Reducing Forces’ Footprints In Kashmir My Biggest Achievement: Omar5 January 2010
Srinagar: The Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, believes that the biggest achievement of his first year in office is reducing the “footprints of the security forces” from the state and bringing “improvement in the law and order situation.” In an exclusive interview with Greater Kashmir, Omar said, “Improvement in the situation, record low violence level and the decisions we took to reduce the footprints of the security forces from Jammu and Kashmir have been the major achievements of my government in the first year.” However, he was quick to add that there was no room for complacency and lot more needs to be done to bring full normalcy. The 39-year old Omar, who was sworn-in as the youngest Chief Minister in the country on January 5, 2009, described shifting of the Army camp from Bomai in north Kashmir as a turning point in the history of Kashmir. “It showed Government’s seriousness about zero tolerance to human rights violations and non-acceptance of any violation of the Standard Operational Procedure,” he said. Just a month after Omar took over the reins of the state, Army killed two youth, Muhammad Amin Tantray and Javid Ahmed Dar in Bomai village. The killings led to widespread protests across the Valley following which Omar took up the matter with the Union Home and Defence Minister. It was after his intervention the Army camp was shifted from the area. It was for the first time in the past 20 years that an Army camp was shifted from any part of the Valley. Omar said the Army from top to the bottom has cooperated with his Government and things are looking better. The Chief Minister said that militancy had been contained to a great extent despite increase in the number of infiltration attempts in 2009. “Militancy has not ended and we need to maintain vigil,” he cautioned. Linking withdrawal of troops from Jammu and Kashmir with improvement in the ground situation, Omar said, “It is not going to be a political decision. If violence keeps on declining, troops will be pulled back.” In December 2009, the Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram had informed the Rajya Sabha that process to pull out troops from JK had already commenced and preparations were on to hand-over the internal security to the state police. Omar maintained that Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), due to which troops enjoy impunity in JK, would be revoked during his tenure. “In coming days either it would be revoked from the districts where the situation has improved or it will be modified. However, this act will go before the term of the present coalition ends,” he assured. Asked how he assessed the performance of his Government, Omar said, “I think Governments have to be assessed at the end of their tenure. Yearly assessment doesn’t serve any purpose. But I am satisfied with the overall performance but still lot more needs to be done.” Omar said that previous coalition Governments only had three year tenure and for them annual assessment was mandatory. “We are not going to bring out Annual Performance Report. Our performance will be assessed by the people at the end of six years,” he added. The Chief Minister ruled out any possibility of expanding his council of ministers in coming days. “Neither will there be any expansion nor anyone will be dropped,” he said, adding, “Reports about senior NC leaders being replaced are baseless aimed at creating confusion.” He dispelled the notion that there was unrest within the National Conference over the issue of Congress getting plum ministries. “Coalition has its advantages and disadvantages as well. However, people voted for a coalition government and we had to respect it. The Government is in place and it is functioning smoothly and there is no discord within the NC or the coalition partners,” he asserted. In 2008 Assembly elections, the National Conference had emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats while Congress got 17. The two parties together had 45 seats - one more than the required. Omar lauded Centre for providing all the possible financial assistance to the state. “Central Government has gone out of the way to accommodate the interests of the state and I am thankful to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi for it,” he said. Omar said that Centre sanctioning two central universities for the state was a great gesture. “To get two separate universities sanctioned was a challenge but we succeeded in our endeavour. It would not have been possible without centre’s help,” he added. Omar called on the youth to come forward and create avenues for themselves, Referring to the new employment policy unveiled in December last year, he said, “ We have taken a holistic approach to tackle unemployment. I don’t say that we have drafted a perfect policy but the fact of the matter is that we have made a beginning. This policy can be amended with the passage of time. Youth need to come forward and set up own units. The Government will provide all possible help to them.” The Chief Minister said that Government is trying to make private companies invest in Kashmir. “We have been trying our level best to make sure that big corporate houses change their perception about Kashmir to some extent we have succeeded. Srinagar will have its own Taj Hotel before the next tourist season. If all goes well many more big players will come to JK in near future,” he said, adding that advent of private companies would help tackle the unemployment problem to a great extent. On power front, he said the Government was formulating a new power policy. “We are trying to take care of all the shortcomings but people will have to wait,” he said. Omar denied that non-local companies were exploiting the hydel potential of the state. “Many power projects are owned by the state but we have to seek the help from the non-local companies as we don’t have enough money in our kitties to finance big projects,” he added. Omar said that report of Justice Sagheer, who headed the Prime Minister’s Working Group on Centre-State relations, had vindicated National Conference’s stand. “Justice Sagheer asking Centre to consider autonomy proposal has definitely helped my party’s cause,” he added. The Chief Minister while referring to various strikes by Government employees, including doctors in past one year said, “It seems to protest and to go on strike has become a routine in our state. Doctors could have got a better deal had they not gone on a strike. The Government employees were all set to get the pay hike as we had promised them that recommendations of sixth pay commission will be implemented, still they went on a strike.” On tendering conditional resignation during the budget session of the Assembly, Omar said, “It was a spontaneous reaction as I couldn’t tolerate the blatant lies and the baseless allegations that were levelled against me. Anyway that’s history now and I have marched ahead.” On being told that most of his colleagues always address him as “angry young man,” he said, “I don’t smile much but that doesn’t mean that I remain angry all the time, basically my mind remains preoccupied with too many things as I want to keep on pushing things.” Chief Minister said that he wants to strengthen the institution of Information Commissioner provided under the Right to Information Act, to improve governance and make functioning of the administration transparent. “This will also help to reduce the chances of corruption”, he said adding that most suitable person, Wajahat Habibullah has been selected for the post of Information Commissioner. He expressed hope that Centre government will relive him with in next two months to take over the position here.