PM’s package: take the time by forelock

By K.N. Pandita 

It took state government fourteen months to take the first small step in the task of implementing Prime Minister’s 1618-crore package for rehabilitating displaced persons from the valley.

There might have been more delay if the Prime Minister was not scheduled to visit the State this month.

An Apex Committee is constituted which, according to press reports “will monitor the return of Kashmiri Pandit migrants to the valley”. Passing reference has been made to one or two salient features of the rehabilitation package and this leaves much to guess.  

Though belated, nevertheless the step taken by the government has to be taken as ice breaker. Maybe as interaction between the stakeholders deepens and discussions become meaningful, many irritating angularities that have bedeviled resolution of the issue would be straightened. It is a matter of time and patience.

The Apex Committee to be chaired by a minister of state will, according to press reports, comprise some senior state officials and representatives of a host of organizations of displaced persons in addition to many of their individual opinion makers.  Although this is what we had also suggested sometime back in these columns, yet it appears that the government has not concentrated on the most essential pre-requisites.

The Pandits, after their return to the valley, will not live with state bureaucrats and policy planners: they have to live with ordinary people of the valley, meaning the Muslim majority. Their smooth return to and secure living in the valley after two decades of unsavory estrangement depends on the goodwill of the majority community and not on assurances, true or false, doled out by the administration and state organs. The government should not have lost sight of that reality while constituting the Apex Committee. Unless there is responsible representation of Kashmir Muslim majority on the committee it will remains toothless.

It would have been highly desirable if besides mainstream political parties some elderly and distinguished personalities from the valley civil society had also been nominated on the committee. Establishing goodwill of the majority community through the instrumentality of its elders and elected representatives would have made Committee’s task easier. If good sense prevails the lapse can be rectified even now and seasoned elders from different strata of the majority community can be inducted.

Some Pandit organizations have rejected the Apex Committee calling it eyewash. Their grouse is not only that the real representatives have not been included in the committee but also that selection of representatives is not judicious and wholesome.

Significantly, the Prime Minister, in his wisdom, has not closed the option of modifying or upgrading the parameters of rehabilitation, and corollaries likely to crop up in the course of serious deliberations. The presumption is that even the government cannot foresee the nuances of a rehabilitation package of very peculiar nature and dimensions. Hence it has allowed the Committee the discretion of addressing all aspects of the situation. This needs to be understood in totality.

Once the return of the natives to the valley is recognized as an important factor of social cohesion, the question before the committee will be to hammer out a consensual blueprint of rehabilitation.  Though return to homeland has been the common refrain of all Pandit organizations ever since in exile yet views on modus operandi of rehabilitation plan have often been divergent. No attempt should be made to bulldoze the varying views and the principle of free expression of ideas should prevail. This is how the traumatized community can be restored its lost confidence.

Conscious of that reality, the government visualizes leaving many options open. For example the option of cooperative rehabilitation is very significant, and in principle, should meet the demand of a large segment of the returnees. In doing so the possibility of district or tehsil level clusters should not be ruled out.

Clustering may have its advantages like stabilizing the sense of security, facilitating social interaction and even gaining some reasonable political space as well. But its disadvantages are also to be taken note of. It may prove a hindrance to those agriculturists who would like to resume their agrarian pursuits if they still retain their landed properties. Furthermore the debilities of isolated rehabilitation should not go unnoticed. The sense of belonging in ones birthplace is indivisible.

The same is true of horticulturists. Absentee landlordism is a formidable irritant in the way of healthy growth of a multi-cultural society issue everywhere. Kashmir had, under the leadership of NC and its ideologue, willy-nilly overcome this issue way back in the first phase of Kashmir freedom.

Cooperative housing idea is not new, which the Apex Committee is supposed to discuss with the participants. In many mega towns in the country, cooperative housing schemes have been floated successfully and the results have been fairly satisfactory.  But perhaps it is not within the realm of the Apex Committee to identify and procure land for cooperative housing societies. Only the government can invoke the land acquisition act. Land acquisition is becoming a serious and highly sensitive issue in the country. We have not forgotten the innocent killings and tragedy that visited people in Nandigram. 

It should be possible for the state government to identify land on which cooperative group housing scheme can be launched. Stuffing pigeon-holes of multi-storey scrapers with the returnees is the deepest cut which should neither be inflicted nor accepted. On moral ground, the bureaucrats living in their palatial farm-houses have no moral right to propose pigeon-hole lodgments for the displaced persons.  A new township on a stretch of 40 thousand kanals of land is a simple and hassle-free proposition which the Apex Committee should place before to the Prime Minister and the Chief Minster. As we know, none of the two leaders is averse to it. Moreover, the township plan is achievable within the budgetary allocations predetermined in PM’s package. It has to be remembered that cooperative dwellings are invariably raised on sites provided by the state with all necessary infrastructural pre-requisites. A cooperative housing project does not fall from sky.

There are other major and minor details appended to the core issue of rehabilitation. These are not to be dealt with something like euphoric attitude.  Instead of trying to pass the buck, the government should address the issue with courage, determination and farsightedness. It is the moral and institutional responsibility of the government to harness all available resources into two channels; one is of providing the requisite infrastructure in the first instance, and having done that the second is to launch township constructional project preferably of uniform dimensions and design.

Responsible organizations and opinion makers should give due thought to  PM’s package, and not try to trivialize it in a fit of anger, howsoever justifiable, especially when he has generously left open the option of revision, amendments and improvements open.  It is a matter of the future of an entire historical community; a matter of far reaching consequences.  Nations have to think of millennia and not of decades even when passing through a phase of deep depression and agony. Outright rejection is not the way of addressing serious issues like the one we are faced with. We need to talk, to point out, to argue, to convince and to get things done. By rejecting the package we give our destiny in the hands of those who have little or no concern with it. Let us be our masters and let us shape our destiny with our own hands.
The End.

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