Shujaat Bukhari

Working Group on Centre-State relations submits report to Omar Abdullah

Report says the matter [of Article 370], being 60 years old, should be settled once for all

‘Appointment of Governor and dismissal of popular government may be considered’

SRINAGAR: The fifth Working Group on Centre-State relations constituted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday presented to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in Jammu the report in which it has suggested that the abrogation or continuance of Article 370 should be left to the people of the State. It has also suggested that the appointment of Governor be considered.

According to the 10-page summary of the report presented by the Working Group’s secretary, Ajit Kumar, there seems to be no concrete recommendation to strengthen the Centre-State relations, but it said much in the light of demands put forth by political parties during the discussions.

The Working Group was headed by Justice (retired) Saghir Ahmad, who took a long time finalising the report. The five Working Groups were constituted by Dr. Singh on May 25, 2006, at the end of the Round Table Conference in Srinagar. The other groups — dealing with Confidence-building measures, cross-Line Of Control travel and trade, economy and good governance — have already submitted their reports.

The summary said that as far as Article 370 of the Constitution of India was concerned, “it is for the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to decide how long to continue Article 370 in its present form and when to make it permanent of abrogate. The matter, being 60 years old, should be settled once for all.”

On the demand of autonomy by the National Conference, the summary said that it could be examined in the light of the Kashmir Accord or in some other manner, or on the basis of some other formula as the present Prime Minister may deem fit and appropriate so as to restore autonomy to the extent possible.

The Working Group said the question of the appointment of Governor and dismissal of the popular government by the Governor may be considered and resolved.

On the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) demand of ‘Self Rule,’ the summary said that on behalf of the party, Muzaffar Hussain Baig orally explained the concept of ‘Self Rule,’ but the ‘Self Rule’ as proposed by the PDP could not be considered in all its detail as the document containing the various aspects of ‘Self Rule’ were not provided to the Working Group as promised by PDP during the course of the proceedings.

“Basically it appears to relate to autonomy in a wider context, which requires to be considered by the Central government if and when approached with documents containing specific proposals of the ‘Self Rule.’ This document should be on record,” the Working Group said.

On the term of the State’s Legislative Assembly, the summary said any change in the term of the Assembly would require political consensus among the parties in the State and can be effected only through a Constitutional Amendment.

The Working Group has also suggested that Representational Reservation for Scheduled Tribes and Women in the Assembly may be guided by the national pattern subject to political consensus. It has, however, opposed the demand for the abolition of the State Legislative Council, saying that the present position may be maintained.

On the increase in the number of Assembly seats and the De-limitation Commission, the summary said: “Since the Constitutional provisions do not allow any change up to the year 2026, the present position may be maintained till then.”

About human rights, the Working Group said violations must not be tolerated and that the State government should take steps to strengthen the institutions that are involved in safeguarding human rights, including the State Human Rights Commission. “Additional staff as recommended in the body of the report should be sanctioned, which will work under the direct control of the Commission,” the report said.

In contrast to recommendations from other groups, the summary said that regarding the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, “a group of Central government and State government officers and people’s representatives may be constituted, which will review the application of the Act to various parts of the State regularly to explore the possibility whether the Act can be withdrawn from any part of the State.”

The Working Group has also made suggestions on issues related to migrants, daily wagers, regional councils, industrial units, refugees from Pakistan, and promotion of the IT industry.

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