A few days after the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, announced the Reconstruction and Development Plan for J&K, the State government was having a serious debate whether the plan was going to help the State at all or create more financial and political problems.
Contrary to widely held perception outside Kashmir that the plan addressed the State's key financial and political demands, there was tremendous public cynicism in Kashmir about Manmohan's failure in reciprocating to the political concessions that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had offered.
There is disquiet within the PDP-led government that its three key demands - funds for construction of the State's permanent capital city in Kashmir Valley, hand over of the centrally-run Salal Hydro Power Project to the State and construction of an alternate Srinagar-Jammu highway - have been turned down by the Centre. The required funds for re-opening of Mughal Road - key to Kashmir's industrialisation - too are nowhere in sight.
Manmohan Singh's announcement of 'lifting of ban' on government recruitment is also being viewed with intense cynicism in Kashmir. The commitments made by J&K government in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) it signed with the Centre in 2001 regarding keeping salary bill static stand. Under such circumstances there is no question of providing more government jobs, analysts argue. Facts and figures substantiate this.
Since 1998, about 21,000 job vacancies have been created in the government sector because of retirements. During the fiscal 2002-03 alone, 4,199 government employees retired from service. Official figures reveal that the number of vacant posts stood at 14,233 during 2001-02, which saw a reduction of Rs 6773.10 lakhs in the salary bill. During 2002-03 the number of vacant posts stood at 14,525 with a corresponding decrease of Rs 11,668.40 lakh in salary bill. Despite this reduction greater pensionary and gratuity commitments curtail the State's capacity in filling the vacant posts.
Economic Advisor to J&K government, Haseeb Drabu, while expressing confidence that in the long term the plan will help the State's economic growth, says that even if the government wanted to fill these posts, it may not be able to do it because of financial constraints.
But what are the 24,000 jobs Manmohan Singh talked about? They are not in the regular government sector: 14,000 are caretakers of Anganwadi centres, 5,000 in CRPF and 5,000 in India Reserve Battalion. What is worrying the government is that Manmohan's Plan provides for financial assistance for only one year for these jobs and from next year the State government would have to create resources for them on its own. That would be a severe blow for the State's finances.
Under such circumstances, Finance Minister, Muzaffar Hussain Baig, has publicly expressed cynicism about his government's ability in meeting the demands of the government employees.
A huge chunk of the Rs 24,000 croreÃ¢â‚¬â€¯Rs 18,000 croreÃ¢â‚¬â€¯is to be spent by the Centre through National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) to improve transmission and distribution (T&D) systems in the State. The Rs 18,000 crore-component is to be spent on the construction of Uri II and Kishanganga power projects, both in the central sector. Since the existing transmission network would not be able to effectively network this new system with the Northern Grid, most of the emphasis would be on upgradation of the system of the Northern Grid. A component of this deals with electrification in Jammu-Ladakh regions.
Till date only 300.15 MWs of power have been developed in the State sector in Jammu & Kashmir whereas 1170 MWs have been developed in the central sector, which include the State's two major power houses - the Salal Hydro Power Project (690 MW) and Uri I (480 MW). Uri II and Kishenganga would add to the Centre's power kitty.
Economic experts in the State opine that construction of new colleges and ITIs is a part of the normal development process and cannot be seen as a special reconstruction incentive. Given the nature of Manmohan's financial plan there is hardly anything there that could help the State in direct growth, resulting in creation of jobs for the educated unemployed. Economic experts feel the plan is not growth-oriented and it actually increases the State's dependency on the Centre.
The Manmohan plan is said not to have dealt with the increase in the liabilities of the J&K State, comprising public debt and provident funds which have already gone up from Rs 8,182 crores in 2000 to Rs 9,224 crores at the end of March 2001, according to the available documents.
Even the requests made by the State government in its Indicative Forecast and Interim Memorandum (2005-2010) submitted to the Twelfth Finance Commission in July 2003 have not been heeded.