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A file photo of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. Photo: AFP
A file photo of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. Photo: AFP

Centre to allow other groups in J&K’s Pandit townships

The ruling PDP, including chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, has been opposed to the idea of separate residential clusters for Kashmiri Pandits

Close on the heels of announcing a 80,000 crore package for Jammu and Kashmir, the central government is now likely to accept another key suggestion of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP)-led state government—to allow people from other communities to acquire houses in integrated townships originally meant only for Kashmiri Pandits.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is a coalition partner with the PDP in the state, has been favouring exclusive residential clusters for Kashmiri Pandits, saying it was important for the safe return and rehabilitation of the community, many of whom migrated from the Valley after the start of militancy in 1989.

However, the PDP, including chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, has been opposed to the idea of separate residential clusters for Kashmiri Pandits, who are Hindus, saying this would further divide the already volatile society along religious lines. Senior government officials claimed the issue came up for detailed discussion during home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi’s visit to the Valley last month.

At least two senior officials who have been handling Kashmir affairs at the centre independently confirmed that the Narendra Modi government is set to accept the state’s proposal to allow members of other communities to buy property in the proposed townships. “The proposal for composite townships has been delayed in the wake of clarity over this issue. Though the centre is fine with the state government’s proposal to let other communities also buy flats in these colonies, a mechanism is being worked out where at least half of these flats would be reserved for the Pandit community with a view to rehabilitating them," said one of the two officials.

The second official cited above confirmed that the centre has requested the state to speed up the process of allocating land for these housing projects.

Prakash Singh, former head of the Border Security Force, who has been closely monitoring developments in the Valley, supported the state’s suggestion, saying that opening these integrated townships to other communities will ensure greater social harmony.

“The main issue that the government, both at the centre and state, needs to address is the safety and security of Pandits returning to the Valley, and this can be done even if they stay with other communities in these integrated townships," he said. “In fact, it is better if they all stay together as this will help bridge the gap among different communities that may have emerged due to militancy and the feeling in J&K right now is that the common man does not want violence now. Further, if residential clusters have only one particular community living in them they would become a soft target for subversive elements."

The government officials cited above also confirmed that the Modi government, in order to provide further relief to the displaced Kashmiri Pandit community, will soon clear a proposal for creating 10,000 additional government jobs for them in the state. “This is being done in a phased manner. The first proposal for 3,000 jobs has already been sent to the cabinet, which is expected to be cleared shortly, and the second one for 3,500 jobs is also being prepared," the second official said.

Part of the 80,000 crore package announced by Modi during his Srinagar visit on Friday will be used to develop the new townships and create additional employment opportunities for Kashmiri Pandits.

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