National Commission for Minorities (NCM) chairman Gairul Hasan Rizvi today favoured according to the minority community status to Kashmiri Pandits and said he would take up the matter with the Centre. Rizvi said that it would enable governments to extend various benefits to Kashmiri Pandits, which is in minority in Jammu and Kashmir. The NCM does not have jurisdiction in Jammu and Kashmir, according to Article 370 of the Constitution, which grants it the status of the special autonomous state. However, Kashmir Pandits can enjoy due benefits in the rest of the country if the community gets the minority status. At present, there are six notified minority communities in the country — Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh, Parsi and Jain. “Kashmiri Pandits should get the minority community tag, mainly because they are in minority in their state, Jammu and Kashmir,” Rizvi said. Rizvi said he would take up the matter with Union Minister of State for Minority Affairs (Independent Charge) Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and stakeholders involved. The NCM chairman, however, said his view on the issue should be seen as personal.
Community members welcomed Rizvi’s comment on the matter, which they said had taken a back seat over the past five years. The members said they would take up the issue again with the authorities. Manoj Bhan, the general secretary of Jammu and Kashmir Vichar Manch, said the organisation and others would provide the authorities with whatever documents they would require in according to the Pandits minority community status. “We had raised the issue with the authorities two-three times (during UPA-II regime), but nothing happened then…We deserve the status,” Bhan said. According to Bhan, the population of Kashmir Pandits is between 4 lakh and 5 lakh in the country.
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Some of the key benefits the community members stand to gain if accorded the minority community tag:
* Students whose family’s annual income is below Rs 4.5 lakh are eligible for scholarships
* Educational institutions managed by them will be recognised as minority institutions. At such institutions, up to 50 per cent of the seats will be reserved for community students
Some key welfare schemes the Centre implements for minority communities:
* Scholarship schemes (pre-matric, post-matric and merit-cum-means)
* Padho Pardesh (scheme of interest subsidy on educational loans for overseas studies for community students)
* Free coaching and allied schemes
* Skill training such as learn and earn, Nai Manzil
* Prime Minister’s New 15-point programme which aims at ensuring an equitable share for minorities in economic activities besides their educational empowerment.