Srinagar: On February 15th, this year, the Jammu and Kashmir government decided to ‘snatch the draw and dispersion powers of the Chief Accounts Officers from all the government departments and pave way towards transparency in the procedure of allotting and getting funds by way of e-billing or the Pay and Accounts Office System (PAO).
Although the contractors from the valley welcomed the move, they were on a strike against it saying that the lack of funds and frequent internet shutdowns would not let the system to work efficiently and at the end of the day they would be left penniless. After a meeting with the Finance Minister of J&K Altaf Bukhari, the strike has been called off till April 4.
Bukhari, after taking the additional charge of Finance has rolled by the system saying that it was causing inconvenience to people. Recently, Bukhari, who is also the Education Minister while calling it a “significant reform” for curbing corruption and pilferages, added that the fact can’t be ignored fact that our infrastructure is not yet ready to handle such a major fiscal reform.
The Opposition too didn’t remain silent. National Conference, the main opposition party said that the ex-finance minister Haseeb Drabu was not dropped due to his remarks that Kashmir isn’t a political problem, but he was was ousted due to the PAO system.
On one hand, the Jammu and Kashmir Central Contractor’s Coordination committee (JKCCCC) is pretty much convinced with the fact that e-billing would lead to transparency in the system, however, they have their apprehensions.
“Now the department will release the money directly to our accounts. As much as the allocated amount can be withdrawn/ used only. We are with that. But they need to lay a foundation first,” says General Secretary of JKCCCC Farooq Ahmad Dar.
Earlier, the contractors would receive the money in the form of cheques. The cheque would then go to the treasury where from it would be sent to the planning or finance department. The cheques would be added to the concerned accounts of the contractors. Sometimes they would have to wait for a month or two but their cheques wouldn’t lapse.
“If money wouldn’t be available in the treasury, the cheque would stand even after March that way,” Dar said adding, “having enough funds in the chest so the ‘self’ cheques provided to the contractors at the end of the work do not lapse is the first thing the government should focus on.”
In the e-billing system, each department has to have funds which would be transferred online to the personal accounts of the contractors which he says won’t be possible if the department has no funds or there is an internet shut down going on.
“I think the government is planning to completely shut down the internet in the South Kashmir. So, any department there won’t be able to work,” he says.
“No structure was framed before implementing the concept of e-billing. Check any department: R&B, PHE, Drainage, Irrigation, Tourism, Estate, Floriculture or Housing etc., no ground work has been done there,” says Dar adding that an order pertaining to the implementation of the e-billing system was circulated on 15th February, 2018 by the state’s Finance Department.
From 20th February, JKCCCC came up with programmes against its implementation- from 20th to 27th February after which they formally initiated the strike by locking down the offices, tender boycotting, stopping work after 27th February.
Since then they have been protesting and were also beaten up and locked up in the Rajbagh Police Station.
“The centre coordination committee has around 35 thousand people associated with it from all districts. Another group with around 60 members had unlocked the chief office and announced that strike had been over while it was actually going on. So, we went there and locked it again. We were asked to meet the Divisional Commissioner but we couldn’t as the number we had been given to reach to him was continuously switched off. Although he had nothing to do with it. It is something related to the cabinet,” Dar informed.
“Later, from the Engineering Complex, Rajbagh, police took away our tents and chairs. On Friday, in the morning we went there and we were lathi charged and taken to (around 150 men) to the police station where from we were released at 8 in the evening. And the Finance Minister called us there and asked for a meeting with him at his office on Saturday.”
In the meeting with the Finance Minister, Dar says that they raised all the questions in response to which Bukhari had promised to clear the outstanding amount of Rs 750 crore.
“He was satisfied with our concerns and said that structure would be formed in different departments and then e-billing would be implemented here. He also promised to clear the 750 Crore liability gradually.”
As of now the strike has been deferred till April 4.
“For the sake of the common people, we have resumed our work for now but if the government fails to fulfil its promise we will be forced to take a grave step,” says Dar.
They had also discussed the Goods and Services Tax with Bukhari saying that they ought to file 36 returns when they receive payment once in a year or two.
“He said that we will have to file it only 4 times now,” says Dar who also said that GST was forced on Kashmiris even when they have their own constitution.
The JKCCCC has identified the loopholes for the e-billing to be implemented in Kashmir and it along with the Apex body of Contractors also say that it is done deliberately so that Kashmir lags behind in terms of development. JKCCCC and Apex body of the contractors, lashed at the government for its “anti-development and anti-economic policies towards the Kashmir region.
“When it comes to Kashmir, from past 25 years it has been facing the step motherly behaviour. Check the development in Jammu and Ladakh. Compare that with that in Kashmir and you will see. Despite having more population in this very area, it does not get the required funds,” says Dar.
He ‘thinks that the money to be allocated for the development in Kashmir would be transferred to Jammu and Ladakh.’
“GST or e-billing in a place like Kashmir is their manifesto to defer the development here and divert the money to Jammu and Ladakh,” believes Dar.
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