What has been achieved in the three years since the abrogation of Article 370?
The state reorganisation act of 2019 was formed so that Jammu and Kashmir could be integrated with the rest of the country and to make available the common facilities that were denied to its people. Now 800-plus rules and facilities, which were not applicable or available earlier, exist here. Also, the social status of Dalits and West Pakistan Refugees was deplorable. Now they are on an equal footing. Earlier, schools and colleges used to be shut for six months. Stone-pelting was rampant. Hartal calendars used to be issued. Now we issue academic calendars. Our broader objective is total integration and we are working on this wholeheartedly.
Cultural elements such as movies and theatre are still missing in Kashmir.
The culture of Jammu and Kashmir has always been very rich. It is the land of Shaivism, Buddhism, Sufism… there was no place for hatred. But due to political reasons that narrative got changed. There was a time when many Hindi movies were shot here. That is coming back. Music and literary festivals are being revived. The Tiranga Yatra under Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav saw 10,000 people flying the Tricolour and chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Soft power is very much in play. I will soon inaugurate 10 cinema halls. A 5,000 sq ft mall, developed by UAE-based MR Group, is coming up in Srinagar. We are also working on our lost heritage sites that will involve reconstructing and reviving temples as well as building churches and mosques.
Kashmiri Pandits are apprehensive after the recent attacks on them.
The government of India gave 6,000 jobs and sanctioned 6,000 houses for their rehabilitation. When I joined in 2020, there were 3,000 vacancies but some excuse or the other was given to deny jobs. We fast-tracked the recruitment process and more than 2,700 vacancies have been filled. Similarly, land has been identified for building houses. Tenders for out for all but 700 flats. We will be giving 1,200 flats in October. All the houses will be allotted in one and a half years. Also, Kashmiri Pandits have been given jobs in safe places such as the district headquarters. No one has been posted in the interiors. Their security concerns have been addressed.
One of their concerns was that they were employed under a special package. So when other government employees got promoted, they were left out. Now we have created supernumerary posts that include gazetted and non-gazetted employees. We have promoted all eligible non-gazetted officers. For gazetted employees, we have sent recommendations to the JK Public Service Commission. Those appointed in 2009 will be promoted in a few months. We have addressed all their pending issues. All that we can do we are doing. Nothing will be left to chance about their safety and well-being.
Migrant labourers were also killed.
Their families will get Rs 11 lakh each as compensation. The government is also contemplating giving jobs to their family members. We have also made security arrangements in places where they live. Insurance cover will also be given to them.
What can the government do to provide better facilities for the Amarnath Yatra?
I agree that better facilities can be provided. The topography is very difficult. We have developed a facility at Chandanwari for 3,500 pilgrims and similar facilities will soon come up at other places. Pilgrims go on foot from Chandanwari. When I went after the recent flash floods, I felt a road can be built till Baltal. The government will soon undertake a feasibility study and roads similar to those on the Char Dham route will be provided here.
The Election Commission (EC) has postponed the publication of the final electoral roll to November 25. The opposition feels that this would help the BJP.
The EC is a constitutional body. It will decide when elections will be held. The Union home minister spoke of the timeline in Parliament: first delimitation, then elections and, at an appropriate time, statehood. Now delimitation work is over. Naturally the polls cannot be fought on the 2015 electoral list. The population has grown and changed in seven years. So the EC is looking at new electoral rolls and new polling stations. When the EC is satisfied, elections will be held.
When will J&K get full statehood?
The home minister has given an assurance in Parliament. When the appropriate time comes, statehood will be granted.
About 25 lakh people have been added to the voters list. The opposition is concerned that the demography of the electorate is being changed to favour the BJP.
The Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Act came into force on October 31, 2019. After this, the Representation of the People (RP) Act is applicable here just like elsewhere in the country. One must not forget that 32,000 outsiders voted here in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. They were called non-permanent residents. They could vote in the Lok Sabha elections, but not in the Vidhan Sabha polls. Under the RP Act, now they can vote for Vidhan Sabha as well. If the Mufti (Mohammed Sayeed) sahab could fight from UP and become the home minister, then why can’t others vote from Kashmir?
After the delimitation exercise, Jammu gained six seats while only one seat was added in Kashmir. The opposition alleges this was done to favour the BJP.
The EC formed a Delimitation Commission (DC) headed by Justice (retd) Ranjana Desai. On changing the number and distribution of proposed seats, they sought suggestions from people, parties and leaders, including those of the opposition. Five MPs are members of the DC. Three of them are from the National Conference. They had every opportunity to raise an objection. After a decision has been made, they now give their views and create an issue.
You talk about doubling the GSDP of J&K. Which sectors are you focussing on?
First, agriculture and allied sectors, including sericulture and horticulture — some 70% people here are dependent on them. In the last three years, J&K has made a big leap in these sectors. We are No. 3 in farmers’ per capita income, after Punjab and Haryana. From a milk-deficit state, we are now surplus. Saffron is GI-tagged. Basmati rice is being exported in huge quantities. I am sure we will double the contribution of agriculture to GSDP in the next three years.
Second, private investment. Till about one and a half years ago, it was a miniscule Rs 14,000 crore since Independence. On April 24, the ground-breaking ceremony of projects worth Rs 38,080 crore was done by the PM. We have received proposals for Rs 20,000 crore. We have acquired land for infrastructure projects. We are building many multi-speciality hospitals and increasing MBBS seats as well. Many UAE groups are investing here.
Third, connectivity. Next year, Kashmir will get rail connectivity to Kanyakumari. Now 104 flights are operating from Srinagar — from just 32 two years back. We will be focusing on promoting tourism and hospitality.
Fourth, we are bringing in transparency through our BEAMS (Budget, Estimation, Allocation & Monitoring System) portal. No work can be done without administrative approval, etendering and financial sanction. Physical verification and geo-tagging are mandatory for all development work. People can see on their mobile phones the status of roads being constructed in their villages.
In 2022-23, Rs 22,126 crore has been allocated for district capital expenditure — 2-3 times higher for every district. Last year it was Rs 12,600 crore, and the year before Rs 5,134 crore.
Also, we had not fully tapped our electricity generation capacity, which is 18,000-220,000 MW. We are generating only 3,450 MW. We are trying to grow our economy on the back of power generation.
Terrorists still cross the LoC every year. Is this a failure of intelligence or the security forces?
Coordination among security forces is much better. We have the upper hand. The perception of people towards the government has changed dramatically — earlier peace was bought (by the government); now it is being established. We are trying not just to eliminate terrorists but the entire ecosystem.