Govt Ready To Meet Any Eventuality To Protect Sarpanchs, Panchs: Omar

Govt Ready To Meet Any Eventuality To Protect Sarpanchs, Panchs: Omar

5 November 2012
The Daily Excelsior
Sanjeev Pargal

Jammu: Amid raging controversy over demand by the Panchayat members for protection following a threat issued to them by Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salah-ud-Din, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said today that it was not possible for the Government to provide security to each and every Sarpanch and Panch but declared that the Government was fully geared to meet with any eventuality. Addressing a customary press conference at the Civil Secretariat this morning on re-opening of Darbar offices in winter capital of the State, Omar reiterated that the State Government was not in a position to raise cap on subsidized LPG cylinders from 6 to 9 as it would involve an expenditure of Rs 225 crore per year. He defended the tag of ‘No. 1 State’ Award to Jammu and Kashmir in health sector saying incident of just one hospital (GB Pant) can’t overrule good work done in other areas. The Chief Minister welcomed revival of cricket ties between India and Pakistan saying good relations between the two countries always benefited the State of Jammu and Kashmir. He said Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray was politicizing the issue of cricket. Playing down threats to village heads by Hizbul chief Syed Salah-ud-Din, Omar ruled out providing security to nearly 33,000 Panchs and Sarpanchs in the State but said the Government was geared up to deal with any threat perception. 'You shouldn’t expect from me to speak in the public forum on the Government’s strategy to protect Sarpanchs and Panchs but definitely we are fully geared to meet with any eventuality though we can’t provide individual protection to each and every Sarpanch’’, Omar said in response to a question on Salah-ud-Din’s threat to Panchayat members in an interview published in a national magazine. 'We never said that we will provide security to each and every Panch and Sarpanch- we had said that whenever there is a threat assessment and we feel that there is need to do more - we will do that', he added and said that Central as well as State agencies were assessing threat perception to the Panchayat members area wise. There are nearly 4,000 Sarpanchs and 29,000 Panchs in the State, who were elected in the elections held to Panchayats last year after nearly four decades. 'Each of us know that today’s situation in the State (is very conducive and peaceful)- there is no militancy in most areas of Jammu. Most of the districts in Jammu region are free from militancy. There are 30 to 40 militants in some parts of Jammu. So there is no threat to Panchs and Sarpanchs in Jammu', Omar said. However, he added, as far as Kashmir is concerned, there are some areas which are militancy affected- where Central and State Intelligence agencies will do on-ground threat perception assessments- after that if we have to take further steps- we will take them but it will not be made public', he added. Omar said: 'nothing has changed since the previous attacks. In terms of what Syed Salah-ud-Din has said regarding Panchayati Raj Institutes- unfortunately his own tune has changed (on issuing threats to Panchs and Sarpanchs)'. 'If I remember correctly after the first few phases of (Panchayat) elections, he (Salah-ud-Din) was the one who said that there will be no threats made to the Panchs and Sarpanchs and elections will go ahead without any sort of threat', the Chief Minister recalled. 'Now why has he (Salah-ud-Din) suddenly jumped into this bandwagon of issuing threats'. As far as security is concerned, we are geared up to deal with any eventuality, he said, adding, from time to time 'we are doing necessary threat assessment and whenever any steps need to be taken up they will be taken'. Omar said there is no deadline for the removal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) as of now from the State but it will go and the work is in progress on this count. He said, 'AFSPA will go. But when, I cannot tell, for no deadline has been set at this stage.' The Chief Minister said there had been forward movement on this front though he had 'fruitful discussions’’ with Union Home Minister (Sushil Kumar Shinde) during his recent visit to the Kashmir Valley. Asserting that protection of Sarpanchs and Panchs and withdrawal of AFSPA were not linked, Mr Abdullah said Army has never been used for protection but only for anti-insurgency measures. He said he had dared militants to target him as they were attacking ‘soft targets’ like unprotected Panchayat members. Replying to a question on increasing cap on subsidized cylinder from 6 to 9 at par with the Congress ruled States, Omar said increasing one subsidized cylinder would mean burden of Rs 75 crore on the State exchequer and the amount would go up to Rs 225 crore for three LPG cylinders in a year. 'The Government was already supplying electricity in the State on subsidy incurring a lot of burden on the exchequer. It was not possible for the Government to bear the cost of Rs 225 crore for raising cap of subsidized cylinders from 6 to 9’’, he said, adding that Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad and Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Dr Farooq Abdullah were trying to take up the issue with the Government of India for increasing number of subsidized cylinders in Jammu and Kashmir. He said the Government has issued directions to the Oil companies to expedite process for registration of de-registered connections as the winter was setting in and the people would be in need of the LPG. He added that the Central Government’s decision on subsidized cylinders has created problems in the State as it came ahead of winters. 'We were taken by surprise as the decision came ahead of winter’’, he asserted. Omar once again ruled out incorporation of 73rd amendment of the Constitution on empowerment of Panchayati Raj in the State but said its provisions would be implemented by making amendments in the State Panchayati Raj Act. The 73rd Amendment Act of 1992 contains provisions for devolution of powers and responsibilities to the Panchayats both for the preparation of economic development plans and social justice. 'As far as the 73rd amendment (of Central Panchayat Raj Act) is concerned –we have been very clear that 73rd amendment will not be brought to Jammu and Kashmir', he said. The Chief Minister was replying to his stand on the implementation of the 73rd amendment in Jammu and Kashmir and pressure from his coalition partner Congress to take necessary measures in this direction with postponement of Block Development Council (BDC) elections. 'What we have been clear about is that we have a unique distinction of having our own Constitution within the State -why should we incorporate Central constitutional changes when we can make our own changes here- and amend our own Panchayat Raj Act', he said. 'But at no point has there been any pressure to bring in the 73rd amendment nor has there been any discord', he said, adding, 'what we had done is something coalition is entitled to do-any State Government is entitled to do within its own rules and laws of the Constitution -that is what we intend to do'. Referring to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, Omar said the security situation is peaceful and conducive in the State whether in Kashmir or Jammu and it should continue to be like that. Urging for de-linking sports from politics, Omar said he had 'full faith' that security arrangements would be in place during the upcoming India-Pakistan cricket matches. 'I hope and have full faith, wherever these (Indo-Pak matches) are played, all security arrangements would be made,' he said in response to a question on Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's threat that Indo-Pak cricket matches would be stalled by his party wherever they are held, in protests against 26-11 Mumbai attacks. 'It will not have any impact on the State as there are no matches being played in Jammu and Kashmir,' he said, adding that as far as affects on Indo-Pak relations are concerned, 'we will never desire that sports should be linked to politics’’. Omar said: 'we will desire that they (Pakistan) should come here and play matches in good and cordial environment irrespective who loses and wins’’. He added that Bal Thackeray and his party leadership have political compulsion that he keeps on raising such issues. 'But this is not for the first time that India and Pakistan are playing matches after 26-11. They might have played matches at any other place...But they have played. If they had reservation to these matches between India and Pakistan, they should have also opposed them in past and that time,' he said. The Chief Minister defended that ‘No. 1 State Award’ given to Jammu and Kashmir in health sector saying that performance in one odd hospital (GP Pant) can’t take away credit from the State Government for raising infrastructure and other facilities in Health Department. 'A lot of progress has been made in health sector. The award is quite genuine’’, he said. On education front also, Omar said the State has ranked 5th best in the country. To a question on lack of upgradation of schools under Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan and RAMSA, he said schools were opened and upgraded where they were required and not on quota basis for politicians. He added that infrastructure in education sector has also gone up manifold. In his opening remarks, the Chief Minister, without naming the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) said some forces won’t like better living conditions to prevail in Jammu and Kashmir. 'They always try to disturb situation in Jammu and Kashmir using religion, caste and region. However, with people’s support, we will succeed in taking the State to the path of development’’, he added.