GoI Pushes for Central Control of Data Collection in Kashmir

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SRINAGAR: The Collection of Statistics (Amendment) Bill 2017 introduced by Minister of Statistics and Programme Implementation in Lok Sabha on March 20, 2017 seeks to empower the Union Government to collect data from Jammu & Kashmir by superseding a state law that has been in force since 1961, a New Delhi based newspaper reported on Friday. 

At present, data is collected on Kashmir and its residents under the Jammu and Kashmir Collection of Statistics Act, 2010.

According to the Business Standard, the bill has been introduced despite the fact that the Centre already has the all-important Census data on Kashmir. In addition, various other surveys by the

National Sample Survey (NSS), National Health Survey, Socio-Economic Caste Census, Annual Survey of Industries have been regularly conducted in the state. 

No Census was conducted in 1951 and 1991 in Kashmir owing to internal disturbances in the state. The Bill introduced minister DV Sadananda Gowda on March 20, was discussed in Parliament with several opposition MPs raising concern over its contents. It is still pending in Lok Sabha where the BJP led NDA has the numbers to ensure its passage, the report said.

If the bill is passed J&K will join the mainland India where the central government has complete control on data collection pertaining to subjects under the Union and Concurrent lists of the Constitution.

The Bill tabled in the current session of Parliament seeks to amend Collection of Statistics Act 2008 enacted by the erstwhile UPA government led by Manmohan Singh. Since J&K was excluded by the UPA legislation, the state government enacted the Jammu and Kashmir Collection of Statistics Act, 2010. The state act replaced an existing act that had been in force since 1961.

A separate Act for Jammu & Kashmir was an acknowledgement of the state’s special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, the report said.

The 2008 Act was enacted to “to facilitate collection of statistics on economics, demographic, social, scientific and environment aspects by the Ministries or Departments at the Centre or the States or Union territories or by local Governments”.

The government has justified amending the law saying that it doesn’t cover matters listed in the Union and Concurrent list for J&K which has led to a “legislative vacuum in respect of the statistical matters in the Union List or Concurrent List applicable to Jammu and Kashmir.”

The Collection of Statistics Act 2008 states that it would be the responsibility of the head of the family to provide the information sought by the field statistics officer. The Act states that the Central government cannot order the same statistical survey commissioned by a state government. Similarly, a state government can’t order a survey if the Centre has already ordered one which is yet to be completed. With the BJP in power at the centre and in a coalition with Mehbooba Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a lot of data from Kashmir which was unexplored till now could potentially flow to the government.

But more than data collection, the introduction of this bill seems to signal the intent of the Modi administration to accelerate Kashmir’s integration into the Indian mainstream.

“It is a historic bill. No other government in the past has introduced a bill that includes Jammu & Kashmir from legislative matters in the country. Earlier only the state government had the power to commission surveys. Now the Centre will also have the power to commission any survey it wants and ensure that correct data is received from the state,” Jugal Kishor Sharma, BJP MP from Jammu told Business Standard.

The “correctness” of data has been a controversial topic in Kashmir in the past. Especially controversial has been the debate over the religion census data released by the Modi government in 2015. The information was collected during the Census 2011 exercise. A historical look at Census data shows that the proportion of Muslims in J&K’s population increased from 64.19% in 1981 to 68.31% of the population in 2011. The proportion of Hindus meanwhile declined from 32.24% to 28.43%. This had prompted right wing groups to raise alarm bells. One them, Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), a right leaning think-tank that has RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy and BJP vice-president Balbir Punj as trustees did a study on the religious census titled ‘Jammu & Kashmir: Hindus No More Have a Place in the Valley.’

The study notes, “An analysis of religious census data shows that Hindus in the Kashmir Valley are mainly adult males. In their population of 1.68 lakh persons, there are only 15764 women and less than 5000 children, forming 9.34 and 2.95 percent of the population, respectively. The data also shows that in the total Hindu population of 1.68 lakh, 1.48 lakh are workers.”

Resistance leader Syed Ali Geelani toed a similar line when the Census exercise was started. In 2010 Geelani is reported to have said, “There are concerted efforts under a pre-planned conspiracy to reduce the Muslim majority status of the state. The Census is being carried out by the employees from outside the state and they have been tasked to erode the Muslim majority status of the state. Muslims were 85% of J&K’s population before 1947 but in the subsequent censuses of 1961 and 1981, the Muslim population was put at 69% and 64.5% respectively.”

With the Modi administration now introducing a bill seeking to empower the central government to supercede the state government, another storm over Article 370 and Kashmir’s special status could be looming on the horizon.

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