MHA under Shah completes J&K’s integration with India amid Covid pandemic

Amidst the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, Home Minister Amit Shah took major decisions vis-a-vis Jammu and Kashmir in 2020 to completely merge the newly carved out Union Territory with the Indian Union.

Abrogation of J&K’s special status on August 5, 2019, proved to be a watershed moment in the history of India as it settled all the issues once for all.

The August 5, 2019, decision created ripples across the sub continent with Pakistan angrily reacting to the abrogation of the Article 370 provisions. It went to the United Nations with the help of China but in vain. A few countries like Turkey and Malaysia flayed India for the decision but most countries, including France, Russia and the United States stood behind India saying it was an internal matter.

In 2020, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) led by Amit Shah issued many orders to notify the adaptation of Central Laws and State laws in the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir. As many as 48 Central Laws were adapted in J&K thus completing the transition of the erstwhile princely Himalayan state into a UT.

J&K Reorganisation Act

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of State Laws) Order on March 31, 2020 by publishing a gazette notification.

Through the order, the MHA amended 109 laws and repealed 29 laws of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. The MHA amended a 2010 legislation, the Jammu and Kashmir Civil Services (Decentralisation and Recruitment Act), by substituting the term “permanent residents” with “domiciles of UT [Union Territory] of J&K.”

The March 31 order offered protection to domiciles only in Group D and entry-level non-gazetted government posts. However, the order was amended within 72 hours and the new order stated the domiciles of J&K were eligible to apply for “any post” (gazette or non-gazetted) in the government.

Domicile Law

According to the new law, domicile was defined as anyone “who has resided for a period of 15 years in the UT of J&K or has studied for a period of seven years and appeared in Class 10th/12th examination in an educational institution located in the UT of J&K or who is registered as a migrant by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner (Migrants)”.

Children of the employees of Indian Government or those working with public sector units, autonomous body of Centre, Public Sector Banks, officials of statutory bodies, central universities and recognised research institutes of the Centre who have served in J&K for a “total period of 10 years” were to be treated as domiciles. The domicile status also applies to “children of such residents of J&K who reside outside UT in connection with their employment or business or other professional or vocational reasons but their parents should fulfill any of the conditions provided”.

The domicile law also allowed West Pakistan refugees and children of women who married non-locals to apply for jobs in J&K. This law ended the seven decade long discrimination faced by the outsiders in Jammu and Kashmir.

Perks of former J&K Chief Ministers withdrawn

On April 1, 2020, the MHA repealed the 1984 State Legislative Members Pension Act depriving former J&K chief ministers, including Farooq Abdullah his son Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti of perks and privileges.

The Act entitled former J&K chief ministers to rent-free furnished accommodation, expenditure to the limit of Rs 35,000 per annum for furnishing of the residential accommodation, free telephone calls up to the value of Rs 48,000 per annum, free electricity to the extent of Rs 1,500 per month, car, petrol, medical facilities and a driver.

They were also entitled to one personnel assistant, one special assistant and two peons. The Act was deleted through Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation (adaptation of state laws) Order-2020 on a recommendation of J&K Law Commission. It has stated that the provisions “violate the constitutional principles of equality” and are “arbitrary and not in consonance with any scheme or law.”

Financial assistance for displaced families of PoJK, Chhamb

The MHA provided one time financial assistance to the displaced families from PoJK and Chhamb under Prime Minister Development package. Rs 5.5 lakh were given to each family. As many as 36,384 displaced families were covered under this scheme.

Also one-time financial assistance at the rate of Rs.5.5 Lakh per family was provided to 5,764 families of West Pakistan Refugees (WPRs). The Jammu & Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 was also amended on October 16, 2020 to set up District Development Councils (DDCs) in each district of Jammu & Kashmir and in a land mark decision for the first time ever West Pakistan’s Refugees were entitled to exercise their franchise in local elections. The creation of DDCs was the last and final step in establishing a fully functional Panchayati Raj System in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir as mandated under the 73rd Constitutional Amendment, 1992.

Restoration work of temples, shrines, gurduwaras undertaken

Soon after the abrogation of the Article 370, the restoration works of Hindu temples, Sikh gurudwara, a church, an Imambara for certain Muslim ceremonies were undertaken.

Hundreds of temples were vacated in the 1990’s when Kashmiri Pandits fled the region after the armed insurgency broke out in the Valley. Kashmiri Pandits left behind their homes, businesses and places of worship. There are a total of 1,842 Hindu places of worship in Kashmir including temples, shrines, holy springs, holy caves and holy trees.

Of the 952 temples, 212 were running while 740 are in a dilapidated condition, according to the official figures. Just 65 temples remained open after Pandits left Kashmir in the early nineties. They were open mainly due to the presence of security forces or non-migrant Pandits living in the vicinity.

Universities placed under Lieutenant Governor’s control

The Gazette notification that was issued in April 2020 amended or repealed various sections of the legislations of erstwhile J&K State regulating the universities, except Central Universities, the terms ‘State’ and ‘Governor’ were substituted by “Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir” and Lieutenant Governor”, respectively.

The Lt Governor of J&K is now Chancellor of not only Kashmir/Jammu University and SKUAST-J/K but also both the Cluster Universities as well as Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, Rajouri where the Chief Minister was ex-officio Chancellor as per the earlier Act.

The tenure of Vice-Chancellors of six UT Government varsities was reduced to three years as Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization (Adaptation) of State Laws) Order 2020. Chief Minister of J&K would have no more role or influence over the university affairs in capacity of Pro-Chancellor as the proviso “in consultation with the Pro-Chancellor” was omitted in the Kashmir and Jammu Universities Act.

Any Individual can be declared as terrorist

The MHA initiated another law which got the approval of Parliament under which an individual could be declared as terrorist by the government. Following the enactment of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, the MHA declared Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar, Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Mumbai terror attack accused Zaki-ur-Rehman-Lakhvi and fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim individual terrorists.

The four were the first to be declared terrorists under the new anti-law. The MHA also -designated Pakistan-based chief of Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen Syed Salahuddin as a terrorist.

According to the new law any designated terrorist can be arrested in any part of the world. The MHA also released a new map of India depicting Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) as part of the newly created Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, while Gilgit-Baltistan is in the UT of Ladakh and within the geographical boundary of India.

Separatists cut to size

After the abrogation of Article 370, separatists like Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Hurriyat dove, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, so-called JKLF chief Yasin Malik, chief of radical women organization, Aasiya Andrabi, and others have been cut to size.

Barring Mirwaiz and Geelani others are in jail. Geelani has taken retirement from politics while Mirwaiz has turned silent. Security cover of the separatists was withdrawn soon after the February 14, 2019, Pulwama suicide attack which left 40 paramilitary CRPF personnel dead.