THE Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner in Jammu is seeing a flurry of applications by people seeking to “migrate” from the Kashmir Valley, taking officials by surprise. Sources said over 1,500 people, many of them Muslims, had submitted applications at the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner’s office here, seeking to be registered as migrants, in the last 10 days. “Though we have not registered any new applicant as migrant so far, more and more people are visiting us every day,” a relief and rehabilitation official, who refused to be named, said.
The Minister of State for Relief and Rehabilitation, Ajay Nanda, said he was looking into the matter. Pointing out that the government had not ordered registration of any fresh migrants, he added that they were only examining pre-2008 cases of migrants still pending with the office of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner.
The last such registration exercise was held in 2008. Around 60,000 migrant families who had left the Valley between 1990 and 2008 had been cleared for registration then.
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Officials said a number of applicants now are those who had returned to their native places in the Valley after staying in Jammu for some years.
The surge follows a decision by the PDP-BJP government in October 2016 to reconstitute a screening committee for registration of migrants. In a crucial modification, unlike last time when only relatives of those killed or left injured by militants were registered as migrants, the government said it would allow registration of families with possible threat perception from militants too. The order, dated October 5, 2016, said that reference of the committee shall be registration of bona fide migrants who “have migrated or may migrate due to militants’ threat to them or their families”.
As part of this, around 20 Kashmiri families from the Valley who had been living in Jammu for long were registered as migrants recently. A senior official said this could be one reason for the recent surge.
Chief BJP spokesperson Sunil Sethi said any new registration of migrants would amount to encouraging even Muslims to leave the Valley. “It is not 1990, and if there is any problem, the government shall give them security in the Valley itself,” he said.
Party spokesperson Virender Gupta said, “No new migrant shall be given any benefits available to those who were compelled to leave their homes in the wake of terrorist violence in the Kashmir Valley between 1990 and 2000. Like refugees from Pakistan in 1947, migration of Pandits and Muslims from the Valley is also a closed chapter as the state government has stopped registering anybody as migrant since 2000. However, if there is any instance of registration of fresh migrants, the party will take up the matter with the quarters concerned.”
Ravinder Singh, 35, is among those applying to be registered as a migrant. A native of Pulwama district, he had moved with his wife and an year old daughter to Jammu in 2013. After staying in Jammu for nearly three years, he had returned home to the Valley. Seeking to come back to Jammu now, Singh said the industrial unit he worked in had remained shut for most of last summer. “Owing to bandh calls and hartals almost every day, there are few opportunities to earn a livelihood for those working in the private sector in the Valley,” he said.
Last Saturday, most of the applicants at the office were Sikhs from the Valley. When officials tried to tell them that the government had issued no directives for registration of new migrants, many could be heard arguing with them.
Officials believe the rise in applications could also be linked to the movement of the durbar to summer capital Srinagar soon, and the apprehension of trouble there. There are nearly 60,000 Kashmiri families registered as migrants across the country and of them, nearly 38,000 families live in Jammu. Each migrant family gets a relief of Rs 2,500 per head subject to a maximum of four members and ration of 9 kg per head.
All Party Migrants Coordination Committee chairman Vinod Pandit asked why the government policy asked officials to consider for registration even people “who may migrate” in the future. “Had it been only for consideration of old pending cases, the order should have mentioned the period of migration for purposes of registration as migrants,” he said.
Pandit added that the rise in applications exposed the state government’s claims of taking back Kashmiri Pandits to their homes in the Valley. “Even if these are old cases, why are they registering them as migrants now when the situation is normal in Kashmir?” he said, alleging an attempt to change the demography of Jammu.
The National Conference said it was unaware of the rush of applications. “However, if it is so, then it is a serious indictment of the state government, which has failed to instill a sense of security among people,” said party spokesperson Madan Mantoo.