To seek free electricity, the Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) migrants living in Jagti Township on the outskirts of Jammu on Tuesday launched a protest.
The migrants had been supplied electricity free till last year, while they were living in camps. Flats were built by the government for the migrants, and 4,218 such flats, which come equipped with parks and community spaces, besides school and hospital facilities, were handed over in April 2011.
Over 300 migrants gathered in the Jagti Township complex and raised slogans against the government and the power development department (PDD) for billing them for the electricity they used in their flats.
A Kashmiri Pandit leader, Deepak Bhat, said: "We were provided free electricity in camps where we were staying earlier since we migrated in 1990. Why are we asked to pay electricity bills now?"
Migrants were lodged in tented accommodation in and around Jammu when they first migrated from Kashmir in 1990. Later, they were provided one-room tenements in localities like Purkhoo, Muthi and Mishriwala, on the outskirts of Jammu.
About 3,50,000 Kashmiri Pandits migrated from Kashmir Valley in 1990, in the wake of insurgency. A majority settled on the edges of Jammu, while others fled to other parts of the country.
Reacting to the demand for free electricity, a senior government official said: "The Kashmiri Pandit migrants of Jagti Township can afford air-conditioners and cars, but refuse to pay electricity bills!"
The Kashmiri migrants of this township have refused to sign an agreement with the PDD for billing of electricity, demanding free supply, as was provided since their migration from the Valley.
Minister for relief and revenue Raman Bhalla rejected the migrants' demand, saying that the government could not continue to foot such huge bills. "At most, we can negotiate for some free electricity units. There is no question of total exemption," he said.
Relief commissioner R.K. Pandita said: "The people who are demanding free electricity are exploiting the state. They use air-conditioners and heaters, they also have electric cookers in their flats. And still, they demand free electricity. The has already given them electricity worth Rs.100 crores since 1990