Amid controversy over issuance of 'domicile certificates' to West Pakistan refugees, the J&K government has—for the first time—specifically incorporated the "issues" of the non-state subjects in the Business Rules for the newly set-up Department of Disaster Management, Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction (DDMRR&R).
The Department was carved out of the Revenue and Relief Department recently following which the Government issued an order vide No 1444-GAD of 2016) on December 12 last year that granted sanction to its creation.
The "issues" of WPRs are among six subjects that the Department would be dealing with, according to the order. While granting sanction to the creation of the Department and its inclusion in Schedule-I of J&K Government Business Rules, the government has assigned subjects of emergency relief organization, disaster management, relief and rehabilitation, management of all issues relating to Kashmiri migrants, issues pertaining to displaced persons (DPs of 1947, Chhamb DPs of 1965/71 and West Pakistan Refugees) and management of issues pertaining to people affected due to firing on the Line of Control and the International Border, to the Department.
A senior official of State Law Department said the "specific mention" about the issues related to WPRs in the newly-carved out department is "surprising" and "bound to raise questions".
"By making a specific mention of the (West Pakistan) refugees in the Business Rules, the Government has now to make schemes for them. And more importantly, by making the mention of them in the Rules, they (WPRs) have been made a specific class to be addressed separately. It is like owning them," said the official.
He said the "problem" lies in bifurcating refugees and displaced persons in the Business Rules.
"There was no need to do that…they should not have found a separate mention in the Business Rules because there is no need of dealing with them separately. We have to remember that they are non-state subjects. They are refugees… and when the government announces to deal with them separately, that is where the problem lies," said the official.
He said the issue of WPRs being "sensitive" and evoking lot of debate in recent times, the Government should have given a "good thought" before going ahead with the fresh proposal.
"You (Government) can't hide under the argument that there is mention of other displaced persons of 1947 or Chhamb displaced persons along with the (West Pakistan) Refugees. Here we are talking about the non-state subjects (WPRs)," the official responded to a question.
An official of the rank of administrative secretary termed the inclusion of "issues" of the WPRs in the Business Rules of the new department as "controversial".
"I can't say what issues (of WPRs) they (Government) are talking about? It is for them to explain. But it is for the first time that the refugees (WPR) have been specifically mentioned in the Business Rules," said the official, wishing anonymity.
Prior to carving out of the DDMRR&R from Revenue and Relief Department, the issues of the displaced persons were being "collectively" handled by the latter.
The business that was looked after by the Revenue and Relief Department included administration of EP, agrarian reforms, consolidation holdings, emergency relief organization, land records, land revenue, relief and rehabilitation, settlement, weights and measures and Hajj and Auqaf.
"There was no mention of any particular category of displaced persons or refugees. Their (displaced persons) issues were addressed from time to time in accordance with law of the land," said the official.
The specific mention of the issues of the WPRs and their inclusion in the Business Rules for the new Department comes at a time when the PDP-led State Government is under attack for issuing domicile certificates to the WPRs. The Government has however repeatedly denied issuing the domicile certificates and stated that WPRs were only issued "identity certificates" to facilitate their recruitment in central government services.
However, both the opposition as well as resistance leadership, haven't bought the Government clarification as the BJP in New Delhi and its state-wing have renewed the demand for grant of citizenship rights to WPRs, who are non-state subjects and had migrated from Sialkot in West Punjab of Pakistan to J&K and other states of India, in 1947.
The right-wing party has been asserting that the refugees, who were settled in three districts along the International Border in Jammu, can't be held to ransom and that the Government will "initiate steps to fulfill their long pending demands".
Unlike the 1947-refugees from Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Chhamb—the parts of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir—the WPRs don't enjoy citizenship rights in J&K as they are non-state subjects.
"What prompted their (WPRs) specific mention in Rules when the issues of displaced persons were being dealt collectively under the subjects 'Relief and Rehabilitation and Settlement' in the Revenue and Relief Department?" asked the official.
Another official said the displaced persons of Chhamb were directly handled by Government of India when they migrated to Jammu. All their issues including monetary assistance, grant of land for houses and other issues at that time were directly handled by the Centre under an authority that was specifically created for them and monitored by a senior official from the Home Minister, he said.
The Secretary, General Administration Department (GAD) Khursheed Shah said the proposal (about WPRs and other displaced persons) had come from the government.
He however acknowledged that under Revenue and Relief Department the refugees/displaced persons were dealt under the subjects 'Relief and Rehabilitation and Settlement', and there was no specific mention about the WPRs. "Since a new department was created that is why there is mention about this category (WPRs)," he said.
Apart from WPRs, the refugees from Pakistan-administered Kashmir had migrated to J&K between October and November, 1947. These were mostly Hindus and Sikhs who belonged to the erstwhile J&K across the Line of Control which was under the rule of Maharaja. While most of them live in different districts of Jammu, a small population has settled in some districts of Kashmir, including Baramulla. The third category of refugees in the state consists of people who came from Mirpur in the Chamb region.
As per official figures, a total of 5,764 WPR families, 31,619 PaK refugee families and 1065 Chamb refugee families are living in Jammu region.