Parl Panel For Voting Rights To WP Refugees In J&K

22 December 2014

New Delhi: A Parliamentary Panel has expressed serious concern over the restricted voting rights of West Pakistani refugees and observed that they must have the right to elect and get elected in all representative bodies to enhance the strength of democracy. The Parliamentary standing committee on Home Affairs also recommended that the Ministry may pursue with J&K Government to examine the issue of reservation of seats in the Assembly and Legislative Council for West Pakistani Refugees (WPRs) and if necessary may move for amendment in the State's constitution. 'The Committee expresses its serious concern that the WPRs, who are very much citizens of India and eligible for voting in Parliamentary elections, do not posses right to vote in the State Assembly elections on the pretext that they are not permanent residents of the State in terms of J&K constitution,' the panel's report tabled today said. The Committee feels that though WPRs have been living in the State for over 60 years, they are not leading the life of free citizens despite having voting rights for Parliament and this right has not earned them any special benefits. 'The Committee is of the considered view that citizens of India must have the right to elect and get elected in all representative bodies to enhance the strength of democracy. WPRs should get permanent resident status sooner for fostering complete faith in democracy'. Around 5,764 families consisting of 47,215 persons migrated from West Pakistan and got settled in different areas of Jammu, Kathua and Rajouri districts. However, they are not permanent residents of the State in terms of J&K constitution. The panel recommended that the Centre must impress upon the J&K Government to consider, as a one time measure, the demand of West Pakistani refugees to grant them the status of permanent residents of the State, sympathetically, so that they can live in a dignified way with all legal rights including the right to vote in State Assembly. It observed that once the permanent resident right is granted to WPRs, all subsidiary benefits would automatically follow, enabling them to lead a decent life. 'The Committee, therefore, recommends that J&K constitution may be amended for conferring the status of state subject on the WPRs at the earliest. These people have already suffered for more than 60 years and the issue brooks no delay. 'The Committee also recommends that pending final decision in the matter, a temporary waiver may be made for admission of the children in professional institutes,' the panel said in its report. It further observed that the Central Government should take up with the J&K Government the matter of de-freezing of eight seats for displaced persons from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) keeping in view the problems faced by the displaced persons. The Home Ministry may impress upon the State Government to make amendments in the State's constitution, if necessary, at the earliest, the report said. The Committee is of the view that since the State Government has agreed, in-principle, to incorporate the provision of reservation for the wards of WPRs in jobs, the State Government should not delay in processing the matter. The Parliamentary Panel observed that the J&K Government should honour the suggestion of the Supreme Court for issuing appropriate executive order to make WPRs eligible for admission in State professional-technical colleges as it is not linked to the permanent resident status of these persons. The Committee also took note of the assurance given by the Union Home Secretary for admission to the wards of WPRs in engineering and medical colleges in Jammu and Kashmir. It has already made a separate recommendation to address the issue of permanent resident certificate so that the children may get admission in engineering and medical colleges in the State. Besides, a mechanism may be explored to provide reservation to the wards of WPRs in engineering, medical and other institutions of higher education across the country. It also recommended that if necessary, the minimum benchmark required for admission in such institutions may be relaxed for those wards because of their lower educational standard. The panel strongly recommended that the Centre should impress upon the State Government for early finalisation of one time financial package for settlement of WPRs. It is of the considered view that even if West Pakistani refugees cannot be equated with the Kashmiri Pandit migrants, they deserve immediate relief and rehabilitation for sustenance without delay. One time compensation of Rs 30 lakh may be provided within one year and there should not be any delay in the matter, the report added.