The J&K administration under Governor Satya Pal Malik is believed to have set in motion a plan to bring in procedural changes in grant of Permanent Resident Certificates (PRCs). Apart from the fact that this is a sensitive issue in the state, this is the fourth significant move by a regime that is essentially caretaker after Malik dissolved the Assembly.
A senior functionary in the administration, who didn’t want to be named, told The Sunday Express “there was a feeling in the Revenue Department that the existing process (of granting PRCs) has some impediments. They have been asked to tell us the impediments they are facing. The aim is to bring in transparency.”
He added, “We are only consulting people within the administration because we had reports of undue delays in the grant of PRCs. We haven’t made any changes to the procedure as yet.”
Article 35A empowers the J&K Assembly to define ‘permanent residents’ of the state. These residents are then eligible for special rights and privileges, which the legislature can provide. The Supreme Court is currently hearing a bunch of petitions seeking abrogation of the legislation, which was added by a Presidential Order in 1954 through Article 370 of the Constitution granting J&K special status,
Political parties in the state alleged “political agenda” behind the Malik-led regime’s moves, including the latest, warning there would be “far-reaching consequences”.
Earlier, the state administration had ordered the takeover of J&K Bank to make it a PSU; the repeal of the Jammu and Kashmir State Lands (Vesting of ownership to the occupants) Act, 2001, commonly known as the Roshni Act, a decision expected to adversely affect the Gujjar and Bakerwal communities in Jammu province; and cleared amendment of the J&K Protection of Human Rights Act to lay down that the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) could not listen to an abuse victim if the incident had happened more than a year earlier.
The senior government functionary admitted that there was a larger political connotation behind the Roshni Act repeal, without elaborating. On whether the Governor’s administration should take decisions, he said this is a “larger issue”. “I don’t disagree that there is a need for restraint.”
Former chief minister and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti accused Malik of “outrightly fiddling with the basic structure of our state’s institutions”. Speaking to The Sunday Express, she said, “Governor sahib is acting way beyond his mandate. PRC is a very sensitive issue. It is a matter of the identity of the state.”
Admitting that there had been complaints regarding non-state subjects acquiring PRCs, she said, “the need was to probe that”. “We have an established practice regarding how a PRC is issued and this practice should not be diluted.”
About the repeal of the Roshni Act, Mufti said it will impact the Gujjars and Bakerwals. “Influential people have already managed to secure land ownership through this Act, and that will remain unchanged. The only pending applications are of poor Gujjars and Bakerwals and they will have to vacate.”
Also questioning the changes to the human rights Act, the PDP leader said, “The SHRC is the sole institution which, despite several restrictions, has at least been able to listen to people’s grievances… This is going to only add to the trouble.”
The decision regarding J&K Bank would destroy the institution, she added. “They want to undo everything. They are destroying our systems. It is going to add to the alienation of people.”
Any decision regarding all these laws “should be left to the elected government”, Mufti said. “The Governor has no role in it.”
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah also expressed “serious misgivings over the way decisions of far-reaching consequences are being taken, without any consultation”.
“The Governor’s decisions may be within the legal framework but ethically and morally they aren’t correct,” Omar told The Sunday Express. “These decisions have implications of a political nature… And political decisions should be taken by a political government.”
He added, “Now that the Assembly has been dissolved… the role of the Governor is quite similar to that of a caretaker CM… till people elect a new government. Whichever government is elected, the first thing they will have to do is review all these decisions.”
Former state finance minister and ex-J&K Bank chairman Haseeb Drabu called the decision to turn the bank into a PSU “thoughtless”, which “shows the ignorance of the whole set-up”.
“Of every transaction that happens in J&K, 80 per cent is with J&K Bank. It was much more than a bank, a development financial institution, commercial bank, lender of last resort, central bank.” By turning it into a PSU, Drabu said, “they have put a successful commercial enterprise into a framework of sickness. Not a single PSU (in J&K) is making money.”
Drabu added, “We are fond of conspiracies, but prima facie to me it appears a thoughtless decision.”
The president of J&K Gujjars United Front, Anwar Choudhary, regretted the Roshni Act decision, while asking what recourse could they avail. “We don’t have political backing… They want to drive us out… The reason for the (PDP-BJP) government fall was also