Centre-State ties not on agenda of third RTC
15 April 2007
The Daily Excelsior
New Delhi: The third Round Table Conference on Kashmir, to be held here on April 24, would skip the thorny issue of Centre-State relations but discuss the recommendations of the four Working Groups to move forward and ensure that views of different segments are incorporated. The fifth and most important Working Group, constituted for deciding the Centre-State relations and is headed by Justice (retd) Sagir Ahmed, was yet to finalise its recommendations, official sources said. The group, which was constituted on May 25 last year, was to go into the issues of strengthening relations between the State and the Centre as also deliberate on matters relating to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union, methods of strengthening democracy, secularism and the rule of law in the State. This group was also to deliberate on effective devolution of powers among different regions to meet regional, sub-regional and ethnic aspirations. The sources said it was unlikely that there would be any consensus in this group as Jammu and Kashmir’s opposition National Conference was supporting autonomy and terming the 'self-rule' of ruling PDP as nothing but a finer version of its greater autonomy plan. The Working Group has met thrice but its recommendations were unlikely to be completed before the third Conference being held here on April 24. The invitations, which were extended this time by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil to more than 40 participants, has also said it would deliberate on the recommendations of the four working groups set up last year. The four Working Groups, which were constituted at the end of second Round Table Conference on May 25 last year, have completed their recommendations and the same are to be deliberated at the meeting. The first group was on Confidence-Building Measures across segments of society in the State and to improve the condition of people affected by militancy, schemes to rehabilitate orphans and widows affected by militancy, issues relating to relaxation of conditions for persons who have foresworn militancy. This group also went into the issue of evolving effective rehabilitation policy, including employment, for Kashmiri Pandit migrants, an approach considering issues relating to return of Kashmiri youth from areas controlled by Pakistan and measures to protect and preserve the unique cultural and religious heritage of the State. The second group was for strengthening relations across the Line of Control and recommend simplification of procedures to facilitate cross-border travel, increase goods traffic, expand people-to-people contact, including promotion of pilgrimage and group tourism. The third group went into economic development with an emphasis on evolving a strategy that ensures balanced economic development and employment generation, balanced regional and sub-regional development within the State. The fourth group worked for a strategy for ensuring good governance which included making the Government more effective and responsiveness, accountable and transparent and strengthen local self-Government. Meanwhile, invitations to separatists groups including JKLF chief Yaseen Malik and Hurriyat Conferences — both moderate and hardliners — had been extended by the Centre. Though the moderate’s would be meeting tomorrow to deliberate on the invitations, it was unlikely that they would participate in the Conference on the pretext that little time had been left for them to decide. The announcement of the date has come as a surprise for them as well other mainstream political parties who wanted that the recommendations of the fifth Working Group needed to be completed first. The first Working Group was held in February last year which was followed by a two-day Conference in Srinagar on May 24 last year. The separatists had not participated in either of these meetings.