Panchayat institutions become integral part of J&K’s governance system

Srinagar (IANS): Till 2014 more than half of the population in J&K was deprived of facilities like toilets, vaccination, electricity connection and bank accounts. The people living in rural areas were a neglected lot and one of the mainstays of J&K’s economy, i.e., handicrafts was at the verge of extinction.

After Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister of India in 2014, he made it amply clear that Jammu and Kashmir would be brought at par with other regions of the country. He stressed on the need to build a robust governance system that would lead to the common man becoming a part and parcel of the development process.

When Modi took over as the Prime Minister of the country at that point of time the tenure of panchayats had ended in J&K and new elections were due. In the same year term of the National Conference led government also ended and assembly elections were conducted to elect new members of the legislative assembly in the erstwhile state.

In 2015, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) entered into an alliance and formed a government in the erstwhile state.

Soon after the new dispensation took charge the Centre asked the J&K government to take immediate steps to hold panchayat elections in the Himalayan region. But the then state government headed by the PDP kept on delaying the process citing security reasons. The PDP didn’t allow the Panchayat elections to take place till it remained in power as it kept on claiming that the situation was not conducive. The BJP pulled out of the PDP-led government in June 2018 which led to the end of coalition government in J&K.

PM’s announcement

On August 15, 2018, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day speech announced that the Panchayat polls will be held in Jammu and Kashmir in a few months. “Every villager from Jammu and Kashmir has been demanding of me for the past one year. The panchs meet me in hundreds and they are demanding that panchayat elections should be held in the state. It is stalled for some time, but I am happy that elections will be held over the next few months and people will get to exercise their right,” PM Modi had announced from the ramparts of Red Fort in New Delhi.

After the Prime Minister’s announcement the Panchayat elections were held in J&K in November and December months in 2018. More than 75 per cent people exercised their franchise in these elections despite the two major regional parties National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party boycotting the polls. It was nearly after nine years that people got a chance to elect their representatives in rural J&K.

Liberal funding

After the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) were put in place, the Centre released Rs 800 crore in four installments between March and August 2019, ahead of its move to end J&K’s special status and after August 5, 2019, when the Article 370 was done away with, the Centre announced Rs 1,200 crore more. In toto the Panchayats were given Rs 2,000 crore to work on the schemes aimed at benefiting a common man in J&K.

The PRIs during the past few years have become an integral part of the development in the rural areas across J&K.

After J&K’s transition into a Union Territory, the money sanctioned by the Centre is directly transferred into the Panchayats’ accounts. Sarpanchs no longer have to approach the officials to get the money disbursed. This step empowered the local representatives and also made them accountable to the electorate. The distribution of the money depends on the area and the population of the village. The village Panchayats receive anything between Rs 80 lakh to Rs one crore to begin with and funds keep on flowing.

This initiative has led to the Panchs and Sarpanchs assessing the genuine grievances of the people and working towards resolving these. As on date most of the households in the villages in J&K have got the tapped water connections, electricity has reached them. The bank accounts have been opened. The roads are being built and very importantly the people in the rural areas no more need to knock at the doors of the officials. They simply approach their elected Sarpanchs and Panchs to get their problems sorted out. The government has also authorized these representatives to grant permission for any construction activity that is undertaken in the area.

PRIs playing an important role

The PRIs are playing an important role in changing the destinies of the common people in the far-flung areas of Jammu and Kashmir. They are working in close coordination with the government departments to get the work done.

The Jal Shakti Department is working on a plan to ensure 100 per cent piped water supply in rural areas under Jal Jeevan Mission. The PRIs are ensuring that the development works undertaken by different departments are completed and the benefits of the centrally sponsored schemes reach the deserving.

The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana in Jammu and Kashmir has helped thousands of people to build their houses in the rural areas. The J&K government has set a target to complete 54,000 houses under PMAY-G in 2022-23. It is also planning to provide Internet connectivity to all gram panchayats, besides constructing or renovating 700 panchayat ghars across the Union territory during the current financial year.

According to the officials allocation of about Rs 4,627.85 crore has been made under PMAY for the rural sector, under capital expenditure for 2022-23, which is Rs 327.40 crore more than the previous year’s budget allocation.

Under the MGNREGA, 426 lakh person days are targeted to be generated during 2022-23 while 60,000 job cards are also proposed to be issued based on demand. One lakh development works of different nature have to be undertaken in 2022-23.

Under the PMAY-Gramin, and under the Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin, 87,250 individual household latrines and 2,500 community sanitary complexes are targeted to be constructed during 2022-23. For the road and bridge sector an allocation of about Rs 5,217.87 crore has been made under capital expenditure for the year 2022-23. Upgradation of 1,750 km road length is likely to be taken up during 2022-23 and 50 bridges will be completed under Central or Union Territory sector schemes. Overall 6,000 kilometers of black-topping of roads is expected to be achieved under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY).

Revival of handicrafts sector

Another sector which is a vital part of J&K’s rural economy is handicrafts. It had taken a severe hit after an insurgency broke out in J&K in 1990. After the revocation of J&K’s special status, handicrafts are making a comeback. The government has devised many schemes to infuse new life into the traditional arts and crafts of the Himalayan region.

According to the officials there are about 4-5 lakh artisans and 179 major craft clusters associated with the handicraft sector of J&K generating the revenue of more than a thousand crore rupees. As per an economic analysis of the handicraft industry in J&K, this number is 3 lakh. The twin sectors of handlooms and handicrafts are the major and the oldest in India with about 4.3 million weavers and 6.9 million artisans. Kashmiri handicrafts involve about 3.5 lakh craftsmen and artisans. The handicrafts are the second largest Industry of J&K after tourism.

After August 5, 2019, a mechanism has been put in place to ensure the revival of traditional arts and crafts. The steps have been taken to provide special incentives to weavers and artisans to encourage them to pass on their skills to the youth.

The J&K government is providing a minimum support price for the artisans and craftsmen involved in the making of traditional arts and crafts to increase their profitability and attract youth in these heritage professions.

To attract the youth towards these traditional arts, the corporations have tied up with Jammu & Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI) so that startups can be undertaken by young and aspiring entrepreneurs. The branding, quality certificates, marketing of J&K based products have also been undertaken to ensure that products are sold globally.

Special financial packages have been sanctioned to give a boost to this sector. The handicrafts of J&K are being provided with GI tags.

The languishing crafts in Jammu and Kashmir are being revived. The roots of these traditional crafts are being traced in the rural areas. The Panchayat representatives are acting as a bridge between the artisans and the government. They are identifying the artisans and are making them aware about the schemes that have been launched to benefit them.

The PRIs are working on the ground to carry forward the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s vision of “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas” and are on the way to make Jammu and Kashmir Atamnirbhar (self-reliant).

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