The first stark new reality about the J&K budget presented by state finance minister Haseeb Drabu on Sunday was the presenter himself. Drabu’s most predecessors were mainly lawyers. Here we saw a budget written by a former planning commission official, member of the Madhav Godbole committee, a journalist, a budget-dissector columnist, ex-state economic advisor and former J&K Bank chairman.
The biggest challenge of presenting the budget of a conflict-ridden state and its floundering economy is to extend hope and present decipherable numerical reality, rather than hiding behind it. On both counts, Drabu lives up to the expectation. His sub-nationalism was up on sleeves when he asserted “not go with a begging bowl to New Delhi.” Apparently, he was infusing confidence in the system and preparing people to be stakeholders in changing fortunes of the state rather than looking at the Centre for doles. In the hindsight, he has succeeded to kick off the debate indeed if the state’s dependency syndrome is induced or self-inflicted. This government has a chance to defeat the notion of Kashmir being a parasite.
There is no match to Drabu’s allocation skills and calculations to sail the state economy to a positive shore, if not having the magic wand to reverse the state reality. Jammu and Kashmir has seen a reverse trend since 1947. From being predominantly an agriculture driven economy (with around 70% contribution to the GDP from agriculture sector and only having around 30 percent service sector), it is today a huge service driven economy where the government jobs remain first and last hope. Can Drabu reverse the clock back and revive the state’s real economic indicators or help produce human resource that match the global market needs.
In the past, the whole thrust of the budget was extending doles and schemes to various sectors with an aim to create low-income jobs. Can Drabu help J-K to pick up the pace with the rest of the country and the South Asia to create high-end jobs for talented, workaholics and meritorious human resource, present in abundance.
Besides the numbers and promises, this time, the budget was visibly laden with politics. Something that could have been avoided or dealt in a sense that gives hope to resolution-oriented constituency in the state. No budget in the country has been related to its peace condition or war condition. However, Drabu chose to connect peace with budget, a misfit allegory. He hoped to use the budget to enlarge the constituency of peace in the state. “I hope to use the budget to share with the people of J&K the dividends of peace; something that they have been deprived of for many years,” he added.
Kashmir’s economy though is directly proportional to the resolution process rather than the idea of ‘peace’; a term abused and misused in the past to further agenda that was in contrast to the reality of the state. How can we set precondition of peace before people to share dividends? Drabu missed the chance to connect the budget with the resolution process, to extend hope to people and create a constituency where stakeholders see the resolution process as a gateway to a new reality and new economic turnaround point.
Similarly, Drabu too fall prey to politics done around the flood situation in and outside state, particularly in the official circles outside. The politics over the September 2014 flood situation was stark and without any concrete plan to deal with the humongous task of reaching out to those who were directly and indirectly affected by the floods.
Referring to the previous government’s memorandum to the Central government seeking financial assistance of Rs 43,960 crore over and above the SDRF-NDRF framework, Drabu questioned the baseline without setting any baseline afresh or reworking of assessment of losses for extending help to those devastated by the flood.
Drabu, who is neither convinced by the estimates nor the manner it was designed, failed to come up with a better assessment way out, maybe one could have pushed for assessment on the lines of the Uttarakhand floods. It needs to be borne in mind that the World Bank is the not real assessment as it is just need-based assessment. There is already delay of more than six months and it is incumbent on the present government to come up with methods and ways to assess loses and see how these expenses can be met and where to seek funds for the same.
The finance minister used amazing vocabulary of refocus rehabilitation, saying not only areas that are “flood affected” but also those that are “flood impacted” will be taken care of. But what will be the baseline for losses? What if the previous government assessment was not up to the mark?
The government seems more interested to work through insurance and loan easements, but there is no way forward to reach out to those who lost hard-earned houses in the floods, whose number is staggering around 55,000. How to rebuild culture centres hit badly? Where is sector-wise assessment?
Kashmir has amazing social re-bouncing mechanism inherently in it, seen phases of wars for long now, but had such magnitude of floods happened elsewhere people would have continued to live in tents. Drabu falling prey to the petty politics only exposes pitfalls of being part of the system that put blinkers even on those who see through them otherwise.
(The writer is Srinagar based Principal Correspondent with Hindustan Times)