The Sher-e-Kashmir’s Wish

The state government is under a legal and moral obligation to contest the petition against the J and K Re-Settlement Act filed by Bhim Singh in the Supreme Court. The pace at which the issue is being pursued reflects the government’s indifference to what was the Sher-e-Kashmir’s last wish. Realising his mistake of externing dissidents since 1947, and his inaction during the November 6 massacre in Jammu and the large-scale migration that followed, he had introduced the Re-Settlement Bill in the state legislature in 1980, which, when passed as the Re-Settlement Act, a jittery union government had referred to the Supreme Court for opinion.

The apex court returned the legislation without change or comment, but communal forces voiced serious reservations, with one of them petitioning the Supreme Court for a stay, which was granted. The petition has not come up for hearing for the past nine years, and the state government has made no move to get the issue settled.

People holding evacuee property in Jammu had taken to the streets when the SC returned the legislation in 2002, and the government had to assure them continued stay on properties they hold but do not own.

The Act has far-reaching political consequences. As per the provisions of the Delhi Agreement of 1952,  all people who, prior to partition, were permanent residents of the state but had migrated to areas  coming under Pakistan would be considered state subjects if they wanted to return, a position reflected even in the Kashmir as well as the Indian Constitutions. This would entitle those who choose to come back not only to reclaim their properties but also to exercise their right to vote were a referendum to be held at all to resolve the Kashmir issue. It would also restore the demographic complexion of the Jammu region – something vested interests do not want to happen at this crucial juncture of the state’s history.

Communal elements had reacted severely when the then Chief Minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, announced that he would implement the legislation. The state government had also begun to contest the petition in the Supreme Court, but such sections had urged the apex court to declare the Act as ultra vires of the constitution. The state government has almost given up the legal fight, but the NC must bear in mind that the Sher-e-Kashmir had wanted this legislation implemented in letter and spirit.