Oppn demands release of political detainees, restoration of statehood to J&K
New Delhi: Opposition members in the Rajya Sabha today demanded an immediate release of political detainees, restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir and compensation to people who had lost their livelihoods there.
Initiating the debate on the budget for Jammu and Kashmir, senior Congress member Ghulam Nabi Azad alleged that the Union Territory was on “ventilator” after the government put it under a “political quarantine” for the last seven months and a half, saying the situation there was worse than what it was even 30 years ago.
The Leader of Opposition in the Upper House of Parliament hoped that the next budget for Jammu and Kashmir would be passed in the Assembly there and all political detainees would be released immediately to help revive political activity in the state.
He also demanded an early grant of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir, which has been divided into two Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, since October 31 last year.
Azad alleged that there was no development in Jammu and Kashmir ever since it was bifurcated into Union territories and deprived of statehood, contrary to the claims made by the BJP-led Centre.
He said it would have been better if the budget for Jammu and Kashmir was discussed in the Assembly there, adding that it was being deliberated upon at a time when the entire world was under the grip of the coronavirus and making efforts to get out of it.
“A quarantine has been imposed, but Jammu and Kashmir is in a political quarantine for the last seven months and a half. We need to get it out of it.
“The situation in Jammu and Kashmir now is even worse than what it was 30 years ago,” the Congress leader said.
Stating that there were natural calamities such as floods, earthquakes and outbreak of diseases, over which no one had any control, he said, “But the problem in Jammu and Kashmir for seven months and a half is not because of the nature or gods. It is because of the government of our own country. The calamity has not been brought by foreign invaders…the protector itself has become a disaster.”
“Jammu and Kashmir has been put on ventilator…you will have to remove Jammu and Kashmir from ventilator.
“I urge the government to release political workers, leaders and allow political activity. I also urge the government that statehood will have to be restored at the earliest, without any delay. You will have to give land rights like in north-east and Himachal Pradesh,” the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister said.
He urged the government not to make Jammu and Kashmir a “laboratory” anymore.
Azad demanded compensation to the seven lakh families that had lost their livelihoods due to the “shutdown” of Jammu and Kashmir and its tourism sector.
He also called for creating jobs for the people of the Union Territory.
The Congress leader alleged that people had suffered business losses amounting to Rs 18,000 crore and hotel owners had turned bank defaulters in the absence of business.
“Will the government compensate them?” he asked.
Lauding the government’s efforts, nominated member Rakesh Sinha, affiliated to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), claimed that the people of Jammu and Kashmir got many benefits such as education, reservation in jobs and funds for infrastructure development after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A of the Constitution.
He claimed that these benefits were not available to the people of the Union Territory earlier.
Sinha also told the House that around 3,000 refugees, who came from Pakistan, were given the right to vote after the abrogation of Article 370.
Azad said the tourism, handicraft and horticulture sectors were finished ever since statehood was taken away from Jammu and Kashmir, claiming that there was a 62 percent fall in the export of carpets and handicraft.
He claimed that 60 percent small and medium industries in Jammu and 90 percent in Kashmir had shut shop as no development activity had taken place in the last over seven months.
“Payments to contractors have been stopped for months,” Azad said, while wondering that since there was no development work in the Union Territory in the last seven months and a half, how could there be any corruption, when no money was being spent.
“The prime minister talked of a Rs 80-crore development plan when the BJP-PDP government was formed (in Jammu and Kashmir), but even six years later, only 48 percent of that budget has been spent,” the Congress leader alleged, wondering how many years would it take to spend the remaining 52 percent.
He claimed that only 35,000 boxes of apples were picked up by NAFED, which was only 0.0003 percent of the total apple production, junking the government’s claims of helping pick apples from orchards.
Azad also claimed that the transport sector of both Jammu and Ladakh were shut “due to just one arrogant step of the government”.
Countering the government on rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu and Kashmir, he asked why the second phase of the plan in this regard, formulated by the Manmohan Singh government, was not implemented in the last six years.
Azad challenged the ruling party to “show” a single BJP leader from Jammu who agreed to anyone from the country buying land in Jammu or applying for jobs.
He said never a step like this (abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcating the state into Union territories) was taken in the past, even when killings were taking place and people were fleeing Jammu and Kashmir.
The former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister also countered the government’s charge that the previous Congress governments did not initiate steps for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, saying militancy was at its peak at that time and people were fleeing the state.
Azad pointed out that even the central government headed by BJP’s “tallest leader” Atal Bihari Vajpaee did not take such an action.
“A country is bigger than a promise made by a party. A party could be strengthened by any slogan, but one has to forget the party to earn the trust of the country. Article 370 has to be removed — this is was the promise of a party and it had to be fulfilled, no matter what happened. Vajpayee had also made the promise, but he kept the country first,” he said.
Rising in support of the Jammu and Kashmir Appropriation Bills, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) member Manoj Kumar Jha said, “Kashmir has been locked down for months. The state industry chamber has pegged the loss at Rs 15,000 crore.
“History will decide whether the government decision (to bifurcate the state into Union territories) was correct or not.”
Echoing similar views, AAP member Sushil Kumar Gupta wondered when would normalcy return to Jammu and Kashmir.
He demanded that people should be allowed to do farming in the Union Territory.
CPI(M) member K K Ragesh held the government responsible for the prevailing situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Silence at gunpoint cannot be said normalcy…former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had said the paradise is here (in Kashmir) only,” he said.
Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) member K Keshava Rao urged the government to release all the people who were detained after the bifurcation of the state.
He also demanded restoration of full statehood to Jammu and Kashmir, saying the situation was not as good as “we” wished it to be.