Originally Published 2009-12-29 00:00:00 Published on Dec 29, 2009
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had taken a bold step in 2006 when he constituted five working groups on Jammu and Kashmir to grab the initiative for ushering in a phase of development by creating conditions of permanent peace in the troubled state.
Need to grab initiative on J&K: Working Group Reports' recommendations require a push
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had taken a bold step in 2006 when he constituted five working groups on Jammu and Kashmir to grab the initiative for ushering in a phase of development by creating conditions of permanent peace in the troubled state. 
Reports of the four out of the five Working Groups on Jammu and Kashmir were submitted in 2007. The Third Round Table Conference was held in April 2007 during which there was almost a consensus on the need to implement the recommendations of the Working Groups.
Now that the fifth report on the issue of Centre-State relations by Justice S Saghir Ahmad has also been submitted, it is high time that the Prime Minister in consultation with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and other stakeholders turned these recommendations into reality.  
Already enough time has been lost as barring a few hardly any substantive recommendation has seen the light of the day. After the submission of four reports, both Assembly as well as Lok Sabha elections have taken place. The ruling National Conference is the part of the UPA government. In Srinagar, a NC-Congress coalition government has been in place for almost a year but people’s sufferings are continuing in absence of peace and rapid socio-economic development.
While the Centre has been conducting “quiet” talks with the separatists (read All Party Hurriyat Conference) for some weeks, but progress on the implementation of the recommendations has been rather slow if not tardy. Recommendations, which are significant, if implemented, would a long way to win the confidence and trust of the people within the state and thus create a conducive atmosphere
Some of the crucial recommendations of the Working Group on Confidence Building Measures, headed by Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari, like providing an investigating wing to the State Human Rights Commission  have still not been implemented. Setting up of a State Minority Commission was also recommended.
The Group had particularly focused on the conditions of Kashmiri Pandits whose alienation has caused serious damage to the secular fabric of Jammu and Kashmir. The Group had suggested that the rights of Kashmiri Pandit migrants to return to the places of  their original residence should be recognized and a comprehensive package devised in consultation with their representatives. This should be based on a comprehensive database.
It was recommended that problems faced by the refugees who came from West Pakistan in 1947 such as State Subject Status should be settled once for all. The Group expressed concern and need for further relief and rehabilitation of refugees of 1965 and 1971 wars who have not been fully rehabilitated living mostly in Jammu region.
A significant recommendation was about examining the role of media in generating an image of the people of Jammu and Kashmir so as to lessen the indignity and suspicion that the people face outside the State.
Similarly, the Group had recommended setting up of a special cell for getting complete data on the conditions of widows and orphans of those killed in militancy related violence and also of wives and children of persons missing or presumed dead for making effective rehabilitation schemes. The Group stressed that this work should be completed within 3 months. It was also suggested that orphans of killed militants with no other source of income should be included as a goodwill gesture.
The widow relief of Rs 500/- at present should be revised and orphans should be provided scholarship to cover cost of education and their livelihood concern by a suitable scheme, the Group had suggested.
Recommended steps by the Group, if implemented speedily, would go a long way to create an atmosphere of goodwill and amity so urgently required in the state.
The Group on strengthening relations across the Line of Control (LoC), headed by former Foreign Secretary M K Rasgotra, had suggested that eligibility for travel and visit across LoC should not remain restricted to members of divided families only but should be expanded to groups of persons who want to visit places of religious interest and tourism. The facility should be extended to persons who are in need of medical aid provided they carry requisite documents to show that they genuinely require treatment, the group had suggested.
The Group has also suggested measures including setting up of a Joint Consultative Machinery of officials and representatives of trade and commerce (including Chambers of Commerce) from both sides for increasing goods traffic across LoC.  The ultimate aim would be to encourage, in stages, the creation of Free Trade Areas comprising of J&K and PoK, the Group has suggested. For promoting people to people contacts, visits of University students and faculty members, exchanges of  group of journalists, academicians, lawyers and other groups has been suggested. Besides, the Group has also recommended opening up of seven additional routes and some additional contact and meeting points.
The working Group was of the unanimous view that the initiative to open new routes should be taken by India unilaterally regardless of the nature of response of the PoK/ Pakistan authorities, and that the announcement of the decision should be followed up with the establishment of integrated check posts at the crossing points, in particular at the points which are designated for movement of trade.
The traditional Leh-Xinjiang route should be considered for opening the LAC (or the border) with China, Leh being promoted as an alternative for the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra, the Group has suggested and has recommended that this may be considered when conditions are appropriate.            
Though non-implementation of the recommendation of the Working Group led by the former Foreign Secretary can possibly be explained in the background of the heightened tensions between India and Pakistan particularly after the Mumbai terror attack on November 26 last year, it is difficult to understand the reasons for not doing the necessary homework so that when time comes India is quick to take the lead. Some recommendations could be announced unilaterally. 
It is incomprehensible to me as why suggestions made by the Group on Economic Development which was headed by former RBI Governor C Rangarajan have not been acted upon.
The Group had recommended apart from transfer of Dulhasti hydel power project and Bursar scheme from NHPC to J&K strengthening of infrastructure and power sector reforms. It had asked the Centre to enhance the State’s share of free power in central projects. Simplification of procedures for various clearances, acquiring stake in thermal projects and exploiting Geo-Thermal and Micro-Hydel projects with a view to reduce dependency on hydel power have also been recommended.
Recommendations towards developing Communications, Rural Roads, Tourism and Telecom have been made but unfortunately pre-paid cellphone were also banned. The Group has made far reaching suggestions in areas of social infrastructure and education with stress on vocational and training institutions.
The Group, chaired by former Member-Secretary Planning Commission N C Saxena, submitted its recommendation on ensuring good governance in the State in March 2007 but noting much has been done. Only three months back, the State Government decided to have a Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and appointed the first CIC of the country Wajahat Habibullah to the post. Other steps like setting up of a minority commission and providing an investigating arm to Human Rights Commission are yet to find favour of the State administration.
Justice S Saghir Ahmad report on the Centre’s relationship with J&K has also come and the main opposition party-the Bharatiya Janata Party- has rejected it. The BJP’s opposition to the report is on technical grounds as the Group did not hold meetings to take the view of other members of the Group. But the autonomy debate needs to be done in a structured fashion and an all party meeting would be one way to discuss the issue. The BJP’s concern should be debated openly so that a national view on this important issue (key to address the problems in the State) could emerge.   
It is time that the Prime Minister chalked out a path for giving concrete shape to workable recommendations so that a process for bringing the people of the state into main stream could begin.
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