An Impressive STRUGGLER

Sarpanching KASHMIR

It may or may not suit people but the elected and powerless panchs and sarpanchs continue to create news. In Poonch, for instance, the police booked a Sarpanch, two teachers and a villager for allegedly dismantling a portion of school building at Chak Banola in Mendhar.

According to the FIR registered that was registered on basis of the complaint that locals made, Sarpanch Mohamad Aftab of Kaneti Banola conspired with teachers Mohammed Ashraf and Mohammed Muktiar and allegedly dismantling a middle school building at the village. Aftab had opposed the site earlier. Now empowered, he demolished it at his own level.

In Kishtwar, police had to use force against a protest when they accused the administration of unseating an elected sarpanch at the behest of former minister Ghulam Mohammad Saroori. Police had to arrest 35 protestors as seven persons were injured in the rioting. Puran Chand and Pyare Lal were the main contenders for the top post in Halqa Hudna Druwil in Inderwal.

Initially, Puran Chand was declared elected with seven votes because RO rejected 36 votes. Lal went to appeal and fresh counting did not help him. He went in appeal again and was declared elected. Locals say it was because he is a Congressman. This triggered a reaction and Puran Chand’s voters were on the road.

A follow up is awaited. There was yet another dispatch, this time from Surankote. There, the just elected Panchayat members resigned en-mass fearing an attack by the wildlife mafia. They belonged to Poishana hamlet that is the last village on Poonch side on the Mughal Road. The resigning members said they had resisted the efforts of wildlife smugglers to sell the skins of rare species of wild animals like the Markhor and Roosa but now fear for their lives. Anybody listening anywhere?

Second THOUGHTS
After the Supreme Court referred to a constitution bench the plea of J&K National Panthers Party challenging the legality to the rehabilitation policy of the J&K government, Home Minister P Chidambaram said there were “practical issues” in its implementation. The J&K government’s rehabilitation policy allows return of youth, who had crossed over to Pakistan in 1990s, to the valley and rehabilitate them.

MHA has sought another round of consultations with the External Affairs Ministry for greater clarity on the procedure to be followed for issue of travel permits to Kashmiris cleared for return.

Chidambaram was particularly concerned over the possible threat they could face from some elements opposed to the initiative. Besides, there are concerns over how the Indian High Commission officials in Pakistan would ensure that the travel permits are not handed over to the wrong person, who could take advantage of an appearance similar to the applicant’s.

During the next round of discussions with the MEA, the MHA will insist on knowing the exact procedure for handing over the travel documents to applicants, besides discussing if the list of cleared names would be shared with Pakistan, and what precautions should be taken to avoid any security threat to the applicant or his family in PaK/Pakistan.

A high level committee comprising representatives of JK Government, MHA, Army and others had scrutinized the applications of ‘homesick’ militants who wanted to return. After verifying their antecedents, it cleared 28 names of nearly 700 application received by it.

The return and rehabilitation policy, announced last year, covers all people (and their dependents) who crossed over to PaK between 1989 and 2009 and now want to return. The scheme includes identification, screening, travel, debriefing, rehabilitation and reintegration of the militants willing to give up arms. Central government agreed to the policy after state’s main political parties the PDP and the NC made special requests to the Prime Minister in 2006 following closure of the policy under which the army was managing and accepting surrenders of the youth from the other side.

J&K National Panthers Party, through its President Bhim Singh, had moved against the ‘return and rehabilitation policy’, terming it as “highly dangerous” for the security of the state. The petition would now be tackled by the constitution bench that had earlier handled the famous resettlement bill.

Crowded HILLOCKS
This time for yatra, the Jammu and Kashmir government is blamed for having violated the recommendations of Dr Nitesh K Sengupta’s by allowing an average 20 thousand pilgrims to visit the cave shrine of Amarnath a day.The pilgrimage started June 29 and for around three days the tracks were either closed or had highly disturbed traffic. Even then the pilgrim numbers are nearing 200 thousands.

SASB is being accused of compromising the recommendations Sengupta committee that probed the 1996 incident in which mid-summer snowfall led to death of 225 pilgrims. Apart from suggesting the constitution of SASB, the committee has suggesting permitting only 3500 pilgrims from the two tracks daily. But the same tracks now cater to more than 20000 pilgrims daily.Even the BJP is angry. They, however, have a different reason. They say if the SASB had not restricted the pilgrims from 60 days to 45 days, the daily numbers could be reduced substantially.

SASB as well as the state government admit that the crisis is linked to the arrival of thousands of pilgrims who are not registered with the SASB. They come as tourists to Srinagar. Last week when the weather conditions forced a halt for two days, the entire highway from Madhavpore to Pahalgam remained paralyzed. So was the rush in Jammu that even after opening all the government buildings, temples and some colleges, there were people sleeping on the roads under open sky.

Part of the pilgrims who remained stranded on the highway between Srinagar and Jammu drove to the nearby tourist attractions like Mansar Lake, Patnitop, Chenaini to kill time. It also impacted the footfalls in the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine as well. In Jammu outskirts the police had to use force to maintain order. VHP on Monday called for reconstitution of the SASB so that such situations do not recur.

Since the SASB and the government has created infrastructure for a particular number of pilgrims any change in numbers is impacting the situation. Sonamarg-Baltal track is getting dirtier and most of the mess is polluting the Lidder.

Murdering A CRUSADER
Sonaullah Zargar, 32, an employee in the forest department was found dead in a watermill (Chakki) near Nallah Sukhnag, Budgam. Survived by his 28-year-old wife, Saleema, and four children aged seven, five, four and two, he was a forest protection activist as well.

Now police has arrested four of his colleagues for questioning – Abdul Gani War, the Block Forest Officer (BFO), Farooq Ahmed Dar alias Mukdam, Abdul Razak Dar and Mohammed Ashraf Mir. The police say that the conspiracy of killing Zargar was hatched by his boss; the BFO to eliminate him, as he had became the hurdle in their “work”. It is said that Sonaullah’s disagreement to join his colleagues in smuggling timber became the reason of his death.

Zargar was against the illegal cutting and supplying of forest timber and has formed a special investigation team to look into the matter. He used to submit instant reports of timber smuggling to the higher-ups.

As per the police investigation, Zargar with his accused colleagues had gone to the forest to see the damage caused by the smugglers. On their return after inspecting the forest, Zargar was beaten to death by sticks and axes and was thrown into the nearby stream. Later, the rumours were spread that he had jumped into the river.

Police lodged the complaint after Zargar’s family claimed that his body bore torture marks.

Zargar was among a few forest officials who were trying to save the state’s deodar and Kail trees that have been cut in past two decade old insurgency.

Government assures action in the matter. The Deputy Commissioner Budgam, Mohammed Rafi says that nexus or connivance at any level would not be tolerated and insists that Forest Protection Act will have to take a lead. According to him, many warrants have been issued. Some have been quashed and some got lapsed when the accused happen to be at large for a long time.

Salwa Judum EFFECT
The Supreme Court has halted engaging “unskilled and illiterate” youth for using them as “cannon fodder” before the better-armed militant groups. They have been beaten to pulp by senior officers for not providing information on time, and later dismissed for not following the orders. But J&K’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah says the apex court observations against the Salwa Judum (Vigilante force) in Chattisgarh won’t apply in Kashmir as Special Police Officer (SPO’s) here are part of the regular police forces. “The SPOs in Naxal-affected areas cannot be compared to SPOs in Jammu and Kashmir as they are part of the belt force and do their regular duties,” Omar had told reporters.

In a landmark judgment that can have repercussions even in J&K, the Supreme Court has ordered Chattisgarh government and the Centre to disband, stop use of ill-educated, ill-trained and ill equipped youth as SPOs to fight Maoist and Naxals. It also asked the Centre to stop funding states for recruitment of SPO’s. It could be a setback for many states which have employed SPO’s to fight Naxals and militants.

In fact the dreaded Salwa Judum followed the footsteps of Jammu and Kashmir where over a decade back, the state government decided to arm villagers in militancy infested areas of the state especially in Jammu region, in the name of Village Defence Committees, to fight the militants. Right now J&K has more than 3000 SPOs and over 4000 VDCs.

But the question arises when the Supreme Court declares that the SPOs are unconstitutional how can J&K remain unaffected?

A bench comprising Justices B Sudershan Reddy and S S Nijjar had gave this order on a petition filed by sociologist Nandini Sundar, historian Ramachandra Guha, former bureaucrat E A S Sarma and others.

Though the verdict had come against the Chhattisgarh government, legal experts believe, that it may have far reaching impact in Jammu and Kashmir, where thousands of youth have been recruited as SPOs and majority of them were actively participating in combat operations. Without even proper training! The court observed that “This case represents a yawning gap between the promise of principled exercise of power in a constitutional democracy, and the reality of the situation in Chhattisgarh.”

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