‘The government does not have any information about the number of Kashmiri Pandits who are left in the Valley or even about the migrants who might have been rehabilitated in the past 10 years’
AMID paralytic pandemic this past May, BJP President JP Nadda took to his twitter handle to announce that the new ‘domicile rules will give long due rights to refugees and Pandits’.
The BJP president made this announcement when Kashmir was reeling under a double lockdown, as it continues to till today.
Be that as it may, just a little less than a week to the first anniversary of Article 370’s abrogation, the Jammu and Kashmir government has cleared the process to build a special ‘colony’ for migrant Kashmiri Pandit (KP) employees in the restive south Kashmir.
A J&K government order No 42-JK (Rev) of 2020, issued by Principal Secretary to Revenue Department, reads: “Sanction is hereby accorded to the transfer of land measuring 40 kanals (five acres), consisting of State land, in favour of Department of Disaster Management, Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction for construction of transit accommodation for Kashmiri Migrant employees under Prime Minister’s Return and Rehabilitation package.”
The order was passed in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic on April 24 this year. The proposed colony is to be constructed in Shopian’s Deegam village, 55 km from Srinagar, for the migrant Pandit employees, the Deccan Herald reported.
The 2015 Blueprint
The blueprint for such construction was unveiled back in 2015, by the PDP-BJP state government of that time. The plan had proposed self-contained, heavily-guarded colonies for returning Pandits, complete with schools, shopping malls, hospitals, and playgrounds.
Additionally, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Development Package’, 3,000 extra government jobs and the construction of transit accommodations in Kashmir for ‘Kashmiri migrants’ will be provided amounting to an estimated expenditure of Rs 2,000 crore.
Notably, in February this year, media reports stated that in “Naya Kashmir”, ten special townships will be created in all the 10 districts of the Valley for the resettlement of KPs, who had to undergo mass migration 30 years ago.
The reports even stated that Union Home Ministry had started working on the plan, which includes many rehabilitation schemes for KPs. The announcement had come after Home Minister Amit Shah met a seven-member KP delegation on February 18, 2020.
The delegation included Surinder Kaul, International Coordinator of Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora (GKPD); Utpal Kaul, GKPD India Coordinator; Anil Kachroo, GKPD USA; Taj Tikoo, President of the All India Kashmiri Samaj (AIKS); Dileep Mattoo, President Jammu Kashmir Vichar Manch (JKVM); and AJKVM members Sanjay Ganjoo and Parikshit Kaul.
In the meeting, Shah promised rehabilitation of KPs via phased resettlement in the Valley amid adequate security.
“He [Shah] conveyed that rehabilitation of the community was an utmost priority with the government. He sought help from them to compile a database of all the properties that had been either occupied or encroached upon so that the government could initiate redressal mechanisms to restore the property to the rightful owner,” the members of the delegation were quoted as saying.
Resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits has been on the manifesto of the present dispensation since they first formed the government at the Centre in 2014. But the regular enquires and fact-finding exercises have unearthed an unclear and contradicting official data on the KP question.
In 2019, India Today TV had asked the Centre through a series of RTIs about the progress in cases related to the killing of Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir and the number of FIRs lodged in those cases. The RTIs were filed with the Department of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, which works under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.
In the response of the first RTI, India Today TV was told, “The information is not available with the undersigned CPIO and might be available with the State Government of J&K.”
The second RTI was about the exact number of Kashmiri Pandits who left the Valley and the exact number of those who had then been rehabilitated. Again, they were told that the government does not have any information about the number of Kashmiri Pandits who are left in the Valley or even about the migrants who might have been rehabilitated in the past 10 years. Their team was again asked to approach the state government.
However, since October 2019, the central government had dissolved nine imperative commissions of the erstwhile state under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019.
According to the RTI Act, even though states have their own Information Commissions, the matters pertaining to Union Territories are handled by the Central Information Commission (CIC).
So, ironically since then, the CIC has been asked to take over all the pending appeals and complaints left before the Jammu and Kashmir State Information Commission.
But speaking to Kashmir Observer, Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Pandurang Pole, clarified that the recent order is not new to Kashmir since the package was announced by the UPA government in 2008.
Former PM Manmohan Singh, in his package, had declared the provision of financial assistance of Rs 7.5 lakh per family for the purchase or construction of a house in the ‘Group Housing Societies’. This assistance is only available for those who have sold their properties between 1989 and May 30, 1997, when the J&K Migrant Immovable Property (Preservation, Protection and Restraint of Distress Sale) Act, 1997, was enacted.
An amendment in 2013, later allowed these returning Kashmiri migrant families to avail the financial incentive even if they had sold their properties before or after 1997.
“The UPA government had launched the Prime Minister’s Return and Rehabilitation Programme (PMRP) in 2008. Under the present government, it has been rechristened as the Prime Minister’s Development Package (PMDP). It is pertinent to mention that PMDP is not only for Kashmiri Pandits as being highlighted by the media but for ‘Kashmiri migrants’ which also includes several Muslim,” Pole maintained.
Kashmir’s Divisional Commissioner mentioned that housing development for the migrant Kashmiri families has been happening since a decade and there is nothing novel in this order.
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