No Central relief yet for families as bodies of 38 Indians return

While Union Minister VK Singh remained non-committal on providing compensation and jobs to the bereaved families, Punjab minister Navjot Sidhu announced a payout of ₹5 lakh and a job for each family

PTI Photo
PTI Photo

NH Web Desk

The mortal remains of 38 Indian men killed by the Islamic State terror group in Mosul, Iraq arrived in Amritsar on Monday afternoon on a special Indian Air Force aircraft. Union Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh accompanied the mortal remains.

"We are thankful to the authorities in Iraq for the help (they rendered) to locate the victims and exhume the mortal remains. The government of India did its best to know about the missing Indians," Singh told the media.

The mortal remains of only 38 out of 39 dead were brought back as the identification of one body is still pending.

While the coffins of 31 victims—27 from Punjab and four from Himachal Pradesh—were handed over to the respective authorities at Amritsar airport, seven coffins were shifted to another aircraft to be flown to West Bengal (3) and Bihar (4).

Punjab's Cultural Affairs Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu was present at the airport to receive the coffins, along with officials of the other states to which the victims belonged.

For the families of victims from Punjab, Sidhu announced compensation of ₹5 lakh per family, a job for one of the bereaved and continuation of pension of ₹20,000.

When asked if Centre would provide any monetary relief to the victims’ families, VK Singh remained non-committal. The former Army chief, however, added that such a proposal was under consideration.

Singh's response came under fire from Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha, who questioned the minister's sensitivity given the "fragile circumstances and emotional trauma."

The victims' families were told by officials not to open the coffins since the mortal remains had been exhumed from graves and could emit toxic gases. However, most have refused the direction and said that they would opt for a traditional cremation.

In the wake of the nationwide protests against the dilution of the SC and ST Prevention of Atrocities Act on Monday, the Punjab government had appealed to the demonstrators to allow the mortal remains to pass without hindrance.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had earlier informed Parliament on March 20 that all 39 Indian construction workers kidnapped in 2014 from Mosul have been killed. Prior to that, Swaraj had said that she would not consider them dead unless there was proof in this regard, rejecting lone survivor Harjit Masih's claim that the captives were shot dead. Masih had escaped from the clutches of the terror group in June 2014.

After Mosul was freed from the clutches of the Islamic State in July 2017, there was hope that the missing Indians would be found.

However, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, during his India visit in July, said he was not sure if the men were alive or not.

With IANS inputs.

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