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J&K and Ladakh, a year on

CRPF personnel stand guard at a deserted street in Srinagar on August 3, 2020. Restrictions were imposed in the Kashmir Valley for two days due to the first anniversary of revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

CRPF personnel stand guard at a deserted street in Srinagar on August 3, 2020. Restrictions were imposed in the Kashmir Valley for two days due to the first anniversary of revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.   | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

Though Syama Prasad Mukherjee highlighted the implications of Article 370 with the slogan “Ek desh mein do vidhan, do pradhan, do nishan nahi chalenge (We can’t have two Constitutions, two Prime Ministers and two flags in one country)”, it was not until 1979 that the full discriminatory nature of Article 35A came to light. A single-judge Bench quashed the appointment of Dr. Ravinder Maadan as an Assistant Professor at the Government Medical College in Jammu. The court ruled that Dr. Maadan, who had married a non-state subject, was no longer a permanent resident and hence not eligible for government employment. It was only 23 years later, in 2002, that a three-member Bench of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court declared that the daughter of a permanent resident marrying a non-permanent resident will not lose her permanent residency. However, it did not wade into the discriminatory nature of Article 35A and stated it to be an “academic issue”. Article 35A was unfair not just to women. It deprived benefits to thousands of descendants of West Pakistan refugees who migrated during that period even though they are Indian citizens. It ensured that the descendants of Dalit Valmikis, brought in from Amritsar and Gurdaspur in Punjab as safai karamcharis in 1957, were ineligible for government jobs and were forced to continue in their designated occupation.

Also read: Ladakh left out in the cold 11 months after becoming a Union Territory

The presence of Article 370 in the Constitution paved the way for various constitutional anomalies. For instance, while Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was struck down by the Supreme Court, it continued to exist in the Ranbir Penal Code that was followed in the erstwhile State. Similarly, critical legislation passed by the Government of India, such as the Right to Information Act, Right to Education Act and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, were not applicable to the erstwhile State.

Transformational development

It was for these reasons, and the Prime Minister’s vision of “one nation, one Constitution”, that led the government to effectively remove Articles 370 and 35A. The largely bipartisan support received in both Houses of Parliament reinforced the fact that the entire nation spoke as one voice. It has been a year since the government’s move. Contrary to claims of “large-scale unrest” and “international ramifications”, the move has not only been peaceful but has also seen overwhelming support from all sections of society and the international community.

Also read: A year on, several Jammu and Kashmir leaders remain confined

The government views the effective removal of Article 370 as a key vehicle to usher in transformational development in the region. Many districts in J&K are now terror-free. Anti-terror operations are being executed in a coordinated manner and are receiving support from local residents. Residents of J&K and Ladakh can now aspire for the same opportunities that residents in other States have. The government’s commitment to holistically integrate the region is visible in the new programmes that have been launched. Under the National Saffron Mission, more than 3,500 hectares of land are being rejuvenated for saffron cultivation. Saffron grown in Kashmir now has the coveted geographical indication tag giving it prominence in the export market. The government is also incentivising farmers to introduce ultra-high density plantation of apple and other fruits. Tourism infrastructure is being upgraded in mission mode, and bijli, sadak, paani issues are being addressed on a war footing. In a bid to further boost tourism and connectivity, 11 airports in J&K and two in Ladakh are being considered under the UDAN scheme. The health sector has been transformed with the opening of two AIIMS Hospitals and five new medical colleges. The Ayushman Bharat scheme is now available for all residents of J&K. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centre provided all the necessary infrastructure and logistical support to the region.

A confidence-building measure

The government believes that the integration of the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh will be complete in spirit only when grassroots democracy, as envisaged by the 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendments, are firmly established. The Block Development Council elections in October 2019 saw a record turnout and were free of violence, even though there were calls for boycott and threats of violence. This is an important forerunner to more endeavours being made to strengthen democracy. While the abrogation of the Articles has served as an initial confidence-building measure, a lot more needs to be done. The government will continue to strive under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwaas” to ensure that the people of the region get all that B.R. Ambedkar envisioned while framing our Constitution.

G. Kishan Reddy is the Minister of State for Home Affairs and Member of Parliament from Secunderabad

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2020 9:30:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/jk-and-ladakh-a-year-on/article32270583.ece

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