When the Jammu and Kashmir government started reaching out to people at their doorsteps through ‘My Town My Pride’, ‘Back to Village’ two years before, it apparently looked like publicity stunts. However, when the entire administrative machinery started the outreach, people began reaping the fruits of good and accountable governance.
Few years before, people in Jammu and Kashmir had to search for administration and officials, but today officials are searching for people to deliver services at their doors.
The outreach began two years before when L-G Manoj Sinha asked for these unique administrative reach outs.
First it began with ‘My Town, My Pride’ in 78 Urban Local Bodies – two municipal corporations of Srinagar and Jammu and the other municipal committees in the other 18 districts.
The public outreach in towns where government services were delivered at doorsteps was a huge success where people realised the essence of grassroots democracy.
The first phase of ‘My Town My Pride’ was started in October 2020 and the second phase was held in the first week of December.
Wajahat Ahmad, who is an elected corporator from Lalchowk in Srinagar, said that the public outreach by My Town My Pride yielded significant results in Srinagar city.
“All officials concerned along with councillors reached every ward of the Srinagar city and listened to the grievances of the people. The program gave us a significant insight on various issues which citizens faced in urban areas,” he said.
A senior official said that the programs didn’t stop the day when they were held but it was actually the beginning of a process of development for municipalities of the Union Territory.
He said the issues raised by the citizens during the outreach program were listed out and submitted to the concerned department for redressal.
“Most of the development issues were resolved on spot and major issues were enlisted for planning under different government plans and schemes,” he said.
The major takeaway of the program was registering five youth in each ward of the Urban Local Body for any self-employment scheme which the youth liked.
“Youth lacked an agency to express and meet officials. These programs helped fill that vacuum, particularly in old city areas where people were always deprived of government. Registration for the self employment scheme connected us with the government where we learn to become employment generators rather than waiting for employment,” said Abrar Bhat, a youth in Khanyar area of the Downtown in Srinagar.
Jammu and Kashmir is mostly a rural UT where majority of the population lives, and these people were always left at the mercy of local officials and unaccountable legislators. Now, the government came up with massive ‘Back to Village’ programs where senior officials stayed in the villages and hamlets to listen to the people.
Elected panchayat members, community elders and youth communities took lead in Back to Village programs and themselves ensured development of their villages.
In these outreach programs, villagers framed development plans themselves and prioritized the developmental work.
A senior official in Pulwama said that it was unthinkable for a villager that an administrative secretary rank officer will travel down to his village and ensure electricity is provided to his village.
Sarpanch Nazir Ahmad in Pulwama said that in the past the development plan was written at the residences of legislators and villagers had no role in it.
“It was a one way order where few close party workers in connivance of legislators would frame a plan and assign the work to party workers and siphon off the development funds,” he said.
“Through innovative Back to Village outreach meant the plan was framed by the people and vetoed by the officials in their presence. It ensured the nexus of party workers and legislators was removed. Now, villagers with PRI members together develop the villages which essentially strengthens grassroots democracy,” he said.
Back to Village and good governance programs gave an opportunity to the local administration to reach out to areas which had gained notoriety for violence and militancy.
Citing a recent example, an official said that in south Kashmir’s Pulwama and Shopian districts, district commissioners and district officials reached the villages which were considered “no go zones” for the government.
“Entire Pulwama administration stayed for a day in village Samboora – the village which had gained notoriety from the last three decades for supporting militancy. In fact, it was the lack of administrative inertia to go into this village and sort of deliberately keep people away from governance. Now this village needs to be reached out frequently to remove the tagline it had once been labelled with,” a senior official in Pulwama said.
Youths of the villages in south Kashmir areas were surprised to see the entire administration descend down to their areas for their participation in local governance and village development.
“Back to Village is the celebration of inclusive development, Jan Bhagidari and public awareness. It is not just police and security forces responsibility to establish peace but also the prime objective of every stakeholder of the community as well as those in the civil administration to ensure all sections of society enjoys the fruits of development,” L-G Manoj Sinha said during launch of Back to Village-4 in Kashmir.
“People with vested interest are rattled by overall transformation in the Union Territory and fast-paced socio-economic growth,” Sinha said.
The success of these major outreach programs to meet people at the grassroots can be gauged from the fact that youth are now taking the lead in shaping the development of their areas.
“The engagement of the youth in these programs has been so successful that now educated youth look forward to participate in panchayat and ULB elections and become representatives of their areas for holistic development, peaceful and prosperous Jammu and Kashmir,” a senior bureaucrat said while enumeration the success of the outreach program.
Officials said that to measure the L-G Manoj Singh himself is to reach out to people of Jammu and Kashmir through media programs like on ‘Awam ki awaz’.
On the corollary of
‘Mann ki Baat’ like outreach of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, L-G Manoj Sinha started ‘Awam Ki Awaz’ (voice of people), a radio broadcast where common people sitting in their homes connect with the L-G and express their suggestions to strengthen the governance.
On one hand it helps the L-G enumerate the progressive and prosperous steps taken by the administration for people friendly governance, but at the same time this program ensures public feedback for interactive, participatory and people centric government.
In Awam ki Awaaz, the L-G himself narrates success stories of women like Yasmina Jan from Pulwama who with the help of Rural Livelihood Mission, became Tral’s first dry fruit seller and Raman Gupta from Jammu, for his outstanding agri-entrepreneurship to become a role model for the younger generation.
“Some years ago, it was top-down governance in Jammu and Kashmir. Today, it is an all inclusive government where L-G talks about government and people suggest making it a good and effective government,” another senior official said.
“From a common man in a village to a top businessman, everyone is reached out through these public friendly and governance programs where the main aim is to connect people with the administration, ensure their participation in the governance, and engage youth in progressive Jammu and Kashmir. In the past it was only a small group of people who enjoyed all the benefits of the government, but today’s government has made government enjoyable for common man,” said Ibtisam Dar, a youth in Shopian.