On October 31, for the first time in India’s history, a state will be carved up and downgraded to Union Territory status. As this happens, the former state of Jammu and Kashmir is hurtling towards the future with no clear road map.
The Jammu and Kashmir divisions will be welded into a Union Territory with a legislative assembly. The Ladakh division will become a separate Union Territory without one. Two new lieutenant governors will be sworn in: for Jammu and Kashmir, senior bureaucrat GC Murmu, known to be close to both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while Ladakh will get former chief information commissioner Radha Krishna Mathur. Apart from a change of guard, not much is certain.
A fundamental transformation is going to take place as the Jammu and Kashmir constitution is scrapped and the regions of a previously autonomous state are brought directly under the Indian Constitution. The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act outlines the shape of things to come, but it leaves too many details of the massive administrative overhaul up in the air.
The rules under the reorganisation act have not been notified yet, calling into question how it will be implemented. This is crucial, given the sweeping changes outlined under the act. It repeals 153 state laws and 11 governor’s orders. It retains 166 state laws in their present form and seven more with amendments, apart from imposing 106 Central laws. But, as commentators point out, the implications of these legal changes are not explained. It is also believed that several Central laws and schemes, which contained the clause “except in the state of Jammu and Kashmir”, will now have to be amended, while the applicability of some laws to Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh may have to be mentioned specifically.
Several organs of the Jammu and Kashmir administration await specific orders. Till now, the police registered criminal offences under the state-specific Ranbir Penal Code, which will now be replaced by the Indian Penal Code as the Centre takes direct control of law and order. The two criminal codes are largely similar but it will mean, at the very least, reams of paperwork as thousands of cases are transferred from sections under one code to another.
The bureaucracy in general fears a massive churn. The state cadre of the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Police Service will be scrapped and its officers reassigned to the Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram and Union Territories cadre, which means officers will be transferred out of Jammu and Kashmir and potentially more “outsiders” pulled in. Many officers of the Kashmir Administrative Service and the Kashmir Police Service are also apprehensive of mandatory one-year postings in Ladakh. Disaffected bureaucracies and police forces do not bode well for the new dispensation.
Anxiety about land ownership
The most acute anxieties, however, are centred on the ownership and sale of land in Jammu and Kashmir. As the Centre revoked special status under Article 370, it also scrapped Article 35A, which had allowed the Jammu and Kashmir government to define “state subjects” and reserve certain rights for them. This included the right to own land in the state. While the reorganisation act retains a slew of land laws, it amends provisions which restricted ownership to permanent subjects. Moreover, with the state becoming Union Territory, it is assumed the Centre will have more direct hold on land transactions. At revenue offices in Jammu and Kashmir, officials wait for instructions on how these legal changes will play out. To add to the uncertainty, politicians, including Bharatiya Janata Party leaders from Jammu and Kashmir, have asked for safeguards for local residents on the lines of domicile laws in states like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
Several advisory committees are to be set up to supervise the division of assets of the corporations of the former state, water and electricity sharing arrangements and changes to the State Financial Corporation. A three-member committee on the distribution of assets and liabilities has been constituted but is yet to submit its report. Meanwhile, all independent state commissions have been dismantled, including the crucial state human rights commission.
Finally, the reorganisation act stipulates that the number of assembly seats in the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly will be raised from 107 to 114 and delimitation will provide for reserved seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, among other things. This is a politically explosive exercise. In the Valley it is feared that the redrawing of constituencies is a means to change the balance of power in the assembly, traditionally dominated by Kashmiri Muslim leaders.
While the government embarks on a messy and potentially fractious transition, it is yet to overcome a basic problem: popular resentment against a decision taken in stealth and without consulting the people it concerns the most. While hundreds are still detained, internet and prepaid mobile connections remain suspended, medical services are disrupted and army crackdowns are reported in parts of the Valley, public anger runs high. For weeks, it has led to widespread shutdowns and sporadic protests. As the government tries to project normalcy, there is already a violent backlash, with migrant labourers being killed in the Valley. The biggest challenge for the Centre, at least in the Kashmir Valley, may be establishing the legitimacy of its newest Union Territories.