Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday said that the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir will get the status of a state at an “appropriate time”. Shah made the remarks in the Lok Sabha during a discussion on the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, which was passed by a voice vote.
The ordinance enables the merger of the Jammu and Kashmir cadre of the All India Service officers with the AGMUT cadre. AGMUT stands for Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram and Union Territories. Experts fear this merger would erode the presence of Kashmiris in key bureaucratic positions within the Valley.
It was a part of the changes implemented on August 2019, when the Narendra Modi government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its special status under Article 370 that gave its residents special rights in land ownership and jobs. The region was also divided into two Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
During the discussions on Saturday, the Opposition objected to the ordinance and said the government was not in a position to pass the Bill as petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370 were still pending in the Supreme Court.
“The government should have waited for the disposal of legal challenges to abrogation of 370 before bringing in this Bill,” National Conference leader Hasnain Masoodi said, reported The Hindu. “What if tomorrow, the Supreme Court says the abrogation is invalid under law?”
Masoodi added that the Bill violated the precepts of both democracy and separation of powers. “This Bill also goes against the Home Minister’s own promise on August 5, 2019, that statehood will be restored,” he added. “You want to keep a Damocles sword on Kashmiri officers that they could well be sent off to Mizoram.”
Congress’ Manish Tewari, too, flagged that the constitutionality of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act was still pending in Supreme Court, as he urged the House to withdraw the Bill.
Shah then responded to the debate, criticising the Opposition for creating a controversy over the ordinance, saying that there was no mention in the Bill that the Union Territory will not be given statehood in the future. “I will reiterate again that this Bill has nothing to do with the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir,” Shah said. “The state will be given the status of statehood at the appropriate time.”
The home minister claimed that the Supreme Court would have stayed the law if its constitutionality was prima facie wrong. “The matter is sub-judice, that doesn’t mean we can’t work on its development,” Shah added. “I stand by what I said earlier. Statehood will be restored to J&K.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party leader also targeted the Congress for retaining “a temporary provision” of special status for 70 years. “Those asking me status report on J&K after Article 370 was abrogated, do you have a report on your progress in the last 70 years,” he asked.
Shah said the Opposition should not make Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh a part of politics. “There are many other things to do politics over,” he added. “But this is a sensitive part of the country, it suffered many wounds. It is our job to heal them.”
‘BJP decentralised power in J&K’
Shah then listed out the reforms taken up by the government in the region, reported The Hindu. He argued that a lot of policies, including the anti-corruption and reservation laws ,became applicable in Jammu and Kashmir only after Article 370 was abrogated.
“We restarted Panchayats,” he told the House, referring to the District Developmental Council elections. “It is not just that. We have allocated Budget. Several departments have been handed over to panchayats. We have decentralised power.”
The home minister also spoke about the development of the region, saying the central government will connect Kashmir Valley with the railways by 2022. “We also have targets for 100% tapped water, 100% road connectivity,” he said, adding that he dared the Congress to debate with BJP MPs on the health initiatives taken up the party in the last 70 years.
“People talk about human rights,” Shah continued, alluding to the Congress. “But they didn’t grant voting rights to Valmikis and Pakistan refugees.”