MHA weighing option of providing arms to Panchs in J&K
‘Govt made us a media showcase, provoked militant attacks on us’
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
Srinagar, Nov 5: Even as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today ruled out providing security to 33,000 Panchs and Sarpanchs, Government of India is currently weighing the option of providing firearms to members of the Panchayati Raj Institutions in certain “hyper sensitive” districts in Kashmir valley besides some border areas in Jammu division.
Authoritative sources revealed to Early Times that Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in Government of India had taken “extremely seriously” United Jihad Council (UJC) supremo and Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin’s recent threat that Panchs and Sarpanchs would continue to become target of militant attacks in
the discussion being underway between the State and the Central governments, a
host of options was being considered to pre-empt and counter the threat.
Notwithstanding the security being a state subject, this burning issue,
according to sources, had “wider range and ramifications” and could not be
settled in absence of coordination between Srinagar and New Delhi. Jammu and Kashmir
Sources said it was for the first time since the Panchayat elections were held in J&K in April 2011 that the government was seriously considering the option of providing firearms to the vulnerable Panchayat members in certain “hyper sensitive areas”. While the option of providing weapons was under consideration for over two hundred Panchs and Sarpanchs in Pulwama, Shopian, Baramulla and Kupwara districts, North Block was reportedly toying with the idea of turning some Panchayats in Rajouri and Poonch districts of Jammu division in some sort of Village Defence Committees (VDCs).
Sources said that Government of Jammu and Kashmir had not shown reasonable receptivity to the option of providing arms and ammunition to Panchs and Sarpanchs and turning the Panchayats into ‘VDCs’, but, at the same time, it had not submitted any other practicable solution that could make the much threatened Panchayat members feel secure.
Significantly, army has made it unambiguously clear that providing security to Panchayat functionaries was essentially the responsibility of the state government and Police. It could, at best, be asked to provide general area security by increasing patrolling in certain areas of its operation.
Sources said that the demand of providing arms and ammunition had come from the terrorized Panchs and Sarpanchs as a section of them was continuously stressing on the authorities from
either provide them PSOs and house-guards or the firearms alongwith an amount
of Rs 5000 each as ‘honorarium’. New Delhi
According to these sources, authorities had learned from some credible intelligence inputs that terrorizing Panchs and Sarpanchs was high on the agenda of UJC constituents after the former Indian Minister of External Affairs S M Krishna’s speech in a recent UN session. Militants have taken umbrage over the statements of the Indian leaders---particularly UPA chief Sonia Gandhi, S M Krishna and Dr Farooq Abdullah---wherein they have sought to play up the high- turnout Panchayat elections in J&K as a “referendum again Pakistan and terrorism”.
According to authoritative sources, it was on the written complaint of a number of Panchs and Sarpanchs in Kupwara district that an editor of a local media group was arrested last week on the charge of publishing “fake resignations” of Panchs and Sarpanchs only to create a wave of fear among the Panchayat members in Valley. The applicants are said to have claimed that they had neither submitted their resignations nor approached any of the local newspapers for such kind of paid advertisements. Sources said that the matter was under investigation as the detained editor had counter-claimed that the Panchs and Sarpanchs had requested his media group to publish their resignations.
With the concern among the government functionaries growing with regard to safety and security of Panchayat members, a representative organisation of Panchs and Sarpanchs today reiterated demand of making them secure. The All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference (AJKPC) threatened to stage a protest dharna outside the Prime Minister’s residence in
if the state government did not take up measures to ensure the security of Panchs and Sarpanchs. New Delhi
“The state government is non-serious towards security and empowerment of Panchayat members. We implore Chief Minister and Home Minister of India to provide security to those Panchs and Sarpanchs who are facing security threat”, said Imtiyaz Afzal Beigh, Provincial President AJKPC during a press conference at Hotel Lala Rukh here. He sought to make it clear that the organisation was seeking protection only to those who felt threatened and not to all the 33,000 Panchs and Sarpanchs the authorities were referring to.
Reacting to UJC chief Syed Salahuddin’s diktat seeking resignation of all Panchs and Sarpanchs, he said: “We are not anybody’s agents and don’t belong to any political party. They should ask the political leaders like MLAs and MLCs to resign first”. He asserted that UJC would gain nothing by killing 33000 ordinary representatives of the people of J&K.
The AJKPC Provincial President said that the organisation had already furnished a list of the Panchs and Parpanchs who were facing security threat to the state Director General of Police
Lambasting the state government for failing to respond to the deadline of 24 hours set by the organizations for providing security to them, spokesperson of the AJKPC, Gh Hassan Punzoo, said several Panchayat members had resigned as a fallout of the government callousness. “When Panchs and Sarpanchs are resigning, we don’t understand what the government is waiting for”, he asked.
Reiterating the demands for empowerment of Panchayat members by implementing provisions of the 73rd amendment, he urged the Government to fix wages to Panchs and Sarpanches. Mr Punzoo demanded security to the apex body members of the AJKPC on first priority. He accused the government of making the Panchayat members vulnerable by turning them into a media showcase and thus provoking militant attacks on them. According to him, political rivalry too could have been a factor in some of the attacks on Panchs and Sarpanchs.