File photo of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and now sacked Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti at a press conference in Srinagar. Photo: AFP
File photo of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and now sacked Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti at a press conference in Srinagar. Photo: AFP

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled out of its alliance with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the Indian state Jammu and Kashmir recently, citing its bias towards the Kashmir Valley.

The saffron party, which held all development-related ministries, claimed more money was spent in Kashmir than the other two regions — Jammu and Ladakh — under the Mehbooba Mufti-led coalition government.

PDP spokesperson Waheed-ur-Rehman Para said that ministries of public health, engineering, housing and urban development, irrigation and flood control were all under BJP ministers who never raised the issue of discrimination in cabinet meetings or in one-to-one meetings with the then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.

A closer look at the status of many mega projects shows that the story of discrimination against other regions in the state falls flat. Even the little development that Jammu has seen, continues to elude Kashmir. Across the board, the reason for stalled projects in the region appears to be long-standing administrative failures and not political intrigue.

Hydropower projects

In the hydropower sector, Jammu region has the most installed and commissioned projects in the state. According to the latest Jammu and Kashmir Economic Survey, Jammu’s share of the 3,263 megawatts of total installed hydropower capacity in the state is 2,109 MW. It also has a lion’s share in the commissioned projects (5,735 MW out of 8,673 MW), conceptualized by the previous National Conference-led government. These have either been allotted, tendered or are under preparation for detailed project reports.

“Chenab [River] falls in Jammu region, which has the potential of 11,283 MW out of 16,000 MW. The rest have smaller capacities. The fact that Jammu was comparatively better developed than Kashmir during the 1990s gave it the edge,” said a senior officer of Jammu and Kashmir State Power Development Corporation.

Under the Prime Minister’s Development Project, 11 projects were chosen for Jammu and Ladakh out of 13. These projects were conceived in the three-year BJP-PDP government period. During this same period, Kashmir lost its ambitious Ganderbal project, which has been pending for decades due to lack of government approval. But it has now has been shelved because the contractor could not afford the cost.

Village electrification delayed 

Meanwhile, a senior official in the state’s Power Development Department said many districts in the Kashmir Valley lost an important village electrification project after intervention by a former power minister with the BJP and his power secretary. The project came under two schemes – the PM’s Development Plan (Rural) and the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Jyoti Yojana – meant for all 10 districts in the valley.

Sources said the project was delayed in many districts because the minister and his then-secretary, who was later unceremoniously transferred, canceled tenders given to two companies based in Hyderabad. The projects were later given to two public bodies without going through a bidding process. However, two inquiry reports, copies of which were seen by Asia Times, favored the project being given to private entities.

“It was a big fraud but nothing could be done,” a Power Development official privy to the switch alleged. “The irony is that the two state-run companies have been allowed 9.75% profit, a percentage which India’s Power Minister RK Singh has not agreed to. This percentage was much higher than what the companies had sought. And all this happened under [name deleted for legal reasons] ministry in the state.”

Health sector

The health sector has a similar tale. For instance, the setting-up of two ambitious All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), one in Jammu and another in Kashmir, has been pending at the bureaucratic level and the health ministry that was held by BJP ministers in all the three years of state coalition government.

In Kashmir, the district administration did the preliminary work —acquired the required land, including some patches from the army and laid approach roads. But it’s now awaiting further action from the national Public Works Department, which is looking after the project.

In Jammu, state officials were unable to acquire land because they failed to find an acceptable alternate site to relocate communities from land where the hospital was proposed.

“It was the health minister who had to follow it. With what vigor he followed it, is not known but the fact remains that it’s pending because of him,” an official in the health department said.

A former secretary at the general administration department, who served for nearly two years under the BJP-PDP state government, said projects were allocated according to the region’s size and population. “There is no point of discrimination, all the regions got their due share.”

He gave the example of a special package of Rs 800 billion of funds from the Prime Minister’s Development Project that were announced after floods in Kashmir in 2014, saying the entire package was planned, distributed and monitored by the central government. Officials in Jammu had spent most of their share of the money, but Kashmir had had unrest for a long time, which hindered disbursement.

Disparity in education

In the education sector, Jammu has established its central university, an Indian Institute of Management and an Indian Institute of Mass Communication over the past decade. But Kashmir is yet to get any such facilities. Construction is still going on at a freshly-established Central University of Kashmir. But its registrar, Muhammad Afzal Zargar, said an inspection team from the central government’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, which is monitoring the project, had yet to clear work on some of the buildings.

“We are waiting for them to come and speed up construction of the project,” he said. The Central University of Kashmir was conceived back in 2009. “Aside from earth filling and construction of pre-engineered structures, and some other buildings, the university is still operating from rented buildings at three locations in the valley, for which it pays more than Rs 40 million as rent annually,” he said.

The PDP’s Waheed-ur-Rehman Para said: “If work happened in Jammu and not in Kashmir, it does not mean discrimination. The projects headed by PDP ministers were facing administrative issues, which meant they could not be taken up.” He said development in Jammu was also development in Kashmir and vice-versa.

According to BJP insiders, there was a lot of hue and cry about the “poor performance” of the party’s ministers in the northern state. The Jammu Chamber of Commerce had even complained to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh about their “non-performance”.

After the state government was dumped, a group of BJP leaders met Governor NN Vohra, now in charge of the state, and asked him to expedite 18 projects. All but one of these are in Jammu and Ladakh. Meanwhile, multiple projects in Kashmir that are also in limbo did not even make the list.

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