As the security lockdown and communication blockade entered the ninth day Tuesday, senior officials at the Centre and in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) underlined that it was up to the local authorities to assess the situation and take a decision on lifting restrictions.
“The choice is between inconvenience of restrictions and loss of lives. Our concern is to ensure safety of citizens in Kashmir,” said a senior official of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
In Srinagar, the J&K administration said the curbs would be relaxed in parts of the Valley in a phased manner, based on the assessment of local authorities. Addressing a press conference, Principal Secretary and government spokesperson Rohit Kansal said Jammu region was “almost entirely” free of restrictions. “Restrictions, however, do continue in parts of Kashmir,” he said. “We are hopeful that once the full dress rehearsals for Independence Day being carried out in various districts of J&K and Ladakh conclude, there will be further relaxations,” he said.
“We are conscious and sensitive to the difficulties being faced by everybody as a result of these restrictions. But I do wish to emphasise that reasonable restrictions may sometimes be necessary to prevent mischief mongers from carrying out any untoward incident,” he said.
MHA sources pointed out that this is not the first time that Kashmir is facing largescale restrictions. “In 2016, following the killing of Burhan Wani, so many lives were lost due to unabated protests. Restrictions continued for months. This time, we have taken preventive steps to minimise violence and loss of lives,” said the senior MHA official.
“The administration is taking great pains to ensure life is eased even during restrictions. We must not just look at inconvenience caused by restrictions, but at the situation in totality,” he said.
He said political leaders in the Valley had been detained legally, based on reports from local authorities. “It is they who will decide when they can be released. They are not political prisoners,” he said.
Sources said the MHA is taking a serious view of people who are trying to create mischief through social media platforms. “We are flagging such handles which are trying to instigate, incite violence and spreading fake news. Action is being taken by the Department of Telecommunications. It is a worldwide problem and even countries that swear by free speech are grappling with it,” said the official.
Kansal said there is a “constant endeavour to ensure that people are not obstructed and are facilitated in every possible way”. He said 300 public points have been set up for people to make phone calls, and over 5,000 calls were made in a day.
He said medical services were continuing “normally and unhindered”. Last week, 13,500 patients were treated in OPDs in Srinagar district, while there were 1,400 admissions and 600 procedures of all kinds, he said.
Kansal said the national highway was functioning normally and over 100 heavy vehicles, trucks carrying LPG cylinders, oil trucks and about 1,500 light motor vehicles and buses had moved over the last 24 hours. “The flight operations are normal too,” he added.
Asked about plans to unfurl the national flag on August 15 at various places, including Lal Chowk in Srinagar, Kansal said: “Independence Day celebrations have a certain system. It is a national festival and will be celebrated with respect and grandeur. I have nothing to say about specific individuals,” he said.
He said the three-day Global Investment Summit would also be held as per schedule — the inaugural session will be held in Srinagar on October 12. In Jammu, Principal Secretary, Industries and Commerce, Navin K Choudhary said: “The administration is inviting nearly 2,000 dignitaries from industry and commerce, we expect a good percentage of them to attend it.”
Choudhary said roadshows would be organised in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, London, Netherlands, Singapore and Malaysia to sensitise potential investors.
— With Arun Sharma in Jammu, PTI in Srinagar