West-Pak Refugees, DDC Members; BJP Leaders Call on Envoys
Jammu: Visiting envoys from nearly two dozen countries on Thursday met representatives of various civil society groups and elected panchayat and urban local bodies (ULB) members here to get a first-hand appraisal of the situation during the recently held DDC elections — the first democratic exercise in Jammu and Kashmir post the nullification of Article 370.
Representatives of West Pakistani Refugees and Walmiki Samaj, the two communities who were deprived of voting rights over the past seven decades and voted for the first time in the local elections, briefed the envoys about their experience, officials said.
The visiting envoys of several countries, including member states of the European Union, reached Jammu on the second leg of their two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday. The envoys visited Kashmir on the first day of their tour on Wednesday.
We briefed them about the establishment of the three-tier panchayati raj and implementation of the 74th amendment. While the elections to panchayats was held for the fourth time in J-K compared to 14 times in rest of the country, the implementation of the 74th amendment of the constitution after 28 years was possible only after the abrogation of the Article 370, Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) Mayor Chander Mohan Gupta told reporters.
Gupta, a senior BJP leader who led a delegation in the meeting, said the previous governments in the erstwhile state were not interested in empowering the people at the grass-roots level.
They were only interested in Parliament and assembly elections, he said.
The delegation also briefed the envoys about other positives including development which has been speeded up after the August 5 2019 measure, Gupta said.
Vice president of West Pakistani Refugees Sukhdev Singh Manhas said, I told them what we have been subjected to over the past 73 years under the garb of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution.
This was for the first time we voted in the local elections and for that we are thankful to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. The post August 5 2019 development gave us rights and now we can vote, contest elections, avail government jobs and own properties, he said.
Echoing Manhas, Valmiki Samaj representatives — Akash Kumar and Vanisha — said they told the envoys that the foremost benefit which they saw after the abrogation of provisions of Article 370 was that the community took part in the District Development Council (DDC) elections held in November-December last year for the first time.
Vandana, a BJP sarpanch, said the envoys were very curious to know about the response of the people during election campaigning.
We told them that the people are happy with the development which gave us a full-fledged panchayat system including 33 percent reservation to women, she said, adding the people overwhelmingly voted in the democratic exercise to choose their representatives.
DDC member Rajinder Sharma from Rajouri highlighted the issues of Pahari community and thanked the central government for granting four percent reservation in public sector employment and admission to educational and professional institutions.
The past governments ignored the community, which constitutes 9 percent of the total population of J-K with majority of them being Muslims, he said.
The community suffered immensely due to Pakistan-sponsored militancy as majority of its members live near the Line of Control and face frequent shelling from across the border, Sharma said.
He expressed hope that the Modi government would do justice with this hardcore nationalist community by granting scheduled tribe status in near future.
Another DDC member from Rajouri Mohammad Iqbal Malik said Article 370 was a huge barrier in the path of development especially in the far flung areas of the erstwhile state.
With its abrogation many deprived sections of the region including scheduled caste community, Valmiki Samaj, Gorkha community, women, Gujjars and Bakerwals have all got equal political, economic and social rights, he said.
He praised the central government for holding block development council and DDC elections to set up a three-tier panchayati raj system for the first time in the history of J-K.
Army Brief Envoys
Heightened vigil along the Line of Control has pushed militant groups and Pakistani establishments to send militants into India using tunnels dug under seasonal river beds along the International Border in the Jammu region, the army on Thursday told a group of 24 foreign envoys visiting Jammu and Kashmir.
The envoys, including those from member states of the European Union (EU) and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), arrived in the union territory on a two-day visit on Wednesday to assess the development work and the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir, especially after the erstwhile state’s special status was abrogated in 2019.
They were given a detailed presentation by senior Indian army officers on the role of the Pakistani army in helping cross-border infiltration and supplying arms, and instances of unprovoked ceasefire violation by the neighbouring nation.
The envoys were briefed by the officers at the strategically-located headquarters of the army’s XV Corps, which overlooks the Kashmir Valley.
The officials said that after the army made certain changes to the Counter Infiltration Grid along the Line of Control (LoC), the Pakistani establishment has been using a network of natural caves and sometimes digging tunnels under seasonal rivers along the International Border in Jammu region’s Samba sector to push militants into India.
Highlighting the techniques used by Pakistan-based militant groups for infiltration, they said the establishment across the border is engaged in providing all support to militants in spreading violence in the union territory.
It was mentioned that the militants, who masterminded an attack on CRPF personnel in Pulwama in 2019 that left 40 personnel dead, had also infiltrated into India through a tunnel in the Jammu region.
The officials told the envoys that despite foiling several attempts of infiltration along the LoC, the Pakistan army continues to run militant camps across the border and violate ceasefire to help militants to enter into the Kashmir Valley.
In order to reduce loss of life, the Pakistani establishment is airdropping weapons from across the border using drones. These drones can carry payloads of around 12 kilograms, the army officials told the foreign delegation.
The envoys were shown seized weapons from militants having markings of the Pakistan ordinance factory, they said.
On the situation in the Kashmir Valley, the army officials highlighted Wednesday evening’s incident in which a son of a prominent eatery owner was shot and critically wounded at his shop in a high-security area of the city.
This was a part of the militants game plan to silence either moderate voices in Kashmir or those who refused to follow their diktat, they said.
The army also gave a detailed briefing on how internet-warfare was used by Pakistani establishments to brainwash youngsters through social media platforms.
Coming to the situation post the abrogation of the special status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and its bifurcation into union territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir in 2019, the army officials said there has been no loss of life due to the action of state forces.
There has been a marked decrease in law and order problems and incidents of stone pelting have seen a sharp decline, the army officials told the visiting envoys, and also shared their experience during the recent District Development Council (DDC) elections, which were conducted successfully.
Besides militancy and the situation along the LoC, the officials informed the envoys about the assistance being provided to people living in far-flung areas. They were also informed about the tourism sector in the Kashmir Valley and the achievements of the Kashmiri people in various fields.
Earlier, Superintendent of Police (Srinagar East) Sheema Nabi gave a presentation to the envoys about how the police dealt with challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was all about maintaining a balance between addressing people’s problems and enforcing COVID-19 restrictions, she said.
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