Srinagar: The emergence of an IAS officer’s purported domicile certificate on social media has created a fresh controversy in Jammu & Kashmir, once again bringing to the fore local concerns about the Modi government’s August 2019 decision to scrap Article 370 and Article 35A.
The certificate in question purportedly involves the grant of domicile to IAS officer Navin Kumar Choudhary, a senior J&K-cadre officer from Bihar who has been posted in the region since the 1990s.
It has triggered vehement criticism from residents of Jammu as well as Kashmir, who see the new domicile law, brought into force in April, as a bid to tweak the demography and deprive residents of local government jobs. The furore has been echoed by political parties, with former chief minister Omar Abdullah of the National Conference saying on Twitter Friday that “all our misgivings about the new domicile rules in J&K are coming to the fore”.
Until August last year, Article 370 and Article 35A secured certain privileges for local residents as part of terms agreed upon in 1947 to make J&K a part of India. These privileges included complete reservation in local government jobs for permanent residents. Even the power to define permanent residents lay with the state legislature.
However, the new domicile law allows outsiders a claim on local jobs if they fulfil certain conditions.
Approached for comment, Choudhary, who is posted as principal secretary in the J&K Agriculture Production Department, said he would not like to comment on the matter “as it (issuance of domicile) is a personal issue”. He said he has been in J&K since the mid-1990s and has served in various government departments.
Jammu Divisional Commissioner Sanjeev Verma and government spokesperson Rohit Kansal did not respond to calls and messages sent by ThePrint.
Certificate goes viral
The purported domicile certificate of the IAS officer has been shared thousands of times on Twitter.
Well, demographic change started in Kashmir. Ths is well designed policy of India. https://t.co/ot7y1DrbT9
— Arshid Ahmed (@Mohmmed_Arshid) June 26, 2020
DOMICILE LAW :
This domicile law will change the demographic situation in kashmir as explained in this article
— Dr Mubeen Shah (@mobyshah) June 26, 2020
National Conference chief spokesperson Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi said in a statement Friday that the party unequivocally rejected the “unconstitutional and anti-people process of grant of domicile certificates to outsiders” and demanded the immediate revocation of the domicile law brought in April.
“All the misgivings raised after the domicile laws were changed in J&K are coming to fore with J&K government’s issuance of domicile certificates to non-residents of J&K,” Ruhullah said, echoing Abdullah’s Twitter post.
All our misgivings about the new domicile rules in J&K are coming to the fore. We in @JKNC_ opposed the changes because we could see the nefarious design behind the changes. The people of J&K on both sides of the Pir Panjal mountains will be the sufferers of these domicile rules.
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) June 26, 2020
“The first and foremost casualty of this process will be our jobs and the land holdings, which were earlier reserved for the permanent residents of J&K irrespective of their religion or region,” he added, saying the measure is aimed at disempowering “permanent residents politically and economically”.
The spokesperson of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a former ally of the BJP, said the objective of “population replacement in J&K is to change the Muslim-majority character of the state at a time when everything in the country is viewed through the prism of religion”.
“As the agenda unfolds, it becomes clear that, along with the intended demographic change, the target is also the jobs, natural resources, cultural identity and everything that the people of Kashmir had tried to save by acceding to India with firm constitutional guarantees,” the spokesperson added, saying the special status of Jammu & Kashmir was a matter of life and death for its people.
“No one had the authority to challenge the very identity of the people of the state in any court across the world,” he said.
Why local residents are concerned
The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of State Laws) Order, 2020, which was passed in August last year, allows anyone who has resided in J&K for 15 years, or has studied there for seven years, and appeared in either the Class 10 or Class 12 exams, to be eligible for domicile certificates.
The new rules also state that migrants registered by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner need not fulfil the requirements for domicile status.
The law, however, does not specify whether officials currently serving in J&K are eligible for domicile certificates, which can only be used while applying for government jobs as of now.
One of the questions raised with regard to Choudhary’s purported certificate is why it was required when the IAS officer already has a government job.
According to government officials, the J&K administration has received nearly 33,000 domicile applications since April, of which more than 25,000 have been approved.
Two senior government officials confirmed that 32,000 of these applications were from Jammu division alone, while the rest were from the 10 districts of Kashmir, the highest being from Pulwama and Anantnag.
Over 150 people have applied for a domicile certificate in Pulwama, and more than 100 in Anantnag, the officials said. In Jammu division, the highest number of applications, 8,500, were received in Doda.
The concerns about domicile laws are not restricted to Kashmir alone, but are also being raised in Jammu.
“Under the garb of domicile, outsiders will take away our jobs and our land. This is all a fallout of the abrogation of Article 370. First, the central government mentioned domicile in the reorganisation Act, but did not define it properly for months, making residents unsure of their future,” said Jammu-based advocate Anil Sethi, brother of senior local BJP leader Sunil Sethi.
“When they finally did, they kept it ambiguous. It is a possibility that the domicile, which is specifically for acquiring jobs, will be later used to acquire land.”
A faculty member in the social science department of Kashmir University agreed with Sethi.
“The definition of permanent resident of J&K… has been replaced by domicile (in the domicile law). A definition of domicile was introduced in April for the purpose of government jobs. This was bound to happen, the issuance of a domicile certificate here is not as alarming but it’s a matter of concern that the upper bureaucracy, which already has government jobs, is applying for the certificate,” the faculty member said.
“There are a lot of rules and regulations that have to be passed, which will answer questions like, whether being a domicile makes one eligible for a voter card, right to buy land, or contest local elections,” the faculty member added.
“The IAS officer, being part of the top brass of the government and perhaps a policymaker himself, might know future plans and policies.”