BY: DR FAROOQ AHMAD WANI
Grassroots Governance is the heart of vibrant democracy, and since the abrogation of article 370 it has taken firm roots in Jammu and Kashmir.
In this regard, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, 24 April 2022, picked up an unexceptional hamlet of Palli in Jammu and Kashmir’s border district of Samba to celebrate the Panchayati Raj Divas with thousands of Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) members and also transferred Rs 44.70 Crore to 322 Panchayats spread across the length and breadth of India. This was Narendra Modi’s first ever visit to the newly carved-out Union Territory of J&K post the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, which were highly discriminatory in nature and never empowered people at grassroots level.
The crowd that had started accumulating at the venue since early morning included people from all walks of life, especially the Sarpanchs and Panchs, who travelled from far-off places of Jammu and Kashmir despite all odds, threats of militants and growing pressure from those who never empowered their institutions, as they wanted to hear the Prime Minister speak about decentralisation of powers, and the PM clearly sent a message that the future of J&K lies in the development of villages through Gram Panchayats, Mandal Parishads and Zila Parishads.
The opposition, as usual, was left cribbing and complaining as to why the Prime Minister didn’t mention about elections in J&K. The message from Narendra Modi was loud and clear to those who, during the past 70 years didn’t let the three-tier system of governance persist in J&K and instead continued with single line administration to enjoy brute powers, that the priority of the Union Government was to strengthen institutions at grassroot level where people could become part of the decision-making institutions and develop their villages at par with any other place of India.
Having denied Jammu and Kashmir their right to have vibrant institutions like Panchayats, local bodies, municipal councils or municipal corporations, this is for the first time that the 73rd and 74th Amendments tothe Constitution of India are being extended to the Union Territory (UT), which in turn will empower people at grassroot level and make them believe that villages and small towns besides cities can be developed with the three-tier system of governance in a much better manner than what the erstwhile state had been practising .
Presence of about eleven thousand Panchayat representatives at PM’s address at Palli established that Jammu and Kashmir is witnessing a sea change where people at grassroot level are getting their due share after decades. This was also indicative of the fact that the wheel of democracy, set rolling by the Prime Minister in J&K, is not going to stop and all the institutions will be strengthened. HeadingPalli towards being a carbon neutral village by establishing a 500 Kilowatt solar power plant in record three weeks’ time, Prime Minister again recognised that actual and good governance at grassroot level can change the fate of people entirely.
To send a message across the length and breadth of the nation, especially in villages, PM Modi also mentioned about the 75 Amrit Sarowars coming up in each district. At a time when massive modernisation is turning cities and even villages into concrete jungles, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a proposal of saving water bodies, rejuvenating existing ones and constructing new ones to help conserve water, which in turn will help the locals as well as animals and birds while balancing the biodiversity. Such sensitivity should be replicated wherever possible and all water bodies must be restored to their lost glories in J&K before it is too late.
The Prime Minister also chose to announce that the youth of Jammu and Kashmir will not face what their previous generations had suffered, which means that the days of militancy are numbered, development is taking place, infrastructure that’s being built on war footing is going to change the way J&K moves, foreign and domestic investment to the tune of Rs 38,000 crore is going to create jobs and open up new vistas and most importantly, an order is being brought in the system of governance, which had gone haywire during all previous regimes.
PM Modi also silenced those who wanted to know what avenues and investments or developments took place in J&K post abrogation of Article 370. The very first thing that the Modi government at the Centre ensured in J&K was to start, execute and dedicate public projects in record time. Unlike the past when projects of national importance used to take decades to complete, time bound completion of projects have given a fillip to J&K’s economy, with which it is able to pick up pace at par with the rest of India.
An 850-megawatt power project on Chenab river in Kishtwar coming up at a whooping cost of around Rs 5,300 crore and another 540-megawatt Kwar hydroelectric project costing Rs 4,500 crore were also inaugurated by the Prime Minister and their completion in record time will not only enable J&K to have surplus power but it will also be able to export it to other states through the Northern Grid. One of the best projects that the Prime Minister inaugurated was the highway from Katra to Delhi, which when completed will give a fillip to travel and trade to the extent that Jammu and Kashmir will be transformed into a mega city having footprints of traders, business houses and investors from rest of the world.
Another project, the 8.4 Kms long Banihal-Qazigund tunnel thrown open for the public, will not only reduce the long distance of 16 Kms by one and a half hours but the region will also get all-weather connectivity. J&K had never ever seen completion of such mega projects in record time. Earlier the projects used to be inaugurated and left in lurch, but this is because of the vision of Narendra Modi and his monitoring mechanism that people are getting infrastructure built and dedicated to them in record time.
Instead of naming any other political outfit, hostile neighbours or wrongs being practised by opposition leaders to misguide youngsters, the Prime Minister cherry-picked developmental issues, strengthening of Panchayats and involvement of elected representatives in decision-making institutions, only to render all such people redundant rather irrelevant. His focus was on involving people into making Jammu and Kashmir, especially its villages, self-reliant so that a phased movement of youngsters from villages to cities is stopped and ample opportunities are provided to them at their doorsteps.
This is something that the Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha also mentioned in his speech and said that the country, including the Union Territory of J&K, will now progress by leaps and bounds through Gram Panchayats – the very basic village-governing institutions in India that constitute a strong democratic structure at the grassroots level and act as village cabinets. The solar plant constructed with the help of local villagers and inaugurated by the Prime Minister is one such example that is going to change the fate of 340 houses which will get clean energy and become model Panchayat for the rest of the country.
Union Minister in PMO Dr Jitendra Singh also echoed in the same voice, establishing that strengthening of the Panchayati Raj System is actually called ‘Self Rule’ which the redundant-lying political outfits keep reiterating in J&K but as per their own terms. Self-rule, according to these politicians of NC, PDP or Congress actually means giving powers to a selected few families in J&K, but what Narendra Modi is doing by empowering Panchayats and local self-governing institutions is in fact a system of good governance of the people, by the people and for the people, which popularly is called Democracy, and those who don’t believe in it are the enemies of people.
Any good opposition, while criticising the ruling government on issue-based subjects,will not ignore infrastructural projects worth Rs 20,000 crore, Ratle and Kwar Hydroelectric projects, 500 KW solar power plant at Palli, Banihal-Qazigund Road Tunnel, Delhi-Amritsar-Katra Expressway, Jan AushadiKendras in Jammu and Kashmir by which Narendra Modi has demonstrated what ‘Sabkaprayas’ actually means. Despite all this, if someone is colour blind to these developments then one must leave the decision to the general public, which knows who is working for them and who wants to exploit them.