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Old J&K law to let migrants return

New Delhi: After POTO, the Centre is set to suffer another embarrassment because of a controversial Jammu and Kashmir law that has suddenly been brought out of cold storage after 19 years. It allows all those who migrated to Pakistan between 1947 and 1954 to return and resume their rights as Indian citizens.

The BJP has demanded that the Farooq Abdullah government repeal the Resettlement Act passed by the J&K Assembly in 1982. At that time, the Indira Gandhi government at the Centre had referred the matter to the Supreme Court asking whether the Act was ‘constitutionally invalid’. It’s only this month that the apex court returned the reference ‘unanswered’.

This has prompted the Farooq government to say this is a ‘vindication’ of its law. J&K’s law minister Mushtaq Lone said he was surprised at the BJP’s hostility. ‘What is there in the Act to upset anybody’? Lone asserts that the law only fulfils the 1952 agreement between Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah promising a special provision for migrants to Pakistan from the state.

As for the BJP’s apprehension that the Act might have security implications, Lone says there are ‘enough safeguards’ to ensure that the law is used only for ‘humanitarian purposes’.

Another major objection of the BJP has been to the fact that those permitted to return to J&K would also be entitled to reclaim "evacuees’ properties" held in custody by the state. It fears that this will particularly affect its stronghold, the Jammu area, where the bulk of this is located. Lone dismissed the BJP’s fears as ‘imaginary’ saying there are no signs of any ‘influx’ from Pakistan.

In fact, the Resettlement Act is directly an outcome of the special status conferred by the Constitution on Jammu and Kashmir, a subject on which the BJP has been forced to be silent ever since it cobbled the NDA government.

Though the Centre is yet to comment on the issue, sources in the Law Ministry say the Resettlement Act may be consistent with the J&K Constitution but it violates the scheme of the Constitution of India. Their argument: it’s the Centre’s prerogative to decide who can be a citizen. But as per the Resettlement Act, anybody recognised by the state government as ‘a permanent resident’ will be automatically ‘deemed to be a citizen’.

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