New Delhi, January 03 (G’nY News Service): A long standing issue of granting ‘State residency rights’ to Hindus and Sikhs coming from West Pakistan and settled in Jammu is hanging in J&K since 1947. Interestingly, those refugees who were made to settle in other states, did not have to face this. These West Pakistan Refugees (WPRs), though are given Indian citizenship and they can vote in Parliamentary Elections, but they are not recognized as State Subjects and denied voting rights in the Assembly elections. The problems have intensified, as denial of state rights means lack of all basic rights viz. admission to schools and colleges, jobs in local administration, land rights, basic facilities, etc. The issues of WPRs have been continuously discussed in the Parliamentary Committees, especially Department-related Committee on Home Affairs and many recommendations with a view to settle the issues have been made. 183rd Report of the Committee was presented in 2014 December containing a host of recommendations. Recently, The Committee’s 193rd Report, presented to the Rajya Sabha on 22nd December 2015 has considered the Action Taken Report of the Government and reiterated that all the recommendations must be implemented so that WPRs become state subjects in J&K live a dignified life.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been championing the cause of the WPRs and accordingly, the Agenda for Alliance outlined by the PDP-BJP government promised “measures for sustenance and livelihood of West Pakistan refugees” in 2015. BJP made it an election plank eyeing some 2.5 lakh voters in the Parliamentary elections of 2014. Now its time for the BJP to deliver on its promises when it has its own government at the Centre and is in alliance in the State.
Historically, before the partition when J&K was ruled by Dogras, the Maharaja had enacted a law under which no outsider can settle there. Since the refugees belonged to Pakistan, they couldn’t be granted the state subject status. However, in 1977 when Sheikh Abdullah returned to power, the Assembly passed the resettlement bill under which anyone outside the state who could establish that he was a J&K subject between 1947 and 1953 or a descendant could have earned the right to return. When the bill passed by the Assembly went to then Governor B K Nehru, he sent it back. The Assembly passed it again but Nehru refused to sign it. Since then, the case is pending before the Supreme Court. Now, voices in the mainstream and separatist camps are against giving the WPRs state citizenship rights, saying it will alter the disputed nature of J&K and change the state’s demography.
The 183rd Report of the Committee, presented in December 2014 clearly highlighted the crux of the problems of WPRs, which inter alia said;
‘The Committee expresses its serious concern that the West Pakistani Refugees, who are very much citizens of India and eligible for voting in Parliamentary elections do not possess right to vote in the State legislature Assembly elections on the pretext that they are not permanent residents of the State in terms of the J&K constitution. The committee feels that through they are living there for more than 60 years, they are not leading the life of free citizens despite having voting rights for Parliament. This right has not earned them any special benefits. The Committee strongly recommends that the Central Government must impress upon the State Government to consider, as a one time measure, the demand of West Pakistani Refugees to grant them the status of permanent residents of the State sympathetically so that they can live as state subject in a dignified way, with all legal rights including right to vote in State Legislative Assembly.’
The further recommendations included grant of subsidiary benefits to the WPRs viz. admission to the technical/professional colleges in the State, reservation in state jobs as per the rules, recruitment by the Central Para military forces, opening of Kendriya Vidyalayas/JNVs for them. The fact that the Committee’s unanimous recommendations represent the opinion of all the parties, it eventually reflects the nation’s view and the Central Government should accord top priority to implement the recommendations meant for them.
Shri Avinash Rai Khanna, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha and Vice –President, BJP has been taking up the cause of WPRs in the Parliament, its Committees and at all the appropriate forums with all dedication. He is also a Member of the Department-related Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs. While talking to the GnY News Service correspondent he said ‘this is a very strange situation. The WPRs are Indian citizens, but not the State Subjects. I have been taking up their issues for a long time so that their problem is solved and they are given a dignified life and the young WPRs do not face the problems that their predecessors have faced’. He further said, he was hopeful that the problems of the WPRs will be solved soon.