Security forces stepped up vigil across the Valley ahead of Independence Day as authorities prepared for the main event in Srinagar where Governor Satya Pal Malik will hoist the Tricolour Thursday.
On Wednesday, the tenth day of the lockdown, restrictions were eased in Srinagar to allow public and vehicle movement even as officials said the curbs will return Thursday. Barricades and concertina wire spools have come up on roads leading to the Sher-i-Kashmir stadium, the venue for the Independence Day event.
Principal Secretary Rohit Kansal, who is the spokesperson for the J&K administration, told reporters: “The restrictions were eased on Wednesday. The overall security situation continues to be calm and there are no reports of any major untoward incident… there will be some restrictions tomorrow.”
“We are ready for the main function tomorrow. It will be held in Srinagar where the national flag will be hoisted by the Honourable Governor. In Jammu, the celebrations will be led by the Advisor to the Honourable Governor,” he said.
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Following the relaxation of curbs, private vehicles were seen plying on the roads of Srinagar but shops, business establishments, schools and offices remained closed. Public transport too was off the roads. The communication blackout also continued.
ADGP (Law and Order) Munir Khan said: “The situation in the whole of the state is completely under control… As far as Kashmir division is concerned, restrictions are in place at certain places. These are imposed after assessing the situation of that particular area. Relaxation is given after assessing the situation.”
“There have been localised incidents… these have been dealt with locally. There have been a few pellet injuries.” He said the main focus is on the Independence Day event and “all preparations and arrangements are in place to ensure peaceful celebrations”.
To a query on the detention of JKPM president Shah Faesal, Kansal said, “We will not comment about individuals.”
Asked whether mainstream party leaders would be invited to the Independence Day celebrations, ADGP (Armed) Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gilani said: “The list of invitees is being finalised by the Divisional Commissioner. Whoever gets the invite will be allowed to participate (in the event).” On the reopening of schools in the Valley, Kansal said “we will take a call on that”.
The government’s initial objective, officials said, was to keep the restrictions in place until the August 15 celebrations.
“Over the last nine days, we split it (the lockdown) in two phases. First, the aim was to keep things under control until Eid. Once that was achieved, we put in place an elaborate plan to ensure Independence Day passes off peacefully,” a senior official said.
“A clearer picture will emerge once we enter the new phase starting August 16. Over the past three days, we have tried to see how people react when restrictions are relaxed… We are aware there is a lot of anger. There is a lot of tension in the air…. We are aware this decision (on J&K) will have far-reaching implications. But currently, we are investing all our time, resources and efforts in not allowing any public protest,” he said.
Night deployment of security forces is mostly concentrated around chowks, important junctions and main checkpoints.
Backing the government move, a police officer said the decision was “essential to root out” the separatists and the “mindset” of their sympathisers. “The idea of Azadi, autonomy, special status etc are the same. They are poison and we will keep adding water, keep diluting it till the water becomes safe to drink,” he said.
With all eyes on the August 15 celebrations, the administration is leaving nothing to chance. At the dress rehearsal for the Srinagar event, local cultural groups were missing. Artists from Jammu and Ladakh, and troupes from the paramilitary forces led the cultural programme.