The centre is considering shifting three battalions of Central Reserve Police Force personnel from Kashmir to Naxal-affected areas which might see demolition of more bunkers in Srinagar. It will also help the beleaguered J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah in an image makeover, SAMEER YASIR reports.

The CRPF which used to have 70 battalions in Valley is already down to 66 battalions over the last few years
The CRPF which used to have 70 battalions in Valley is already down to 66 battalions over the last few years

Ghulam Mohammad Shah, a resident of Gudood Bagh, Nai Sarak is busy with his customers at his newly renovated shop in Srinagar. Business is brisk these days and sales have suddenly shot up. Shah attributes this rush to the removal of a paramilitary bunker which stood next to his shop. Before the bunker was removed, Shah would sit idle at his shop because no customer would come out of fear.

The bunker was removed in a demilitarisation exercise by the government of India in April this year which was seen as a step of reconciliation towards the people brutalised by 23 years of violence in Kashmir. The Army and paramilitary bunkers were removed from areas which have seen relative calm in the last decade, particularly in the summer capital Srinagar. “Our life has changed after the removal of this bunker. Now customers come to my shop. Earlier they would hesitate to visit because forces would harass them,” Shah told Kashmir Life.

Most people living in the vicinity of the removed bunker nod in agreement. “It was difficult for our children to pass. They would whistle and eve tease girls when they would leave for school,” says another resident, Faisal Ahmad. Now, sources in union home ministry say more such bunkers would be removed from Srinagar. The rise in the violence in India’s eastern states has forced the government to relocate the forces from the disturbed areas including Jammu and Kashmir. This development might come as a relief for the chief minister, Omar Abdullah, who has been demanding reduction in presence of troops from residential areas.

Recently, the Director General of CRPF, K Vijay Kumar told reporters that CRPF was gradually reducing its footprints in J&K. “Slowly and steadily, our numbers are reducing. It is a solid and positive indicator,” Kumar said in New Delhi. “The circumstances which have prevailed in valley have made us to think that there was not much to do in valley since peace was returning.” The CRPF which used to have 70 battalions in Kashmir valley is already down to 66 battalions over the last few years. Presently, 25 CRPF battalions are stationed in Srinagar 27 are deployed in other districts of north, south and central Kashmir.

Official sources said three battalions might be moved out from Kashmir and relocated to Chhattisgarh-Andhra Pradesh belt as several operations are being launched to mount pressure on Maoist strongholds. “The strategy is to combat the menace of Naxalism in the affected areas. The government also tried deploying army in these areas but it was politically considered to be bad decision,” said a home ministry official. The reduction of even two battalions of CRPF could see more bunkers razed in the city but not in the rural towns.

According to one official, it will be a symbolic gesture that situation was getting “back to normal” and there was no need of fortifying the city with bunkers and large presence of the security. The CRPF had earlier removed around 50 bunkers from Srinagar city.

“We expect some more battalions would be moved out in coming months,” said a senior police officer. The home ministry had recently passed orders to the CRPF, asking it to withdraw some battalions from Kashmir and Jammu simultaneously. They would be replaced by Indian Reserve Police (IRP) of Jammu and Kashmir Police.

The first of such development happened in April this year when CRPF removed one its oldest bunkers in the high profile commercial zone of Lal Chowk in Srinagar city. The development came a week after Omar Abdullah announced removal of all road side bunkers from Srinagar city. Omar Abdullah has been publicly stating that there was a lack of consensus over withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from the state. At the same time, he has also hinted that the Act will go during his tenure. “The reduction of these troops from at least Srinagar city should bring relief to the chief minister,” said a political analyst.

The chief minister recently met the home ministry officials in Delhi and is believed to have told them that violence was much lower than even in 2010. “At the end, it would be a political decision which has to be taken with strong political will. The army had been fighting for tooth and nail for it (AFSPA). If it is to be removed, the decision has to come from the top,” a senior home ministry official told Kashmir Life.

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