governance in the state. On an average, a newspaper desk receives more than a dozen press releases informing the media outlets, and hence the public, that this minister visited some hospital or that minister made a ‘surprise’ inspection of an office. The press notes, written in clichéd officialese, look boringly similar, but they do provide an insight into what ails governments in the state. Apart from registering the presence of a politician, who is now a minister, in the media, these visits hardly serve any purpose. Rather, it entails wasteful expenditure on vehicles and the minister’s security detail. And if a minister happens to be someone like Lal Singh, it also means a lot of discomfort for employees. These “visits” are also indicative of a bigger malaise: every government’s focus is to manage public perception rather than do something useful on the ground. That is why ministers become peripatetic, self-promoting, coverage-hungry personalities who “show” their presence rather than sitting in their offices and getting to the bottom of problems. “Visits” become important than sitting down with officials to identify and resolve issues. Faithfully reproduced in newspapers, more because of the fear that information department will stop advertisements than their news worthiness, the information press releases about ministerial visits are also a sign of government’s controlling mechanisms. It has been learnt that a minister not only has one designated officer from the information department to cover his “visits” and other activities, he has a PRO and an additional PRO too. Such insistence on publicity no doubt has its dividends, but the recent history has shown that they do not change much on the ground. During one such visit, deceased former minister Maulana Iftikhar Hussain Ansari (who was with the NC then and later joined PDP) talked about a revolutionary underground sewage and drainage programme for Srinagar. He talked about hiring consultancies to study feasibility of micro-tunnelling on the lines of big cities. Remember, that was in 1997 or 1998. During PDP’s first stint in power, then minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig nearly build another capital city in Parihaspora and replaced the wretched macadamised roads of the Valley with slick and lasting concrete ones. We are again being treated to a flurry of ministerial visits and equally empty statements once again. While visits do come to a close one day, the reality remains what it is.