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Resolution in US Cong seeks end to Kashmir communication curbs

Press Trust of India

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Washington, Dec 8: Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal has introduced a Congressional resolution urging India to end the restrictions on communications in Jammu and Kashmir as swiftly as possible and preserve religious freedom for all residents.

The resolution, introduced in the House of Representatives after several weeks of efforts by Jayapal on Friday, has only one co-sponsor – Republican Congressman Steve Watkins from Kansas. It’s a simple resolution, which cannot be voted in the other chamber, Senate, and does not have the force of law.

Ahead of the introduction of the resolution, Indian-Americans from across the US urged her in various settings against it. Her office is believed to have received more than 25,000 emails from Indian-Americans in addition to in-person meetings by several representations of Indian-Americans.

 

Indian-Americans held peaceful demonstrations outside her office against her move to table the resolution on Kashmir.

The resolution urges India to lift the remaining restrictions on communication and to restore internet access across all of Jammu and Kashmir as swiftly as possible.

India has defended imposition of restrictions in the Kashmir Valley on the grounds that they were put to prevent Pakistan from creating more mischief through proxies and terrorists following the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5.

While the resolution recognises the dire security challenges faced by India in Jammu and Kashmir and the continuing threat of state-supported cross-border terrorism, the resolution urges India to refrain from the use of threats and excessive force against detained people and peaceful protesters.

It requests India to “swiftly release arbitrarily detained people” and “refrain from conditioning” the release of detained people on their willingness to sign bonds prohibiting any political activities and speeches.

The resolution claims that there is photographic evidence indicating that detained people have been required to sign surety bonds forbidding them from making statements or participating in political activities as a condition of their release.

India has denied these allegations. India maintains that the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was its sovereign decision and it cannot accept any interference in its internal affairs.

The Indian government has said that the abrogation of Article 370 was in the interests of the residents of Jammu and Kashmir. It maintains the move will help them get rights that have been denied to them for many decades.

Among other things, the resolution urges India to allow international human rights observers and journalists to access Jammu and Kashmir and operate freely throughout India, without threats.

Noting that India’s Constitution mandates a secular state that upholds the rights of all citizens to the freedoms of religion, expression, and speech and to equal treatment before the law, the resolution also condemns all religiously motivated violence, including against religious minorities.

The resolution introduced by Jayapal, the first-ever Indian-American woman to be elected to the House of Representatives, is the second such resolution in the US Congress on Kashmir.

The first one introduced by Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib on November 21 failed to get even a single co-sponsor. Her resolution was announced on Twitter by a Pakistani American and a senior official of Council on American Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights, and advocacy group.

Congressional observers point that Tlaib, Jayapal along with Ilhan Omar, are the three lawmakers to be taking the lead on anti-India stand inside the House of Representatives.

Despite intense efforts post-August 5, this group has managed to get just three lawmakers, including one outside their circle, for two resolutions on Kashmir, is reflective that their stand on Kashmir has gained little traction inside the Congress.

Ravi Batra, an eminent Indian American attorney from New York, on Saturday accused Jayapal of being unprincipled, anti-Hindu, pro-terror and shamelessly pandering for political advantage.

“I reject with extreme prejudice – unprincipled self-promoting liberal lunatics who have never governed – folks like Pramila Jayapal and Ilhan Omar, who merely pander for political advantage shamelessly,” Batra said in a statement.

Batra had testified before House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Asia, the Pacific and Non-Proliferation on October 22, which essentially ended up being in an anti-India tirade by a small group of lawmakers.

Testifying before the Congressional sub-committee at the invitation of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Eliott Engel, Batra had said terror needs to be eradicated to protect human rights.


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Grassroots democracy:It is raining sops for Panches and Sarpanches in J&K

Mudassir Kuloo

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Srinagar, Jan 17:  From insurance cover to paid holiday, Jammu and Kashmir government has gone all out to open purse strings for Panchayat representatives in the Union Territory.

 At least 35 Sarpanches from the Union Territory are on a 10 day tour of Maharashtra and Gujarat since January 10.

 “We (Sarpanches) are being taken to various cities. We will also get to know how the Panchayati Raj system works there,” said one of the Sarpanches, who is part of the tour. 

 

An official of Rural Development Department said the second leg of tour for Sarpanches would start from January 23. “Centre has directed J&K administration to strengthen the Panchayati Raj system in the Union Territory. Organizing tours is part of providing additional incentives to Sarpanches,” he said.

Similarly, over 40,000 Panchayat members are being brought under the insurance cover in Jammu and Kashmir at par with government employees.

“The demand was raised by a group of Sarpanches and Panches who met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in September last year. Following which, Centre told J&K administration to take all measures in this regard,” the official said.

Sources said J&K administration is finalizing modalities for providing life insurance cover to the Panchayat Raj representatives. “Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam has held several meetings with Financial Commissioner Finance Department and authorities of Rural Development Department. Discussion is going over amount of risk cover and the premium,” sources said.

Sources said once the process is finalized, government would float tenders for engaging insurance company. “Centre believes that insurance cover would provide a sense of security to Panchayat members,” they said.

Filling the political gap, government has also decided to treat Panchayat members and councilors as ‘VIPs’ on Republic Day celebrations in Kashmir.  As per official documents, district development commissioner Srinagar has been directed to prepare a list of invitees.

“Invitees shall include VVIP and VIPs. They include chairperson of BDCs, Panches, Sarpanches and councilors,” the document reads. 

Earlier, leaders of political parties were being invited as VIPs.   Centre, as part of its initiative to empower around 40,000 elected local representatives in J&K, had earlier enhanced the financial powers of Panchayats 10-fold from Rs 10,000 to Rs 1 lakh, and that of block councils from Rs 25,000 to Rs 2.5 lakh.

There are 21 departments including Rural Development, Social Welfare, Health, Education, Power, Horticulture, Fisheries and Agriculture, which come under the administrative control of Panchayat members, the official said.

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Polls to nearly 13,000 gram panchayats likely in Feb

Press Trust of India

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New Delhi, Jan 17: The elections to the nearly 13,000 vacant posts of panch and sarpanch in gram panchayats in Jammu and Kashmir is likely to be held next month and a notification is this regard is expected to be issued on January 25, officials said on Friday.

If the polls take place, it will be the first elections in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of provisions of Article 370 and bifurcation of the state into union territories in August last year.

The elections to about 13,000 vacant posts of panch and sarpanch in gram panchayats is likely to be held next month and a notification is expected to be issued on January 25, a Home Ministry official said.

 

The entire election process is expected to be over by February end.

The posts were lying vacant since November last year when the elections to the local bodies were held.

Out of Kashmir”s 20,093 panch and sarpanch seats, more than 12,500 seats have remained vacant since then.

The announcement to the polls is likely to come amidst the visit of 36 union ministers to Jammu and Kashmir beginning Saturday.

The 2018 polls to the local bodies had witnessed poor participation with two major regional political parties — the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) — boycotting it.

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LG reviews Jammu lake project, says admin will expedite works

Press Trust of India

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Jammu, Jan 17: Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu reviewed the progress of a number of projects in the winter capital of the Union territory on Friday and said the administration will expedite the works.

He visited the market place and tourism reception centre to assess the facilities there. During a visit to the Tawi river bank the L-G was briefed by Ajeet Sahu, the principal secretary of the Irrigation and Flood Control Department, about the progress of its beautification project and the Jammu lake project.

During his visits, Murmu was accompanied by top divisional-level officials and heads of departments.

 

Asserting that the administration was trying to expedite the projects, the L-G said, “We don”t know what had happened in the past, but we will carry it from here and see to it that these are completed.”

In June last year, the Jammu and Kashmir government had cancelled GR Infra Projects Limited”s contract for developing the artificial Tawi lake. The administration is set to release fresh tenders to resume work.

A revised detailed project report was framed, according to which Rs 51.57 crore shall be required to complete the project and Rs 4.97 crore to undo the damage caused due to floods till date, officials said.

The project, launched in 2009 by the Congress-NC government, was marred by delays and missed six deadlines before work came to a standstill in 2018.

As per the project plan, an auto-mechanical barrage would be constructed on the river Tawi, one kilometre downstream of main Tawi bridge. This will help create an artificial lake at Belicharana. The 1,500-metre-long and 600-metre-wide artificial lake, a first-of-its-kind here, will give a new dimension to tourism in Jammu city, officials said.

In phase-II of the project, beautification and embankment works are to be taken up under Tawi River Front Development Project for which an MoU has already been signed by Jammu Development Authority (JDA) with the Sabarmati River Front Development Corporation.

Before beginning the tour Murmu paid obeisance at the famous Raghunath temple in the morning.

SSF guarding LG strengthened with intake of 19 more cops

Press Trust of India

Jammu, Jan 17: The special security force (SSF) guarding Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu has been strengthened with induction of 19 more police personnel and support staff, officials said.

As per the order issued by Special Secretary, Home Department, Shakeel-Ur-Rehman, 13 personnel including three officers and six police staff have been sent on deputation with the SSF with immediate effect on Thursday.

This step has been done to strengthen the security cover around the L-G, they said adding that the force will now have a total of 80 well-trained officers.

In 2018, the then State Administrative Council (SAC) of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir had approved a bill for setting up the force for providing proximate security to the governor.

The bill, which was later given approval, contains provisions related to the constitution and regulation of a separate security force in the state for providing proximate security to the governor, members of his immediate family and matters connected therewith.

Those posted with the SSF, like their counterparts in the SSG, have commando training.

The legal framework related to constitution and regulation of a separate security force in Jammu and Kashmir for providing proximate security to the chief minister, members of his immediate family and other connected matters is contained in the Jammu and Kashmir Special Security Group (SSG) Act, 2000.

The SSG, which was set up in 1996 after the National Conference president Farooq Abdullah came to power, will continue to provide security to the chief minister and the former CMs.

The SSG at present provides security to four former CMs including Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP and Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress.

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