Over half a dozen volunteers of a well known charitable Trust called ABABEEL landed in police lockup for distributing ration to the poor at their doorstep in remote areas of Jammu and Kashmir’s hilly Kishtwar district on Thursday.
Following Kishtwar Deputy Commissioner Rajinder Singh Tara’s intervention, the arrested volunteers were later released on bail by police, but by then they had already spent four-and-a-half hours in police custody. The vehicle used for carrying ration packets, which too had been seized by police, was also released from a Kishtwar court on Friday evening.
Set up in 2015, over 200 strong ABABEEL volunteers have been always there to help people and the administration in all emergencies, be it road accidents, earthquakes, landslides, or rescuing people drowned in Chenab. Last week also, it had procured nearly 500 personal protective suits from a Srinagar-based business establishment and distributed them among doctors, ambulance drivers and policemen on naka duties in Doda, Bhaderwah, Thathri and Kishtwar areas.
Giving details, Burhan, who was heading an eight-member team with ration loaded in three vehicles and an ambulance for support, said they had a list of 60 families from both Hindu and Muslim communities who needed ration. To ensure that every family gets at least one month’s ration in view of continued lockdown, they had made food packets containing rice and atta (15 kg each), ghee, nutria, salt tea, sugar and salt (two kg each), besides two litre of refined oil.
Burhan said because they deliver free ration right at the doorstep of the poor instead of asking them to gather at one place even before the onset of Covid-19, there wasn’t any issue of social distancing. He added that they left Kishtwar town in the morning and first delivered one month ration to families in Dool and Padyarna and thereafter at Kijaye in Paddar area. From there, they had to move uphill on foot for nearly 40 minutes to reach Affani village for delivering the ration, he added.
However, before they could take ration packets from the vehicles parked on the roadside at Padyarna, a Special Police Officer (SPO) approached them saying they have been called by the SHO Gulabgarh to the police station. “I sent two volunteers with him and after sometime, one of them informed me on mobile that the SHO was talking of registered an FIR against all of us for violating the lockdown,” Burhan said, adding that they too rushed to Gulabgarh Police Station.
Burhan said Paddar Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Varun Jeet was also present at the police station and upon seeing them asked how they entered his jurisdiction without prior permission. Before any of them could say anything, according to Burhan, he asked them to park all their vehicles inside the police station and directed the SHO to register an FIR against them. Burhan said they were later released on bail following the intervention by Kishtwar Deputy Commissioner. “We could distribute ration to only 37 families as it was 10.30 pm when we came out of the police station,” he said, adding that they all stayed at the house of a relative at Padyarna for the night and returned to Kishtwar next morning.
The SDM said “they were eight people and they had no pass or permission from district administration to come here in view of lockdown being implemented by us in view of Covid-19 pendamic”. SHO Gulabgarh Sarabjeet Singh said the FIR was registered as they had violated the lockdown orders issued by the District Magistrate, but as the offence was bailable, they were released on bail.
Meanwhile, in view of the police FIR against some of its volunteers, an ABABEEL functionary said they have asked all their volunteers to carry out distribution of ration and other relief works in Kishtwar town and in their neighbourhood during the lockdown period. “We have a number of volunteers who are pursuing higher studies and even preparing for civil services exams and registration of FIRs is bound to affect their careers,” he added.
Kishtwar Deputy Commissioner Rajinder Singh Tara attributed the incident to some misunderstanding, praising ABABEEL volunteers for their good work. “They may have violated the lockdown in the absence of proper permission, but they are doing a good job,” Deputy Commissioner said, adding that he has called them to sort out the issue.