Post-poll administrative inertia

16 Jul, 2014    ·   4566

Shujaat Bukhari argues that post the state elections, there appears to be a lack of will to govern, in Jammu and Kashmir.

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir
“National Conference Government has taken historic decisions in all fields of governance and development particularly concerning common people and youth”— Omar Abdullah at a workers meet in Baramulla on July 12.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has been repeatedly saying that his government has a lot to talk about “good governance” and he would go to people with his “achievements” of past nearly six years. There must have been some positive decisions, which his government has taken and obviously the impact must be on the ground. However, what he did soon after the debacle in the recently held parliamentary elections contradicts his oft repeated claims. Reversing the recruitment policy, abrupt decision to increase the retirement age from 58 to 60 (despite beating the employees for full five years) and many more post-poll initiatives stand testimony to the fact that his government had not taken those decisions with a proper thought and planning.

Governance in a state like Jammu and Kashmir is highly politicised with different rather warring narratives and priorities set for the political actors. Therefore, it assumes fundamental importance in the life of a common man. Its efficiency or a positive impact is based on the decisions you take at the higher level. Running the administration smoothly by picking up right people for the right job is the thumb rule for making governance visible and effective. But that unfortunately has not been case with this government.

Look at the situation that has been prevailing in the Civil Secretariat since the election results were out. It is like as if there is no government. The ministers are continuously missing from their chambers and mostly seen in their constituencies to make the last ditch effort to make their revival possible. The files are piling up and bureaucracy has no interest in following up the issues that are of vital interest to the people. A routine visit to the Secretariat gives the real feel of the situation at this highest seat of power. Not only are the ministers running away from offices but the officers have also started looking towards the new possible dispensations. They are seen making beeline at the houses of those politicians who they think may come to power. “Changing the loyalties does not take much time in this place and you should not be surprised,” quipped an officer.

Some of the ministers when quizzed say that when chief minister himself is not in office how can others be held accountable. Soon after the poll debacle Omar Abdullah shifted his “Durbar” to Gupkar throwing the doors of his residence open. Long queues of people with grievances were seen outside his residence so people believed that now this was the place where they could seek redressal. It virtually turned into a grievance cell though there is already one rather defunct at his Secretariat office. Just to cite an example, Director of Rural Development Kashmir has not even acknowledged ten reminders from CM’s grievance cell not to talk of redressal.

As I mentioned earlier, good governance needs a top to bottom approach. It begins with the mechanism you put in place right from the top. Two months have passed since the model code of conduct came to an end and the State Cabinet has at least met five times. But they failed to arrive at the consensus to fill some very important positions in the government. Besides Education, Rural Development and ARI/Trainings is without a full time administrative secretary. So is the case with some other major departments which don’t have full time Directors.

Imagine a state without a full time Education and Rural Development Secretaries for many months now. Education is being looked after by even otherwise overburdened Home Secretary and the Rural Development charge is with Higher Education Secretary. Both Education and Rural Development are vitally important departments which have a lot to do with the growth and development in these two sectors. But the Ministers of National Conference and Congress coalition have a different yard stick in picking up the people to fill these positions.

One grievance the state has always talked about is that the non-state subject IAS officers are always looking for a deputation and do not want to serve the state. But three IAS officers P K Tripathi, Ashok Parmar and Rohit Kansal have been waiting for their adjustments for a considerable time, though Kansal joined back recently. All of them fit in the positions of Secretaries but the government has no time to give them the responsibility and utilize their services.

Likewise the tussle between NC and Congress over replacement of Deputy Commissioners has put the whole process of reshuffle to a halt. Obviously the Ministers, of whom majority have badly performed in recent Lok Sabha elections, would like to have DC’s of their “choice” to see some fortune coming back. But that seems to be a far-fetched dream as the DC’s no longer can function as “Khaliq made” with a lot of surveillance around. Recent elections have shown that administration was under watch from different quarters and that perhaps made the process credible. So wasting time on selection of an officer of choice to get benefitted from elections does not help anyone. But this has made the administration defunct with most of officers looking either towards a fortune or a marching order.

Similarly the government has failed to fill the vacancies in Public Service Commission, which is left with only two members out of eight. There is no full Commission to conduct the interviews for KAS aspirants. Though Congress is believed to have finalized its share of names, NC has been dithering over the issue for long time.

With no zeal to work seen in the Secretariat, it looks like as if the government has made a premature departure from this highest seat of power. In politics you don’t burn your boats but keep the space open for a comeback. Apparent lack of interest in giving better governance to the people in these few months only shows that both parties do not have a commitment towards the public. Being at loggerheads in coalition is well understood but it should not come at the cost of the people and their interests. If these parties really want a revival in Assembly elections governance is the best tool for that. But that cannot be used by keeping important positions vacant only to reap the benefits through other means.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir