Speaking exclusively to Bharti Jain in his first interview after the polls, Sinha dismissed speculation by some parties that the DDC outcome would delay assembly polls. “Delimitation process in J&K is under way and once delimitation is done, EC is the competent authority to decide on the conduct of assembly polls,” he said. The LG, who assumed office in August and has initiated several measures to connect with the people, said he has been talking to political leaders across party lines.
“My priority remains the people of J&K, ensuring prosperity and peace, and boosting industry and agriculture here,” he said. On the long detention of leaders like Mehbooba Mufti and the Abdullahs, he said this was due to “special circumstances” and based on the assessment of security agencies at the time. He said while the leaders are now free to engage in political activity, anyone involved in anti-national activities shall be dealt with as per the law.
Saying the UT is heading towards full normalcy, he assured that 4G services, which are currently functional in two districts, would gradually be restored everywhere.
The DDC poll results have been received well across party lines. What is the message of the polls?
It is after long that there have been violence-free, free and fair polls in J&K. This is also the general assessment. The enthusiasm with which youth and women participated in the poll exhibits their deep faith in democratic processes. I thank the State Election Commission, poll officials, J&K police and central armed forces for discharging their duties well despite the biting cold. The turnout was better than in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, in some difficult areas it saw a two-fold and even threefold increase. Those offering own political interpretations are making a mistake and messing with the people’s mandate. I think this is a victory for democracy. For long, the people of J&K were deprived of a three-tier democratic setup…Now the district development boards will look after development work in villages through directly elected representatives.
How will the DDC boards contribute to grassroot development?
In the last 3-4 months, Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local bodies have been given more financial and administrative powers in line with the 73rd and 74th amendments. We have made a provision in our budget for extending adequate funds to the boards for development work.
Do you think the successful conduct of DDC poll will ease the path to assembly polls?
I don’t foresee any roadblock to assembly polls. The PM had spoken of holding the polls in his Independence Day address. We all know that delimitation process is under way in J&K and a few northeastern states. Once delimitation is over, the Election Commission, which is the competent constitutional body, will decide on the conduct of polls. I can tell you that assembly polls will be held in a free and fair manner.
NC leader Omar Abdullah suggested that DDC poll results may further delay assembly polls…
Such misgivings have no basis. Home minister Amit Shah has spoken of holding assembly polls on the floor of Parliament. The PM’s Red Fort address is the last word. I have been meeting all leaders. Recently, Farooq Abdullah was with me in a programme to lay the foundation stone for a 100-bed ESIC hospital. I have been meeting MPs, ex-MPs and ex-MLAs across party-lines. My priority remains the people of J&K. I am here to address their problems. My focus is to ensure prosperity and peace, boost industry and promote agriculture and horticulture.
Do you think DDCs will lead to diminution of J&K assembly and MLAs?
In almost all states of the country, this system is functioning. I don’t think the powers of MPs and MLAs have been curtailed in those states. Nobody should have any objection to grassroot democracy and Panchayati Raj institutions. I think it will strengthen democracy.
J&K administration is seen as chief patron of Apni Party?
I can assure that there is no patronising from our side of any political party, whether NC, PDP, BJP, Congress or Apni Party.
Your take on DDC results pointing to communal polarisation?
I don’t see it as such. I feel the mainstream parties of the Valley have got more seats in Kashmir region as they were stronger there even earlier; similarly, parties which were traditionally stronger in Jammu have got more seats there.
How do you assess the current security scenario?
Security forces have an upper hand. Recent statistics show a steep decline in terror-related incidents, recruitment and infiltration. Coordination between J&K police, central forces and the Army is excellent. This helped foil a major terror bid with neutralisation of terrorists in Nagrota. In Poonch, an attempt by the forces in the neighbouring nation to disrupt DDC polls was nipped. Thanks to the alert forces, the situation is heading towards full normalcy. People are fed up of militancy.
Do you think the long detention of political leaders like Mehbooba Mufti and the Abdullahs was necessary?
The detentions were ordered under special circumstances. At the time, those handling security matters may have had some apprehensions. But now people are taking part in normal political activity, holding rallies and travelling freely. I would like to make it clear here that while there is complete freedom to indulge in political activity, anybody found engaging in anti-national activities will face strict action under the law.
How long before 4G services are restored across J&K?
4G services are already functional in two districts. The matter is in the Supreme Court and the government has assured that it will gradually restore 4G in other districts as well.
How do you react to the charge of witch-hunting against political leaders through law enforcement agencies?
NIA is mandated to probe terror-related cases and anybody allegedly involved in a terror act should face the agency. ED is competent to investigate anybody who has amassed assets disproportionate to his income. All these agencies have their ‘maryada’; I will not allow any probe driven by political motives. I would also like to assure common people of J&K that they need not fear anything, action will only be directed against the wrong-doers.
In view of J&K government seeking review of Roshni Act verdict by the high court, do you think ‘naming and shaming’ of beneficiaries could have waited?
We went to the court before the list of Roshni beneficiaries was made public. It had taken some time after the court’s decision to compile the list. There is no discrimination and the entire list is being made public as per the court’s direction. We went to the high court for two reasons: I feel the names being made public are just “a tip of the iceberg”. So we have requested the court for permission to set up an SIT. Secondly, we have requested for directions on a possible law to save the poor people who got land for genuine reasons. A CBI probe is on and after the probe, the government will be taking back land as directed by the HC. Common people may be asked to deposit the market value of the land.
How do you intend to boost jobs in J&K?
The number of government servants in J&K and Bihar are almost equal, despite the latter having a much bigger population. Employment in J&K has largely been driven by government jobs. We are working on many fronts. Vacancies in government are being filled up and we hope to offer 25,000 government jobs. A new industrial policy is aimed at boosting investment. DIPP has cleared it and cabinet approval may come soon. I foresee an investment of Rs 25,000-30,000 crore in times to come. Big business houses, including global players like Lulu Group, have shown interest. Industry needs a peaceful environment and land. We have made necessary changes in land laws to ensure that land rights of locals are protected.