<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Dr Haseeb A Drabu, economist-turned-J&K Finance Minister, has been in the thick of things since the BJP-PDP government was formed in the restive state. From stitching one of the most difficult alliances to framing the Agenda of Alliance, Dr Drabu has been the crisis manager and the Man of the Moment in the Mehbooba Mufti-led government for the last two-and-a-half years. In a freewheeling interview at his official residence in Srinagar, Dr Drabu delves deep into issues ranging from politics to development in the state. Edited excerpts:What has been the biggest positive of this government?The biggest positive has been the Prime Minister’s economic package of Rs 80,000 crore — the fact that it was designed and that a large part of it was implemented. The Centre and the state both are involved. The upgrade of roads was also a big hit. Unprecedented macadamisation (black-topping of roads) was done. Another big hit was the better utilisation of MNERGA and creation of assets based on Centrally sponsored schemes.Did the development process suffer due to unrest last year?Of course, some speed breakers are there. In fact, the biggest challenge for us is the utilisation of resources. The institutional capacity to spend is not very high, and we are not able to spend at an appropriate pace. That is not because of the disturbance alone, but also because of the institutional capacity of the government itself. The process of tendering also takes time.The education system was the worst hit in 2016. What has been done to revive the sector?Huge funds have been allocated for the sector. For the first time, we have streamlined the system for teachers’ salaries. The Rehbar-e-Taleem teachers were not getting salary for the last nine months. They are up to date now and there is no pendency. Similarly, earlier, people had to wait for a year to get their general provident funds. Now, they can get it in one day. We have also utilised Rs 400-500 crore under the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA). We have set up some 21 new degree colleges. Such massive expansion has not happened in the last 20 years. Big focus is on the upgrade of schools and colleges.What about the health sector?We have acquired land for two AIIMS coming up in Kashmir and Jammu. The process has started and the project officer has been appointed. It will be a huge development. Also, five model hospitals have been created.You were the architect of the Agenda of Alliance (AOA), which set the tone for development in the militancy-plagued J&K. How confident are you about its success?It was an agreement on the agenda of governance. It was not about what we wrote there but what we intend to do. I am pretty sure that at the end of six years, we will be satisfied with the entire process. It may take time. It is a difficult alliance, politically, ideologically, and perception-wise. There is no doubt about it. There is a saying that you may live a thousand years but die every year. It is that kind of a thing. But, I think we have done well in the last three years.First of all, nobody thought the alliance will survive for three years but it has. There has been no major issue between PDP and BJP. If not completed, action on most agendas has at least started. For instance, the transfer of land from the Army, the issues concerning the west Pakistan refugees, the talks, and the economic package. Of 10 points, action has been taken on seven or eight points.The talks were at the heart of AOA. You have appointed an interlocutor but the Hurriyat has refused to talk. Don’t you think it is a setback?It is not an administrative matter but a political move. Till now, all interlocutors were told by the government to have informal talks. Dineshwar Sharma’s order has been issued by the President of India. There is a certain degree of seriousness, because he has a certain mandate. Earlier, Radha Kumar and Dileep Padgaonkar were told by the government to do it. There was no backing. This is an important step.The revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is another important point in AOA…If you look at it practically, the situation on the ground is not conducive. But the intent is there.What about handing over of the NHPC-run power projects to the state?I will keep saying that it will happen. It was never decided that it will happen within a year. We are working on it.What do you rate as the biggest achievement of your 2.5 years in power?We have made history by taking Presidential order on GST to the Legislative Assembly. When has that ever happened? For the 40 times that President issued orders in the past, have they ever been discussed in the Assembly? I think the biggest gain of this government was the revival of the Assembly’s powers. Major autonomy erosion had happened in 1975 and 1986. People did not even know about the Presidential order issue. We discussed it and took a view. It was a huge political hit for us.Has GST helped J&K?It is in the transitional phase and I am very confident that it will help us quite a lot. Under GST, we will be the biggest beneficiaries as it is a consumption tax. Except carpets, everything else has been sorted out in the handicrafts sector. We are trying to convince the GST Council to cut the slab from 12 to 5 per cent on carpets. In all other cases, all demands made by Kashmir have been met. In fact, we are the only state in the country where exemptions have been granted to the industry — 100 per cent CGST and SGST refund.You braved the 2016 unrest and survived it all. Are you satisfied? Did you learn any lessons?It is not a thing to be satisfied of. Yes, the situation could have been better. We lived through all that and it is well behind us now. And we are attempting a course correction. Hopefully, things will change. We have started major welfare programmes, such as regularisation of employees. In the last 30 years, nobody has done it. We have at least outlined the framework. That is a major decision.The anti-corruption drive was high on AoA. Any progress on that front?You cannot fight corruption without changing the system. Today, corruption is not personalised, it is systemic. You can’t go after five people. The next five guys will come and do the same thing because the system has become corrupt over the last 40-50 years. Unless you change the system, you will never remove corruption. And that is exactly what we have done by abolishing treasuries and moving to pay-in accounts. We do not have the old system of receiving and giving cash. Similarly, we have implemented GST to combat corruption in taxation.What about the robust financial system?J&K is the first state in the country to change the budget classification, which everybody is following now. We were the first state to move to January budget to allow people to spend more. We were the first state to have announced abolition of treasuries and move to the new system of pay-in accounts. The tax regime, the excise policy, the budget formulation, and the payment system have been changed.But the investment climate is still not conducive?I was in Dubai and I made a presentation to nearly 800 investors. We are now hoping for some foreign investment in the hospitality, tourism, and urban development sectors. One must also know that if the situation is not very good, it is difficult to get investment. Peace is imperative.How has the PDP-BJP alliance fared, so far?It is a difficult but fruitful alliance. It was created with a purpose — not to get in government but to bring Jammu and Kashmir together, to have a much larger say for the Valley vis-a-vis Delhi. You might not see benefits in the short term, but you will see them in the long term.What are the plans for the next three years of your government?There will be a lot of welfare-oriented measures to give relief to people. In the next three years, the power situation will improve radically. A lot of focus will be on income generation in rural sectors. A safety net has been created and insurance is being done for everybody. We are planning on universal basic income for those below the poverty line. We hope to see a lot of welfare and development in the next three years.
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