In Kashmir, Balance Security With Public Interest, Prominent Citizens Tell Centre

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SRINAGAR: Ahead of the first anniversary of the August 5 Kashmir interventions, a group of prominent citizens have asked the BJP government in Delhi to undo harsh measures in Kashmir by balancing security considerations with the public interest.

The group named Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir has seven former senior judges of the Supreme Court and Chief Justices of various High Courts, five former top civil servants, and three senior retired defence officers have asserted that the constitutional changes carried out on August 5, 2019, have “bewildered Kashmiris and left them stunned and dumbfounded”. Justice Madan Bhimarao Lokur, a former judge of the Supreme Court heads the group. The members include former Home Secretary Gopal Krishna Pillai, former Foreign Secretary Nirupama Menon Rao, retired Lt Gen Harcharanjit Singh Panag and retired Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak as its members. Radha Kumar, the former interlocutor on Kashmir, is also part of the group.

“Counter-insurgency concerns have been given absolute priority over public, civilian and human security, leading to an across-the-board violation of human rights, including the vitiation of protections…” the group report, Jammu and Kashmir: The Impact of Lockdowns on Human Rights said. “There has been a denial of the right to bail and fair and speedy trial, coupled with misuse of draconian legislation, such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), to stifle dissent.”

The group has said that in the absence of a multi-dimensional dialogue for settling the Kashmir issue between Delhi and Kashmiri leaders, and India and Pakistan, has given rise to anger, despondency, and despair among people.

“The economic, social, and political impact of these actions, and their long duration – eleven months thus far – have been disastrous,” the group said in a report that was released last week. ”Schools and colleges functioned for barely 100 days between 2019 and 2020, the bulk of which were pre-August 2019.”

The report said that while the pandemic forced people indoors leaving the internet as the sole communication system for education, Kashmir gets only 2G service, unlike 4G that is in use in the rest of India.

The lockdown brought on frequent shutdowns, “harassment at barricades and checkpoints”, and restrictions on communication. The report added that these have “enormously impacted public health, and caused trauma and stress amongst the people of Jammu and Kashmir, violating the rights to health and medical care under the Indian, and Jammu and Kashmir, constitutions”.

The group said that Kashmir was one of the better-performing regions economically as well as on human development indices, but the August 2019 intervention has plunged the region into a sharp downward spiral.

“The state ranked third highest on its tax revenue, in comparison to other [Indian] states, and second-highest on non-tax revenue. It was among the top three special category states for low fiscal deficit, and among the top ten for its low poverty rate,” the report said.

Quoting trade bodies, the eminent citizens’ group recorded total losses incurred to the businesses over the last one year from August 2019-June 2020 has reached 400 billion rupees ($5.3 billion). In the first four months of lockdown, Kashmir’s industries had suffered a loss of 178 billion rupees ($2.4 billion).

The fruit industry, contributing about 10% to the economy, lost around 1.35 lakh metric tons of its crop due to restricted transport facilities. Another sector tourism industry contributing 8% to the state’s gross domestic product went down by 86-90% according to industry reports. As a result, there were an estimated 144,500 jobs lost in the tourism and handicraft sector alone.

The group has sought the release of all political detainees and juveniles. It has mentioned that the petitions filed by the citizens in Kashmir did not receive prompt judicial attention.

The report as taken into account the Chinese attempts in Ladakh sector. “China’s attempts to mobilise the UN Security Council against the August changes and its own army’s May 2020 intrusions in Eastern Ladakh have added further diplomatic and security concerns for the Indian Government,” the report said. “They have also highlighted a tri-lateralisation of the dispute over Kashmir between India, Pakistan and China, lending a new edge to the strategic China-Pakistan nexus against India, specifically in Jammu and Kashmir.”

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