Return Of Pandits: Govt Slow-pedals
19 September 2005
The Indian Express
Srinagar: Political noises about the return of Pandits to Valley may be getting shriller in J-K, the truth is that the government is doing the opposite. Work has started on 5,242 two-room tenements in Jammu, incurring a cost of about Rs 200 crore, to house the migrants. The construction work alone will take three years, according to Relief Commissioner B A Runiyal. Does this mean government does not believe its own return rhetoric? 'No, that is not the case,' says Mehbooba Mufti. 'It is just that the Pandits in Jammu are living in inhuman conditions and government needs to do something about it,' she says. The return of Pandits, Mehbooba concedes, is going to be a long haul. 'It (return) is not going to happen within six months. Migrants will, conditions allowing, return in phases,' she says. On the other hand, the impression given out by the state government is that return of migrants is round the corner. Two-room sets at Shiekhpora, Mattan and one-room units at Kherbhawani in Kashmir Valley are far smaller in number. Being built at a cost of over Rs 40 crore, these houses are being constructed to accommodate the returning Pandits. Revenue Minister Hakeem Yaseen had said in August that the return of Kashmiri Pandits was a commitment of the ruling coalition and time has come to fulfill it. 'Time is not far when Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims will be living like a community similar to the time before the onset of militancy,' Yaseen says. What lent further impetus to the process was a visit by a representative Pandit delegation in July and their emotional meeting with the leaders of the moderate Hurriyat. The government says it had received 1,600 applications from Pandits who want to return to the Valley and that the first batch of 350 migrants will return in October. The Jammu and Kashmir All Migrants' Coordination Committee even brushed aside the threat by a group of four militants organisations - Al-Nasireen, Al Arifeen, Save Kashmir Movement and Farzandan-e-Millat - and expressed its resolve to return. But according to Mehbooba, the government is not in the mood to force the return. 'Returns, if they are voluntary, are welcome,' she says, adding, 'It is a sensitive matter. As such, the whole process has to be low-profile.' Runiyal says the construction of tenements in Jammu was a temporary measure, even when he estimated the completion in about three years. 'When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saw the pathetic condition of the migrants, he called for improvement in their living conditions,' he says. The construction of more than 5,000 sets in Jammu is, however, seen as putting the return of migrants in doubt. The impression at the local level is that the government, rhetoric apart, is not interested in any pro-active push for Pandits' return and wants the process to start on its own, 'in a natural fashion'. The members of the community are looking forward to celebrate the festival of Anant Chaturdasi at a temple in South Kashmir after 15 years.