NATIONAL

Manmohan defends special entry system for bus service

NEW DELHI, MARCH 17. Defending the special entry permit system for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, scheduled to begin from April 7, the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, today asserted that it would not, in any way, compromise India's position on Jammu and Kashmir.

"This does not in any way compromise our rights with regard to Jammu and Kashmir. This also does not pose any danger to our security," Dr. Singh told the Rajya Sabha.

`No danger to our security'

Dr. Singh said there were differences on replacing the passport and visa system for the bus service and on security issues.

"I assure you all agencies of the Government concerned with the security of the country were consulted fully on the system being adopted. They came to the conclusion that the mechanism does not pose any danger to our security. We are essentially dealing with a human problem — the problem of divided families," he said.

The Prime Minister's brief intervention came during a reply to a question on new rail and bus links between India and Pakistan which witnessed noisy interruptions by the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party as members gave vent to their apprehensions over replacing passport and visa with other special travel documents.

It was an unusual situation when even an intervention by the Prime Minister failed to satisfy the BJP members. The Leader of the Opposition, Jaswant Singh, admitted that ordinarily there would not be questions after the Prime Minister's statement.

"We only want to know if you have moved away from [the] passport and visa system, please explain to the House what advantages politically and diplomatically would accrue to India," he said.

House adjourned

The Chairman, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, announced that a discussion could take place on the subject and called out the next question by M.A.M. Ramaswamy relating to new band of airwaves to operators. Despite his ruling, the BJP members continued with their queries and the resulting chaos forced the Chairman to adjourn the House for about half-an-hour.

The question went on for nearly an hour, an unusual scenario when 19 other questions could not be taken up.

Earlier, Yashwant Sinha sought to know which was the designated authority in Pakistan that would deal with the special entry permit system and if it would strengthen Pakistan's claim of Jammu and Kashmir being a "disputed territory."

"I am amazed and disappointed," Mr. Sinha said adding that he had not got a clear answer.

In his reply, the External Affairs Minister, Natwar Singh, said: "Please read your interview of October 2003. This is an extraordinary situation that we are supposed to answer which will be the Pakistani authority... I am also amazed and disappointed."

Mr. Natwar Singh said that it was a proposal put forward by the previous National Democratic Alliance Government and the commitment was being honoured by the present government.

The proposal of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus link had been carefully looked into and India was not accepting any local identity document. He said the composite dialogue process started by the previous Government was being carried forward.

"The Prime Minister has kept your (BJP) leadership informed. Nowhere India's security and national interest will be abdicated,'' he said.

The former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, sought to know if Kashmiris were Indians or disputed people and wanted to know why Pakistan should dictate terms over which travel documents would be needed. "Please do not compromise India's interests," he said.

`A beginning'

Mr. Natwar Singh told the House that most importantly the bus link had been welcomed by the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

"This is a beginning. More rail and road links like Amritsar and Nankana Sahib can be opened," he added.

Earlier, the Minister of State for External Affairs, E. Ahamed, explained the special entry system.

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