Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has joined the growing Union Government’s chorus for withdrawal of facilities to the separatists in Kashmir. Parrikar told the media that the government does not extend such perks to the common man and these shoudn’t be given to those “who talk of separation”.
According to state government figures, around Rs 560 crore has been spent on separatists over the past five years, an amount that has become a subject of huge public debate in Kashmir. It was BJP MLC Ajat Shatru Singh who in the last session of the J&K Assembly held in Srinagar, claimed that the said amount had been spent on the facilities extended to separatists.
The government has, so far, only broadly spoken about the expenditure. The money has been spent on air travel, hotel stay of the separatist leaders.
Also, a public interest litigation filed in the Supreme Court has claimed that in the last five years, the government has spent Rs 356 crore on the security, travel and hotel stay of the separatist leaders. The PIL also says that around Rs 21 crore was spent on putting up the separatists in luxury hotels and Rs 26.43 crore on fuel for them to travel around.
Admitting the PIL, a bench led by Justice Anil R Dave said, “We also share the same feeling. Everybody sitting here feels the same.”
However, unless government offers specific details, this doesn’t appear to be the case on the ground. So far as the government perks to separatists are concerned, only facility they seem to enjoy is the security. Only eight Kashmiri separatists have government security. They are Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Bilal Lone, Maulana Abbas Ansari, Agha Syed Hassan Prof Abdul Gani Bhat who enjoy Z cover and Shahidul Islam, Syed Saleem Geelani and Hashim Qureshi who have Y cover.
Of all of them, the Mirwaiz has the most number of the security personnel guarding him. This is because his house is situated in around 12 kanals of land, warranting several bunkers to protect it from all sides. He was provided security after militants assassinated his father Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq on May, 21, 1990.
Lone was given security cover after his father Abdul Gani Lone was assassinated on 21 May, 2002, and Prof Bhat after his brother’s killing.
“If we travel, we pay for our own tickets. And the leaders have their own flats in New Delhi to stay,” says Hurriyat leader Shahidul Islam.
And as far as the foreign travel is concerned, only two separatist leaders – Bilal Lone and Agha Hassan – have passports. The passports of all others have been impounded. The Mirwaiz – the only separatist leader who has travelled to most Kashmir-related events and conferences around the world – has no passport for the past three and a half years.
Similarly JKLF supremo Yasin Malik too does not have a passport after it was impounded at New Delhi Airport when he returned from Pakistan in 2013, where he had shared the stage with Lashker founder Hafiz Saeed during a mourning function for Afzal Guru, who had just then been hanged.
Geelani, the most powerful separatist leader, has only once travelled outside the country in the past 26 years. And that too for a Hajj pilgrimage in 2007, when government issued him a short duration passport. He has refused to take the security.
“I wonder where did the government get the figures,” asks Shahidul Islam. “Does security of eight separatists rack up a bill of Rs 560 crore or Rs 356 crore?”
The National Investigation Agency has already initiated investigation into the money trail behind the ongoing unrest, which has Geelani’s son Naeem Geelani as its focus. NIA has already questioned senior Hurriyat leaders and Geelani’s confidantes Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai and Peer Saifullah. Sehrai was grilled at Shivpora while Peer Saifullah was interrogated at Humhama. A half a dozen more people are reportedly being questioned in near future.
An NIA team, comprising a Superintendent of Police, a Deputy Superintendent of Police and another officer, had been camping in Kashmir recently to probe the suspicious banking transactions during the unrest period and their link with the ongoing protests.