In a series of administrative orders Saturday, the Jammu and Kashmir government asked hospitals to stock medicines, cancelled the winter vacation of the medical faculty, ordered the rationing of fuel, and directed ration shops to ensure the complete sale of foodgrains by evening.
The slew of orders triggered panic in the Valley as people rushed to stores and petrol pumps to hoard food grains, fuel and medicine. Incidentally, the orders also came hours after a sweeping crackdown on the Jamaat-e-Islami leadership and another order to deploy additional security forces in the Valley.
Speaking to The Sunday Express, J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik said there was no need to panic since the “Centre and the state administration will not do anything against the Kashmiri people”. “The Centre has also said time and again that our fight is only against those Kashmiris who are playing into the hands of Pakistan,” he said.
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Later, while the order to ensure the complete sale of food grains was withdrawn, officials said that the cancellation of leave and the deployment of additional security forces were routine ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
According to officials, these were “pure administrative measures” to ensure better supplies to remote parts of the state and to prevent the hoarding of petrol, diesel and other essential items in the state during winter months.
State political leaders warned against escalating hostilities between India and Pakistan, while former bureaucrats said that the administration should explain the need for emergency orders on a single day.
Former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said that the administration needed to take steps to reduce the panic. “People are hoarding food and fuel. Some government orders are adding to the sense of panic …My sister just went to four pumps to put fuel in her car and didn’t get a drop from any of the four. That’s what people in Srinagar are dealing with,” he said on Twitter.
Condemning the arrests of Jamaat leaders, the PDP said in a statement, “It is nothing but a clear war hysteria being created in Kashmir wherein things were subtly returning to equanimity. People are being unnecessarily harassed and intimated with fear being manufactured across Kashmir. We condemn such a state action and demand immediate rollback of such muscular policies.”
National Conference President Farooq Abdullah said: “If the war takes places, matters will escalate and invite international notice. Is India ready to see the issue of Kashmir being raked up in the United Nations Security Council?” He also said that any misadventure aimed at “fiddling” with the special status of J&K (Article 35A) will have “serious far-reaching consequences” for the state and the country.
With speculation rife on Article 35A across the Valley, Governor Malik said, “Tareekh lagi hui hai, baaki sab afwah hai (The matter is up for hearing. The rest are rumours).” He is also set to call an all-party meeting next week on holding elections in the state.
Malik, since he is “not an elected representative” and J&K is no longer under Governor’s rule, said: “I am just a representative here with the state being under President’s rule, and legal opinion will be sought on the issue of 35A.”
While former J&K bureaucrat Muhammad Shafi Pandit said the government should “explain, what the perceived exigencies have been which necessitated this kind of emergency orders to be issued on one single day”, former Chief Secretary Vijay Bakaya said, “They might have issued the orders because of the frequent closure of the national highway (in winters). I don’t foresee any reason for panic.”
The orders issued Saturday:
* Professor Samia Rashid, Principal, Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar, directed that the second half of the winter vacation for the faculty members were cancelled. “All faculty members shall report to their duties by Feb 25.,” the order said.
Professor Rashid told The Indian Express that it was routine and she issued the order following an order by General Administration Department (GAD) which cancelled the leaves of the employees ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
* The Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department, Srinagar directed all Tehsil Supply Officers (TSO) Srinagar South to ensure the complete sale of food grains by Saturday evening positively.
Muhammad Qasim Wani, Director of the Civil Supplies department, said the order was withdrawn after reports of public panic. “It is issued every month. Due to the prevailing situation, people panicked today. We have cancelled it to clear all the confusion,” he said.
* Director Health Services (DHS), Dr Kunzes Dolma asked all the chief medical officers (CMO) for the collection of supplies from regional drugs warehouses.
* Another DHS circular, listed as most urgent, asked the CMOs, Medical Superintendents and Block Medical Officers to ensure uninterrupted health care services to the patients across the Kashmir Division. Dr Dolma said both orders were routine.