Take Chance On AFSPA: Omar To Centre

Take Chance On AFSPA: Omar To Centre

25 March 2013
The Daily Excelsior
Sanjeev Pargal

Jammu: Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said today that if the Centre can take chance of executing Parliament attack convict Mohammad Afzal Guru it should also give a chance to revocation of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) as it (the Act) can always be re-imposed if the situation demands. Asserting that Kashmir is a political problem though no one has questioned that the State was not an integral part of India, Omar favoured dialogue between India and Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir and Union of India to address the issue. He didn’t agree with some of the members that militancy has revived in the Kashmir Valley saying the figures and reports clearly indicated improvement in the situation. In his 83 minutes reply to the debate on grants of his Departments including Home, Power, GAD, Information, Civil Aviation, Hospitality and Protocol etc in the Legislative Assembly this afternoon, the Chief Minister hoped the probe by National Investigating Agency (NIA) ordered by the Union Home Ministry into the arrest of Kupwara youth would clear the facts. He said he has been listening it for the first time that a militant (Liyaqat Shah) was coming to attack a shopping maal along with her wife and children. Accusing the Centre of adopting a “different yardstick” for Jammu and Kashmir, Omar questioned its “pick and choose” policy over Afzal Guru hanging and revoking of AFSPA. “When I talk about revoking AFSPA, you don’t want to take the risk, but you hang Afzal (Guru). Why don’t you have the courage to revoke AFSPA. After hanging of Afzal Guru, you cannot bring him back, but after removal of AFSPA, you can always re-impose it if required”, he said. Omar said “when we talk about AFSPA, we were told you are pushing the State to danger– I do not understand when we are ready for experiment in J&K–why there is always pick and choose– when this government shouted and screamed that by hanging Afzal Guru the situation in J&K state will deteriorate you ignored that– that was your right”. He said AFSPA is not imposed in Naxal violence hit areas. “There are no helicopters shot down in Kashmir, but you have a different yardstick for J&K.” On arrest of Kupwara youth Liyaqat Shah, Omar said he was coming to the State to surrender under the State’s Rehabilitation Policy for ex-militants. “If a man comes to attack a shopping mall, will he come with his wife and children? Tell me. I am hearing for the first time that a militant came to attack holding the hand of his wife and carrying weapons in other hand, as if going for a picnic.” The Chief Minister said he has asked the Home Minister that NIA should examine the case. “We have taken up the issue with Centre, because we know if wrong is done with Liyaqat, others who want to take benefit of surrender policy will hold back’’, he added. The Chief Minister said while nobody can deny that Parliament attack was wrong, Kashmiris are asking questions as to why Afzal could not get a stay from court on his hanging like forest brigand Veerappan’s aides or why killers of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi did not face the same fate as Afzal as their actions were also an attack on democracy. “Lot has been said on Afzal Guru and to say that it has no affect on Jammu and Kashmir, the people of Kashmir, is wrong. Kashmiris are not fools– they see what is happening in rest of the country– they weigh the decisions what happened with Afzal Guru and what happened with the gang members of Veerappan,” Omar said. “When they seek answers from us, we are unable to answer. I feel that no member of this House can reply to their queries. When Afzal Guru was hanged, you said that Afzal Guru was hanged after undertaking-exhausting all the legal options available with him– that is why he was hanged,” he said. “When case pertains to Veerappan gang members, after the rejection of mercy plea by the President, it is being stayed by the Supreme Court, the execution is being stayed by the Supreme Court. When a common Kashmiri stops us on the cross road and then questions us why Afzal Guru ‘sahib’ could not stop his execution by going to court– how can I give answer to that,” he said “When we talk of integral part of India– J&K being integral part of India– then justice becomes blind for this integral part,” he added. Stating that every Kashmiri is “neither a Pakistani nor seeking independence”, the Chief Minister blamed the Centre for erosion of powers of the Jammu and Kashmir and said it has to win the hearts and minds of the people instead of just “giving statements” of the state being an integral part of the country. Omar said aspiration of people are linked to the demand for removal of AFSPA and he was not playing politics over the issue. Referring to the indefinite fast by Manipur activist Irom Sharmila demanding revoking of Armed Forces Special Powers Act, that give immunity to armed forces, he said “if not today but tomorrow they will have to listen us because we are right. “I fail to understand that when you are ready to take risk by hanging Afzal Guru then why cannot you take risk to remove AFSPA. I am not playing politics with this issue– I am saying it on the background of improvement in the situation of the State. “I am not a prophet– I can also be wrong but then you have the powers to re-impose it– at least you should dare,” the Chief Minister said. Omar said every Government at the Centre has accepted that Jammu and Kashmir is a basic problem and it is necessary to resolve it. “If we talk of this issue it does not mean that we are not Indians…To whom it is to be proved by repeatedly saying that J&K is an integral part of India,” he added. “It (the Kashmir issue) has two aspects– one between India and Pakistan and second between New Delhi and the State– is it wrong to say.” Omar said. “Those people, who repeatedly said that J&K is an integral part of India, they should not forget when J&K had done accession with India, it was only on three things that relations were finalised– currency and communication, defence and foreign affairs– rest all will fall in the powers of the State– slowly and steadily it was eroded and today we have reached to this stage”, Omar said. “We create separate road maps but our target is one –that this political issue should be resolved some way or the other way,” he said, adding “our colleagues say self rule– NC says autonomy– Congress says Indira-Sheikh accord– but objective is to resolve the issue”. Noting that sentiments of the people were also attached to revocation of AFSPA, he said it was the CRPF and JKP, which countered recent militant attack at Srinagar. “There are some areas where Army was not required. Let the Centre try it for six months’’. He made it clear that his demand for revocation of AFSPA was not based on emotions but logics. “I’m presenting my case on the basis of logic’’, he said, adding that even the Working Group No. 1, constituted by the Prime Minister had called for revocation of AFSPA. The Working Group had members from Congress, BJP, NPP and CPM etc. Sagheer Committee report also had a mention of it. I’m not saying that the Centre should revoke AFSPA overnight from all areas but at least they can make a beginning’’, Omar said. Saying that the Government has formulated Rehabilitation Policy after a lot of thoughts and cooperation of the Centre, he said the neighbour didn’t allow the youths to use the identified routes as it didn’t suit them. “So, we decided to allow them to take Nepal route for return’’, he said. He hoped that the NIA probed ordered into the arrest of Liyaqat Shah by the Union Home Ministry would clear the facts. Calling upon the Government of India to win the hearts of the people of Kashmir, he asserted that every Kashmir was neither a Pakistani nor was asking for independence though it was a different aspect that sometimes they raise slogans to give vent to their feelings. Rejecting the charges that militancy was on revival after recent attacks on security personnel and civilians in the Kashmir Valley, Omar said one or two incidents didn’t indicate that militancy has been revived. “Militancy has gone down. Don’t believe the reports that militancy has gone up or morale of the militants has been boosted. Though the militants have succeeded in causing a couple of incidents, our successes against the militants are more’’, he said noting that even in Sopore (which is called as hub of militancy), eight to 10 top commanders of the militants were killed in December last year. From 2012 onwards, situation has undergone a sea change. The year 2012-13 was better in Jammu and Kashmir in past 25 years even as the Government had to face some problems after Guru’s execution, he added. The Chief Minister also dispelled the impression that there were no weapons with security forces and police. “Security forces and police are operating under the Standing Operating Procedure (SOP). Wherever they have to deal with militants, they were equipped with weapons. In Srinagar, the paramilitary and police had to face mainly the law and order problem where they use non-lethal weapons but here also a balance is struck with some members of the law and order component having weapons with them’’, he said. He recalled that one wrong teargas shell at Machil in May-June 2010 had led to trouble till September-October. “We want to avoid this kind of situation. Incidentally, the situation in Kashmir is such that the cops didn’t know what is in store for them the next day’’, he said, adding that he won’t go into the figures but with the passage of every year the situation on militancy front is improving. Admitting that the Government had to take tough decisions in the wake of Guru’s execution including imposition of curfew and other restrictions for few days, he said he was saddened by the restrictions but won’t apologise for them as they were necessary for safety of the people. He said he was satisfied that there was not much problem though some forces tried to exploit the situation cause by the execution of Guru. Taking exception to issuance of strike calendars every week (by the separatists), Omar said the people was an end to such calendars and return of normalcy, arrival of tourists, opening of schools and address of their local problems. Making an appeal to the principle opposition party, the PDP, which has been boycotting the House proceedings for past about two weeks now, to return and join the remaining part of the session, the Chief Minister said it would be good to represent the voice of the people in the two House instead of issuing statements to media. “Though 21 MLAs took part in the debate on grants of my Departments, I feel to an extent the debate was incomplete as the major opposition was absent. We made efforts at individual level, through Law Minister and other levels to persuade the opposition to join the budget session proceedings, where elected representatives of the people had to speak for the people but they didn’t turn up’’. Recalling that her mother had told him to do the opposition in front and not from behind the scene, Omar said there was no instance when “we tried to silence the voice of opposition. They themselves left the House and refused to come despite efforts at various levels including by some members, Minister and then the Law Minister. Either they didn’t consider themselves as people’s representatives or they preferred to speak outside otherwise they would have turned up in the House’’. He said the political parties should not represent the stone pelters or those issuing calendars, enforcing bandh and stopping tourists from visiting the State. Instead, he added, the political parties shall support the forces of peace, normalcy, people earning from tourism, development and 'khushhaal’ Jammu and Kashmir. “I would like them (the PDP) to come to the House and make them accountable to people and also make the Government accountable to them. They shouldn’t issue the statements through media or television channels’’, he said. Responding to Engineer Rashid’s statement that separatists should be tackled politically, Omar said that he has always been dealing with them politically and will continue to do so. “But these are the separatists, who do not want the Government to deal with the Government on political grounds but resort to stone pelting and violence’’, he said mentioning a statement of top separatist leader justifying stolen pelting when an innocent auto driver of South Kashmir lost his life at the hands of stone pelters. “Give me one instance when police used force against peaceful protesters. They only deal strictly with stone pelters and those who resort to violence’’, the Chief Minister said and added that separatist leaders are marring economic avenues of common people and were bent upon disturbing peace. On Model Police Act, Omar said the Government didn’t want to take any decision in haste. “Every law comes in stages. The first stage is scrutiny by the people to which it has been put as there were some objections raised on it on creation of Special Police Zones etc. The bill was yet to cross various stages including Home Department, Law Department, Cabinet and Legislature followed by the assent of the Governor’’, he said and charged some elements with spreading lies over the bill with a view to weaken the Government. On the statement of Jammu State Morcha (JSM) MLA Ashwani Sharma, Omar denied that the Government was adopting pick and choose on ‘on spot recruitment’ in police. “We are not undertaking recruitment on pick and choose basis but it was being done in the areas having less representation in police’’, he said. On demand made by some of the MLAs for increasing remuneration of Special Police Officers (SPOs), Omar said the State has already approached the Centre. “The Centre too has its problems as SPOs have been engaged in many States. On our own, our State exchequer has no money to effect the increase’’, he said. He said rehabilitation of surrendered militants has become a compulsion as, otherwise, they could be re-cycled into the militancy, creating more problems for the Government. “The involvement of surrendered militants has been observed in couple of stone pelting incidents’’, he added. On Power Department, Omar as compared to national average of 5 to 7 per cent transformers burning, the J&K had this average of 60 to 70 per cent. After Sikkim, the J&K has been supplying cheapest power to the consumers. Power theft was also very high, he added and said the State had to face Rs 2000 crore worth losses on electricity front. He told the legislators that there had been no ban on installation of transformer by the MLAs from their Constituency Development Fund (CDF), Omar, who holds the charge of Power, said the capacity of the transformers should be according to agreemented load so that they didn’t put burden on grid stations, leading to their collapse. He said the private players can come forward to start power projects and the Government would purchase power for them but at no cost the Government would allow the NHPC to construct power projects independently. “Either the NHPC had to construct the power projects in joint venture with the State or they had to first return some projects to the State. Till they return the power projects, we won’t allow them construction of any project independently. We will go for open tenders’’, he declared. He said no household would be left unconnected with power while disconnected areas would also be connected. On the demand for regularization of daily wagers, the Chief Minister said the Department was assessing number of daily wagers and verification process was on. When the process is completed, the daily wagers would be regularized, he added. On employment, he said the Government proposed conduct fat track recruitment on 70,000 to 80,000 vacancies, He said the Coordination Committee would decided on home many posts to be filled up in the PSC. He said the vacancy of Vigilance Commissioner in the State Vigilance Commission would be filled up after the Legislature session. He said the State Accountability Commission (SAC) would be confined to elected representatives while the Vigilance Commission would take up the cases of Government servants. On the demand by some MLAs’ for residential plots, Omar said the Parliamentary Affairs and Urban Development Ministers would identify the land and I would approve the proposal. However, the MLAs would be entitled to plots either at Jammu or Srinagar provided that they hadn’t taken the plots earlier. The grants of the Chief Minister’s departments were passed in the House by a voice vote after the members’ withdrew their cut motions. The PDP and BJP were absent during debate and reply on the CM’s grants. However, the BJP breakaway group, NPP, JSM and PDF MLAs were present. Omar also gave details of the Government efforts to enhance power generation in the States besides improving Transmission and Distribution system. He also mentioned the losses being regularly incurred on the supply of electricity to the consumers. “We are supplying cheapest electricity to the people after Assam but our revenue realization is poor which needs to be attended to. I am not against installation of new transformers but I stress that these should be according to the load agreement and along with erection of poles and laying of transmission lines. I have announced CDF of legislators so that they can deal with this issue holistically”, he said asking them to grant transformers as per the load agreement signed by the people in the area otherwise transformers get overloaded and burnt. The Chief Minister also spoke of the steps taken by the Government for good-governance and mentioned anti-corruption measures to bring in more transparency in Government functioning and restrict malpractices. He talked about the Results Framework Document and said that at the end of the year the performance of every department would be tabled in the legislature for the public representatives to judge the performance of the Government for the year. Omar also replied the cut motions moved by various members and the points raised by them while taking part in the discussion point by point. Saying that media is equally important pillar of democracy as that of opposition, the Chief Minister said that his Government would extent every support to help the press to get economically sound enough and not remain dependent on Government advertisements. “Economic self reliance will make them more free and vibrant”, he said maintaining that the vibrant opposition and vibrant press are necessary for vibrant democracy.