The return of Kashmiri Pandits to the land of their ancestors with full dignity, security and assured livelihood will figure high on the BJP Government’s agenda,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured during his 2014 elections that brought the BJP to power.
Seven years later, The Kashmir Files has tried to remind us that the assurance remains yet to be fully honoured.
However, the Modi Government has taken many bold steps to facilitate this, especially after the abrogation of Article 370 gave special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and restricted the Centre’s role in it.
Now as a Union Territory, J&K is being directly administered by the Centre and the process of Pandits’ rehabilitation has been stepped up. According to the latest figures given by the Government in Parliament, the number of Kashmiri Pandit families who left the valley in the 1990s was 64,951. Of these, 43,618 were living in Jammu, 19,338 were in Delhi and 1,995 were in other states.
Initially, each family was given free rations and cash assistance of Rs. 250 only. This cash assistance has been enhanced from time to time. Since June 2018, the Modi Government has enhanced this cash relief to Rs. 13,000 per family (Rs.3,250 per head).
The previous NDA government under Atal Behari Vajpayee had launched an action plan for the return of Kashmiri migrants in 2001 and set up a committee to address the problems of Kashmiri Pandits in 2003.
However, work on the schemes to ensure their return to the Valley proceeded at a snail’s pace during the UPA Government. After coming to power, the Modi Government put the honourable return of Kashmiri Pandits at the top of its agenda and took decisive steps to fulfil its promises. Immediately after coming to power, the Modi Government approved a special package in 2015 for providing additional 3,000 state Government jobs to the Kashmiri migrants.
It also started constructing about 6,000 transit accommodations in the Kashmir Valley for the state Government Kashmiri migrant employees. Apart from this, it sanctioned additional amounts for the repair and maintenance of the assets created under the previous packages.
Last year, the Government launched two portals (https://kashmirmigrantsip.jk.gov.in/ & http://www.jkmigrantrelief.nic.in/ ) to address the grievances of Kashmiri migrants and to address the grievances related to their immovable properties in the Union Territory.
As per a reply in the Lok Sabha from March 2019, out of the 3,000 jobs approved in the 2008 package, a total of 2,905 posts were filled as of February 22, 2020. The response also revealed that 849 flats were constructed for accommodating the employees.
A response in the Rajya Sabha from February 2022 revealed that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir had appointed 1,739 migrants and selected additional 1,098 migrants for the jobs announced in the 2015 package. It was also stated that the land of 610 applicants (migrants) has been restored since 2017. According to reports, the construction of all transit accommodation units is expected to be complete by 2023.
Over the years, successive governments, both the UPA and the NDA, have announced relief packages for the welfare and to assist the return of the Kashmiri migrants. However, as the numbers show, a lot more needs to be done for a significant number of migrant families to return to the Valley.
The job can’t be left to the Government alone. In the last few years, many such families have come back to the Valley and are living happily. Not all Kashmiri Pandits living outside the Valley are victims. Having occupied positions of power and tasted success in various professions, they must come forward to help their brothers in distress and play a positive role in rebuilding a vibrant Kashmir.
Even in their distress, the Pandits have shown exemplary grit and determination. Some of them are returning home, without Government help. Madan village in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district is an example.
Displaced Kashmiri Pandits have started trickling back and rebuilding their old houses. Local Muslim Kashmiris say things are returning to how they used to be earlier in the 1980s and before.