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Valley clerics oppose Pandit hubs

Srinagar, July 3: Senior Kashmiri clerics today opposed the creation of a “homeland or separate settlements” for Pandits in the Valley but welcomed their return.

The Muslim clerics said that any returning Pandits should live in their ancestral neighbourhoods or in mixed localities as they did in the past.

The development comes a day ahead of Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to the state as Prime Minister. His government recently promised a dignified return to the Valley for displaced Pandits, who had left in droves during the peak of militancy, but did not elaborate.

The issue has since snowballed into a big controversy because of a claim made by Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

Geelani claimed credible information that the Centre planned to create exclusive townships for Pandits at three places in north, central and south Kashmir. He alleged the move would create a situation similar to Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas.

Senior clerics and some other prominent people today came together to discuss the issue under the leadership of Kashmir’s grand mufti, Bashir-ud-din Ahmad.

The mufti threatened protests if any settlements were built exclusively for Pandits.

“We welcome the return of Kashmiri migrant Pandits. They should live at their ancestral places like they lived before their migration,” said the mufti, who heads the Majlis Itihad-e-Millat, a conglomerate of around a dozen religious organisations.

“We are opposed to any homeland or separate settlements for the Kashmiri migrants.”

Kashmiri Pandits lived in mixed colonies before migrating in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Many of the groups representing them say they won’t return unless a homeland with Union territory status is created for them.

Echoing Geelani, the mufti said the government was planning to acquire 2,100 acres of land (700 acres each at three places) to build three townships for the Pandits.

Earlier, Geelani had claimed that the Centre was planning to settle Sangh parivar activists and outsiders in these separate zones that he said would have facilities such as medical and engineering colleges.

“The aim is to change the demography of the state and create a permanent social division in Kashmir. In these colonies, the fundamentalists will be given arms training to start a civil war,” he had said.

The mufti today expressed the fear that the Centre planned to settle outsiders in such colonies and warned the government of serious consequences if the plan was carried out.

The Centre has in the past made several attempts to facilitate the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits. The UPA government had announced a Rs 1,618-crore package in 2008 under which Pandits were to get money and jobs to resettle in the Valley.

Only one family, however, has so far returned permanently to the Valley. Some 1,500 Pandit youths too have accepted state government jobs in Kashmir but have not brought their families along to live there permanently.