Admin Faces Flak For ‘Forced’ Red Cross Donations in Kashmir

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Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir administration is facing sharp criticism from the people in Valley for allegedly resorting to coercion and threats to collect donations for the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS), even as the charity group has distanced itself from such actions.

According to the witnesses, the civil administration and police have started a massive drive across Kashmir Valley collecting funds from the people for the charity organisation. Revenue officials and cops are seen with receipt books of IRCS on major thoroughfares of Kashmir, including at tourist spots, stopping vehicles on various pretexts and handing them the Red Cross receipts.

Relating his experience, Kashmir Observer staffer Aijaz Ali said on Friday, that he was forced to donate to the Indian Red Cross Society against his will and when he refused he was threatened with police action.

“I was stopped by some officials in civvies outside the Nehru Park Police Post on Friday and handed over a Red Cross Receipt for Rs 200. When I refused and instead urged the man collecting donations to show his identity, he got infuriated and threatened me with police action. "Lejao Isko Police Station and Show Him His Place" the man collecting donations directed a cop standing nearby. "And if he refuses to pay, seize his vehicle as well" he told the cops who swiftly obliged.

According to Aijaz, a policeman later told him to pay politely or else "you will be in avoidable trouble as this was Tehsildar sahab in action".

“I had no choice but to donate,” he added.

Ali is not the only person fuming at the alleged extortion by the officials. Like him there are scores of people who shared the same ordeal.

Kashmir Observer has received numerous complaints in the past weeks, especially after the lockdown was eased, alleging forcible donation for Red Cross. "I was refused entry into Doodhpathri until I agreed to donate to Indian Red Cross. I would have returned even without paying but I had children with me and for their sake I reluctantly paid to policemen collecting donations there,” a senior officer of the Agriculture Department, Lal Mandi, told Kashmir Observer.

Interestingly, the IRCS has put out a disclaimer on its website saying that it has not authorised any individual, corporate, trust, firm or body to raise or collect any donation in cash or kind on its behalf.

“All fund transfers and card payments may be done through our official website link. The branches are also advised to follow due diligence in this matter. IRCS will not be responsible to any entity if it makes a donation otherwise,” reads the disclaimer.

Deputy Secretary, IRCS, N K Singh told Kashmir Observer from New Delhi that the national headquarters has not at all given any directions to any of the branches to cut receipt or charge people from visiting an area.

“We have not given directions to any state branch to cut the receipts. This issue has come into my notice and I have written to the state branch,” he said.

Syed Kifayat Rizvi, Honorary General Secretary, IRCS, Kashmir Chapter, when contacted said that the society does not approve of any coercive collection of funds for it.

“We have taken it up with the government,” he said.

Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Pandurang K Pole who happens to be the Chairman of IRCS, Kashmir chapter, is said to be the brain behind this noval donation drive, which has no precedence anywhere in India or elsewhere. When Kashmir Observer tried to reach him there was no response from his end despite repeated calls.

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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