Settling Controversy

As the government plans creating ‘composite’ townships for getting migrant Kashmiri Pandits back home, it has triggered lot of heat and dust with people protesting the ‘exclusive’ enclosures. Given the fact that managing strife-related migrations have remained increasingly expensive, will this mega-project be the last in the series, argues R S Gull

“ No right-minded Kashmiri will oppose the return of Kashmiri Pandits,” opposition leader Omar Abdullah wrote on Twitter. Pic: Bilal Bahadur
“ No right-minded Kashmiri will oppose the return of Kashmiri Pandits,” opposition leader Omar Abdullah wrote on Twitter.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Post world war, homeland always had a distinct character. So when Panun Kashmir, a radical group of Kashmiri Pandits (KP) floated the idea of Homeland Kashmir, people understood the message in between. They created a lot of literature revolving around this concept. Initially ‘Panun’ Kashmir would comprise Kashmir’s all the right-bank territory from the origins of Vitasta (read Jhelum) to the river tail in Baramulla!

Even if the idea is not considered a copy of the West Bank, the right-bank Kashmir and the left-bank Kashmir – if KP demand would be acceded to – would automatically convey a bisected society. It would look akin to West Belfast having 8.5 miles of Shankill Road laced with four-story high ‘fences’ between warring Protestants and Catholics – neither of whom have windows facing each other but only pigeon holes for respiration! The two ‘Christians’ have their parallel education system and almost everything segregated to almost 90%. Perhaps air is the only commodity that they consume jointly.

Opposition to a ‘homeland’ demand was never based on a right to deny, a plain majoritarianism. “It is in opposition to the idea of creating a structure that would project a shift in the nature of the conflict,” says separatist Nayeem Khan. “The conflict is between people of J&K and the state of India on the future of the state and an exclusive enclosure will get the branding that it is a tension between majority and the minority – a communal crisis, which it never was.”

If ever conceded, even most of Kashmiri Pandits may dislike having their stake-holding in it: because, it could become a target. KPs, who are not even 1000 families strong, and have stayed put in Kashmir, believe in this theory.

It was in this backdrop that when Mufti Sayeed, the Chief Minister interacted with Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Delhi, in his recent visit and a communiqué was issued by the PIB, it triggered a controversy. J&K government had to issue a detailed statement to clarify it. The concern was audible within and outside the assembly. Communist leader Yusuf Tarigami said the government must take the house in confidence. Ali Mohammad Sagar said the idea sounds communal and would create “distances” between the two communities which eventually will have an “adverse impact” on the state.

“No right-minded Kashmiri will oppose the return of Kashmiri Pandits,” opposition leader Omar Abdullah wrote on Twitter. “No right minded Kashmiri will support the ghettoization of Kashmiri Pandits housed in segregated, inherently unsafe camps in the valley.” He disputed the possibility of KPs ever agreeing to return to “isolated ghettos”.

“The fact of the matter is that majority of the KPs are uninterested in coming back home as they are happy in enjoying the perks, packages and privileges,” vocal lawmaker Engineer Rashid, while entering into a verbal spat with BJP, said. “The perception being created that KPs are unsafe is wrong as the fact is they are unwilling to give up the packages.”

A day after Mufti gave a detailed statement suggesting that proposed habitation will be composite one where everybody can live. Sources in the government said it will be a multi-faith composite cultural township that most possibly will come up somewhere around Srinagar. It, possibily, may have 1000 dwellings in the first go.

But the debate on the costs of managing the KP migration remains. It is perhaps one of the costliest relief and rehabilitation exercises ever carried out in the subcontinent after the partition of India, details reveal.

In Kashmir,  abondoned pandit house.
In Kashmir, abandoned pandit house.

Ever since the migration took place and the government started offering relief in January 1990, the monthly allocation per family has changed nine times – from Rs 500 to Rs 6600 in July 2012.  Even numbers of the beneficiary families living in Jammu have changed – 25503 in 1996 to 30148 in 2002 to 33099 to now 37128. This is primarily because the families have bifurcated and even trifurcated. Interestingly, in Delhi – the second major destination where 19338 of 21233 migrant families living outside J&K are located, no such bifurcation has either happened or has been officially accepted. The government recently told the state assembly that increase in the number of families is a Jammu specific phenomenon as it has not happened anywhere outside J&K.

The net outgo on the cash assistance to the migrant families living in J&K alone has crossed Rs 1282.40 crore by the end of March. This money is being reimbursed by the Ministry of Home Affairs as part of the Security Related Expenditure (SRE).

Free rations being distributed to the migrant families from all faiths in Jammu has touched Rs 170.43 crore. The State Relief and Rehabilitation Organization that works under state’s revenue ministry has spent Rs 47.17 crore on creating basic infrastructure for the migrants and an additional Rs 18.94 crore for issues related to the civic facilities.

Off late, the government genuinely decided shifting some of the KP families out of the temporary camps to a slightly better location. They created Jagti township in Jammu outskirts and even in Jammu city some two-room tenements were raised. The costs were shared recently with the state legislature: out of total allocation of Rs 728.07 crore, the expenditure booked so far is Rs 349.86 crore.

At one point of time, the state and the union government sounded serious in managing return of the migrant families. For their transit accommodation, some investments were made at various locations across Kashmir. The idea came so fast that the government invested in pre-fabricated structures, at a few places to create the transit accommodations. This was by debit to the April 2008 package that the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh announced. It had various components including offering jobs to the willing youth who would serve in Kashmir.

Of more than Rs 1618 crore package that Dr Singh announced, the state government has already spent Rs 218.46 crore. While Rs 39.79 crore has gone to create transit accommodation, Rs 169 crore have gone to fund the salary of youth appointed to serve in Kashmir – an initiative that is still holding and has not failed.

It is in this backdrop that the township appears on the scene. This is also part of the Dr Singh’s 2008 package. As it failed to take off, the government in Srinagar asked the centre to make it more attractive so that a section of the migrants feels lured to avail it. It offered a Rs 7.50 lakh grant for acquiring a new house under group housing scheme, free transit accommodation, continuation of the benefits they avail as migrants in Jammu or elsewhere, scholarships for student, one time grant for resuming agricultural activities and waiver of interest on loans.

As nobody availed this package, Omar Abdullah government sought changes in it. He suggested MHA to revise the housing package to Rs 20 lakh. The main argument was that slightly more than half of the migrants do not own any immovable property in Kashmir! But will the amended package take off during Mufti era, it is too early to say. It, however, has started triggering a controversy. Separatists are sponsoring a day long strike this weekend as government’s efforts to reach out convincingly to separatists failed, despite the ‘best’ effort done at various levels.

But it always is not all about money. Kashmir might be one of the contested lands, it belongs to all the people it has given birth to. Panun Kashmir has equal rights over Kashmir as Hurriyat has. Rights apart, Kashmir belongs to the people who living there – right now, to soldiers, paramilitary men, Pandits, Sikhs and Muslim.

The issue is not social housing but commitment to the place of origin. Kashmir has never shut its doors on anybody – preachers or invaders, foes and fortune hunters, over the centuries. In 1990s, thousands of people fled from Kashmir. Later, some of them started returning home. There was never a murmur of opposition to either of the two processes. There never will be one.


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