Jammu and Kashmir government’s order to ’empower’ and entrust the recently elected District Development Councils (DDCs) to carry out development works has stirred a controversy with many lodging a sit-in protest in Jammu.
Calling government order a “humiliation” and to belittle their election, the DDC members sat in protest against the new warrant of precedence or protocol that places them “well below than they had expected” in the power hierarchy.
Issued on Monday, the order places the DDC chairpersons as equivalent to administrative secretaries or inspector general of police or divisional commissioners or major generals in the Army or joint secretaries to the Government of India.
Similarly, the vice-chairpersons have been given positions which are equivalent to the vice-chancellors of universities within the State or Union Territory.
The DDC members have been put at the bottom along with block development council chairpersons, presidents of municipal councils and municipalities, district magistrates, officers of the rank of brigadier and equivalent, major head of departments, district and sessions judges.
The DDC members were riled by the ‘meagre’ honorarium that would be given to them. According to government order, the DDC chairpersons, their deputies and members would be given an honorarium of Rs 35,000, Rs 25,000 and Rs 15,000, respectively.
”This is rubbing salt to our injuries. A peon in a government office takes more money than a DDC member. This is utter disregard to what we were promised when we got elected,” Aftab Malik, DDC chairperson for Srinagar, told News 18 from Jammu.
He said the chairpersons were promised a rank of Minister of State, plus decent honorarium and security.
”But now we have realised that there is no reality in what we were assured,” he added.
A DDC member from Baramulla said each council representative would have to ensure development in 38 to 40 villages and it is a pity that he would end up spending his honorarium for travelling alone. He expects the meagre monthly wages would give rise to corruption.
”On an average, Rs 3 crore to Rs 5 crore would be earmarked for development of a single village. This is a huge amount and if the DDC member is not given a decent honorarium, he will try to compensate by indulging in corruption,” he said.
Srinagar chairperson Malik said protocol was not the only issue but DDCs need to have some degree of authority to carry out development in their respective districts.
The DDC elections in J&K were held with great fanfare in the fall of 2020, to give people their elected representatives after the Assembly was dissolved in November 2018 by the then Governor Satya Pal Malik.
The Commissioner Secretary, Rural Development Department, Sheetal Nanda, when contacted by News 18, said the protesting DDC members have not talked to her so far. ”I have no contact with them as of now. As and when they decide to meet and come for redressal of their issues, we would hear them out.”