Mufti Govt Directionless Over Rehab Of Pandits

7 December 2015
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Sumit Hakhoo

Jammu: Despite repeated statements by leaders of the PDP-BJP government in Jammu and Kashmir over its commitment to start the process to resettle 3.5 lakh displaced Kashmiri Pandits back in the Valley, the government has failed to come up with a policy on the issue even after 10 months in power. Though there was much enthusiasm after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over the reins in New Delhi in May 2014 that some new model would be announced, no major initiative had been taken. The Centre and the state continue to view the plight of Pandits through the prism of economic doles and employment. At the Central level, even Rs 2,000 crore rehabilitation package announced by the Union Cabinet recently is a photocopy of the package announced by the previous UPA government in 2004 and 2008, which had not achieved much to evolve a mechanism to make Pandits return to their homeland. Since the formation of coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir on March 1, confusion prevails over the approach to deal with grievances of the community which left the Valley during the eruption of militancy in 1989-90 after militants started a selective killing campaign. Although the PDP and BJP agreed in the 'Agenda of Alliance' to examine the rehabilitation package announced by the UPA government in 2008, both parties had been resorting to rhetoric. 'We hoped that the present dispensation would take a new initiative to rehabilitate the community. Both parties are doing lip service. Pressure from separatists is dictating the approach of the government to deal with Pandits,' said Adarsh Ajit, political activist and poet who had written extensively on the exodus. The state government continues to ignore the recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, which had called for bringing a White Paper on militancy and steps taken to save property of Pandits encroached upon in the Valley. 'Packages have become a cruel joke on the helpless. The government need to understand that till community representatives are not involved, there will be no success. Neither have killers of more than 300 Pandits been identified nor reasons given for the exodus. The youth who shifted to the Valley under an employment package are without accommodation,' said PL Raina, who lives at Muthi camp. During the dark period of the 1990s, several intellectuals, poets and lawyers were gunned down in the most brutal way after Pakistan-sponsored insurgents started their terror campaign. Seven major massacres had been carried out by militants. Government records said nearly 219 Pandits had been killed, which was disputed by the community, which said more than 600 persons had been killed. Rehab controversy: The exodus of 3.5 lakh Pandits in 1990 was a tragic consequence of the failed policy of successive Central governments in New Delhi and inroads made by Islamic fundamentalist forces in Kashmir during the 1980s, when the Afghan war was being fought. The introduction of the gun by Pakistan to annex Kashmir and fear created by breakdown of civil administration and selective killing of the minority community by militants was the trigger which led to migration of minorities. The decade of 1990s was a miserable experience for Pandits as they spent their lives in squalid shanty camps in Jammu, Udhampur and New Delhi for no fault of theirs. The Centre finally woke up to their plight when the UPA-I government led by Manmohan Singh announced a housing project in 2004 and 5,242 two-room tenements were constructed in Jammu at four locations, Purkhoo, Muthi, Nagrota and Jagti to close down the camps. It was confusing for Pandits as they assumed that the government had no intention to rehabilitate the community in the Valley. In 2008, UPA-II announced Rs 1,618 crore employment-cum-rehabilitation package for displaced Pandits, but not a single family returned to Kashmir primarily because of lack of an initiative by the state and Centre to execute the plan and fear of insurgent groups operating in the Valley. The only silver lining was that some 1,900 Pandit youths returned to the Valley as a part of the employment package. They are living in the worst possible conditions with no accommodation. Six families are put together in a single set of three rooms and share the kitchen and bathroom. In 2014, the announcement by the Central government to establish a composite township for return and resettlement of Pandits was met with strong opposition from separatists, who gave it communal colour, comparing it to Israeli-type settlements in Gaza. Later, when the BJP came to power in New Delhi, the revival of the project created much ruckus in the Kashmir valley, with mainstream political parties, including the Congress, National Conference and some senior PDP leaders, joining the chorus to oppose such a plan. 'A composite township is a viable solution as most houses were burnt down by rampaging mobs in the 1990s. We cannot live in our village again because the social milieu has changed. We are outsiders in our own villages and towns now,' said SL Pandita, president of the Jagti Tenement Committee. The issue was forgotten after the Central government said in Parliament that no proposal to create separate zones exclusively for Kashmiri Pandits in the state of Jammu and Kashmir was under consideration. Modi's recycled model: As Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has rejected any plan to create separate townships for Pandits, the Union Cabinet headed by Narendra Modi recently announced Rs 2,000 crore package. There was no mention of the much-hyped composite township project. The community in general feels dejected by the announcement as it is almost similar to the previous package. The commitment to create 3,000 posts in the government sector and transit accommodation to house them was given by the previous Congress-led Central government.There is still no clarity on how the package will be implemented as the government has not come up with any blueprint and no community representatives have been approached and involved in the discussion.