In the run-up to the second anniversary of the abrogation of Article 370, and against the backdrop of recent outreach efforts by the Union government, Jammu & Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha spoke to Hindustan's Shashi Shekhar on his administration's plans and strategies, during a long conversation at the Raj Bhawan in Srinagar. Edited excerpts:
My tongue fumbles as I try to say 'Lieutenant Governor.' When would I be able to address you as Mr Governor?
I will try to give a direct answer. You want to know when it [Jammu & Kashmir] will get the status of statehood? Home Minister Amit Shah has given a clear assurance in the country's Parliament that statehood will be announced at the appropriate time. The Prime Minister also said this when he addressed the nation. Recently, when representatives of various political parties met in Delhi on June 24, the question was raised again. Even there the Home Minister repeated that statehood will be given at the appropriate time. You will understand the significance of something said in the national Parliament. I believe the people of the nation and Jammu and Kashmir must trust them.
A number of promises were made to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. You have even promised the homecoming of Kashmiri Pandits. When will be the proper time for their return?
I will come to the Kashmiri Pandit question later, but I would like to draw your attention to the promises that were made and fulfilled in the last few years. A programme runs under the name of Prime Minister Development Fund (PMDP). After the bifurcation , broadly speaking, development projects worth Rs55000 crores are being run as part of this programme and I am happy to announce that when I had come here, the portion spent was about 23% and , despite two waves of Covid,that has today risen to about 67%. Today Jammu and Kashmir has an Indian Institute of technology, an Indian Institute of Management, two central universities, and two All India Institutes of Medical Science are being set up. Plus, new medical colleges are coming up. A National Institute of Fashion Technology has been set up, along with one Bone Institute and two Cancer Institutes, and seven paramedical and nursing colleges. Here I am talking about just one region. Last year we completed more than 16,000 projects and this year, this number will reach 30,000 . We have modified the land laws and many people have a difference of opinion over these. I would like to mention just a few laws. You needed the excise minister's approval to set up an orchard and even to cut its produce. I don't think there could have been a worse law for farmers. There is no need to seek permission to set up an orchard now. We are moving towards a new Jammu and Kashmir.
What about Kashmiri Pandits…
Let me share two facts about Kashmiri Pandits with you. The Government of India promised to create 6,000 jobs and build 6,000 houses. This was being disrupted for one reason or another. Today, except 164 posts that are vacant, everybody else has got a job. The remaining posts will be filled in three, four months. As far as accommodation is concerned, 1800 flats are being built quickly as one-room sets that will be complete in six, seven months. The remaining land has also been identified. These houses will be built over the next two years, but I believe just jobs and accommodation are not enough to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits. We have taken a number of decisions that will create a conducive atmosphere for their return and rehabilitation. Secondly, we are going to take many other administrative decisions that will make it convenient for them to return. You will certainly see the results in the next six months.
The unemployment rate in Kashmir is almost double the rest of the country. Some of them are sitting idle at home without jobs. How will you address this imbalance?
Our unemployment rate was at 19.3 in March, which went up during the pandemic but the new statistic for this month is 10.3 or 10.4. We are better than Goa, Delhi and Rajasthan.
Why didn't you name Uttar Pradesh?
It didn't occur to me. At this time, I would like to submit that if you want to understand Jammu-Kashmir (J&K), you must know one fundamental fact: The population of J&K is 13 million and the budget passed by Parliament is to the tune of Rs1.08 lakh crore. This hasn't happened only this year. The figure was Rs1 lakh crore last year and Rs90,000 crore before that. Since Independence, this has been seven or eight times compared to other states. Despite this, 970 villages do not have road connectivity. There are many places that don't even have grid electricity. We haven't been able to organise clean drinking water for many. This is the misfortune of J&K. We launched a 'Back to the Village' programme and kept a target of identifying two young people from every panchayat and providing them self-employment and offered a loan of up to Rs10 lakh loan at a subsidised rate. I am happy that we were able to provide loans to 19,873 people. Of these, 4500 are women. We have a target of providing loans to 50,000 young people for self-employment.
There are complaints that announcements have been made for MSMEs, but the banks don't disburse loans…
There is no such complaint in Jammu and Kashmir. Secondly, we are setting up youth clubs in the Panchayat. Through these, we are initiating skill development at a very rapid pace, in association with Tata Technology. Children are being provided 360-degree training in financial services along with the Bombay Stock Exchange. Young people who have completed school can easily earn between Rs25,000 and Rs30,000 with just three months of training.
Are you doing anything special for women?
Our focus is on women and young people. A number of schemes have been launched including Hausala and Tejaswini. Apart from government officials, youngsters from IIM came forward to train students. Women have traditionally been part of the workforce here. If you look back at history, you will discover that Kashmir is the only region in which a guerrilla army of women was formed. Women here are already empowered. We are giving encouragement to this by creating a conducive atmosphere for them. Our sisters in Kashmir are very talented and they are coming forward to take their rightful place in society.
You took along members of the Gupkar Alliance last month but their tone changed when they returned. On the one hand it is said they don't have the people's mandate on the other, they are invited for talks.
I think the political process had begun before I took over. When I was coming here, the PM told me two things. One, increase dialogue with common citizens as much as possible. Secondly, Panchayati Raj institutions need to be strengthened. A three-tier Panchayati Raj system has been implemented for the first time.
The panchayat polls were quite successful here, but the poll percentage was less in the Valley…
Please compare the votes polled to those polled in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections for the past 3-4 times. The constituencies that saw a voting percentage of 8% saw a 28% turnout this time. The nation needs to know that an election was held for the first time in 20 years in which not even a drop of blood was shed in Jammu-Kashmir. You won't meet any person who can say the election wasn't impartial. Meanwhile, it would be wrong to say that just the Gupkar alliance was invited. Leaders of all political parties had gone [for the all-party meet].
Granted, no blood was shed in the elections, but attacks on the armed forces and their family members have increased. Elected representatives are being targeted. What is your policy regarding this?
The armed forces are in a better position today. Cross-border incursions have stopped as a whole. Violent incidents have also reduced and stone-throwing is history. Still, a few incidents that took place could have been avoided. Those who have given patronage to terrorism, those who have financed it, wherever they are, even if they are they are part of the government machinery, are being dealt with firmly.
Now drones are being used for attacks. Why haven't we been able to thwart the conspiracy being hatched by foreign agencies to worsen the situation in Kashmir and trouble its citizens?
Drones have been seen in the last few months. A few drones were shot down by BSF personnel, some were captured, particularly those being used for smuggling of arms and narcotics. Now a drone was seen at the Jammu air base. As far as the international scenario is concerned, the country's ministry of external affairs and the Government of India will worry about it. Whatever needs to be fixed here is our responsibility and we will do it without any delay.
Do you see any impact of the developments in Afghanistan here?
I have already made it clear that we won't wait for things to happen… whatever needs to be done, will be done.
Coming back to the economy and jobs, until the nation's industrial houses invest here, it won't be easy to create jobs and economic development. Are you doing anything special in this direction?
A new industrial scheme has been launched in which we are extending an incentive of Rs28,400 crore. Arguably no other state in the country can boast of such an industrial policy. We are giving a 300% incentive in GST. This means you can gain the incentive, provided you begin manufacturing. Investments of around Rs25,000 crore were expected to come to the state and between 4 lakh and 5 lakh people were expected to gain employment, but looking at the enthusiastic response, I feel investment to the tune of between 40,000 crore and 50,000 crore will come here and between 8 lakh and 9 lakh jobs will be created.
How much of this Is in Jammu and how much in Kashmir? How many of them are coming to the Valley?
Plenty of people are coming to the Valley as well as Jammu. There may be a difference of 5-10%, but there isn't any imbalance.
How did you win the war against Corona? Your vaccination levels are perhaps the best in the country.
Deaths have occurred here as well. We have deep empathy for those who have lost their loved ones and we have launched a scheme called Saksham for those who have lost family members to the pandemic. The administration must have a humane face. Looking at this, we have taken up the responsibility of their family members. There wasn't even a single day when we had to say we don't have oxygen beds. As many as 98 per cent of those over the age of 45 have been vaccinated.
List three achievements you are proud of
One, restoring the democratic process and Panchayati Raj institutions for the first time since Independence. Two, creating an entirely transparent administration and three, creating an administration that is answerable to people. The three top priorities are peace, progress and prosperity for the people,
Three such tasks, which you think must be accorded higher priority?
On the basis of priority, rehabilitating them [Kashmiri Pandits]. Second, creating as many job opportunities as possible. Three, ensuring that industrial activity becomes a reality here and transforms people's lives.