Normalcy returning to Jammu and Kashmir in fits and starts

Curbs reimposed in the old city in Srinagar after eight people were injured in clashes and protests

Published - August 17, 2019 10:43 pm IST - Srinagar

A man making a call using landline phone in Srinagar on August 17, 2019.

A man making a call using landline phone in Srinagar on August 17, 2019.

Eight protesters were injured in sporadic incidents of stone throwing in the Kashmir Valley on Saturday, even as the government started easing security restrictions and began releasing communications lines, blocked since August 5, in a phased manner.

Curbs were, however, reimposed in the old city in Srinagar following clashes and protests.

“Around seven incidents of disturbances were reported mainly from the areas where the restrictions were not lifted in the Kashmir Valley,” said J&K Principal Secretary and spokesman Rohit Kansal. “Eight injuries were reported in these incidents. All injured are reportedly stable,” he added.

All lines up in Jammu

Unlike the Kashmir Valley, the government has restored communications lines in the entire Jammu region, comprising the Pir Panchal Valley and the Chenab Valley.

“However, mobile services were restored in five districts in Jammu region,” said Mr. Kansal.

In contrast to Jammu, 17 telephone exchanges were made functional and the restrictions were relaxed in 35 police stations in the Kashmir Valley, with five of them in Srinagar.

“It resulted in people coming out on roads. There was free movement of men and material. Relaxation will continue for tomorrow too in these areas,” Mr. Kansal added.

The Internet, however, continues to remain suspended “for security reasons”.

Residents, however, complained that the phone lines were working in an erratic manner. “My neighbour’s phone is running but many others are down in the same vicinity. My phone is also dysfunctional,” said Suhail Ahmad of Rajbagh.

Meanwhile, the government plans to reopen educational institutions up to the primary level in the Kashmir Valley from Monday.

“Most of these schools are located within the localities,” Mr. Kansal said.

Srinagar’s Deputy Commissioner Shahid Iqbal Choudhary said 190 schools would reopen on Monday in various zones of Srinagar.

The first day of restrictions being lifted also saw locals in the old city hitting the streets and staging demonstrations. All interior roads were blocked by protesters, bringing traffic to a grinding halt. A Station House Officer (SHO) at Hawal told The Hindu that the police had reimposed Section 144 in Hawal after some youths blocked roads and “were preparing to galvanise street protests”.

Demonstrations and stone throwing were also reported and strict restrictions implemented in Srinagar’s Nowhatta, Soura, Safakadal, Khanyar, Rainawari, Natipora, Barzulla and Nowgam areas.

“The administration is calibrating the situation and in this regard easing is done in a gradual manner,” said Inspector-General of Police (IGP) S.P. Pani.

Thin attendance

The J&K government is up against a major task to restore normalcy in government offices by Monday, as J&K Chief Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam on Friday visited Srinagar’s Civil Secretariat to find that just about 350 out of 5,000 employees were attending office regularly.

An official, who attended the meeting, told The Hindu that a majority of employees were either absent or had shifted to Jammu, fearing a major law and order situation due to the amendments to Article 370 and the change in J&K’s status into a Union Territory (UT).

Another official said about 1,500 employees in the Civil Secretariat in Srinagar were non-locals and Kashmiri Pandits. About 90% of these employees had left the Kashmir Valley before August 5, as the Centre and the State government had issued advisories asking tourists and pilgrims to leave, officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

With the situation showing signs of normalcy with very low-intensity protests reported so far, Mr. Subrahmanyam has directed officials to provide transportation to employees and ensure their attendance. It is likely to set the process of restoring normalcy back on track.

Officials said the Chief Secretary had asked the Education Department to first open schools up to the primary level in areas declared “safe zones”, followed by “sensitive” and “highly sensitive” zones. High schools, however, may not be reopened in the current phase, they said.

Schools and colleges have opened in many districts of Jammu. Tensions remain palpable in the Chenab Valley, where communications lines and schools remain shut. The Pir Panchal valley is showing signs of normalcy.

Twelve out of 22 districts of J&K are functioning normally, with some night-time restrictions in five of these, according to officials.

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