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Drabu swings to populism in ‘give-more-take-less’ budget

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Srinagar, Jan 11: Finance Minister Dr Haseeb Drabu, on Thursday, presented the J&K Budget 2018-19 in the Legislative Assembly ensuring to “cover all stakeholders in it”.
In his budget speech spread over several thousand words, Dr Drabu announced a slew of decisions that, seemingly, will have a positive impact on several sections of the society.
Named Budget 2018-19: Turning the Corner, the FM claimed it was “culmination of sustained work in building new systems for public expenditure management.”
“Over the last three years, we have made concerted and coordinated efforts to overhaul the style and substance of financial management of the state,” the FM said in his opening remarks.
He said that for the first time in the budgetary history of J&K, the revised estimates for the current year were much better than the budget estimates that he had presented last year.
Highlighting three different numbers to prove his claim, Drabu said that the tax revenues which were estimated to be Rs. 9,931 crore exceeded and in the process have crossed the Rs.10,000 crore mark of own tax collection.
“I had estimated an unfunded resource gap of over Rs. 3,000 crore. As the year comes to an end, I have a surplus of more than Rs. 1,300 crore,” he said.
The FM added that the fiscal deficit, which was estimated at around 9.5 per cent, has actually turned out to be around 5.7 per cent. An improvement of nearly 400 basis points
“This is unprecedented,” he said.
Later speaking to The Kashmir Monitor, Drabu said how he wanted the budget to cover everyone.
“It is not a departmental budget. It is a budget that focuses on the stakeholders. It covers government employees, youth, business, and I have named other stakeholders as well,” he said.
“For me it is not a budget of numbers, it is a budget of social change. Last year, we built systems and this year we are making those systems deliver. Yes it is a populist budget, but without any extra cost to the exchequer,” Drabu added.
For government employees, the FM, during his speech, said the government was “committed to implement 7th Pay Commission Recommendations from April 1, 2018, which will be effective from 1st January, 2016.”
He also announced that the government has reduced the eligibility for full pension from 28 years of qualifying service to 20 years of qualifying service.
“This measure will benefit more than half of the number of employees on the rolls of the Government, as they were denied full pension for want of qualifying service,” he said.
He added that Government employees will, henceforth, be required to furnish only credit and debit statements for the last five years for their final GP fund withdrawal.
“Once our IT systems and processes improve next year, I will dispense with this also,” he said adding that these measures were taken to get rid of the cumbersome trend wherein retiring employees were asked to produce a certificate relating to withdrawals since their joining of service.
He also announced the release of one per cent dearness allowance (DA) in favour of state government employees due from July 1, 2017.
In another interesting measure, the FM also spoke about the well-being of transgenders, which he said, were one of the most marginalised sections of the society.
“I propose every transgender shall be treated as living under BPL unless indicated otherwise. As such, he/she will be entitled to all such Government amenities and programs that are available for the BPL category like cheap food-grains, LPG, electricity connections, IAY scheme etc,” he said.
He also announced free life and medical insurance cover and a monthly sustenance pension on the pattern of old age pension scheme for all transgender people above the age of 60 who are registered with the Social Welfare Department.
“In all cases where gender re-assignment surgeries can be undertaken, entire cost of treatment would be borne by the state Government. I propose to make an initial provision of Rs. 1.00 crore for their welfare,” he said.
The FM also announced amnesties to several business sections even as he said that amnesties per se make for bad economics but sometimes they are necessary to help the sector make a clean break with the past and move on.
Drabu announced to grant waiver of penalty and interest on arrears of tax in respect of all the dealers registered under the provisions of J&K Value Added Tax, 2005 and J&K General Sales Tax Act, 1962. This amnesty, he said, will also apply to Telecom Operators registered under the provisions of J&K General Sales Tax Act, 1962.
In addition, he also announced to waive off interest and penalty on all the power arrears owed to the Government by the industrialists and hoteliers and tourist resort owners.
“A circular detailing out the exact modalities of the settlement will be issued by the Finance Department,” he said.
The FM said he has also decided to offer power amnesty to all the small scale industrial units of the State.
“Accordingly, I propose to waive off interest and penal charges on the power arrears of these units till 31st December, 2017,” he said adding for all those industrial units that have been declared sick by the department of Industries and Commerce, “I have decided to waive off the penal interest and surcharge on power dues”.
For the transport sector, Drabu announced waiving off the token tax and passenger tax for six months from 1st July, 2016 to 31st December, 2016.
“These measures have not alleviated the pain of the transporters as such, to give them complete relief, I propose to waive off all past arrears of passenger tax up to 31st December, 2017,” he said.
Drabu said the Government was launching an improved and enhanced Group Mediclaim Insurance Policy.
Unlike in the past when only gazetted employees were insured, now all the Government employees including pensioners have been covered along with 5 family members.
“Given the fact that there are 4.5 lakh employees, and about 1.5 lakh pensioners, this insurance cover extends to about 30 lakh people,” he said.
He said the employees of autonomous bodies, PSUs, Local Bodies are free to voluntarily opt for this scheme.
“I am making this scheme applicable to accredited working journalists also,” the FM said.
Drabu said that government had also increased the Personal Accidental Insurance from Rs. 5.00 lakh to Rs. 10.00 lakh.
As a major social security initiative for the children who lose their parents, “unmarried daughters” of the employees, who were hitherto not entitled to receive pension, have now been made eligible to receive pension once the employee and his/her spouse is no more.
“This is a step towards promoting gender equity as well. Also, the Group Mediclaim Insurance Policy which, unlike in the past covered only gazetted employees, will now also be available to the Government employees including pensioners and accredited journalists. Given the fact that there are 4.5 lakh employees, and about 1.5 lakh pensioners, this insurance cover extends to about 30 lakh people,” he said and added that even the BPL families would be now covered under the insurance.
To cater to the rural areas of the State where the government employees are reluctant to get posted, the Finance Minister said such a practice impacted the service delivery. “In order to incentivise transfers and postings in rural areas, Government shall come out with a scheme to incentivise the postings in the remote areas. Besides having rational framework of allowances, it will also have a built-in incentive for postings in the rural areas, while dis-incentivising “deployment” in urban areas,” he said.
The Finance Minister said the last few years have been very damaging for business in general. “Be it tourism, manufacturing, or household enterprises, all are in one kind of a distress or the other. First the localised factors; floods of 2014, and then the disturbances of 2016, then came the policy shock of demonetisation which was followed by a major tax regime change, the Goods and Services Tax. The short term disruptive influence has been more pronounced on the SMEs all around the country, more so in J&K,” he said.
“Considering the importance of industries for employment generation, I also propose an incentive for SMEs and industrial units to get them listed at SME Exchange and other Stock Exchanges in the country to raise capital through IPOs or other market tools. I make an initial budgetary provision of Rs. 1.00 crore and will provide additional money, if required,” he said.
To mitigate the losses suffered during the floods of 2014 and the situation in 2016, Dr Drabu said the RBI approved a loan restructuring package for borrowers in the state. “In deference to our Chief Minister, I have decided to rollout a “CM’s Business Interest Relief Scheme”. For all the RBI approved restructured accounts, the Government will contribute one third of the total interest payment of all these borrowers. In other words, one third of the monthly instalment will be paid by the state Government and two thirds will be paid by the borrowers,” he said and added that it is a conscientious and caring budget reaching out to every section of the society.
In his concluding remarks he said that people may have noted that “this Budget gives much more than it takes”.
“This idea of giving more and taking less doesn’t come naturally to a finance person. This idea of giving more and taking less doesn’t come naturally to a finance person; it has come from the Hon’ble Chief Minister. In my budget approach meeting with her earlier last month, she told me what is best captured by a couplet of Allama Iqbal: Acha hai dil kay saath rahay pasban-e aql, Lekin kabhi kabhi isey tanha bhi choad dey!” he said.


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Almost two months into the year: No action plan for districts submitted yet

Mudassir Kuloo

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Srinagar, May 20: The delay in finalizing the district action plans for the current year may hit the developmental works in Jammu and Kashmir.

Though the financial year began on April 1, the district development plans in the state are yet to be finalized for 2019-2020.

Principal Secretary, Finance Department, Arun Kumar Mehta, recently wrote a letter to district development commissioners to furnish the yearly district action plans.

 

“All district development commissioners shall initiate tendering process immediately after model code of conduct is over and ensure that process is completed before March 31 for commencement of works. The annual maintenance contract should be based on the rate of contract as per laid down rules and regulation,” the order reads.

It says that delay in furnishing of this information will entail “further” delay in the tendering process and have “cascading” effect on the executing of ongoing works.  It will subsequently lead to delay in execution of new works.

An official of the Planning and Development Department said that delay in finalising the district development plans would affect developmental works in Kashmir.

“The district development commissioners should have finalised the district development plans even though they were busy with elections. The Valley would be adversely affected due to delay in finalizing the district development plans as Kashmir has a limited working season,” the official said.

The Kashmir has a limited working season from May to October and the region’s developmental activities are worst affected when there is delay in the approval of annual plan or there is some disturbance in the Valley.

“The non-finalization of the plan would lead to delay in execution of works as funds remain unspent. Once the funds meant for Kashmir get lapsed, they are diverted to Jammu region,” the official added.

During 2018-2019, Rs 4,000 crore had lapsed in the state due to non-utilisation of funds.

District development commissioner formulates the plans with the assistance of district level officers as per guide lines and parameters set by Planning and Development Department.  The district development commissioner has to monitor all the developmental programmes in the district.

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Decline in number of local youth joining militancy: Army

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Jammu, May 20: Top Army commander, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Northern Command Monday said even though the local militant recruitment has shown a significant decline, “the issue of local boys joining militancy remains a matter of concern.”

“Local recruitment remains a matter of concern for all of us. Last year, we had 217 local youth who had picked up militancy. This year, the number has significantly reduced and as on date there are only 40 youth who have picked up arms,” Lieutenant General Singh said while addressing the media in Udhampur.

Out of 40, six were killed in various encounters in South and North Kashmir while as three had returned. The Army had claimed that its appeal to Kashmiri mothers was proving a success as youth who had picked up arms were returning back to the mainstream.

 

According to the figures available with the KNO, in 2017, the number of youth who had picked up arms in J&K was around 240 that reduced to 2017 in 2018.  In 2016, the number was around 200, as per the official figures.

The Army commander said that one of the key reasons for locals picking up gun was the “radicalization and exploitation of social media by Pakistani agencies.” The army commander said that Pakistan was feeling “starved” due to a very effective counter infiltration grid of the Indian Army.

It is pertinent to mention that only 40 youth joining militancy this summer so far in Jammu and Kashmir is lowest ever since 2016. However, officials assert that they won’t take a chance and will ensure local militant recruitment remains plugged in remaining months of the year especially the summer months when infiltration is expected to pick up due to melting of snow. According to officials, no foreign militant was killed on the LoC this year so far.

‘VDCs useful, need to energise them’

Press Trust of India

Udhampur, May 20: The Army Monday batted strongly for “energising” village defence committees (VDCs) in Jammu and Kashmir calling them a “useful instrument” for the state.

The VDCs were setup in the mid-1990s with an aim to strengthen the security of those living in remote and mountainous areas of Doda, Kishtwar, Ramba, Rajouri, Reasi, Kathua and Poonch districts of the region.
A total of 4,125 VDCs exist in the state. “VDCs are most useful instrument available with the state”, General Officer Commanding in Chief (GoC-In-C), Northern Command, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh told reporters here.

“They (VDCs) are always to be energised and they shall be able to take on responsibility (of securing the villages in remote and hilly areas) tasked to them,” he added. The Army commander said that it must be ensured that the volunteers are provided weapons so that they can “defend their villages and pass information to the security forces regarding movement and presence of militants.”

“All have to play a role to ensure peace and normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said. Notably, the Army has reached out to VDCs in various districts to strengthen the security apparatus of the population of rural and remote areas in Jammu region.

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Suffering in silence: Sexual abuse takes heavy toll on children in Kashmir

Hirra Azmat

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Srinagar, May 20: Ahmad’s room is a witness to his feats. His glass almirah is decorated with trophies and certificates that he won for his excellent grades and extra circular activities. A brilliant student, he was looking forward to top the upcoming matriculation exams when world suddenly came crashing down. His grades started falling and he turned aggressive by the day. What complicated the problem was his addiction to cannabis and psychotropic drugs.

“He shed a sea of tears while narrating his ordeal. It wasn’t the drug abuse; it was the sexual abuse that had worsened his mental health. His classmate had sexually assaulted him in front of group of boys and mocked him”, said the counselor at a private school in the valley.

Ahmad is not the isolated case. Rizwan (name changed), 16, fainted in class when the teacher was delivering a lecture. His sister and her husband rushed to the school and took him to the physician. The doctor gave some medicines for dehydration and didn’t take it seriously. The problem didn’t end here. The boy refused to eat or drink and locked himself in the room throughout the day.

 

“He looked like corpse when he was brought here. The reason for his high level of anxiety was the sexual abuse he faced. He was sodomised by his elder brother. We made the brother apologize before him. That has alleviated his pain to some extent,” said the counselor at Department of psychiatry, SMHS.

Mental health counselors’ note that the sexual abuse of young boys and girls mostly go unreported because of the family taboos. “They think it will bring humiliation to the family and the only thing they can do for the victim other than counseling is to make the perpetrator apologize”, said a counselor

Even children are often scared to report the abuse. “Many cases of abuse are not reported.  Most of the time it remains a secret crime, unless the victim is bold enough to tell someone about it. Mostly such crimes remain under wraps. This abuse can take place at home school or in places where child labour is common”, said Ezabir Ali, a noted Social Activist.

Experts dealing with such cases say most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims and they can be relatives of the child, most often brothers, fathers, uncles, or cousins; neighbors and even strangers.

“What can be done? We need to encourage children to speak. The communication channel between parents (especially mother) and children should be open so that the child feels confident to shares when something is not going right. We need to make children aware of good touch and bad touch”, said Ali.

Psychiatrists say that childhood sexual abuse is less talked about and least researched in spite of being associated with a broad array of adverse long term consequences for survivors.

“It creates powerlessness, betrayal, stigmatization, and sexualization; each having a profound effect on further development of child. Using Victims of childhood sexual abuse report more symptoms of anxiety and depression”, said Dr Arshad Hussain, a leading psychiatrist who works as associate professor, psychiatry at Government Medical College, Srinagar.

What has complicated the problem is that there is a dearth of counselors in schools who can tackle such issues. “A handful of counselors at some noted private schools and colleges remain confined to being just academic counselors. We have to increase the domain of counselling”, said Dr Saima Farhad, Professor at MSW Department in University of Kashmir.

According to Dr Saima, there are three levels by which we can curb such incidents, “The first step begins from the family. Parents have to make their children understand the difference between good touch and bad touch. The second level begins at the school. We have a lot of Co-ed schools. The teachers have to make the students aware about the difference between a boy and a girl and at the same ensure that no difference is being done based on their gender”, she said

Experts suggest a separate wing in the police department to deal with the sex abuse cases for speedy justice.

“We have dearth of investigating officers in police stations. There is one IO in every police station and he is single-handedly dealing with 10-15 cases. The delay happens because we have to multi-task. There should be a separate wing for law and order, a wing for dealing with cases for CSA and qualitatively segregating the options”, said an investigating officer, who requested anonymity.

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