The group includes European Union (EU) ambassador Ugo Astuto, and ambassadors of key European states such as French envoy Emmanuel Lenain, Italian envoy Vincenzo de Luca, Swedish envoy Klas Molin, Irish envoy Brendan Ward and Dutch envoy Marten van den Berg.

A group of 24 foreign envoys began a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday under a government initiative to showcase efforts to restore normalcy and boost development in the union territory.

This is the third group of diplomats to visit Jammu and Kashmir since January 2020 and the first since the government’s efforts to take envoys to the region was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The visit has been organised following the conduct of District Development Council (DDC) elections in November-December and restoration of high speed 4G mobile internet earlier this month.

The group includes European Union (EU) ambassador Ugo Astuto, and ambassadors of key European states such as French envoy Emmanuel Lenain, Italian envoy Vincenzo de Luca, Swedish envoy Klas Molin, Irish envoy Brendan Ward and Dutch envoy Marten van den Berg. The neighbourhood was represented by Bangladeshi envoy Muhammad Imran.

People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity the group represents various geographical regions such as Africa, South America and Asean, and also included the envoys of Brazil, Cuba, Estonia, Finland, Tajikistan, Portugal, Malawi, Eritrea, Cote d’Ivore, Ghana, Senegal, Malaysia, Bolivia, Belgium and Kyrgyzstan.

Tight security arrangements were put in place for the visit. A spontaneous shutdown was observed in Srinagar, and all business and commercial areas were closed.

Soon after their arrival in Srinagar, the envoys headed for Magam in Budgam district on the outskirts of the city, where they met DDC and panchayat members and local residents. The envoys also witnessed “Block Diwas”, a public outreach initiative organised every week by the local administration, and we’re briefed on people-centric schemes being implemented by the government.

“The visit to Budgam provided the envoys an opportunity to interact and hear directly from the public and local representatives about the functioning and empowerment of grassroots democratic institutions, devolution of power, developmental activities, and grievance redress mechanisms,” said one of the people cited above.

The DDC chairman of Budgam, Nazir Ahmad Khan, who met the envoys with a group of DDC and panchayat members, said he had briefed the group about the panchayat system and the recent DDC elections.

“I expressed appreciation for the civil and police administration for the peaceful conduct of the elections and the restoration of grassroots democracy. I also briefed them about Budgam district,” he said.

In the afternoon, the envoys met different groups at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) on the banks of the Dal Lake. During a meeting with members of civil society, some of the envoys asked the participants how they were selected for the meeting with the diplomats.

The mayor of Srinagar, chairpersons of urban local bodies, Block Development Councils (BDCs) and DDCs outlined their vision for development-centric administration in the decentralised grassroots framework.

The group also visited the Hazratbal shrine and meet a small group of local journalists in the evening to make a first-hand assessment of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. A cultural event was also organised for the envoys in the evening.

Security was tight across Srinagar, and especially around the SKICC, where the envoys held their meetings. The spontaneous shutdown in the Kashmir Valley began shortly before the arrival of the envoys. No group had issued a call for the strike.

This is the third batch of diplomats to visit Jammu and Kashmir since the government scrapped the region’s special status in August 2019 and split it into two union territories in an effort to improve governance, boost development and tackle cross-border terrorism.

The first two groups visited Jammu and Kashmir in January and February 2020, and plans to send a batch of envoys from EU states last year were put on hold because of the pandemic.

Article Excerpt source: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news

Photo: Business Standard

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