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Pak minority refugees may be able to open bank accounts & buy property

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST

After years of uncertainty, members of Pakistan's minority communities living as refugees in India may get a proof of identity. Not just this, they may also be allowed to buy property here.

These are people who migrated to India owing to continued persecution and fear at the hands of Islamists. They have been desperately looking towards the government for some concessions to make life easier.

Read: PoK refugees hail PM Narendra Modi for sanctioning Rs 2000 cr package

Reports suggest the Indian government may soon issue a notification.

"We have been struggling for these concessions for a long time," says Hindu Singh Sodha, an activist who has been at the forefront of negotiations with the government. He says that the real picture will only be out once the notification is actually issued. "We are waiting for it. Our demands have been under the ambit of laws and the Constitution of India. We have not demanded anything extra-constitutional," Sodha says.

But according to the spokesperson of the Home Ministry, it was a mid-level consultation process, which sections of the press misconstrued as a notification. He said this is actually a lengthy process that requires approval from the Cabinet. 

The concessions

The move will allow members of the minority community from Pakistan who are residing in India on long-term visas, to get a proof of identity like the Aadhar number and a Permanent Account Number. This will help them in accessing services which are otherwise denied to them, owing to their Pakistani citizenship. The government is also mulling over allowing such people right to buy property for self-dwelling.

Among other concessions, they will also be allowed to open bank accounts and do business without prior approval from the Reserve Bank of India. These refugees will also be allowed to get a driving license. "These are basic things and should have been done long back," says Sodha. He detailed how these refugees would have their vehicles impounded by the state authorities for want of a driving license.

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"Even the Aadhar card should have been given to us when they started this exercise, after all it is not a proof of citizenship," he says explaining how it would help them in securing basic services like education and health. A lot of these Pakistani refugees are denied services for people are suspicious because of their nationality.

Pakistani minority refugees can now open bank accounts and do business without RBI's prior approval

Sodha narrates how the government had constituted a task force under a Joint Secretary of the Home Ministry to look into the demands of the Pakistani refugees. "It has been 15 months since the first meeting was held," he says while pointing out that 18 April was the last day of submitting suggestions to the task force.

"Bank account is really important," says Sodha while explaining how a lot of members could not work in organisations because they would only issue cheques or even start small business enterprises for a bank account is the most basic requirement for carrying out any economic activity.

The government is also planning to ease the process of granting Indian citizenship. District Magistrate or District Collector or their subordinate officer in their absence in 18 districts in Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and NCT of Delhi may be delegated with powers for two years to register such Pakistani nationals as citizens of India.

Citizenship question

Curiously, there is no mention of Jammu and Kashmir, where a lot of refugees who settled after the wars with Pakistan, are not allowed to vote or even buy land even though they have been granted citizenship of India.

While a lot of refugees who came post partition or even after the war in 1971 have been granted citizenship, the status of a lot of people who have migrated later owing to attacks or fear is still unclear. Some of them have been granted citizenship, while others are still in the queue.

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The government is now mulling lowering the fee for the granting of citizenship process to Rs 100. "The hefty amount of Rs 15,000 is a big issue since many of the refugees are poor and have big families and hence can not afford so much money," Sodha says while adding that one of their demands was lowering the fee to Rs 100.

While Pakistani citizens have to declare their place of stay and faced difficulties in movement from one place to another even in the same state, and had to seek the permission of Foreigners Registration Office, the Centre is now considering making it easier for them. The government is also planning to ease the process of transfer of Long Term Visa from one state to another.

"It is a good decision. However, the government had decided to extend long term visas to five years instead of two. But I do not think anyone has got a five year visa yet," Sodha said sceptically.

Edited by Aditya Menon

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First published: 19 April 2016, 9:22 IST