Nearly 500 elderly Village Defence Committee (VDC) members and Special Police Officers (SPO) in Jammu’s Kishtwar district will be replaced soon, a senior police officer said on Sunday.
The step is part of a strategy to counter militancy related activities in the hilly district which was rattled by the killing of BJP state secretary Anil Parihar and his brother Ajeet Parihar on November 1 last year, followed by the assassination of senior RSS leader Chanderkant Sharma and his security guard inside a health centre on April 9.
The decision was taken despite reservations expressed by former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti over arming of civilians in Chenab valley. “Keeping in view the present security scenario in Kishtwar town and the overstaying of SPOs in the district (Kishtwar), an overhauling is being done. A process to replace 352 VDC members and 117 VDC SPOs who are above the age of 60 years has been set into motion,” the officer said.
The SPOs, who have overstayed at a particular place have also been replaced. Besides this, 9 VDC SPOs have been disengaged from the VDC rolls for non compliance of orders, the officer said.
In response to the recently held SPOs recruitment, he said a list of around 85 meritorious candidates was sent to police headquarters for final approval.
The VDCs were setup in the mid-1990s with an aim to strengthen the security in remote and mountainous areas of Doda, Kishtwar, Ramba, Rajouri, Reasi, Kathua and Poonch districts of the region.
The members of these committees not only guard the identified villages along the border, but also the infrastructural installations in and around them.
Kishtwar along with several other districts of Jammu province were declared militancy free over a decade ago but after the recent killings, the authorities have taken various steps to counter attempts by militants to gain a foothold in the Chenab valley. Inspector General of Police, Jammu, M K Sinha recently said at least 10 local militants– eight belonging to Hizbul Mujahideen and two affiliated to Lashker-e-Toiba– were active in the district.
Describing the reported plans of the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration to arm civilians in the sensitive Chenab valley as “alarming”, Mufti, who is also Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president, had warned that the move would have “dangerous consequences”.
She said similar experiments of arming civilians under the anti-militancy grid in the 1990s had led to complete chaos and the wounds inflicted upon the general masses were still fresh.
“Reports about the administration trying to arm civilians under the garb of creating VDC in Chenab valley are disturbing and alarming especially at the time when the government has to be inclusive to avoid further alienation of youth across the state,” Mufti had said in a statement on Saturday.
On Friday, police registered a case against former PDP MLC Firdous Tak and some other party leaders after they staged a demonstration against the state administration for strengthening VDCs in the district.
Mufti dubbed the FIR “false and frivolous” and demanded its immediate rollback.
On July 17, a three-member delegation of senior BJP leaders led by former deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh met Governor Satya Pal Malik at Raj Bhavan in Srinagar and demanded the strengthening of the security apparatus including VDCs and provision of mobile bunkers in Chenab valley region.
They expressed concern regarding growing threats to the safety and security of people, illegal encroachments on forest land, and incidents of bovine smuggling in the region.
The Governor had assured the delegation due consideration of its demands.