SRINAGAR: The Centre's move to divert cash meant for assisting flood victims in Jammu and Kashmir to the Union Defence ministry, which had footed a bill of Rs 500 crores for carrying out rescue operations during last year's devastating floods, evoked condemnation in the state on Tuesday.

The opposition National Conference hit out at the BJP-led government at the Centre over the issue, "Although the flood-hit people are yet to recover from their nightmares, the Centre's decision to divert Rs 500 crore to defence ministry in lieu of rescue operations amounts to rubbing salt on the wounds of the victims," a spokesperson of the party said.

The Union Defence Ministry had charged the state government Rs 500 crores for relief and rescue operations during the floods that hit Kashmir last year during which around 300 people were killed and over 4.5 million were affected, especially in summer capital Srinagar.

According to the Army, over two lakh people, mostly tourists, were rescued and essential supplies like food, water and medicine, some of them expired, were air-dropped in what the armed forces called “Operation Megh Rahat.” A letter dated February 6, 2015, from the home ministry to the state government on central assistance, lists “payment of Air Bills for airdropping of essential supplies and rescue (tentative Rs. 500 crore) as per actual, based on the bills raised by the ministry of defence.”

To pay this amount, the Centre diverted money from Rs. 1,602 crore given to Jammu and Kashmir as part of the State Disaster Response Fund. The home ministry letter says that the money has been taken from the “State Disaster Response Fund account of the states for instant disasters.”

However, while the armed forces had projected the rescue ops as a "service to humanity" for winning the hearts of people in the conflict-torn state, the fact that the operation, which was telecast live on major TV stations, came with a large bill has damaged the already tainted image of forces in the state.

"It is a cruel joke," Majid Nabi, a student at The University of Kashmir, told The Citizen, "played by the Army on the people of Kashmir. Had the Army carried out the rescue ops as a humanitarian gesture towards the affected people, it would have certainly improved their image. By charging the state government, the forces have made their intentions clear, that they are here for business, not for 'winning hearts and minds' of people."

The state government had sought a rehabilitation package of Rs 44, 000 crore submitted by the then NC-Congress government of which the Centre recently announced Rs 551 crore for rebuilding of damaged houses. The trade bodies, opposition parties and some senior PDP leaders have termed the package as a “cruel joke, and a pittance,” asking chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to walk out of the alliance with the BJP.