The J&K Cabinet approved amendments in the Prime Minister’s special package for rehabilitation of Kashmiri Hindus to make it more attractive and hassle-free. This would benefit even those migrants who have sold off their immovable properties during the last 24 years.
“The amendments will authorities all Deputy Commissioners of Kashmir Valley to identify Government land for setting up of clusters for such families who would return to the Valley for construction of houses or through group housing societies. In case of non-availability of Government land, the DCs shall identify land for acquisition,” an official spokesman said after the Cabinet meeting in Jammu, held under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
The PM’s package, announced in 2007, on the recommendations of the first of the five working groups, set-up in 2006, pledged a whopping `1,618.40-crore for return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri migrants to the Valley. The package included purchase of land, construction of houses, employment avenues and schooling of children.
Even as the package generated enthusiasm among the displaced Kashmiri Pandits initially, very few of them availed it. However, several youngsters, who were given Government jobs, joined their places of posting and the authorities made special arrangements for their secure stay. The separatists also welcomed the new recruits, which raised their confidence and encouraged them to stay put in the Valley.
The Kashmiri Pandits complained that the `7.5-lakh package for construction of new houses or repairs of damaged houses was not appropriate and required enhancement according to the current market rates.
In June 2012, the Cabinet had approached the Center to enhance the package amount to Rs 18-lakh. The land acquisition factor is the new addition to the package.
The Cabinet removed the rider for availing the package for reconstruction or repairs of houses and approved it for any Kashmiri migrant who has sold immovable property before or after 1997 when the J&K Legislature passed the Migrant Properties (Prevention of Distress Sales) Act.
Interestingly, the Cabinet has asked the DCs to acquire land for constructions without disturbing the local population. The revised cost estimates for the acquisition of land and the construction of houses for those migrants who have sold their properties after 1997 shall be worked out and included in the revised package for being sent to the Government of India, the spokesman said.
In Delhi, a migrant Kashmiri Pandit group, Panun Kashmir, rejected the package saying it did not mean anything to them unless the Government recognizes their geo-political rights over the territory of Kashmir.
“There has been an ethnic cleansing and genocide of Kashmiri Pandits, who were indigenous people of that region. Have those issues been addressed or answered by the Government in Delhi? Has the atmosphere been made conducive for their return? Several packages have come and go. Unless you settle the basic issue, incentive of Rs 20-lakh or Rs 30-lakh would do no good,” Panun Kashmir’s president Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo said.
Describing the package as a futile exercise by the Government, Chrungoo pointed out that the Centre had informed Parliament recently that not a single Kashmiri Pandit family had returned to the Valley.
“The issue is not where we will stay on our return or how can we be settled in Kashmir, the real issue is whether reasons responsible for the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandit families still exist or not. Unfortunately, there has been no change,” he said.
Chrungoo was critical of the Centre for holding dialogue with separatist leaders who equate themselves with revolutionaries of the Indian freedom struggle.
“The recent incident in Kashmir University, where shooting of a film had to be stopped because in a scene the Indian national flag was being unfurled, speaks a lot about the present situation in Kashmir,” he said.
In the past, Panun Kashmir demanded setting up of a secure cluster for Pandits on the banks of Jhelum River, but it received flak from Muslims in the Valley.