Hold Polls Immediately, Restore Right to Representation for People of J&K, Ladakh: Report
Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI
New Delhi: “Unprecedented development, progress, security, and stability” – is what the Union Ministry of Home Affairs said to describe the changes in Jammu and Kashmir, wrought by the Presidential Orders of August 5, 2019 (reading down Article 370 of the Indian Constitution), as well as the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act of August 9, 2019. The order deprived J&K of special state status and divided it into two Union territories.
However, the Centre’s statement has been largely deemed untrue, according to a report by the Forum for Human Rights in J&K, comprising an informal group of concerned citizens, including former bureaucrats, judges, defence veterans, academics among others.
In three annual and two thematic reports, the Forum has documented the situation in the two UTs, through five years without an elected administration.
According to the report “Five Years Without an Elected Administration – Human Rights in Jammu & Kashmir, August 2022-July 2023”, over three dozen economic, political, and social rights have been violated in the period, including economic losses of over Rs. 50,000 crores at a conservative estimate, vitiation of land and domicile rights, marginalisation, and even purges of local personnel in the civil and police services, questionable arrests under draconian legislation, communication bans, media intimidation, as well as, routinised curbs on the freedom of expression and movement.
“Equally glaring, the right to representation has been denied for five years, as of June 2023,” the report, released on Thursday, noted.
The forum ,co-chaired by Gopal Pillai, former Home Secretary, and Radha Kumar, former member of the Group of Interlocutors for J&K, details the extent to which the Ministry of Home Affairs’ statement remains untrue.
The violence, as well as the capacity for violence, has seen a stark increase in Jammu and Kashmir, says the report, which while noting marginal improvement in some parameters, noted human rights violation persists, especially with regard to civilian insecurity.
“Targeted attacks on Pandits and migrant workers – both Hindu and Muslim – continue. 71 CRPF troops were killed in the four years between 2019-2022, twice as many as in the previous four years,” it said.
In 2023, it was also found that J&K had the largest number of licensed gun holders amongst UTs and the highest per capita amongst states as well as UTs, at 500,105 in June 2023, or four per 100 people.
The report also noted a resurgence of militancy in Jammu.
“After decades of peace, the bordering areas of Poonch and Rajouri districts in Jammu division are re-emerging as a locus for militancy with cross-border support from Pakistani-held territories of the former state,” it said, adding that the 2022 delimitation exercise, adding Poonch and Rajouri to Anantnag, “may have added to the alienation that these Muslim-majority areas face with the sharpening of communal divides in Jammu.”
The report also felt that having village defence guards in Jammu was a problematic policy had added to insecurity in the region.
The report also noted a spike in unemployment and drug abuse in J&K. At 23.1% in March 2023, unemployment was almost three times the national average of 7.8%. Also, according to the Union Ministry of Health, J&K is among the top two states and UTs for drug abuse, with an estimated 900,000 habitual drug users, roughly one in 130.
During the period under review, the report also saw no improvement in gross violations of freedom of expression and movement, especially the rights of the media to a safe working environment.
“Arrests under draconian legislation such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA) continue, despite judicial attempts to limit their application. Along with Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir has the highest rate of undertrials as a proportion of its prison population, at 91 percent, considerably higher than the national average of 76 percent, there have also been numerous custodial deaths due to overcrowding. The region’s prisons can house a total of 3,629 inmates, but they lodged 5,300 as of June 2023,” said the report.
On denial of political rights, the report highlighted two issues – the demand for Assembly elections in J&K and a legislative Assembly in Ladakh, along with rights under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
“The union administration accepted the delimitation commission’s report a year ago and it is eight months since fresh electoral rolls were prepared. All the preparations for an election have thus been completed, but the election commission has yet to announce dates for it. Despite their valid criticisms of the delimitation commission’s report, Jammu and Kashmir’s political parties have
demanded that the election be held this year (2023,” the report said.
On Ladakh, the report noted that the two districts in the region – Kargil and Leh – had united over the demand for an elected administration with substantive powers, but said it also quite understood that given the ge-strategic location of the region (bordering China and Pakistan) the Union administration “may prefer” to govern the UT directly.
The report recommends the holding of Assembly elections immediately, release of all political detainees taken into preventive custody on or after August 4, 2019, implement speedy trial and right to bail, and withdrawal of unsubstantiated charges under the PSA/UAPA against political leaders, journalists and activists, among others.
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