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|June 4, 2002||
The Rediff Interview/Abdul Rahim Rather
The rise of Jammu & Kashmir Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather was prophesied by none other than the late Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, founder of the National Conference. A member of the state legislative assembly since 1977, and a lawyer by profession, Rather was the architect of the Autonomy Committee report of the National Conference that was rejected by the Centre in 2000.
In an exclusive interview with Basharat Peer in Srinagar, he spoke about the prime minister's economic package for the state and the chances of his party in the forthcoming assembly elections.
How do you rate the economic package announced by the prime minister during his visit to Kashmir? Will it solve the problems that plague the violence-ridden valley?
We are not satisfied with the prime minister's economic package. It was no package and had nothing for the state government. It will not solve any of our immediate problems.
Because the package has completely ignored the state government's priorities. It focusses on railways and other security-related areas whereas the state government had a different focus. After what goes to the railways and police, there is hardly anything left for the state government.
We have no concern with the money allocated to the railway projects, which take more than half of the package. There is nothing new even in talking about railway projects, which are already going on.
What were you expecting then?
We were expecting help for rebuilding our basic infrastructure like schools, roads, bridges destroyed by years of militancy. We expected relief for our badly hit industrial units, tourism and horticulture -- that these would get priority on the economic package.
But our priorities were completely ignored. The tourism sector, which was a major revenue earner for the state and requires an immediate boost, did not even find a mention.
What did you finally get from the economic package?
Almost nothing. We got barely a few hundred crores out of the whole Rs 6,165 crore package. It is some money for the development of handicrafts and horticulture, which will come over a span of five years. How will that help the immediate problems we are facing in the valley?
But J&K is a "special category" state and the likes of the Northeast region get major concessions on the money allocated to it under the annual plan outlay. Comment.
Jammu & Kashmir was included in the special category states like the Northeast in 1969-70, which gets concessions in returning the money allocated under the five-year plans. The special category states get 90 per cent of the allocation as grant and 10 per cent as loan, which they have to repay [known as the 90-10 formula]. But the Centre turned a blind eye to J&K and the status was not applied to our state for decades together.
When was it finally applied?
The 90-10 formula was applied to J&K only during governor's rule in 1991. Just the accumulated interest we have to pay the Centre is Rs 1,250 crore, while the debt is around Rs 5,000 crore.
The Centre finally to agreed to it in principle, but did not give it the retrospective effect, which would have taken the burden of accumulated interest and loan off our shoulders.
But the annual plan allocation is still a lot of money to solve the developmental problems.
We have done whatever we could. But the Centre has not even provided the complete finances allocated according to the annual outlay plan to the state. This story has been repeating every year.
What reasons does the Centre give?
They give us no reasons. The chief minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, and I both have raised this issue with the Centre, but not much has changed. We are being discriminated against.
Even this year, out of the annual plan outlay of Rs 2,250 crore for J&K, the resources of only Rs 1,800 crore have been identified, which means the state will receive only that amount. From that amount too, we have asked for a loan of Rs 500 crore from NABARD at full interest. So the 90-10 formula applies to only Rs 1,300 crore of the annual outlay for us, which negates the special category status of J&K.
How do you interpret it?
It is not a healthy sign. The healing touch from the Centre is missing. The expectations of Kashmiris are not being fulfilled.
You have been the architect of the State Autonomy Committee's report, which was the main plank of the National Conference in the last election. What is your view on it now?
It took me two years of research to complete the autonomy report and the Centre did not even read it before dismissing it. One of the state government officers posted in Delhi told me that a Union Cabinet minister had asked for the report the night before they rejected it. He could not arrange for it during the night. The next day the Union Cabinet rejected it. That means they had not even read it!
Will you raise the autonomy issue again?
We have been raising the autonomy issue at every forum. It will be the main plank of the National Conference in the forthcoming election. We believe only autonomy can help the situation in the turbulent state.
Omar Abdullah is going to take over as the party president on June 12. Will he be your chief ministerial candidate for the assembly election? Have you begun preparations for the election?
In the National Conference there is nothing like a chief ministerial candidate. It is for our candidates, who become members of the legislative assembly, to elect the chief minister. The preparations for the elections have started and we are holding public rallies throughout the state.
What are the chances of the National Conference coming to power again?
There is no doubt about that. We will sweep the elections. We are confident.
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