J-K interlocutors to recommend three regional councils

By: Maneesh Chhibber
New Delhi: Even as they are not going to recommend a reversion to the pre-1953 status for J&K, when the Centre had control over just three subjects — Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications — the three J&K interlocutors appointed by the Centre are set to strongly recommend to prevail upon the J&K government to set up autonomous regional councils to ensure equitable development of all three regions of the state.
Sources said the interlocutors are of the opinion that the clock can’t be turned back in so far as the issue of reversion to the pre-1953 status is concerned.
However, at the same time, they are likely to suggest that all stakeholders, including political parties and state legislature, could try to achieve some consensus on the measure of autonomy for the state. While a section of politicians in J&K want pre-1953 position to be restored, there are others, particularly the opposition BJP, that is firmly opposed to any such measure.
Sources told The Indian Express that the final report of the panel comprising journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, academician Radha Kumar and former Central Information Commissioner M M Ansari is ready and could be submitted to the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on October 12. The interlocutors have already sought an appointment from Chidambaram to present the report.
During their many visits to the state, the issue of regional disparity, leading to inequitable development of the regions, was raised by political parties and NGOs.
It is learnt that the panel is of the opinion that the councils could loosely be modelled on what the Regional Autonomy Committee (RAC) set up the then National Conference government headed by Farooq Abdullah after coming to power in 1996 had suggested. Incidentally, the report finalised by RAC working chairperson Balraj Puri was junked by the NC government and Puri removed unceremoniously.
Puri’s report was in favour of grant of autonomy to the three regions, something that the NC government was reluctant to accept. The same report had also recommended setting up of regional councils.
The interlocutors are also going to suggest that the process of devaluation of power to the local bodies and panchayats should be speeded up so that the sense of alienation due to lack of adequate all-round progress is checked.
The panel wants the state government to effectively implement the 73rd (panchayati raj) and 74th (municipalities and other urban local bodies) amendments to the Constitution in the state.
This, the panel feels, can be achieved by devolution of greater functional and financial powers to panchayats and municipalities, giving adequate representation of weaker sections and women in these bodies and regular and fair conduct of elections for these bodies.
Another important recommendation that the interlocutors will make in their much-anticipated report is that more serious efforts should be made to increase trade and people-to-people interaction between residents of J&K and the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir across the LoC.


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