Centre Using Lockdown To Push Domicile Laws In J&K: Sinha Group

Former Union minister Yashwant Sinha led delegation in Srinagar (Photo: Abid Bhat / KO

Srinagar: The Concerned Citizens’ Group (CCG) led by former Union Minister and BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said on Wednesday that Modi-led government at Centre was making attempts to incubate artificial political processes in Jammu and Kashmir and implement domicile laws for the Union Territory by using lockdown as an opportunity.

In a statement released to media, CCG members Yashwant Sinha, Wajahat Habibullah, Kapil Kak, Bharat Bhushan and Sushobha Barve said that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is far from normal as political leaders continued to remain under detention, communication lockdown continues, the economy is in disarray, the media is facing harassment and the militant continues to rise. The members said that the situation was unlikely to take a positive turn in the months ahead.

Under these circumstances, the CCS said it recommends release of all political prisoners ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr, restoration of high speed internet, an end to the intimidation of accredited media personnel, Announcement of specific financial packages for the artisans and extending bank loan deferment and facilities to J&K businesses as in the rest of the country.

The group also called for unfettered market access and adequate distribution channels for horticultural produce, adherence to laid down health protocols to alleviate peoples’ fears about returning to Kashmir and to ensure healthcare facilities remain ahead of the coronavirus curve in the UT.

“Open up the political space in J&K without which militancy cannot be controlled. Do not use the lack of a legislative assembly to push through policies with long term consequences,” the group suggested to BJP government in power.

The CCG statement further said that J&K continues to be in a social, economic, political and communication lockdown since August 5, 2019 and the lockdown imposed by the Union government is now doubly reinforced by the coronavirus pandemic.

“While Kashmir has dropped off the national radar due to concerns with the pandemic, the West Asian elite’s attention is drawn to it now because of the current regime’s perceived Islamophobia. This has also led to adverse international media attention. Within the country, there has never been greater need to be sensitive to disturbing developments in the UT and the immediate needs of its residents,” the statement said.

It said that many senior political leaders, including a former Chief Minister, continue to be in detention, in several cases under the draconian Public Safety Act.

“Meanwhile, there are attempts to incubate artificial political processes – through village and local body elections and facilitating the launch of a new political party. However, these processes have failed to fill the political vacuum,” the statement said.

“The Union government has also used the opportunity of the lockdown to implement domicile laws for the UT which should have been debated by the people’s representatives and by the affected citizens,” it added.

Expressing concern over the continued harassment of the journalists, CCG said that the media which could have promoted debate and discussion on domicile laws is being bullied.

“The administration has chosen to harass local accredited correspondents and photo-journalists, preventing them from performing their legitimate professional duties,” CCG statement said, adding “Several have been called to police stations at odd hours to explain their reportage. Instead of using editorial and Press Council of India complaint mechanisms, the state police seem to be the preferred instrument of the administration to deal with journalists.

Slamming the claims that high speed internet was helping militant groups, the CCG said that permitting only 2G internet, premised on the assumption that faster internet speeds help militants — is causing havoc not only in banking, trade, business and healthcare but in the field of education as well.

“The 2G technology cannot sustain online learning, which is a ready option being used in the rest of the country. The problem is particularly acute for students who have returned home because of the pandemic from universities and colleges in the rest of India. They cannot attend online classes and webinars or submit assignments. They may not be able to appear for online end-semester examinations which universities and colleges plan to hold soon,” the CCG statement said.

“The government’s stand before the Supreme Court that internet access is not a right militates against the apex court’s own rulings that  information is a Fundamental Right under Article 19 (1) a of the Constitution,” it added.

Expressing concern over the economy, the CCG said that for a state that is heavily dependent on tourism and horticulture, the lockdown has meant that two tourist seasons have passed without any business and the marketing of fruit produce has been hampered severely.

“The cherry season is already on and with pears and early varieties of apple ready for harvesting soon, farmers are staring at the prospect of rotting produce for lack of proper distribution and market access,” the handout read.

“Artisans face distress and dealers in handicrafts are unable to function with piling up of stocks. No relief measures have been announced for them. Unlike in the rest of India, there has been no deferment/ staggering of bank loans in J&K,” it added.

The CCG statement also pointed out lack of healthcare infrastructure to deal with coronavirus pandemic in Kashmir. The statement said that an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 people have returned to Kashmir and those infected could easily overwhelm the UT’s meager health facilities.

“Meanwhile, militancy is on the rise. More disaffected youth are joining militancy, there are also reports of increased infiltration from across the border and even those areas where militancy had subsided are on the boil,” the CCS statement added.

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