Senior Home Ministry officials were non-committal when a parliamentary panel asked if they could travel to Kashmir Valley like Members of the European Parliament did recently.
The officials including Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla briefed the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, chaired by senior Congress leader Anand Sharma, on the situation in the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
A senior Rajya Sabha MP, who attended the meeting, told The Hindu that most parliamentarians questioned the officials on the prolonged detention of political leaders including Lok Sabha MP and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and sought to know when they would be released.
Request for visit
“We asked Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla “you took foreign MPs to Kashmir... when will you let us visit the Valley? He said they will look into it later,” the MP said.
Mr. Abdullah has been detained under the stringent Public Safety Act.
The officials told the panel that those detained under the PSA could challenge their detention only in designated tribunals and then in the High Court. However, they did not give any time line for their release.
As many as 23 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) were taken on a two-day visit to Srinagar to assess the ground situation last month.
The officials gave a detailed presentation on the current situation in J&K and also presented photographs of busy roads and traffic movement.
“We told them you are showing us pictures of places where vehicles are plying; why don’t you show us pictures of places that are dark and shut,” said another MP, also at the meeting.
The Kashmir Valley and parts of Jammu have been under severe restrictions, including a communication blockade since the early hours on August 5, when Home Minister Amit Shah moved two Bills in the Rajya Sabha to read down Article 370 that had granted special status to J&K and downgrade and bifurcate the State into two Union Territories. The restrictions were eased gradually and landlines and post paid mobile phone connections were allowed.
The MPs also raised the Internet blockade in the Valley. The officials replied that restrictions were imposed as the Internet could be used by terrorists and also to spread rumours.
The parliamentarians were told that there were 71,254 incidents of terror-related violence in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990, in which 14,049 civilians, 5,293 security personnel and 22,552 terrorists were killed.
Meanwhile, the Congress party asked whether sitting Lok Sabha MP from Srinagar Farooq Abdullah would be allowed to attend the winter session of Parliament from Monday. “Kashmir has been in a lockdown situation for the last 103 days. The Prime Minister is going around the world saying sab changa si (all is well),” party spokesperson Pawan Khera said.
“Is it not that Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti take their oaths under the Constitution of India? Omar Abdullah has held several positions in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Cabinet. You [the BJP] have been in a government with Mehbooba Mufti, and today you have put them in the same category as separatists,” Mr. Khera said.
“When Farooq Abdullah sings Ram Bhajan or says Bharat Mata ki Jai, he does not think what the response of separatist forces will be,” he added.
The party also questioned the government for allowing a delegation of European Union (EU) lawmakers to visit Srinagar but not Indian MPs.
The Congress is expected to the issue of the EU delegation’s visit and the detention of the Kashmiri leaders during the winter session of Parliament.
“How come foreign countries can gather courage to ask questions on our internal issues,” Mr. Khera asked and added, “We would like to make it clear... Kashmir was, is and will always be an integral part of India.”