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Implementing 74th CAA in Kashmir, Just a Hoodwink

The BJP realising that the people of the valley have vociferously opposed the despotic stance of the party in abrogating Article 370, is now trying to win over the local body representatives.

Failing to woo the mainstream political parties of Kashmir, the BJP and its leaders, especially Amit Shah, have fired a new salvo. Elected representatives of Jammu and Kashmir were being convinced that after the abrogation of Article 370, now, the provisions of democratic decentralisation, i.e., implementing the 73rd and the 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts (CAA) will take place with ease. This is nothing but sheer hoodwinking. The BJP realising that the people of the valley have vociferously opposed the despotic stance of the party in abrogating 370, is now trying to win over different strata of the people; what it calls as stakeholders; the local body representatives happen to be one amongst them.

The BJP is hiding an important fact, that of all the people who are under detention, a large number of them include the elected local body representatives. It may be reiterated here that leaders and activists of mainstream parties like the PDP, NC, J&K People’s Movement, Awami Ittehad Party, CPI(M) and members of the bar, civil society, et al are under arrest /detention since August 5. So, who are these stakeholders who will represent the voice of the people of Kashmir and Jammu regions? In this essay the attempt is to expose the hollowness of the argument of the BJP in metaphoring the implementation of 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments as democratic parameters of governance. I would like to focus on the 74th constitutional amendment that pertains to local governance in cities and towns.

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Before the passage of the 73rd and 74th amendments the state governments effectively enjoyed power to their will in holding of elections to local bodies. These amendments made it compulsory to hold regular elections of the local bodies. Until the adoption of these amendments there were only two-tier of governance, national and the state; with the passage and adoption of the 73rd and 74th amendments to the constitution in 1993, the third tier was also mandatorily added.

Amit Shah must realise that even after 25 years of the promulgation of these two important amendments, cities are screaming for its proper implementation. In fact the BJP has been instrumental in not just diluting the provisions of 74th amendment, rather, as urban specialists term, virtually writing an obituary of the 74th CAA (about it later). Now exhuming this amendment from the graveyard and implementing it in Jammu and Kashmir is just an eye wash.

Amit Shah
Amit Shah (Photo: Facebook)

Actually, the fact is that in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, both the 73rd and 74th CAA were already implemented through the J&K Panchayati Raj Act, 1989, and the J&K Municipal Act, 2000 (and the J&K Municipal Corporation Act 2000). So, who is it, that Amit Shah is trying to bluff? The J&K Municipal Act identifies three different types of urban agglomerations; municipal corporations, municipal councils and municipal committees according to size and population of the town. The act further specifies the term of the elected members of the council, which is five years. In fact, J&K Municipal Act is a replica of many acts adopted in various state governments in tune to the provisions of the 74th CAA. So, what does Amit Shah intend to convey by saying that the 74th CAA will be implemented in the state. It is already being implemented in a similar fashion as it is being in different parts of the country.

The crux of the 74th CAA is to hold the elections in the cities at regular intervals of five years and to transfer some of the important functions of governance to the cities. We shall have a look at the transformation that has taken in the last 25 years and whether the intended aspirations of the 74th CAA was ever filled.

Article 243 makes direct elections mandatory for all the seats in the municipal council and as per article 243-K and 243-Z(a), the state election commissions have been entrusted with the task of supervising the entire municipal election process. Many states have not adhered to the mandatory provisions of holding regular elections and entrusting responsibilities to the local bodies. Political empowerment is weakened in the cities by infrequent elections of local bodies. Take for instance the cases of Visakhapatnam and Chennai the municipal elections have not been held since 2011 and 2006 respectively.

The spirit of the 74th CAA focused on empowering the elected institutions and transferring 18 subjects to the city governments, which is mentioned under the 12th Schedule of the Constitution. We shall discuss the later, first, i.e., about transfer of important subjects to the cities. There are over 8,000 urban agglomerations and over 5,000 urban local bodies in India. There is no universalisation of functions of  the local bodies. Though the 12th schedule prescribes important functions like land, planning, water, sanitation, planning for economic and social development, water supply, public health, urban forestry etc., in reality however, solid waste management is the universal function of the city government. Rest of the functions are either managed by the state government’s run parastatals or the private agencies.

jammu and kashmir panchayati raj
(Photo: Twitter/@IGSSS)

The writer was part of the national task force formed in the year 2013 headed by K C Sivaramakrishnan, former MOUD secretary, to review the implementation of the 74th CAA. The review report is lying with the ministry of housing and urban development. The report in itself is a scathing indictment on the implementation of the functions of the 74th CAA. In a recent study conducted by the CPR (Centre for Policy Research) Delhi, three functions were found to be universally transferred and implemented in three states of Rajasthan, MP and Haryana; these include, solid waste management and birth and death registration.

Now coming to the first part, i.e., empowering the elected institutions. The worst form of attack on the elected governance has come from the BJP, especially during its previous term in the union government from 2014 to 2019. The elected city governments in many states is just an ornamental obligation, where the mayor and other members of the council are duly elected. Beyond that, municipal governance happens to be in the hands of the state government’s appointed commissioner/executive officer. In Haryana, a BJP run state government, the local body’s act even suggests removal of the mayor from the office, with the advice of the commissioner. Such is the city governance model under the BJP rule.

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The worst form of attack on city governance came in the unfolding of the smart city mission(SCM), which is supposed to become the light house model of urban governance. The smart city implementation plan suggests formation of special purpose vehicles (SPVs) in the cities which will carry out the smart city plan. The SPV is a new form of urban governance model advocated by the BJP which completely undermines the hierarchy of the elected council. The SPV gets registered as a private company which is not answerable to the council. Neither the elected mayor or any of the council members is the chairperson of these SPVs.

The SPV is transformation of city spaces from urban commons towards privatisation in governance. The privatisation drive is not just in the engineering and execution of projects, which is now done universally all over the country, this is also a new narrative of urban governance. This is what the BJP offers to the people of Jammu and Kashmir by suggesting the implementation of 74th CAA.

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There is another important fact that Amit Shah is either unaware of, or, deliberately hiding. Srinagar city, too is part of the smart city bandwagon and implementing the same policies as adopted in other cities. Leh, capital of Ladakh was implementing the UIDSSMT (Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and  Medium Towns) schemes under the JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission), a flagship programme of Congress led UPA governments .

The point is not to implement an act, it is how well it is executed and the transfer of power takes place from the nominated officers of the state government to the elected members of the institution. But, what can be expected from a party and a leader who have not  just shrunk the state and turned it into two UTs, but also killed the basic aspirations of  democratic governance.

The hullabaloo about implementing the 74th CAA is just to hoodwink the people; the intention is to create fissures amongst the political realm.

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