The final report of the Central government-appointed Group of Interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir has ruled out a return to the pre-1953 position, and recommended the setting up of a Constitutional Committee (CC), to review all Central Acts and Articles of the Constitution of India, extended to the State after the signing of the 1952 Agreement.
The report of the Centre's interlocutors — eminent journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, academician Radha Kumar, and former information commissioner M. M. Ansari — suggested a future-oriented approach (one that takes into full account the strategic, political, economic and cultural changes in the State, in India as a whole, in the South-Asian region and beyond, as a result of globalisation) should enable all stakeholders to reach a rapid agreement on the Articles of the Constitution of India.
While upholding Article 370 that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir, the 176-page report underlined that “the clock cannot be set back” but felt that the “erosion” of Article 370 during the decades needed to be “re-appraised” to give it more powers.
It recommended deletion of the word “temporary” from the heading of Article 370, and from the title of Part XXI of the Constitution, and suggested replacing it with the word “Special” as it has been used for rest of the States under Article 371.
The report was uploaded on Thursday on the website of the Union Home Ministry for the benefit of the public at large. “The views expressed in the report are the views of the interlocutors. The Government still hasn't taken any decision on the report. The Government will welcome an informed debate on the contents of the report,” a statement by the official spokesperson of the Home Ministry said here.
The interlocutors' report was placed in public domain two days after the Budget Session of Parliament ended, and at a time when Home Secretary-level talks are being held between India and Pakistan in Islamabad.
The group of interlocutors had held extensive deliberations with the State government, political parties, civil society, stakeholders at the State and national levels. They submitted their report to the Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on October 12, 2011, exactly a year after their appointment.
Mr. Padgaonkar later said that interlocutors haven't recommended abolition of Article 370. “What we have said is that we aren't inventing something. Under Article 371, there are several States of the Union, which have been designated as special category states.”
The report has recommended a status quo in the use of nomenclatures in English of the Governor and Chief Minister, and equivalent nomenclatures in Urdu may be used. Until 1965, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir was addressed as ‘Wazir-e-Azam' [Prime Minister] and the Governor as ‘Sadar-e-Riyasat' [President].
Proposing a “New Compact” with the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the report focuses on three components — political, economic and social and cultural — forming a single package, which cannot be accepted on a selective basis.
Under the political component, the report deals with Centre-State relations and internal devolution of powers, and suggests a road map listing confidence-building measures. It favours amendment of the Public Safety Act, review of Disturbed Areas Act, and re-appraisal of application of controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
The report favoured resumption of the dialogue process between the Centre and Hurriyat Conference “at the earliest opportunity”. It expressed the hope that such a dialogue “should yield visible outcomes and be made uninterruptible.”
Dwelling further on the dialogue process, the interlocutors recommended that Pakistan and Pak-administered Jammu and Kashmir should be encouraged to enter into a dialogue on the recommendations as fine-tuned by the Constitutional Committee (CC), and points emerging from the Government-Hurriyat dialogue. It favoured an agreement between India and Pakistan to promote civil society interactions for Jammu and Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control.
The report recommended that the search for solution shouldn't be made contingent on India-Pakistan talks. “If the stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir are willing to enter into a settlement, the door can always be kept open for Pakistan to join. The key goal is, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed, make the LoC irrelevant. It should become a symbol of Concord and Cooperation,” it said.
Some other recommendations include speedy implementation of the recommendations of the Prime Minister's working group on CBMs, in particular, making the return of all Kashmiris, mainly Pandits, a part of State policy; facilitating the return of Kashmiris stranded across the LoC; establishing a judicial commission to look into unmarked graves, speeding up human rights and the rule of law reforms.
Noting that the group's recommendations will meet the political aspirations of the all the people of Jammu and Kashmir to a great extent without harming national interest, the interlocutors favoured creation of three Regional Councils, one each for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
“Parliament will make no laws applicable to the State unless it relates to the country's internal and external security, and its vital economic interests, especially in the areas of energy and access to water resources,” it recommended.
The interlocutors suggested that the writ of autonomous and statutory institutions should be extended to the State, and their functioning should conform to the provisions of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir.
Pointing out that a general consensus existed on a political settlement in the state through a dialogue between all stakeholders, including those who aren't part of the mainstream, the report recommended that Jammu and Kashmir should function as a single entity.
The report said the State assembly will submit three names to the President for the post of Governor, who will be appointed by the President. It also suggested that there should be no change in Article 356, and if the State government is dismissed, elections should be held within three months.
The group said that the proposed Constitutional Committee could complete its work in six months, and present it findings to the Parliament and State Legislature. The CC should be mandated to conduct its review, bearing in mind the dual character of Jammu and Kashmir — being a constituent unit of the Indian union, and enjoying a special status under Article 370 of the Constitution — and the dual character of the people — state subjects as well as Indian citizens.
“The review will, therefore, have to determine if — and to what extent — the central Acts and Articles of the Constitution of India, extended with or without amendment to the state, have dented Jammu and Kashmir's special status, and abridged the State government's powers to cater to the welfare of its people,” it said. The next step would be for the President, in exercise of powers under Article 370, to issue an order incorporating the recommendations of the CC.
The report recommended that for promotion of the State's economic self-reliance, a fresh financial agreement between the Centre and the State was required.
The report made several recommendations to harmonise relations between people on both the sides of Line of Control, including a hassle-free movement of people and goods across the LoC, and a consultative mechanism, where elected representatives from both sides can deliberate on issues of common interests like water, economy, tourism and trade.