Jammu and Kashmir’s new Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha is breaking all the hackneyed bureaucratic taboos and security drills to start an extensive public outreach campaign that was absent in the terror-torn Kashmir valley since long.
In 10 days of his taking over at the Raj Bhawan in Srinagar, the people of Kashmir are witnessing the LG literally on the ground – driving through forlorn terrains, making inspections of the projects in progress, pulling up officials for the lapses and meeting with delegations.
It is for the first time that LG in the Union Territory has dumped his helicopter and decided to drive all the way to the countryside to familiarize himself with the people and the places usually seen by some as hostile to the government. His style of working has been baffling – sometimes unsettling – for his top aides, bureaucrats and officers.
The first surprise came within two days of Sinha’s entry. Regardless of security concerns, he made it a point to begin his outreach with a visit to Srinagar’s largest and the most crowded SMHS Hospital, which few of the top government functionaries had visited in the last over two years.
On February 6, 2018, dreaded Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) ‘commander’ Naveed Jhat had escaped from custody at the SMHS Hospital after gunning down both the Jammu and Kashmir Police constables escorting him from Srinagar Central Jail for a medical examination that appeared to be a ruse. SMHS is situated in a congested neighbourhood in downtown Srinagar.
Notwithstanding a medical emergency on account of the coronavirus pandemic in the last five months, top officers have rarely passed by the hospital after August 5, last year when J&K’s special constitutional status was withdrawn, the state bifurcated into the two UTs, former ministers and legislators jailed and the valley was put under a two-month lockdown. Sinha was seen incredulously interacting with patients and their attendants and reviewing the situation with the doctors.
Sinha’s first visit to the rural Kashmir on Tuesday was no less surprising. His cavalcade of bulletproof cars surged all the way from Raj Bhawan through the northern foreshore road of Dal Lake to pastoral Ganderal and Kangan.
Suddenly it screeched to a halt at Tenganbal between Srinagar and Ganderbal districts and not far away from the spot where two Border Security Force (BSF) men had been shot dead in a broad daylight terror strike in May this year.
Singh, along with Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam, inspected the Rs 20-crore road-widening project, from Pandach to Wayil, which has not progressed in the last six years.
At an official meeting in Ganderbal, Deputy Commissioner Shafqat Iqbal put up a PowerPoint presentation on the languishing projects and other government schemes but he had no convincing answers as to why the people had been suffering on account of the assured public services like Kisan Cards, linking of Aadhar and other services for the below poverty level population.
Sinha further drove all the way to Kangan, on Srinagar-Leh highway, where he conducted inspection of the under-construction Mother and Child Care Hospital for which National Health Mission has provided funds worth Rs 42.5 crore. He also met several public delegations. In all, he inaugurated 12 projects on which Rs 55 crore have been spent. He also laid the foundation stone of three new projects through virtual mode.
The LG then decided to visit the revered Mata Kheer Bhawani temple at Tulmulla to pay obeisance. Across faiths, the people in Kashmir believe that the colour of the Kheer Bhawani spring water determines peace or turbulence in a particular year.
Unlike on the given VVIP visit route, there was no security drill on the road to Tulmulla. According to some officials, Sinha insisted he wouldn’t go back without a darshan of Kheer Bhawani. “Thank God, it all went on smoothly,” said an officer.
On Wednesday, Sinha traveled to Baramulla district in northern Kashmir. Only 24 hours ago, eight people, including two soldiers, two paramilitary personnel, one Special Police Officer of the J&K Police and three Laskhar terrorists, had died in an encounter at Kreeri, not too far away from the highway. Northern Kashmir has witnessed five major terror attacks and three big encounters between the militants and security forces in the last five months.
Sinha met with 15 public delegations, including former MLAs Javid Hassan Baig and Shoib Lone, at Baramulla and five more at Boniyar, on the Baramulla-Uri-Muzaffarabad road. Officials, as well as the residents, looked happy that the LG accorded administrative approval and provided funds to an important jetty bridge on the river Jhelum.
“Just two RCC piers had been laid 22 years ago. This project had been languishing since 2003 as no administrative approval or funds had been provided by the successive governments. We are hugely relieved today,” Deputy Commissioner Ghulam Nabi Itoo said.
At Baramulla, Sinha made an inspection of the Rs 139 crore Government Medical College. Later at Boniyar, he laid the foundation stone of the Rs 14 crore Degree College. In all, he inaugurated and laid the foundation stone of over a dozen projects in Baramulla district.