April 25, 2008
Akhnoor, Jammu & Kashmir

PM's remarks at the Inauguration of Chenab Bridge


I am truly delighted to be here today in this beautiful State of Jammu & Kashmir. It gives me great pleasure to inaugurate this bridge over the beautiful and bountiful Chenab. This is one more step in our endeavour to improve connectivity and economic infrastructure in Jammu & Kashmir.

I compliment the Border Roads Organisation and others associated with the construction of this bridge for their dedication and commitment. The project was completed within two years. It is, therefore, both a symbol of development and a symbol of efficiency.

I am happy to learn that another bridge over river Ravi is being built in this State. This will further improve intra-state and inter-state connectivity for Jammu & Kashmir.

Brothers and Sisters,

When I first came to this state as Prime Minister, I spoke about a long-term plan for economic development and reconstruction. Some people criticized us saying these were all old slogans.

I am happy to see the positive response of the people of the State to the many development initiatives we took in the fields of education, agriculture and horticulture, roads, power, telecommunication and tourism, air and rail connectivity.

I compliment the Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad Saheb and former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed Saheb for giving undivided attention to the long term economic development of Jammu & Kashmir.

What we want the most in these developmental works is the involvement of the people. The people must choose the leaders of local village and town institutions and should keep a watchful eye on their activities.. I am happy that the Municipal elections were held successfully. The representative institutions in the State should be strengthened as provided for in the Indian Constitution.

In the Round Table Conference that we held, we sought the views of all shades of opinion on how we should proceed forward. We set up five Working Groups under distinguished people in public life. The recommendations of four of these Groups were presented and discussed in the meeting of the Round Table. Since then, we have had extensive discussions including between the Central and State Governments. A number of recommendations are being implemented.

We are now ready to implement some of the recommendations of the Groups which we believe will go a long way in bringing full normalcy back to the State.

Victims of Militancy Related Violence

I sympathise with the plight of families, particularly widows and children, whose lives have been shattered by militancy. We will do all we can to alleviate their suffering.

There is a backlog of approved cases for compassionate appointment of next of kin of persons killed in militancy related violence. It is a fact that not so many jobs are immediately available. There are also a large number of families where despite relaxation, there are no members eligible for employment. Too much relaxation in the eligibility criteria will lead to a non-productive work force.

It was proposed by the State Government, as an exceptional measure, to offer a one time compensation of Rs. 5 lakhs in lieu of the agreed compassionate appointment. They have sought the assistance of the Government of India for re-imbursement of the expenditure that coverage of the backlog will entail. We have agreed to this request.

We have also agreed to the request of the State Government to provide assistance for their proposal to increase the quantum of monthly pension payable to widows under the existing scheme of the Rehabilitation Council of J&K to Rs.750 per month from the present level of Rs.500 per month.

Assistance to those orphaned in militancy related violence will now cover all such children without discrimination.

Problems of Migrants Of the Valley

There is a longstanding tradition in the State of Jammu and Kashmir of people of different faiths living together in peace and harmony. The unfortunate events of the last two decades forced more than 55,000 families to migrate from their homes in the Kashmir Valley. We have a collective responsibility to facilitate the return of these families, who are an integral part of the social fabric of the area.

When they left the State, many migrant families had to engage in distress sale of their houses and properties in the Valley. The State Government is being requested to identify land for group housing societies of such families. The Government proposes to give these migrant families who opt to return to the Valley a lump sum grant of

Rs. 7.5 lakh to build or buy homes through such societies.

It has been decided to give a similar lump sum grant to migrant families whose houses have been fully or partially damaged or dilapidated. We will assist with transit accommodation and start-up expenses.

It has been decided that the monthly relief being presently given to 15,000 displaced families in Jammu and Delhi will be continued for those families who may opt to return to the Valley for a period of two years to enable a smooth transition.

The Government will also provide assistance for education of children of migrant families through J&K Rehabilitation Council.

The State Government has proposed to provide 6000 jobs to the educated among migrant youth in the State government service. To assist the State Government in providing such employment opportunities, the Central Government will bear the cost towards salary for about 3000 youth till they are absorbed against regular posts in the State Government, within the specified time-frame.

The Government is considering a financial package for other unemployed youth from among the migrant community to help them engage in self-employment through vocational training.

The migrant families who are engaged in agriculture and horticulture would require assistance to renew their occupation in the field. We will provide lump-sum grants to those having agricultural holdings and for restoration of orchards where they have been lying abandoned.

We are examining the feasibility of waiving the interest on unpaid loans taken by Kashmiri migrants before their migration as part of a one time settlement package.

All these benefits will apply to all migrant families who migrated bag and baggage after 1989 and have not been able to return to the valley. We hope that these measures will go a long way in bringing these communities back home. They deserve to lead a life of dignity and honour in the land of their forefathers where they belong.

Refugees from West Pakistan

We are conscious of the hardship that the refugees from West Pakistan have to face because they are not considered to be permanent residents of the State. It is unfortunate that these Indian citizens are still called refugees. We have decided to work out a package for them.

Firstly, concessions to enable their children and

grand children to seek admission in technical educational institutions in various parts of the country. Secondly, to facilitate bank loans without security of land. A nodal cell will be set up in the Union Ministry of Finance to deal with this matter. Some preliminary work on this has already begun. Thirdly, we will provide vocational training opportunities under the Skill Development Initiative of the Government of India.

PoK Refugees of 1947

We have also examined the problems faced by the families who migrated from PoK to the State of J&K in 1947. In line with the recommendations of the State Government, we have agreed to undertake an expenditure of about Rs. 50 crores to resolve cases of land deficiency or where it has not been possible to allot plots in urban areas to these families. With these measures no further assistance will be required from the Government of India. We expect that this will bring the problem of PoK refugees of 1947 to rest and they will no longer be refugees.

Problems of Compensation for lands used for construction of Border Works

I have been told that in respect of a large quantum of the lands on which various border works, such as ditch-cum-bunds, border fencing, etc., were constructed, compensation remains to be paid to the affected farmers. Time bound steps will be taken for payment of compensation as per the law.

We had also given directions that, wherever public premises related to essential public services like education, health, water supply, etc., are being used by the security forces deployed in the State, measures may be taken to relocate, and in the case of private property being so used, payment of adequate rent may be ensured. I am happy to say, in this context, that over the past year significant progress has been achieved in this regard.

Trade and Travel

In the past few years, there has been a change in our relationship with Pakistan. There is a growing sentiment among the people in both countries that misunderstanding and problems between them should be resolved through dialogue. Taking advantage of this new climate, the people of the two countries can move forward to build a permanent friendship.

Last year we issued nearly 1,15,000 visas to Pakistanis wishing to visit India, nearly double the figure three years ago. Bilateral trade has also trebled during this period and will soon reach an annual figure of US$ 2 billion. The people of J&K should also be part of this expansion in trade and travel.

When we launched the bus service from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad, those who did not favour peace and prosperity in this region tried to sabotage it. Despite the terrorist attack, the brave people of Srinagar came out in large numbers to welcome this initiative. Since then we have taken other steps to improve cross- LOC connectivity.

We hope to see the same kind of traffic and commerce in Srinagar-Muzaffarabad, Poonch-Rawalakot and elsewhere in the State as there is in Attari-Wagah or Khokrapar-Munabao.

We are, therefore planning to liberalize the system bringing in features like triple entry permits and completion of the verification process within six weeks. We have discussed early operationalisation of Kargil-Skardu and Jammu-Sialkot routes. We want to increase the frequency of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot bus services to weekly from the present fortnightly. For convenience of travelers, applications for entry permit can be made at each District Passport Collection Centre.

These measures will expand travel across the LoC and also enable wider cultural, academic, students and other exchanges.

However, none of these steps will be effective unless there is a sustained climate of peace. We are pleased that there has been some improvement in the situation but full normalcy has not returned to this beautiful State.

We have had a friendly dialogue with Pakistan on all issues that affect the lives of the people of J&K. We were making progress but internal developments in Pakistan over the last one-year have prevented us from moving forward.

I hope that we can continue to deepen our dialogue with the democratically elected government in Pakistan. I have been heartened by the positive statements made by the new leaders.

We face common economic and social challenges of enormous magnitude. These days the whole world is grappling with the problem of rising prices which is affecting the common man. It makes so much sense to work together to face common challenges. After all, for all democratic governments, the highest responsibility is to meet the needs and aspirations of their people.

I compliment the Chief Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad Saheb, and all his colleagues for the good work that they are doing in Jammu & Kashmir. I call upon the people of the State to come together to realise this shared dream of a Naya Jammu & Kashmir. Let us build new bridges across rivers and between communities and between regions, and between nations.

Jai Hind.