LONG ON the radar of security agencies, Gujjar settlements in close proximity to Punjab’s international border with Pakistan may have to be relocated. At a meeting of home secretaries from across the country called by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Punjab was asked to take steps to remove the Gujjar settlements located on “government land” near the border. Gujjar deras had come under the scanner of investigating officials after the terrorist attack on the Pathankot airbase even though nothing emerged that could link members of the Gujjar community with the terror act in any way. Acting on directions from the Centre, the Punjab Home Department wrote to “These hutments are located on government land and due to them being situated very near the border were posing a security risk. Hence measures had to be taken to take these away from the border,” said the home department in its note to the police.
The note said the Punjab DGP should be directed to take up the matter with the Financial Commissioner, Revenue, because it is this department that has to take steps to move the settlements from their present locations to alternate spots.
According to a list available with the Punjab government, more than 15 Gujjar deras in three districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Pathankot alone are situated in close proximity to the border. At least nine such settlements are less than three kilometres from the international border. One of the settlements located near the 164 Battalion of the Border Security Force in the Gurdaspur sector is merely 1.2 kilometres from the border.
A Gujjar dera in Bamial, with a population of more than 130 people, is located three kilometres from the international border. Bamial has remained one of the most susceptible sections of the border. It is suspected that the terrorists who carried out the
Pathankot airbase attack in January last year crossed over to India even though BSF claims otherwise.
MHA issues Attari alert
The MHA has also written to BSF Director-General and Punjab Home Department to build a joint team of Punjab Police and BSF to check visitors and vehicles thoroughly before parking and installing sophisticated technical equipment and CCTV cameras to watch the activities of visitors at the Attari border.
The concern has been raised in two separate communications last month, one by the immigration section of the MHA Foreigners Division addressed to the BSF DG and Punjab Home Department and the other by MHA Department of Border Management to the Punjab Home Department.
The communication by MHA Foreigners Division said “…Punjab Tourism Department has opened a new parking lot of vehicles of visitors coming to witness Retreat Ceremony near Customs main gate, Attari Road, ICP, in May 2017, which has increased the security concern due to close proximity to the border without any security check. Further the new changes have increased the vulnerability as it has become a potential target for the inimical elements and the possibility of any untoward incident could not be ruled out.”
The communication by the MHA Department of Border Management referred to the November 2014 suicide attack on the Wagah side and said, “JCP Attari remains open for all the visitors and attracts humungous crowd for Indo-Pak Retreat Ceremony. Its vulnerability could be assessed in the backdrop of suicide attack at Wagah, Pakistan (November 02, 2014) which took place in the parking area of Wagah (Pakistan) during the Retreat Ceremony.”
Referring to the new parking lot, the communique said, “The vehicles of visitors without any security check can reach in proximity to the border thus making the site of Retreat Ceremony vulnerable.”
“A disjunction policy and use of different routes to manage the crowd raching the stadium and in case of emergency could be made ready for implementation,” the communication said, adding, “There is a need to start the helpline number to assist visitors so that in times of distress, the visitors and their family could be addressed properly and this could be helpful in minimising the panic, at the time of any accident/attack. Public address system needs to be improved.”