New Delhi: A Parliamentary Committee has asked Jammu and Kashmir government to examine a demand for granting minority status to Kashmiri Pandits “in view of their pitiable condition” after they left the Valley due to militancy.
A similar view was also expressed by Chairman of National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Wajahat Habibullah, who said the state government had been advised to declare Kashmiri Pandits as minorities.
As per official data, as many as 59,442 Kashmiri Pandit families have been registered as migrants, with 38,119 registered in Jammu, 19,338 in Delhi and 1,985 in rest of the country.
The families had to leave Kashmir Valley in the ‘90s after anti-India insurgency erupted in various parts of the region with some of the community members also being targeted.
Tabling an Action Taken Report on ‘Rehabilitation of Jammu and Kashmir Migrants’ in Rajya Sabha, the 31-member Committee comprising 10 MPs from Rajya Sabha and 21 from Lok Sabha has been critical of the Ministry of Home Affairs on various issues including providing relief, employment, housing and health care facilities.
The Parliamentary panel had formed a 14-member sub-committee which went into the action taken by the Home Ministry to its recommendations made in the 137th report.
The Committee said that several representations were made by various migrant organisations asking that Kashmiri Pandits be declared as minorities.
The panel said it was informed by the Union Home Ministry that the state government’s stand was that the migrants belong to Hindu religion and as such do not qualify for grant of minority status.
However, the state government feels that the issue of granting minority status to the Kashmiri Pandit community needs to be examined “from all angles”.
“The Committee feels that the state government has a special status in the Indian Constitution. The government of Jammu and Kashmir should look into the demand of the Kashmiri Pandits for conferring on them minority status keeping in mind their pitiable condition,” the report said.
The NCM Act of 1972 does not extend to the state of Jammu and Kashmir as it is yet to be ratified by the State Assembly.
The state enjoys a special status and Central Acts do not come into force automatically till ratified by state legislature.
There are six communities in the country which have been accorded minority status with Jains being the recent entry into the list after Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis.
Once a community is granted minority status, the Community gets a share in New Delhi’s 15-point programme in which funds are earmarked for welfare and scholarships for minorities. The community can also administer their own educational institutions.
Talking about the demand for minority status for the Kashmiri Pandits, Habibullah said the stand of the NCM has been consistent that they should be given a minority status.
“In fact, I have advised the state government that to begin with, set up a state minority commission and have a Kashmiri Pandit as its chairperson,” he said.
Habibullah, a retired IAS officer from the Jammu and Kashmir cadre, said there is “no doubt that the community had suffered on two fronts—employment and education.”
“Now if they are declared as minorities, a special focus will be on these two important issues,” he said.
Taking a view of the Prime Minister’s package announced for the Kashmiri Pandits, the Committee noted that only one family had returned to the Valley as the “improvement on the ground has been scanty”.
The Committee came down heavily on Home Ministry’s explanation that “lack of consensus among various migrant organisations for permanent return and settlement” was the main reason behind non-return of the community.
There could be a difference of opinion within various organisations but the perception in the community was that the situation on the ground was not at all conducive for return, it said.
“The Committee is, therefore, of the opinion that some more components of the PM’s package should be opened up for the migrants with the conditionality of their return,” it said, adding, this would serve as a major confidence building measure for encouraging the families to return to the Valley.
Taking a view on the condition of more than 600 families of Pandits living in the Valley, the Committee said that out of them 31 had shifted to a secured location for security reasons.
“The Committee in view of the prevailing conditions desires that the courage of such Kashmiri Pandit families still residing in the Valley should be appreciated and they should be provided appropriate security. They may also be provided other facilities as may be required,” it said.
The medical reimbursement of medical expenses for Kashmiri Pandits was also discussed by the Committee which expressed surprise that only Rs 57.14 lakh had been disbursed since the creation of Rs five crore corpus fund by the state government in 2007.
“This looks unbelievable considering the fact that the migrants are living in poor financial conditions. The Committee is of the opinion that surely there are many more genuine members of the community who are in need of medical aid…
“It is also of the opinion that when the money is available, it must be the cobwebs of rules and procedures as well as formalities which are behind such limited coverage,” the Committee said and recommended that the procedures should be simplified by removing bottlenecks so that maximum bonafide beneficiaries can take the advantage of the fund.—PTI