Omar emerges from trouble to complete 3 years today

Omar emerges from trouble to complete 3 years today

4 January 2012
The Daily Excelsior
Sanjeev Pargal

Jammu: Chief Minister Omar Abdullah would complete three years of tenure i.e. half of his present term in the office tomorrow having overcome a series of challenges in the trouble torn Kashmir valley not only from the separatists or his main political rival-the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) but also from various other quarters including a very tough 2010 summer in which nearly 110 civilians were killed. Despite stiff opposition by the Defence Ministry and Army and some political parties, both national and regional level, the Chief Minister didn’t give up his stand on withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from peaceful areas of the State and have formed a high level panel, which is in the process of meeting Union Secretaries of different Ministries to pursue the case. Omar at the age of 39 had taken over the reign of affairs of sensitive Jammu and Kashmir Government on January 5, 2008 when the State had hardly come out of two months long Amarnath land row agitation in both Jammu and Kashmir regions. Political observers were of the view that three years of Omar Government had been very tough but all the times he managed to come out of the crisis with very effective backing of the Union Government especially Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Home Minister P Chidambaram and AICC (I) general secretary Rahul Gandhi besides other young turks of the Congress at the national level besides his own firmness. Along with PDP and some groups of separatists, even a faction of Congress (I), which was a major partner in the coalition Government, spared no efforts to corner the Chief Minister but Omar emerged stronger after every crisis and would tomorrow complete his three years term, which is widely being described by the observers as successful. 'It was due to Omar Abdullah’s functioning that the Congress high command had to direct one faction of the Congress to keep silent on their demand for rotational Chief Minister after three years. Today, there was no demand from any leader of the Congress for rotational CM’’, the observers said. With nearly 110 killings in 2010 summer when para-military and police had to fire at the protesters, many political leaders had written off Omar Abdullah. However, with Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) like replacement of Border Security Force (BSF) with Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the cities and towns, withdrawal of Army from parts of National Highways, removal of several CRPF bunkers from the City, a strong demand for phased withdrawal of AFSPA from parts of the State including Jammu, Samba, Srinagar and Budgam districts and appointment of Interlocutors by the Union Home Ministry at the initiative of the Chief Minister, the 2011 summer was completely peaceful with not even a single killing in the protests or major incident reported from any part of the Kashmir Valley. The killing of three porters in an alleged fake encounter at Macchil, Kupwara in 2010, which triggered protests leading to the killing of Tufail Mattoo followed by violent protests in 2010 summer that took the toll of about 110 people created a lot of trouble for Omar Abdullah with opposition PDP leaving no stone unturned to exploit the situation. But, the Chief Minister managed to come out of the crisis successfully. Similar things happened in 2009 at Shopian, where two women Asiya Jan and Nelofar were found dead and there were allegations of rape and murder by Army. The allegations were proved incorrect by the CBI, which concluded that the deaths had taken place due to drowning. The latest crisis gripped Omar Government just a couple of days back with the killing of Altaf Ahmed Sood at Boniyar in Baramulla district on January 2, just three days before his Government was to complete three years, in firing on a protest by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) manning an installation of NHPC. Acting promptly, Omar ordered registration of FIR and arrest of five CISF personnel to ensure that the separatists and the opposition PDP didn’t manage to exploit the situation and create trouble. The observers felt that the PDP, separatists and a faction of Congress, albeit clandestinely, tried to exploit the summer unrest and other such untoward incident to the disadvantage of Omar but all the times their attempts failed. Report of the Interlocutors is also pending with the Union Home Ministry and was expected to be made public shortly after a briefing to Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, which could serve as another CBM for all three regions of the State as the Interlocutors were reported to have favoured Development Councils and equal distribution of funds leaving no scope of discrimination within the State. As another CBM on AFSPA, the Chief Minister had set up a high level committee comprising Principal Secretary, Home, BR Sharma, Director General of Police (DGP) Kuldeep Khoda, Additional DGP K Rajendra and a representative of Army to meet Defence Secretary, Shashikant Sharma, Home Secretary, RK Singh and Army chief Gen VK Singh to mobilize the campaign for phased withdrawal of AFSPA. The Chief Minister has also taken up the demand with the Union Home Ministry for setting up of 50 police battalions in long term and five police battalions in first phase to gradually replace para-military forces in the State and take up the task of dealing with left out militancy and law and order problem. This will not only generate employment for the local youth but also give the task of dealing with militancy and law and order problem to police. After 110 killings in 2010 violent summer, the Chief Minister had directed police to procure laser weapons, which DGP Kuldeep Khoda had done with the support of the Union Home Ministry. The laser weapons would be used to quell protests, if any. They would render the people temporarily ineffective and there would be no casualties with them. 'It was after 37 years that full Panchayat elections were held in the State from April to September 2011. The Election Department on the directions of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and supervision of Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) BR Sharma performed a tough task in holding Panchayat elections in the State’’, the observers said. The Chief Minister in his last press conference on November 9, 2011 on the re-opening of Civil Secretariat here had described holding of Panchayat elections to restore democracy and empowerment at grass root level as his biggest achievement. The Panchayat elections were last held in 1974. With Sarpanches and Panches in place, the Government is now in the process of holding first ever election to Block Development Councils (BDCs) in next couple of months to put two-tier system of election in place. However, according to observers, there is a genuine demand of the people that 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution of India should also be implemented in the State as advocated by the Prime Minister himself to give more powers to Panchayats and Municipalities. The Government should also go for Urban Local Bodies elections immediately and ensure that elections to Municipalities and Panchayats are conducted after every five years like other States. The year 2011 also saw a massive arrival of tourists-be it pilgrim tourists or others in both Jammu and Kashmir regions of the State, mainly due to peaceful summer in Kashmir. While pilgrimage to Mata Vaishno Devi ji shrine in Jammu crossed one crore for the first time in history, 6.37 lakh tourists visited Kashmir in addition to 6.5 lakh Amarnath yatris. Ladakh also witnessed a record number of tourists. The observers were of the view that the Government should equally devote funds towards tourist spots of Jammu like Patnitop, Sanasar, Sudh Mahadev, Mansar and other unexplored areas to attract Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims to other areas. Omar also took initiatives last year and revived the State Accountability Commission (SAC) with the appointment of Chairman and a Member. The SAC had been lying defunct for past quite some time. The rules have also been framed for constitution of first ever State Vigilance Commission in the State with a Chief Vigilance Commissioner and two Directors of Vigilance, one each for Jammu and Kashmir regions. According to observers, the Chief Minister should make the SAC fully functional by filling up the vacancy and giving its staff and powers and make the SVC operational shortly to tackle the menace of corruption effectively in the State since it hits the common man. The observers, however, admitted that the Chief Minister had to do a lot of job on his own as he had not been able to get a good team of Ministry. Barring two to three Ministers, Omar hasn’t been able to get a good team from both National Conference and Congress as some of the Ministers were neither assertive nor effective and were unable to deliver. Some of them have figured in the scams and the Chief Minister should get rid of them, they said. According to them, there were some educated and politically matured legislators in both National Conference and Congress, whose services could be used by Omar in the Council of Ministry by getting rid of those, who have failed to perform. They added that Omar was also required to take on some corrupt bureaucrats, who were hurdles in effective governances in the State and were sending a wrong message among the people. Earlier, there had been talks of giving forced retirement to corrupt officers and a Committee was also constituted under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary. The observers were of the view that corrupt officers should be identified and given forced retirement to send a strong message to the bureaucracy, which would lead to good functioning of the Government for remaining period of three years. It was during the term of present Government that the State managed to get highest ever annual plan of ' 6600 crore for 2011-12 from the Union Government and the Planning Commission. The State was going to spend almost 100 per cent plan during the ongoing year. For the next financial year i.e. 2012-13, the State has staked claim for ' 7300 crore annual plan. There were all possibilities that the State would be able to get ' 7300 crore worth plan from the Central Government for next financial year. Though the Government headed by Omar Abdullah has taken a lot of initiatives for unemployed youths, there were genuine demands from the unemployed youths that the Government should continue with the old employment policy instead of new recruitment policy under which the new recruits would be on stipendary mode for first five years. The observers opined that enactment of Public Services Guarantee Act in about a dozen of services and specified in six departments will go a long way in helping the common man to get certificates and other facilities in fixed time provided that it was implemented properly at the administrative level. The Right to Information Act (RTI) has been helping the people to keep a vigil on functioning of the Government. The Chief Minister’s decision to personally review the district plans of every district in the District Development Board (DDB) meetings was also aimed at keeping a check on the administration to ensure that development works are completed in time. However, according to observers, there was also a need to give weightage to the projects identified by MLAs-MLCs-irrespective of their political affiliation for overall development of the State. The observers were of the view that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah could have a smooth sailing for rest of the three years also but he would have to keep a good team of Ministry with him along with the bureaucrats and officers and keep a strict check on all kind of corruption. 'A vigil was also required on elements, who didn’t want return of peace in the State. Though militancy has gradually died down in the State, it hasn’t finished completely. Army, police and other security agencies were on record having stated that still a number of militants were active in the State while hundreds of others are waiting across the Line of Control (LoC) to sneak into this side to fan trouble’’, sources said.