Amid protest by Kashmiri Pandit employees of the Jammu and Kashmir administration and Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha's tough stance on it, the Congress party has said they should either be transferred to Jammu or provided security in Kashmir.
Kashmiri Pandits are a minority in the J&K Union territory. A large number of the community was forced to leave Kashmir Valley in 1990s because of terrorism. The return of targeting killings in the past two years have again plunged Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir in insecurity.
Following a series of killings, protesting Kashmiri Pandit employees are demanding relocation to Jammu. The Congress has now backed the demand.
"We cannot leave anyone to die. The jobs were given to them by the Congress (government). They lived here for 12 years and never said they want to return to Jammu. After the (recent) targeted killings, they have been on protest," Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) President Vikar Rasool Wani told reporters in Srinagar.
Amid calls for relocation, J&K LG Sinha sent out a "loud and clear" message to Kashmiri Pandit protesters that no salary would be given to them if they continue to sit home in protest.
What has Congress demanded?
The J&K Congress President Rasool said, "I think it is important to save people's lives, so their issues should be addressed."
Rasool said the Kashmiri Pandit employees should be provided security and “if need be, they should be shifted to Jammu”.
"The Congress party stands with them and supports their demand,” Rasool added.
These Kashmiri Pandits are employed under a special package released in 2008 by the then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's goverment. Outlook earlier reported: "The package was for 'return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri migrants' who wish to return to the Valley. Subsequently, a special package of Rs. 1,618.40 crore was sanctioned by the Government of India for the return and rehabilitation of the migrants. Initially, under this scheme, 3,000 supernumerary posts were created exclusively for the Kashmiri migrants willing to return to the Valley."
However, a clause of the package mandates that the employees will only have to serve in the Kashmir Valley. It is this clause that does not allow their transfer out of Kashmir to Jammu region.
Sub-rule 4 of rule 4 of the Jammu and Kashmir Kashmiri Migrants (Special Drive) Recruitment Rules, 2009, provides that "in case the appointee migrates from valley again for any reason whatsoever, he shall lose the job without any notice and shall stand terminated".
What has J&K LG Manoj Sinha said?
Sinha said all necessary arrangements have been made for the security of Kashmiri Pandits and what's left is being done.
He said, "They are on a strike and I was in constant touch with them and made sincere efforts to address all their long-pending issues. Almost all of them were transferred to district headquarters in consultation with district commissioners, superintendents of police and other government functionaries."
Sinha, however, said some people are placed at tehsil headquarters and some in villages close to the city as those posted in the rural development department cannot be transferred to the city.
He said, "Minority employees will not be deployed alone in any office and it was decided that two to three more people will be stationed along with them. We have appointed officers in every district and one in Raj Bhavan to look after their grievances. They are listening to them and are looking for necessary steps to address their issues."
Sinha said there is only one genuine issue of concern which is of their accommodation.
He said, "Earlier, there were some issues related to land but it was cleared and tenders floated to complete the project for their accommodation at secured places. As many as 1,200 of them will be provided accommodation by April, and 1,800 more flats will be given during the next financial year.
"We have cleared their (protesting employees') salaries till August 31, but it cannot be done that they will be paid their salaries by sitting at their homes. This is a loud and clear message to them and they should listen and understand it."
Fears, insecurity among Kashmiri Pandits
The calls for relocation began after the closely-followed killings of Kashmiri Pandits Rajni Bala and Rahul Bhatt in May.
Despite the assertions of Sinha, there is a sense of fear among Pandits in the Valley.
"We are on strike for the past one month. We seek a safer place for work or relocation. When I ask my officer whether he is able to offer me a safer place for work, he says he is as helpless as me. In such a situation, what can I do except seek relocation as there is no safe place in the Valley," said Kashmiri Pandit employee Ashwani Sadhu to Outlook in June.
Following the killing of well-known Kashmiri chemist Makhan Lal Bindroo last year, Outlook reported that people read it like a throwback to the 1990s.
Outlook at the time reported a number of Pandits, who over the years had returned to the Valley under the prime minister’s rehabilitation package and were working in different government departments, reading a dire message in Bindroo’s death.
“Remember, in 1990, killing of prominent Kashmiri Pandits led to their migration from the Valley. You shouldn’t see Bindroo’s death like any other killing,” said Sanjay Tickoo, President, Kashmiri Pandit Sangresh Samithi, at the time.
As for the question of salary, a report said salaries of protesting employees were withheld for at least two months earlier this year.
The Daily Pioneer in August reported salaries of employees across several departments were withheld for two months.
"According to Kashmiri migrant employees, 'salaries up to two months of a large number of employees working in the Finance department, Department of Public Works and Road and Building department, Education and Medical health department, Office of Director Rural Development department,Kashmir,Director Agriculture,Lal Mandi Srinagar, Department of Planning/Motor Garages/Revenue department, Power Development department Office of Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar have not been released so far'," reported The Pioneer.
It added, "Most of these employees have either not joined their new place of postings and have been relieved from their existing place of posting without seeking their consent.A delegation of protesting employees have taken up the issue of non-payment of salaries with the concerned authorities but no major headway has been achieved so far."
(With PTI inputs)