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More than 100,000 refugees in J&K from West Pakistan to get citizenship, domicile rights soon

J&K LG Manoj Sinha has demonstrated pro-active leadership in the Union Territory

For the first time in the last 75 years, a population of over 100,000 people which migrated from West Pakistan to Jammu in 1947, is all set to get full citizenship and domicile rights including the ownership rights of immovable properties, right to vote in all elections and eligibility for all government jobs.

Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha on Monday announced ownership rights of the West Pakistan refugees on land, houses and other immovable properties in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. This will benefit a population of over 100,000 people living in our 10,000 dwelling units in the International Border belt of Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts.

“This will do away the pain of injustice inflicted upon the West Pakistan refugees, a major part of which was removed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi by repealing Article 370 of the Constitution of India on 5 August, 2019,” Sinha asserted after inauguration of a special governance camp for the West Pakistani refugee families at village Chakroi in Jammu’s Ranbir Singhpura tehsil.

“The major problem faced by the West Pakistan refugees was that they were allotted land (following their migration in 1947) but were never given ownership rights. The Government of India has now given direction to grant full ownership rights which will be done shortly”, Sinha announced to a cheering crowd.

While the West Pakistan refugees were permitted to settle in the Jammu-Kathua border belt, they were treated as ‘non-permanent residents’ and not allowed ownership rights on land, houses or other immovable properties, eligibility for government services or participation in any democratic processes other than the Lok Sabha elections. Since 1947, they had been demanding equality of rights with ‘permanent residents’ and the refugees from the Pakistan-occupied territories of the undivided State of Jammu and Kashmir as it existed in August-October 1947.

The historic process of granting full citizenship and domicile rights to the West Pakistan refugees began with the abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A of the Constitution of India in August 2019. Sinha told the gathering that most of the laws and rules had been modified in the last over three years, even as some rules were currently being changed to clear the decks.

According to the official records, nearly 5800 families of the West Pakistan refugees, mostly Hindus and Sikhs, live in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts along the International Border with Pakistan. Officials put up the population size between 50,000 and 80,000. Independent circles insist that their population size had grown to around 100,000 souls. The community leaders, however, claim that it was a chunk of 1.5 lakh people comprising over 22,000 families. Most of them had migrated to Jammu from the Sialkot district of Punjab in Pakistan.

The West Pakistan refugees were allotted 46,666 kanals (5,833 acres) on 7 May, 1954, without their right to ownership on land, government jobs and the State democratic processes. The land was mostly allotted in Pargwal island in Akhnoor, RS Pura and Bishnah tehsils in Jammu, parts of Samba and Hiranagar in Kathua district besides some other places.

The beneficiary population will include around 10,000 members of the Valmiki community who were brought in from Punjab in 1970s and given a conditional domicile if their future generations stayed in J&K as scavengers and safai karamcharis. They had the right to participate in elections but can now own land even after changing their profession.

In reply to a question, then Minister of Revenue and Rehabilitation, Syed Basharat Bukhari, revealed in the J&K Legislative Assembly in 2015 that 54,945 families had migrated from Pakistan and PoJK between 1947 and 1971. Of them, 31,619 families migrated from PoJK in 1947, 4061 families in 1965 and 9,442 families in 1971. He put the number of the West Pakistan refugee families at 9,823.

In an attempt to bestow the regular State Subject rights on the residents of PoJK who would desire to return to J&K, the National Conference MLA Abdul Rahim Rather moved “The Jammu and Kashmir Grant of Permit for Resettlement in (or Permanent Return to) the State Bill in the J&K Assembly on 8 March 1980 when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was the Chief Minister. It was assigned to a 9-member House Committee (5 of NC, 2 of Janata Party and one each of Congress and Jamaat-e-Islami).

It was subsequently passed in 1982 when only the NC and Congress were present and all opposition groups absent. According to this Bill, any person who was a State Subject before 14 May, 1954, and has migrated to Pakistan after 1947, could be recommended for resettlement in J&K on scrutiny of the State authorities.

This legislation, commonly known as Bill No: 9 triggered a major political controversy. Governor BK Nehru, rather than giving his assent, referred the same for opinion to the Attorney General of India. It never returned with an approval from the Centre. Currently a House of 114 seats, 24 seats continue to be reserved for representatives of the areas under Pakistan’s occupation since 1947.

In his address on Monday, Sinha said that the Pakistani refugees lived a life of “second class citizens” for years as they were deprived of participation in the elections of Legislative Assembly, Panchayats and Municipalities. Now, they can contest these elections, he added. “They were not even eligible for government jobs and welfare schemes. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi felt their pain with sensitivity and gave all right to them by removing the hurdles,” he added.

Also Read: Pak supported 1947 invasion of Kashmir still has victims in trauma