Jammu, village defence and governance – Dealing with terrorism by empowering local institutions | 7th February 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about empowering local institutions to deal with the issue of terrorism and militancy in the Jammu valley.


  • GS2: Devolution of Powers and Finances up to Local Levels and Challenges Therein;
  • GS3: Security Challenges and their Management in Border Areas – Linkages of Organized Crime with Terrorism;
  • Prelims


  • There have been several terror-related incidents in the region of Jammu division over the last year.
  • The gravest of them so far have been committed in Dangri village in Rajouri district at the beginning of the year.
  • In January there were infiltration attempts, recoveries of war-like stores, explosions followed by gunshots at the house of a local MLA, a neutralisation of hideouts, and the nabbing of suspects in Rajouri and Poonch.
  • Thus we must take appropriate steps to stop these attacks.
  • One such step is the revival of the erstwhile Village Defence Committees (VDCs) has emerged from different quarters.
  • In this article the author analyzes the effectiveness of these VDCs in countering militancy and gives suggestions to improve their efficacy.

Map of Jammu and Kashmir

What are Village Defence Committees (VDCs):

  • The VDCs were first formed in the erstwhile Doda district (now Kishtwar, Doda and Ramban districts) in mid 1990s as a force multiplier against militant attacks.
  • The then Jammu and Kashmir administration decided to provide residents of remote hilly villages with weapons and give them arms training to defend themselves.
  • The VDCs have now been renamed as Village Defence Guards (VDG).
  • The new scheme to set up VDGs in vulnerable areas of J&K was approved by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs in March last year.
  • Like a VDC member, each VDG will be provided a gun and 100 rounds of ammunition.

What are positives of VDCs (VDGs)?

  • As in the policy, the VDGs were to instil a sense of self protection, with the district’s superintendent of police mandated to exercise command and control.
  • VDCs have played a crucial role in containing militancy in the Jammu division, after being set up in the mid-1990s.
  • Pockets with a VDC presence were those in remote areas; their difficult terrain and a meagre presence of security forces made chances of successful operations remote.
  • VDCs were trained to hold the front against militants till the arrival of security forces, thus proving to be force multipliers.

What are negatives of VDCs (VDGs)?

  • However, in several cases, the VDCs have proved to be counterproductive, with instances of cadres abusing their authority and even facing allegations of human rights violations.
  • Given the lower levels of insurgency and state support, a ‘false notion of power’ developing in the minds of VDC cadre is quite natural, leading to potentially adverse fallouts.
  • However, the benefits of the VDC far outweigh their drawbacks. leading to the decision to revive them.

Suggestions to improve VDCs:

  • There needs to be an evolution of a hands-down command and control mechanism.
  • The present methodology of being under the superintendent of police, i.e a top-down approach, may not be the ideal arrangement as it will be found wanting in terms of close supervision at the execution level.
  • Instead, the local bodies, such as the Panchayats, should be roped into effectively managing the VDCs.
  • Panchayats are most suited to understand local dynamics in a conflict zone that change rapidly from one sub-region to the other.
One of the most encouraging facets of democracy in Jammu and Kashmir has been the enthusiasm of people in electing and trusting local bodies. The Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Panchayati Raj Act of 1989 amended in 2020, paved the way for the setting up of the District Development Council. This completed the three-tier local-governance structure and reinforced the other two bodies, at the panchayat and block levels. However, due to the security situation and socio-political uncertainties, the empowerment of local bodies never moved beyond holding elections.
  • In addition to the compulsory functions, panchayats could be entrusted with the task of assisting the local police in an institutionalised manner.
  • This will create advantages such as expanding the stakeholdership of the local population in security matters, a quality check on the character of VDG cadres during the selection stage as well as monitoring their activities and having consolidated control by means of oversight and deterrence.

Way Forward:

  • Entrusting local bodies to manage the VDGs would elicit a positive vibrancy from the population that normally does not manifest when a measure is enforced top down in a bureaucratic manner.
  • The key to a resolution of challenges in J&K lies in empowering the local population by strengthening democracy and making it more participatory at the grassroots — the Gandhian way of decentralised governance.

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