Majority of Kashmiri Pandit employees have returned to work in Valley: Official

Srinagar:

A majority of Kashmiri Pandit employees, who had struck work following the killing of Rahul Bhat by terrorists last year, have returned to work, a senior official of the Jammu and Kashmir administration said here.

“I reject this notion that all Kashmiri Pandit employees are protesting in Jammu. A majority of these employees have already joined their offices (and) we are releasing their salaries. They have understood the importance of reporting to work,” Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Pandurang Kundbarao Pole said.

Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit employee, was shot dead by the ultras inside his office at Chadoora in Budgam district in May last year. The killing had sparked off protests by the Kashmiri Pandit employees who refused to return to work.

A group of protesting employees left the Valley and demonstrated in Jammu, demanding that they be relocated out of Kashmir till the security situation improved here.

Though the administration agreed to look into most of the demands of the Kashmiri Pandits (KPs), it refused to relocate them out of Kashmir. It further hardened its stand against the protesting employees and stopped salaries of those who did not return to work.

Meanwhile, the Jammu and Kashmir police stated that work was going on to expeditiously complete transit accommodations for the Kashmiri Pandit employees posted in the Valley.

“The government has reserved 6,000 jobs for the Kashmiri Pandits under the Prime Minister employment package. The selection process is almost complete and 6,000 flats are being raised at 17 places in Kashmir for them,” a police officer said.

“We have tried to establish these accommodations near main roads and not in the interiors. However, this also depends on the availability of government land,” he said.

Pole said while police personnel will be deployed for the security of these accommodations, preference has been given to set up these flats near CRPF camps so that the occupants feel a sense of security and protection.

He said the compounds for Kashmiri Pandits employees will have other facilities like mini hospitals, anganwari centres and fair price retail shops.

While 600 flats for the employees are already operational, another 500 will be completed by March-end. The total number of flats is expected to go up to 2,000 by June this year.

“Till now, 600 flats are completed at Vessu (Kulgam) and Sheihkpura (Budgam) area. Prefabricated huts have been provided at Natnusa and Veerwan in Baramulla. By March 2023, nearly 500 flats will be completed and in June 2023, we are expecting the completion of 2,000 flats,” the divisional commissioner added.

Even as the administration asserts that the employees from the community have nothing to fear in the Valley, political parties maintain that a sense of security among the minority community members was as important as physical security.

“It is not about one-room or two-room apartments. The government thinks that providing accommodation will resolve the entire issue about Kashmiri Pandits, but that is not the case. “The government has to build a sense of security and confidence among the Kashmiri Pandits,” PDP spokesman Mohit Bhan said.

He said the Kashmiri Pandit employees came back to the Valley in 2010 to restore the community’s essence and culture.

“Unfortunately, since 2019, we have seen incidents of target killings of minorities. When regional parties were governing Jammu and Kashmir, not a single Kashmiri Pandit was harmed during agitations like in 2010 and 2016. Now, they are losing trust in the security establishment,” he added.

National Conference spokesman Imran Nabi Dar echoed similar views.

“Primarily, the government has to give the employees a sense of security which it has failed. Otherwise, why are they protesting in Jammu for the past so many days? They are not ready to come back as they do not feel secure enough,” he said.

BJP spokesman Altaf Thakur had a different take to offer on the issue.

“The biggest security for the Kashmiri Pandits are the majority Muslims living in the Valley…,” he said.

Thakur said security forces are capable enough to fight against terrorists and provide adequate security to the Kashmiri Pandits.

“… The KPs should come back. They should not surrender before the hollow threats of terrorists as the motive of these Pakistan-sponsored ultras is that the Kashmiri Pandits should not come back (to the Valley),” he added.