PM Pushes For Panchayati Raj In Kashmir
23 April 2007
The Indian Express
New Delhi: Indicating his preference for maximum self-governance in Jammu and Kashmir through Panchayati Raj, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has asked Chief Information Commissioner and Kashmir expert Wajahat Habibullah to submit proposals for introduction of three-tier local governance in the state to Justice Sageer Ahmed (Retd), who heads a working group set up to suggest ways to improve relations between the militancy-hit state and the Centre. As Ahmed's working group requires more deliberations and will not be submitting its report to the Third Round Table on Tuesday, the Prime Minister met Wajahat Habibullah early this month and expressed interest in his proposed model. A copy of his proposals has been handed over to Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shanker Aiyar, who in turn has passed it on to J&K Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Union Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta. This proposal will find voice in the India-Pakistan engagement on Panchayati Raj slated later this year. Senior representatives of the Indian Panchayati Raj Ministry will be travelling to Islamabad, though the focus of the deliberations will be more broad-based and not restricted to Kashmir. At the heart of the Habibullah model is the assumption that both independence and redrawing of borders are ruled out in the future of Kashmir. According to him, both the UPA Government and the Pakistani government across the Line of Control (LoC) should promote local self-government in their part of Kashmir through maximum participation of the populace involved. Picking up on the Manmohan Singh's public announcement on April 13, 2005 in Udhampur, Habibullah has suggested the following: • Two regional assemblies in Jammu (one for mountainous areas, the other for the plains); one assembly in Kashmir and two in Ladakh as at present. • Elected Zila Shoora for each district. • Strengthening Halqa Majlis (gram sabha) • Constituting ward majlis through regular meetings The model envisages that gram sabha (halqa majlis) would accord prior approval to plans, programmes and budgets prepared by the village panchayats (halqa panchayat) and certify the utilisation of funds. Habibullah has suggested that State Government should amend and enforce the J&K Right to Information Act along the lines of RTI Act 2005 to empower village communities. The legal basis should be defined for constitution of regional- district level development boards. These boards, which should have 4-5th representatives of halqa panchayats, should consolidate five-year and annual plans prepared by panchayats and municipalities, and also earmark resources. All these proposals should only be put into action after they have been placed before elected assemblies or authorised representatives (read Hurriyat) of the people in Jammu & Kashmir. The same model can be put into action in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir by Islamabad.