As it bills the return of "normalcy" in Jammu and Kashmir, the central government has briefed parliament about the formation of armed militia groups to protect villages, a tactic seen in the 90s when terrorism in the former state was at its peak.
Justifying the revival of Village Defence Groups or VDGs in the union territory, the Home Ministry told lawmakers that it has brought back more than 4,000 of these groups and not formed any new ones.
"At present, the sanctioned strength of VDGs is 4,985, of which 4,153 VDGs have been constituted," Minister for State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai told Rajya Sabha in response to a question.
"The members of the Village Defence Group shall be designated as Village Defence Guard (VDG). The persons who shall be heading or coordinating the VDGs in the 'more vulnerable areas' shall be paid Rs 4,500 per month and persons who are members of the VDGs on a voluntary basis shall be paid a uniform rate of Rs 4,000 per month," Mr Rai said.
The minister also said terrorist-related violence in Jammu and Kashmir has almost halved in the last five years - from 228 to 125 - and the number of security personnel killed has come down to a third, from 91 to 31. The number of civilians killed has also seen a slight decrease with 30 deaths in 2022 compared to 39 in 2018, he said.
According to the junior minister, the Central Reserve Police Force or CRPF has trained some 948 VDG members in collaboration with Rajouri District Police from January 6 to 25.
As a safeguard against the VDGs becoming a vigilante force outside the scope of the law, the Home Ministry clarified it was decided last March that there will be no more than 15 members in each VDG.
After these VDGs were set up and given arms, opposition parties in Jammu and Kashmir criticised Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha but the centre told Rajya Sabha that these weapons were being given out only after thorough scrutiny.
According to the Home Ministry, the weapons are being provided to people who have a valid arms licence and have cleared background checks by the Jammu and Kashmir police, District Magistrate or Senior Superintendent of Police.
"Persons in possession of a valid licence and weapons or willing to purchase weapons on their own are also being provided training," the minister stated in his written reply.