Jammu, Oct 27: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Sunday, celebrated Diwali with the troops deployed in Jammu and Kashmir’s border district of Rajouri and praised them for their valour, saying it enables the government to take decisions hitherto considered impossible.
Accompanied by Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, Modi flew to the Army Brigade Headquarters in Rajouri town just a few hours after the Pakistani army targeted forward posts in the district. The shelling from across the border was retaliated by the Indian army.
Addressing the troops, PM Modi said, “There are many border areas but this region where you are, is unique. Be it war, insurgency, infiltration – this has had to suffer all of it and it has come out of that every time. It’s a region which has never seen defeat. It’s not only victorious but also invincible.”
Wearing a combat jacket, PM Modi exchanged wishes and sweets during his nearly two-hour-long stay and interaction with the troops deployed along the LoC, officials said.
Addressing the 1,000-strong soldiers, PM Modi said, “The valour of the Indian defence forces made it possible for the central government to take decisions which were hitherto considered impossible.”
He was apparently referring to India’s preemptive air strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammad camp in Pakistan’s Balakot on February 26 in response to the February 14 Pulwama attack in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed besides abrogation of Article 370 provisions.
He said everyone wants to celebrate Diwali with their family and so he too travelled to be with his family, which is the “brave jawans of the armed forces”.
He visited the ‘Hall of Fame’ in Rajouri and paid homage to the soldiers and brave citizens who laid down their lives to protect Rajouri and Poonch sectors.
He termed the Hall of Fame as ‘ParakramBhoomi, PrernaBhoomi, PaavanBhoomi’.
Highlighting the courage and fortitude of the forces in safeguarding national security, PM Modi thanked them on behalf of the people of the country for their monumental service.
To pay homage to and mark their contributions, the government endeavoured to etch the landmark National War Memorial in Delhi, he said, adding the increasing number of visitors to the memorial shows the respect accorded by the citizens towards the contributions of armed forces.
Later in a series of tweets, PM Modi said, “Celebrated #Diwali with the brave soldiers of the Indian Army in Rajouri, Jammu and Kashmir. It is always a matter of great joy to be able to interact with these courageous personnel.”
He also spoke about the steps the NDA government is taking for the welfare of soldiers. “While interacting with our soldiers, I thanked them on behalf of the people of India for their monumental service. Their vigilance and valour keeps our nation safe!”
In another tweet about his visit to the ‘Hall of Fame’, he said, “Anecdotes about the courage of our soldiers are widely shared but do you also know about the stupendous efforts of our armed forces during natural disasters? Their swift action saves many lives and prevents public property from being destroyed.”
On his way back from Rajouri, PM Modi interacted with air warriors and personnel of the army at the Pathankot Air Force Station.
He also posted a short video, with a heading “#Diwali is sweeter when celebrated with our brave soldiers”, in which he is seen offering sweets to the soldiers under a camouflaged tent. The soldiers then raised ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ slogans.
The prime minister’s visit to Rajouri coincided with Infantry Day celebrations, which is observed to mark the landing of the first Indian troops in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 to push back Pakistan supported intruders.
This is the third time that PM Modi celebrated Diwali with troops in Jammu and Kashmir since 2014, and the first after the abrogation of Article 370 provisions.
The army personnel were ecstatic and said they feel proud about the prime minister’s “surprise” visit.
“We never thought of the prime minister visiting us and making our Diwali a memorable one… It was a big surprise and we are feeling proud after meeting him,” one of the soldiers said while leaving the venue after the departure of PM Modi.
Since becoming prime minister in 2014, PM Modi has interacted with troops serving in tough areas on Diwali. That year, he visited Siachen in Ladakh region and in 2015, he went to the Punjab border.
The next year, PM Modi was in Himachal Pradesh, where he spent time with Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel at an outpost.
He visited Gurez sector of north Kashmir in 2017 and last year, he was with Army and ITBP personnel in the icy terrain near the India-China border in Uttarakhand.
Another spell of snow this week
Srinagar, Nov 10: Kashmir should brace up for a second spell of wet weather as officials have predicted widespread snow and rains on Friday and Saturday this week.
An official at the local Meteorological Department said there will be widespread snow and rain in Kashmir on November 15 and 16 (Friday and Saturday) even as the weather till then will remain cloudy with rainfall in isolated places.
“We are experiencing western disturbance over Kashmir which is going to worsen by the end of this week. There are chances of widespread snow and rainfall although its intensity would not be as much as last week’s snowfall,” the official told The Kashmir Monitor.
Kashmir experienced a record breaking November snowfall last Thursday that took everyone by surprise and left a trail of death and destruction across the region.
With electricity and other essential supplies still erratic in most of the places, the heaps of snow on roads and lanes are not melting given that sunshine has stayed aloof these days.
Meanwhile, the so-called all-weather highway connecting Kashmir to the rest of the world was again blocked on Sunday.
Thousands of commuters were stranded on the highway after a massive landslide blocked the road in Ramban in the afternoon, only hours after traffic resumed on the route.
Traffic on the highway resumed around 3 am on Sunday after remaining suspended for over 13 hours following a massive landslide near Mahar – two kms short of Ramban town.
Road clearing agencies worked hard to ensure early opening of the road, but the fresh landslide, covering around 100 metres of the road with debris, played spoilsport, officials said.
The landslide struck near Digdole and at least 12 hours are needed to make the arterial road traffic-worthy. Men and machines have been pressed into service to clear the debris, they said.
According to the officials, hundreds of passenger vehicles and trucks carrying essential commodities to the Valley crossed the Jawahar Tunnel — the gateway to Kashmir — since Sunday morning.
However, the fresh landslide left over 1,300 vehicles stranded on the highway, they said.
Traffic on the highway remained suspended on Thursday and Friday after Kashmir Valley and high altitude areas of Jammu region, including Jawahar Tunnel, experienced first major snowfall.
Heavy rains, which lashed the highway from Banihal to Jammu, was causing frequent landslides, the officials said.
Meanwhile, the Mughal Road, which connects the border districts of Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu region with south Kashmir’s Shopian district, remained closed for the fifth day on Sunday, they said.
The road was closed for traffic on Wednesday after heavy snowfall between Pir Ki Gali and Shopian stretch.
Snow fury: Patient inflow to hospitals drops by 10%
Srinagar, Nov 10: Shedding snowflakes off his tweed pheran, 32-year-old Zubair Ahmad heaves a sigh of relief, as he enters the gates of SMHS hospital, Srinagar.
Hailing from south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, Zubair’s tryst with valley’s first snowfall began on a sad note. His mother developed a searing pain in the stomach on the night of November 7, when all the arterial roads were covered with thick layers of snow.
“Last week, my mother underwent gall bladder surgery. She was doing well until the night of November 7 when she suddenly complained of pain in her stomach. Despite our best efforts, my family members couldn’t ferry her to the hospital. The snow accumulated on the roads made the commute impossible,” he said.
Next morning, Zubair pleaded before several Sumo cab drivers to ferry his mother to the hospital, but it too turned out to be another herculean task.
“The roads remained covered with snow next day as well. All the drivers that I approached refused to undertake the journey. It was after a lot of persuasion that one of the drivers finally agreed but he charged Rs 1700,” he says.
Similarly, 40-year-old Mehraj-ud-din from north Kashmir’s Baramulla district suffered in equal measure due to heavy snowfall. His sister’s surgery scheduled on November 8 got deferred as she was unable to reach the hospital.
“A lot of trees were uprooted outside our home. Besides, the snow clearance of roads was yet to start from our side. As a result, I was unable to take my sister to the hospital,” Mehraj narrates.
It was on the afternoon of November 9 that he finally managed to reach the hospital. “After a lot of haggling, the Sumo driver settled at Rs 1200 to drop us at SMHS hospital.” he says.
On November 8, the unprecedented snowfall, one of the heaviest in recent years left a trail of death and destruction. More than nine people were killed and property worth 100 crore rupees got damaged due to the snowfall.
Consequently, the hospitals in the valley also witnessed a decreased patient inflow.
An official at the Government Super-Specialty hospital, Srinagar said only 30-40 percent patients have visited the hospital for last three days.
“The patients especially the ones who had to come from peripheral hospitals as referrals faced a lot of inconvenience. The administration has shown a lackadaisical approach in dealing with the snow crisis,” he said wishing not be named.
Medical Superintendent, SMHS Hospital Dr Nazir Chowdhary admitted that the patient inflow has dropped. “There has been 10 percent decline in patient inflow for the last three days,” Chowdhary said.
Medical Superintendent of SKIMS, Farooq Jan said: “We were fully geared up to deal with the crisis. However, patient inflow decreased by 10 percent since Wednesday.”
Reverse migration:Life comes a cropper for non-locals in Kashmir
Srinagar, Nov 10: On a chilly November morning, tailor Suresh Kumar along with his four family members is busy loading his belongings including a switching machine into a cab at Tourist Reception Center, here.
Kumar, who has been living in Kashmir for the last 15 years, has cut-short his stay to leave for his home in Uttar Pradesh. Scared after 11 non-locals including truckers, apple trader and labourers were killed, Kumar decided to call it quits and leave for his hometown in UP.
“All my associates from Anantnag left for their homes. I don’t think it will be a wise decision to stay here especially when many non-locals have been attacked in the last one month,” he said.
Kumar has joined a long list of migrant workers who have either left or winding up their businesses to go home following attacks on non-locals in Kashmir.
A cab driver at TRC said on an average nearly 10 to 20 taxis leave for Jammu with migrant workers on board. “Mostly non-locals would leave for their homes in mid-November. In October, people, who would work in north or south Kashmir areas, have left for their homes,” he said.
Non-locals have been leaving the valley since August 5 when central government abrogated article 370 and bifurcated state in two union territories.
Official figures reveal three lakh migrant labourers left Kashmir post abrogation of Article 370. In August last year, five lakh migrant labourers were present in Kashmir. This August only two lakh labourers stayed in Kashmir.
Migrant labourers are the backbone of the workforce that performs different jobs including harvesting apples in Kashmir. Since local labourers are scarce, migrant labourers are skilled and inexpensive.
“Growers had to face immense hardship in absence of non-local labourers. Even fruit markets where they would load apples, remained deserted this year,” said Ghulam Mohammad a grower from Pattan area of North Kashmir.
The migration of non-local labourers also hit developmental works in Kashmir. An official of Roads and Building Department said work on many of their projects have been stopped due to the absence of non-local workforce.