Srinagar, Mar 14: The three special observers appointed by the Election Commission of India arrived in Srinagar on Thursday to gauge the mood and to hold deliberations with the security officials in Kashmir and Jammu regions to prepare a final feedback report as to whether atmosphere was conducive for Assembly polls.
On March 10, the ECI had appointed former IAS officers Vinod Zutshi and Noor Muhammad, and former IPS officer A S Gill, as special observers to assess the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
As per their mandate, the observers would make a real-time assessment of the situation by meeting political parties, district and state authorities and other stakeholders.
All three observers arrived in Srinagar where they would hold talks with the representatives of political parties—National Conference, People’s Democratic Party, Congress and others. However, NC decided to stay away from meeting the delegation citing that the ECI should have announced holding of polls—Lok Sabha and Assembly polls together.
However, ECI announced only to hold Parliamentary polls and defer the Assembly polls citing security situation and non availability of forces personnel for the contesting candidates.
Reliable sources that the observers will meet the top security brass and get the feedback on the present prevailing situation. “They will meet the officers from police, CRPF, and the army and also the intelligence officials,” sources said. The observers will also meeting common citizens to prepare a final report on the overall ground situation in J&K.
The observers after spending a day or so in Kashmir will fly to Jammu and hold talks with the various segments of society. The security top brass had in the previous meeting held with the ECI in Srinagar expressed concerns over the security scenario in south Kashmir with the result, ECI announced three-phased Lok Sabha polls for Anantnag seat, first time in the poll history of Jammu and Kashmir.
Hundred companies of additional forces including CRPF and BSF have already reached Srinagar for being deployed for the election duties. The observers, sources said will ask the police and other heads of forces about the plan to be adopted for ensuring smooth and fair conduct of Lok Sabha polls commencing from April 11.
NC, other parties boycott visiting ECI team
Srinagar, Mar 14: A three-member team “special observers” appointed by the Election Commission of India (ECI) arrived in Srinagar on Thursday to “assess the ground situation” for conduct of assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
The ‘special observers’ including former IAS officers Vinod Zutshi, Noor Muhammad, and former IPS officer A S Gill were scheduled to “assess the situation” here besides holding deliberations with the mainstream parties for the conduct of elections.
However, the mainstream parties showed mixed response over meeting the ECI delegation as some among them didn’t turn up to meet while some called upon them and pitched for simultaneous elections yet again.
The parties including National Conference (NC), CPI (M), People’s Democratic Front (PDF) and Democratic Party Nationalist (DPN) didn’t turn up to meet the delegation while People’s democratic Party (PDP), Congress apprised the delegation about ground situation.
The parties who didn’t meet the delegation said they have already met the EC team headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and have apprised them about the ground situation assessed by them for the polls here. “We have already pitched for the simultaneous elections in the State. We have nothing to say in this regard now,” they said.
However, the parties including state Congress and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peoples Conference (PC) and Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) met the ECI delegation here and sought simultaneous elections here.
The Congress delegation headed by former minister and senior leader Taj Mohi-ud-din and former MLA Bandipora Usman Majeed while as PDP delegation headed by former minister and former MLA Sonwar, Muhammad Ashraf Mir and former MLA Batamaloo Noor Muhammad met the ‘Special Observers’ here and reiterated their demand of simultaneous elections in the State. Peoples Conference (PC) delegation led by Abdul Gani Vakil and Junaid Azim Mattoo and BJP leaders led by Asif Masoodi and M M War also called on ECI delegation and discussed the conduct of assembly elections.
PDP leader, Muhammad Ashraf Mir met the ECI delegation and pitched for assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, saying that they had already urged the ECI to hold polls simultaneously and pitched for the early polls yet again.
Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) General Secretary, Usman Majeed said that they apprised the ECI delegation about the ground situation and the resentment among the people after the ECI’s decision to delay the assembly elections.
“We informed them that people here feel fishy behind withholding the assembly elections as if the atmosphere is conducive for Lok Sabha election then why not for assembly elections,” he said, adding that the ECI’s decision has affected the reputation of Election Commission and it seems they are following the policy of GoI.
“We demanded simultaneous elections here and I am sure the ECI delegation will take this issue with higher ups and the elections will be conducted before June,” he said.
PC leaders have also pitched for early assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir during the meeting with special observers.
BJP General Secretary (Organization), Ashok Koul told that a team of the party comprising Asif Masoodi and M M War met the ECI delegation and pitched for early elections in the State. “We had pitched for simultaneous elections in the past and raised similar views this time again,” Koul said.
Notably, the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Monday announced seven-phase parliamentary polls, but decided not to hold assembly elections in J&K, which is presently under the president’s rule.
Pertinently, on March 04, a high-level delegation of the ECI arrived Srinagar on a 2-day visit to J&K for consultations with various political parties, state administration and other stakeholders ahead of upcoming election-2019.
The team began its visit by meeting the representatives of various political parties in Kashmir Valley to seek their opinion regarding the elections.
Election commissioners, Sushil Chandra and Ashok Lavasa, Deputy Election Commissioner, Sandeep Saxena, Director General ECI, Dilip Kumar, ADG Sheyphali Sharan, Director Nikhil Kumar, Chief Electoral Officer J&K, Shailendra Kumar were present during the meeting. (KNS)
4 militants killed in Shopian gunfight
Srinagar, Jun 23: Four militants were Sunday killed in a gunfight with security forces at Daramdora village in Panzar area of south Kashmir’s Shopian district.
Providing details of the gunfight, a police spokesman said that on credible input, a cordon and search operation was launched by police and counter-insurgency forces at Panzar area in Shopian.
“During searches, militants fired upon the search party. The fire was retaliated leading to an encounter,” said the spokesperson.
“In the ensuing encounter, four militants were killed and the bodies were retrieved from the site of encounter,” he said.
A police official identified the slain militants as Rafi Hassan Mir of Kralchak Shopian, Suhail Ahmad Bhat of Batmuran Shopian, Showkat Ahmad Mir of Rajpora Pulwama and Azad Ahmad Khanday of Bamnoo Pulwama.
He said among the four slain militants, Showkat had a “long history of crime records since 2015”.
He, the spokesperson said, was initially part of militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen.
“Showkat, as per police records, was wanted by law for his complicity in a series of crimes including attack on security establishments and civilian atrocities. Several crime cases were registered against him including Case FIR No. 113/2016 of P/S Rajpora pertaining to firing on a guard post at Sheikhard, Case FIR No. 02/2017 of P/S Rajpora pertaining to the lobbing of grenade on security forces, Case FIR No. 20/2017 of P/S Rajpora pertaining to firing on civilians Bashir Ahmad Dar and Altaf Ahmad at Qasabyar in which Bashir Dar succumbed and Altaf was seriously injured, Case FIR No. 21/2017 of P/S Rajpora pertaining to civilian atrocities and Case FIR No. 01/2019 of P/S Rajpora pertaining to killing of a policeman Sameer Ahmad,” said the spokesperson.
Showkat Mir, he said, was “instrumental in the recruitment of Azad Ahmad, Rafi Hassan and Suhail Ahmad who had recently joined the militant fold.”
“Pertinently with the efforts of police and security forces, it was a clean operation. No collateral damage happened during the encounter,” he added.
“Incriminating materials including arms and ammunition was recovered from the site of encounter. All these materials have been taken in the case records for further investigation and to probe their complicity in other terror crime cases,” he said.
Meanwhile, thousands of people participated in the funeral processions of the slain militants at their respective villages.
The curious case of SMC’s ward no. 30
SMC Comm attaches, officer says ‘some confusion’
Srinagar, Jun 23: An acting Srinagar Municipality ward officer with a tainted past, who was recently attached for allowing at least a dozen illegal constructions in his area, is back in his ward because of his connections up in the official hierarchy.
Mehraj-ud-Din Buja, the incharge ward officer of ward 30, was attached after the SMC Commissioner Khurshid Ahmad Sanai visited the former’s area on June 19 and found at least a dozen illegal constructions going on.
A source in SMC said the Commissioner immediately ordered demolishing of the constructions and attached Buja along with the concerned building inspector.
A few days later, Buja, however, managed to get back to the ward even as the corporation’s higher-ups have no explanation of his wrongdoings, the source said.
“On records, he may be a small-rung official but he has connections all the way up. How else can one who was caught ran-handed accepting bribe be able to become a ward officer of the most money generating areas in Srinagar,” the source said.
The ward which Buja is overseeing generates the highest revenue for SMC and includes Raj Bagh, Wazir Bagh, and Jawahar Nagar areas, the residential colonies that have lately been in news for mushroom growth of commercial constructions.
Buja is no ordinary guy outside his office as well. He is the chairman of Adhara Auqaf Gousia, the board that manages the shrine of Dastgeer Sahab here in Srinagar.
Buja, interestingly, has managed to stay in the ward for over a year-and-a-half, during which at least 30 other ward officers were transferred, the source added.
His rendezvous with higher-ups in the corporation, the source said, has made him sideline his tainted past with utmost ease.
In October 2014, when GN Qasba was Commissioner SMC, Buja was caught red-handed by Vigilance Organisaton Kashmir (VOK) accepting a bribe of Rs 65,000 for allotting a shop to one Srinagar resident.
VOK, on receiving a complaint from the shopkeeper Abdul Rehman Reshi, had placed a trap to catch Buja.
He, as per the official documents of the case, had demanded a bribe of Rs 2 lakh from the complainant and was caught by the VOK team receiving the first installment of Rs 65,000 in a restaurant right outside the SMC head-office in Karan Nagar here.
Interestingly, Buja, whose designation then was Junior Building Inspector, was working as a Head Assistant in the Revenue Section of the head office.
Two years later, in 2016, the Housing and Urban Development Department had ordered Buja’s prosecution for “commission of offences punishable under section 5(1) (d) r/w 5 (2) J&K P.C.Act Svt.2006 and Sections 109 & 161 RPC in case FIR No. 39/2014 P/S VOK.”
While the case was on, why and how was Buja promoted from a junior building inspector to an acting ward officer of vital ward 30 remains a question that no one in SMC has an answer for.
Meanwhile, a second source said that for allowing any deviation or illegal construction, the concerned SMC officials have designated rates.
“For a plinth 15,000, for one storey residential construction anything between Rs 30,000 to 50,000 is charged. If it is a commercial construction, the prices go up according to the size of it,” the second source said.
Asked about him getting attached on June 19, Buja told The Kashmir Monitor “that the matter was sorted.”
“There was some confusion regarding the permission which has been cleared now,” he said, adding “I was about to be suspended but God saved me and the (suspension) order was not passed.”
SMC Commissioner, Khurshid Ahmad Sanai, referred this reporter to his private secretary Manzoor Ahmad.
Manzoor confirmed that Buja was attached, however, refused to comment when asked how he had resumed his work as the ward officer.
Asked how a tainted official was given the position, Manzoor said he “will speak with the Commissioner about the matter.”
Three brothers addicted to Heroin narrate how emboldened peddlers have become
Srinagar, Jun 23: In the male ward of drug de-addiction centre at department of psychiatry at SMHS hospital here, the 15 beds have had full occupancy in the last fortnight.
Out of the 15 patients admitted, three are from the Rajouri district.
Belonging to the same family, the three stare out while their terrified kin shuffle from one bed to another attending to their needs.
It’s for the first time that the centre has seen a family with three drug-dependents.
As the official data fails to recognise the severity of the issue, the three males Umar (35), Sahil (20), and Riyaz (30), who are addicted to heroin, confessed that Rajouri is witnessing a sharp uptick in drug-addiction.
What’s more shocking is that the number of drug-peddlers exceeds the number of addicts, who deliver the drugs to the latter’s home.
A recent death in their village due to heroin overdose created panic among the family. Fearing peer criticism and social backlash, they confided in a boy in their neighborhood who recently received treatment from SMHS.
At the hospital, while Umar was being taken to the bathroom by his wife, Riyaz calls out to his mother in a slurred speech. Yasir, who is writhing in body pain, is surrounded by his brother and sister.
Umar, clad in white Khan-dress is a vegetable vendor by profession. His chronic addiction to heroin led him to a financial crunch.
“Every evening, I gathered with my friends at a deserted spot near my home. We got packets of various types of powder, vials of liquid mixtures, some water, and some needles and syringes. We prepared the fix, took a shot and then lied down, letting the drug take effect,” he said.
On the adjacent bed, Sahil, a college dropout, has chiseled features and has grown a stubble. Two years into addiction, he sold his two cars and bikes.
“It cost me around five to six lakh till now. For the last four months, I had switched to heroin for an instant kick. In our village, procuring my daily fix of heroin is as easy as buying a pack of cigarettes,” he said.
Riyaz, while agreeing with him, added, “Those who find it difficult to fund their drug habit become putty in the hands of peddlers and end up moonlighting as their conduits.”
He said: “A small quantity of heroin costs around 1000-2000 rupees. When someone in our circle didn’t have the money, we shelled out 500 rupees each and bought the stuff.”
Riyaz recalls how the sudden death of a 35-year-old Hameed, a shopkeeper he knew, rocked him to the core.
“Hameed shared meals with me on the day he passed away. Heroine took his life. We spent our childhood together,” he said in an incoherent manner.
A counsellor wishing anonymity said: “So entrenched is the drug-supply network that the patients need to be surrounded by a set of family members in the hospital all the time. This is to avoid the trap waiting to snare them once they are out of the protected environment home.”
Seconding him, Dr Yasir Rather, neuro-psychiatrist and de-addiction specialist at the hospital, said: “There is no fear in drug peddlers. Patients report that they can order drugs like heroin on just a phone call and drug peddler will drop it at their home. It appears as if ordering a packet of heroin is easier than ordering pizza.”
“Deaths are happening frequently, due to overdose, we see so many young people nowadays on ventilators of SMHS hospital,” the doctor said.
Asked what needs to be done, he added: “Laws are there but need to be implemented in letter and spirit. Also, the parents as well as school and college administrations need to be vigilant.
“We also need to mobilize Islamic scholars and all religious leaders to talk about it.”
(Note: The names of the patients and the person who died due to drug overdose have been changed to conceal their identity.)
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