Apparently addressing its vote bank, the noisy rightwing exposed a plan that was inches away from implementation in Srinagar. But how long can the new government sit over the interest that are so dear to ex-soldiers and the Parivaar, asks Masood Hussain
On November 18, 2014 when J&K High Court’s former judge G D Sharma’s book Plight of Kashmir: The Unknown Files was launched in Delhi, rightwing ideologue Subramanian Swamy was one of the speakers. To create circumstances conducive for return of Kashmiri Pandits and to end strife, he suggested settling 10 lakh ex-servicemen in Kashmir. This was in addition to the abrogation of Article 370, he has campaigned for his whole life. “They should be given the money and arms, and tasked with retrieving the property of the Pandits.”
Elections to the state assembly began many days later. “BJP would get 30 seats in the 87-member state assembly which would either mean president’s rule or a greater say for the party in the government – allowing it to affect these changes,” Swamy had said. Results, declared later in December, almost vindicated him as BJP won 25 seats. Kashmir-based parties fiercely reacted to the statement but a general opinion was that Swamy’s ideas were aimed at triggering a chain reaction to improve participation in Kashmir. But that was not the case.
By March 2015, PDP-BJP alliance was ruling the state. On May 8, 2015, another RSS leader Tarun Vijay – editing its mouthpiece for two decades, was speaking in Rajya Sabha seeking “greater respect to soldiers and martyrs”. He sought a piece of land or a well-built apartment on a 99-year lease in any city or area of the choice of troops having served in Kashmir or to the next kith and kin of slain soldiers.
By July 15, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had forwarded the plea to Mufti Sayeed government for kind consideration. He had sought a piece of land or an apartment in Kashmir to state-subject soldiers having served in the valley for three years. Local BJP was supportive of the idea.
By July 28, Tarun Vijay while paying tributes to Dr APJ Abul Kalam said the former president’s dream “would remain incomplete without having army personnel settled in J&K.” Kalam, he said, dreamed of a fully developed and prosperous J&K. “Army men are the most powerful instrument to achieve this goal.” He even submitted a proposal to J&K BJP Minister in PMO, Dr Jitendra Singh.
With Article 370 diluted over the years, Kashmir and parts of Jammu see a homogenous demography as their last retained identity. So the statements triggered tensions. “Settling soldiers and their families in Kashmir is actually a joint conspiracy of Indian rulers and their Kashmiri stooges,” JKLF’s Yasin Malik said. “The objective is to alter the demography.”
By August 19, Naeem Akhter was busy rebutting the news. “There is no such agenda. We don’t have any such proposal and it is absolutely baseless and a rumor,” Akhter said after the cabinet meeting was over. “We are made to respond to a thing that doesn’t exist.”
But that was not a fact either. Things had moved silently for long. BJP’s desperation to stake credit for things that were happening in the state already only exposed the process.
Establishing a Sainik (Soldiers) Colony in Srinagar became part of the state records on March 1, 2011 when J&K Rajya Sainik Board (RSB) discussed applications of 400 retired soldiers seeking 150-knals of land for self-financing housing cooperative in Kashmir on the pattern of a colony that already exists in Jammu.
It was followed up on March 1, 2011 when governor directed framing appropriate bylaws against resale of plots. By then the land requirement had surged to 161 kanals to house 300 former officers, 175 JCOs and 1500 other ranks and widows. The meeting decided that request for land will be formally made by April 15, 2012.
In RSB’s 75th meeting on April 9, 2013 the proposal was approved by the Board as J&K’s home department had received the formal request for 173 kanals of land on September 27, 2012. RSB officials met Kashmir Divisional commissioner and were assured that the land identification process has already started. RSB in its proposal had sought land in Zakura, Bemina, Narbal, Aloocha Bagh or Tatoo Ground.
Secretary RSB informed the meeting on April 21, 2014 that Divisional Commissioner had agreed for allotment of land in the Old Air Field Area.
In the subsequent meeting on April 16, 2015 the Secretary of the Board informed that the members that Divisional Commissioner has agreed to allot 173 kanals on payment basis and the case was taken up with the state home department. However, there was a problem. As many as 26 officers, 125 JCOs and 900 other ranks had applied thus surging the land requirement – now to 350 kanals. This required sending a fresh proposal to the Kashmir Commissioner. But the governor, RSB head, directed that 173 kanlas of land already identified should get transferred.
On April 21, 2016 when the next meeting of RSB was held, it was desired that the process of identification of land “at a suitable place in and around Srinagar” with the help of the army should be expedited.
Soldiers and paramilitary men in all states are getting special concessions, as part of the welfare set up, from the state governments. J&K is having more than 7,50,000 ex-servicemen and their dependents (including the dependents of the serving soldiers) and it envisages a modest 8000 ex-soldiers from Kashmir. Apart from five battalions of Ladakh Scouts, almost all the 15 battalions of JAKLI and nearly half of the 25 battalion strength of the JAK Rifles (JAKRIF) is manned by state subjects.
For taking care of the welfare of the former soldiers, Sainik Welfare Department has 10 district level offices that manage 12 Sainik Sarais and six boys hostels. Sainik Bhawans in partnership between state government and the defence ministry are operational in Srinagar, Kupwara and Rajouri as buildings for them are at various stages of implementation in Jammu, Kargil, Baramulla and Islamabad.
Apart from spending substantially (Rs 2.30 crore) for relief to 750 World War II veterans or their wives, offering monthly relief to 422 militia veterans, an ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakhs in case of being killed and Rs 3 to 2 lakhs in case of disability, and the surviving lot of erstwhile J&K militia. There is a horizontal reservation of six percent to ex-soldiers with upper age limit to 38 years (now going to 48 years) for appointment in state police. A proposal is under consideration to have six percent vertical reservation even as nearly 3000 former soldiers have been adjusted in state police. Widows of ex-service men are entitled to twin pensions, one each from military and civil establishment. SRO-43 is also applicable to the soldiers.
Ex-soldiers had also established Sainik Vanaspati Cooperative in 1993 with 97 percent of the equity coming from the state government. It ceased operations in 1998 when the government levied four percent additional toll tax thus creating a liability of Rs 1.11 crore. After the Chief Minister carried out the economic viability re-assessed, the cooperative is under consideration of RSB for revival. That would require a fresh capital infusion of Rs 14.13 crore, converting an outstanding of Rs 11.77 crore into equity and repaying a bank loan of Rs 7.46 crore.
There is already a well-established Sanik Colony in Jammu. Post-1999, two more have come up – 1152-kanal Rajinder Vihar (Patti village Samba) and 661-kanal Kargil Vihar colony (Barn village Jammu). By the end of April, RSB has allotted 1535 of the 3202 plots at Samba and 387 of the 1716 plots in the Jammu colony. All these plots have gone to the former soldiers who are state subjects only.
“It has been in process for a long time and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was part of two meetings since 2011,” Naeem Akhter, who normally speaks for the cabinet, said. “In two meetings that took place in last two years, no progress was there. We have said that we lack land.”
With massive opposition from the separatist camp and the issue emerging emotive enough to re-create the Amarnath land row of 2008, PDP and NC are fighting each other. But the fact of the matter is that neither of the two parties will have an exit from the issue.
“Central government has enough of tools in its authority to unblock projects that local government halts,” one lawyer, speaking on the condition of anonymity said. “First choice is to enforce things through administrative set-ups and if fails, they use political system. If that fails, they use the parliament and judiciary is the last resort.” He sees NEET as the latest instance that was “nicely” extended to the state against the liking of the state government. “Go and check, it was a three-judge bench, over-ruling an earlier three-judge bench and also a nine-judge bench that had adjudicated on this matter much earlier,” the lawyer revealed.
The issue of an all India entrance test has been part of the judicial interventions since 1984. The June 22, 1984 verdict excluded J&K and Andhra Pradesh so did the verdict of November 8, 2011. The latter was after Medical Council of India issued the NEET notification on December 21, 2010. Finally, it was PIL by an NGO seeking implementation of NEET that undid everything.
“Almost all states were unwilling to adopt NEET,” state’s Law Commissioner M Ashraf Mir said. “Maharashtra had issues with the syllabus system, Gujarat said its students write their examinations in Gujarati and not English, Tamil Nadu said they make admissions to the Medical Colleges on basis of the merit in twelfth class directly, Andhra said it was protected by Article 371D and we thought it was violating our rights under Article 370.” All the states hired the best lawyers in the market but they all failed.
Mir said every argument fell flat as the bench said they are not taking the rights of the individual states in admitting their state subjects. “They said education in J&K is a state subject and J&K has the right to admit only the state subjects and the NEET will only give the merit list,” Mir said. “But, they said, section 66 of the Seventh Schedule gives central government the authority of coordination and determination of standards in institutions for higher education or research and scientific and technical institutions.”
Unlike J&K, insiders in the state government admitted that the NEET regime will hit hard the minority institutions and the private sector especially the AMU and the Jamia Hamdard.
With state government having everything ready for Sainik Colony in Srinagar, it is blocked just by political unwillingness right now. It remains to be seen how Ms Mehbooba Mufti led government will find the fulcrum of the housing colony that suits a section of the state subjects and her ally but hurts the sentiments of the larger majority. Will it come up in a garrison that would be de-militarized first or will she wait for another court order?