Srinagar, Mar 15: The special observers appointed by the Election Commission of India (ECI) who arrived in Kashmir on Thursday held high-level meeting with the top brass of security agencies to evolve consensus on holding crucial Assembly polls in the State.
Three observers’ former civil servants, Amar Jeet Singh Gill, former DG CRPF Noor Muhammad, and Vinod Zutshi an IAS officer were appointed by the ECI to assess the ground situation in Kashmir and that they also were given a mandate to meet the political parties, heads of security agencies, and also the local people.
Reliable sources said that police, army, and CRPF have been asked to frame a security plan for ensuring the smooth Lok Sabha polls.
“We are at it and exercises have been started on various fronts to frame a fool-proof security plan,” said a top police official. “We will ensure that all the polling booths are secured and guarded in a proper manner.”
In this regard, a high-level meeting was held at Nehru Guest house on Thursday that remained on till 9 pm.
Police said that it was also waiting for the political parties to finalize their candidates so that proper security cover is provided to them.
“Though we expect politicians contesting upcoming Lok Sabha polls to hold rallies, we will be securing the areas in advance to that hassle-free rallies are conducted in the places where the candidates wish to address people,” the officer said.
A top CRPF official said that forces have started night patrolling, area domination, and identification of polling booths in advance to ensure a conducive atmosphere is created for the polls. “There will be a proper security plan as far how many people would guard the polling booth and how many would remain deployed for the area domination,” he said.
Police sources said that a proper advisory will soon be issued to political parties for holding poll rallies. “As far as South Kashmir, the political parties have to seek proper security clearance before addressing people,” said sources.
“South Kashmir continues to pose security challenges and that’s why ECI announced polls for South Kashmir LoK Sabha polls in three phases.
The ECI decided to hold Lok Sabha polls in the trouble-ravaged state and to defer the assembly polls due for the State citing security situation and huge need of additional forces for securing the contesting candidates. In J&K, there are six Lok Sabha constituencies and 87 Assembly seats. The number of contesting candidates for six Parliamentary polls is not more than 15 while for the Assembly polls the number of contesting candidates is expected to be between 400 to 500.
If a single contesting candidate is provided five to ten forces’ personnel, that means there is a need of 50,000 additional forces which is not possible at this juncture as majority of central forces are presently busy country-wide given the seven-phased Lok Sabha polls set to commence from March 11 across India.
Pulwama fallout: Mine-protected vehicles, 30-seater buses for CRPF
Srinagar, Mar 25: The CRPF will procure a new fleet of mine protected vehicles (MPVs) and small 30-seater buses to ensure safety of its troop convoys in the Kashmir Valley, the chief of the force has said.
The paramilitary has also decided to enhance the number of its bomb detection and disposal squads (BDDS) for its about 65 battalions based in the Kashmir Valley for anti-terror and law and order duties.
These new measures have been chalked out by the force in the aftermath of the February 14 Pulwama militant attack in which over 40 personnel travelling in a bus, part of a convoy from Jammu to Srinagar, were killed by a suicide bomber as he exploded a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (IED).
“We are enhancing our counter-IED capabilities in Kashmir. We are procuring and sending more MPVs and are bullet-proofing force buses. As it is difficult to armour large buses, we are looking at procuring small 30-seater buses that can be better armour plated,” CRPF Director General (DG) R R Bhatnagar told PTI.
The force uses MPVs for limited troop movements in the anti-Naxal operations theatre and some of them are being used in Jammu and Kashmir too. About six personnel can travel in these four-wheeled vehicles.
Bhatnagar said small buses can be better fabricated and provided bullet-resistant armour as compared to the standard large buses that seat 54-57 people.
A similar large bus was blown up during the Pulwama attack.
Officials said once a large bus is fabricated with bullet-proof sheets, its engine takes a toll and its speed and endurance is restricted due to the weight of the additional metal used for the armour.
The CRPF chief said it has been decided to provide bomb detection and disposal squads to each battalion of the force deployed in the Kashmir Valley and those units which had them, will see an increase in the number of personnel and equipment to detect and counter explosives and IEDs.
Seats have been increased in the Pune-based IED education school of the force so that more personnel are trained in the trade of detection and disarming such bombs in Kashmir, Bhatnagar said.
The bullet-proof armour to the buses will only save force personnel from firing attacks by militants and will not provide fool-proof protection from explosions like the one that was carried out in Pulwama, a senior officer said.
To counter Pulwama-like attacks, new procedures for convoy movement and protection have been notified, he added.
The new convoy movement procedure involves restricting the movement of civilian vehicles, regularly changing halting points and dynamic movement of convoys to and from the Kashmir Valley, he said.
Facing criticism for allowing large convoys to ply on roads in an operationally sensitive area like Jammu and Kashmir, the home ministry had announced last month that all troops and officers of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) deployed in the Kashmir Valley can now take a commercial flight while going in to join duty or for tour and while proceeding on leave.
The CRPF cavalcade that came under attack on February 14 had seventy-eight vehicles and the ill-fated bus was fifth in line.
‘Pak gives green signal to Sharda Peeth corridor’
Srinagar, Mar 25: After the Kartarpur Corridor – which connects Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Narowal district with Dera Baba Nanak in India’s Gurdaspur District – Pakistan on Monday reportedly gave a green single to open Sharda Temple Corridor for Hindu pilgrims. The ancient shrine is located across the Line of Control (LoC) in Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PaK).
Express Tribune, a leading Pakistani daily quoting its sister organisation Express News reported that “sources in the ministry of foreign affairs said India’s foreign ministry already sent a proposal to open the corridor in this regard.”
The opening of the corridor to historic temple town has been a long-standing demand of Kashmiri Pandits and people who got displaced from the region in 1947.
“Pakistan has decided to open the Sharda temple. I am going to visit the place in a couple of days. I will also send a report in this regard to Prime Minister Imran Khan. Work on the project will start from the current year after which Hindus in Pakistan will also be able to visit the site,” Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) member of the National Assembly (MNA) Dr Ramesh Kumar told the Express News.
“The Indian government has written several letters to Pakistani authorities on this proposal,” the report said.
The shrine is a 5,000 years old highly reverent place of worship for Hindus. It is also considered the oldest education centre for some Hindus which was established in 237 BC during the reign of Maharaja Ashoka. The temple was also once regarded as the foremost centres of higher learning in the Indian subcontinent. It is also one of the 18 Maha Shakti Peethas, or a “Grand Shakti Peethas” and is considered to be the abode of Hindu Goddess Saraswati.
The ancient temple of Sharada and the adjacent ruins of Sharada University lie in Neelam Valley, 160 km from Muzaffarabad, and right across the LoC in a small village, Shardi or Sardi, where the river Neelam (Kishanganga) converges with the Madhumati and Sargun streams.
‘Is JeI unlawful?’ GoI tribunal to decide
New Delhi, Mar 25: The Government of India has constituted a tribunal headed by a Delhi High Court judge to decide whether there is sufficient cause for declaring Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir as an unlawful association.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on March 23 issued a notification which states that Justice Mukta Gupta would head the tribunal set up under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
Justice Gupta is presently heading another tribunal set up under UAPA to ascertain whether there was sufficient cause to extend the ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) as an unlawful association.
The tribunal’s proceedings with regard to the ban on SIMI commenced on February 28 and is ongoing.
As the proceedings against SIMI commenced, the same day, the central government banned Jamat-e-Islami (JeI) Jammu and Kashmir for five years under the “anti-terror” law on grounds that it was “in close touch” with militant outfits and is expected to “escalate secessionist movement” in the state.
The government in its February 28 notification banning JeI said it was of the opinion that the Jamaat is “in close touch with militant outfits” and is supporting “extremism and militancy” in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere.
It said the outfit claims “secession of a part of the Indian territory from the union” and supports militant and separatist groups fighting for this purpose.
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