Earlier this month, a resident of Aglar village (name withheld by request) in south Kashmir’s Shopian district received a call from an Army officer, asking him to deposit his private vehicle at the local Army camp by evening. The man did that, turning over the car’s keys to Army personnel. Next morning, he collected the car. It had been used during the night.
His is not a one-off case. In at least two villages of Shopian, residents say it has become a regular practice for the Army to call owners of commercial and private vehicles, and use their vehicles at night — for free. Residents have no idea why and for what purpose are the vehicles used.
The Army denies the charge, saying “no civilian is being forced to provide his vehicle”. But in Shopian’s Heerpora, along the Mughal Road, several men claim Army personnel from the camp in Chowgam often stop drivers during the day and direct them to drop their vehicles at the camp in the evening.
“The Army has made a list of its own. When I cross the camp, they tell me it is my turn today. After dropping the passengers, I have to deliver my vehicle in the evening,” one of the drivers told The Indian Express.
In Aglar, residents narrate a similar account, saying they have to deposit their vehicles for the night at the Pahnu camp. The village has even prepared a list of all residents who own private vehicles, including two-wheelers.
“I dropped my vehicle there for a night. Next morning, I went to collect it from the camp. They handed me my vehicle,” a resident said. “Out of fear, I had kept the vehicle registration documents at home and even filled fuel in the car. When I collected it the next day, the reading (on the milometer) was the same, the one I had recorded the previous night.”
Another resident said: “They sometime give us fuel in return… I end up losing money because my car always has enough fuel.”
When The Indian Express started reaching out to officials for comments on the claims of the residents, the drivers too started receiving calls from Army personnel, enquiring who among them had spoken to the media.
While Yaseen Choudhary, Shopian Deputy Commissioner, declined to comment on the matter, the district’s Assistant Regional Transport Officer Moazzam Ali said local taxi operators of Heerpora did not approach him directly.
“When I heard about it, I called them (drivers) and asked why they hadn’t brought it to my notice. They informed me that the Army camp took their commercial vehicles for a few days and gave them only fuel, and no money. They told me that the practice has stopped now. It is not happening now,” Ali said. He said he was not aware of a similar practice in Aglar.
Shopian SSP Sandeep Chaudhary did not respond to written queries from The Indian Express for comment.
Srinagar-based defence spokesperson Colonel Rajesh Kalia rejected the allegations of villagers. “No civilian is being forced to provide his vehicle. If at all, any civil vehicle is hired or used, remuneration is given as per policy. The allegations are baseless,” he said.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines