New Delhi: In yet another significant step to close the gap between Kashmir and the centre, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti met Union home minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi on Thursday.

Mufti’s visit comes three days after the centre appointed former Intelligence Bureau (IB) director Dineshwar Sharma as the government’s special representative in Kashmir to help resolve the ongoing stasis in the valley.

While Mufti also met minister of state for home affairs, Hansraj Ahir and home secretary Rajiv Gauba, the Union home ministry stated that her primary focus was to expedite development projects in the state.

With 63 projects under the Prime Minister’s Development Package (PMDP) in J&K currently under way, the home ministry stated that Rs62,599 crore has been sanctioned by the centre, while Rs22,042 crore has been released.

“It was decided in the meeting that the projects under PMDP would be fast-tracked in the state by making encumbrance-free land available for the infrastructure projects including road, power and health. There are 63 major development projects pertaining to 15 central ministries in the state," the ministry said.

While the ministers discussed possible employment opportunities for the youth of the state and Kashmiri Pandits, the ministry added that one of the key focus areas of the meetings was the development of the border areas.

“Special emphasis is being laid on the development of border areas while selecting projects under the Border Area Development Programme (BADP). We will ensure safety of people along the border areas and the construction of bunkers in the border areas will be expedited," the home ministry statement added.

Along with National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, Mufti has praised the centre’s appointment of Sharma.

Although it is not yet clear whether Sharma will meet the political top brass in Kashmir as part of his assignment, ahead of his visit to Kashmir next week, Mufti told reporters, “Violence has come down a lot in J&K and the situation has improved."

Rajnath Singh and Mufti had earlier met in September, as part of Singh’s visit to Kashmir to review the security situation in the valley.

According to the Union home ministry’s statistics, between January and August this year, the security forces killed 132 militants compared to 150 in 2016 and 108 in 2015. At the same time, in a reply to the Lok Sabha in April, the ministry had said that 2,736 cases of stone-pelting had been reported in the valley from March 2016 to March 2017.

Political analysts in the state, however, remained sceptical.

“The distance between Kashmir and the centre has increased manifold over the last few years and it has festered. The centre and the state leadership have been speaking in different voices and there is no clear agenda of what is going to be done. These meetings have been going on without any clear outcome," said Ellora Puri, assistant professor (political science) at the University of Jammu.

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