New convoy plan: Top security officials meet in Srinagar

Top security officials Sunday said agreed to “fine-tune” the standard operating procedure (SOP) for movement of forces’ convoy along the highways and other roads in Kashmir to ensure that “stopping of civilian vehicles while a forces cavalcade moves doesn’t snowball into a law and order issue”.
New convoy plan: Top security officials meet in Srinagar
File Photo

Top security officials Sunday said agreed to "fine-tune" the standard operating procedure (SOP) for movement of forces' convoy along the highways and other roads in Kashmir to ensure that "stopping of civilian vehicles while a forces cavalcade moves doesn't snowball into a law and order issue".  

An official, who was part of a security review meeting here, said the timing of the forces' convoy would be fixed such that it is different than the timing when highways and other roads witness peak civilian traffic movement".

A source said the security review meeting was held at the police control room Srinagar, where top police and CRPF officers—and officers from other security agencies—were invited to share their views to ensure "smooth convoy movement, especially along the highways".

The meeting was held in the wake of a suicide bomb attack on a CRPF convoy at LethporaPulwama on Thursday, which left more than 40 personnel of the force dead.

An official said the union home minister Rajnath Singh's announcement on Friday that civilian traffic movement will be stopped for smooth passage of forces' convoys put the security officials in a huddle Sunday to discuss the new plan. Singh had admitted that the move would cause inconvenience to the civilians but sought people's cooperation in this regard.

A source said the meeting discussed ways and means of implementing the new convoy plan. 

"The meeting also discussed bottlenecks in movement of convoys and various officials suggested measures to remove such bottlenecks," the source said.

A top security official, who was present in the meeting, said many participants while agreeing to stopping civilian vehicles during convoy movements maintained that civilians can't be stopped for a long time as "it can trigger a law and order situation".

"Many officials stated that convoy movement takes a lot of time and we can't stop civilian traffic for an hour or so. So special emphasis was laid on the timing of the convoy and it was agreed that most of the convoys would move during early morning and late evening hours," the official said.

He said though there is no fixed timing for a convoy movement, "the priority is to allow convoys when there is less flow of civilian traffic". 

"There is every likelihood that forces would make a joint written appeal to the ministry of home affairs to allow special air sorties for ferrying of forces personnel to Kashmir. Though we know this can happen only during summer months and not in winters, it is a viable option for hassle-free movement of forces personnel," the official said. 

A source said the police would help CRPF in conducting road opening drills before allowing convoy movements. 

"Road opening parties will get all assistance from the police in manning and clearing road stretches and highways of possible IEDs. The army will play its part as well as it has been doing so," the source said. 

'ADDING NEW FEATURES TO CONVOY MOVEMENT'

The CRPF has decided to tweak the standard operating procedures (SOPs) framed to secure its convoys, in the wake of a "new threat" where an explosives-laden vehicle was detonated by a militant alongside the force's bus in Pulwama killing 40 personnel, the chief of the paramilitary force said Sunday.

"We have decided to add new features to our convoy movement to and from Kashmir," CRPF director general R RBhatnagar told PTI after undertaking a two-day tour of Kashmir in the wake of the February 14 attack, the worst against security forces in Jammu and Kashmir in three decades.

 "Apart from traffic control, there will be changes in the timings of convoy, their halt locations and movement in coordination with other security forces like the army and the J&K police," he told the news agency.

He said two convoys have been run after the attack at Latoomode in Pulwama and these new measures are being tested and implemented as part of the standard operating procedures (SOPs).

The DG said over the last two days he and his commanders in Kashmir have "discussed an laid down a new strategy" to not only secure the movement of convoys but also to enhance security measures for regular operations.

"I would not like to go into the specifics but we are formulating some strategies. This is something that we have done in the past and these things are dynamic. In view of this new threat, where a suicide bomber is suspected to have come close to our vehicle and detonated explosives, strategies are being worked upon," Bhatnagar said.

The central reserve police force chief said there was no ambush on any CRPF convoy in the last two years and the effort is to neutralise such threats as much as possible.

Asked if there was an intelligence input suggesting that a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (IED) could be used by militants in Kashmir to hit the forces, Bhatnagar said that he would not talk about things related to operations and intelligence.

A senior official, however, said there was no "specific input" and such an attack was completely new for the security forces in the Valley.

The DG, when asked about sending all forces from Jammu to Srinagar on aircraft to avoid the vulnerability of road movement, said there is "no alternative" to convoys.

Air courier service for the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) has been increased by adding flights from Delhi to Srinagar via Jammu and back in 2018, he said.

Many times the helicopters and planes of the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Indian Air Force (IAF) are also used to airlift CAPF troops to the Kashmir Valley, the DG said.

"As the Jammu-Srinagar Highway was closed due to landslides, the convoy operated on February 14 after a gap of 10 days and there was a large backlog of personnel who were to be transported to Srinagar from the transit camp of the CRPF in Jammu," a CRPF official based in Srinagar said.

"Thus, running of the convoy has very little to do with the availability of air effort, which can only supplement the convoys and not replace them," Bhatnagar said.

The proposal for introducing Delhi-Srinagar-Delhi fight (seven days a week) and a separate Jammu-Srinagar-Jammu flight (four days a week) has also been sanctioned by the home ministry and would soon be operational, the DG said.

This would more than double the present capacity to 1,892 seats per week for the forces deployed in the Kashmir Valley, he said.

During his visit to the Valley, the CRPF chief also met his forces at various units in and around Srinagar and also went to the blast site, about 20 km from Srinagar.

'CONVOYS BY ROAD TO CONTINUE'

Meanwhile, movement of paramilitary convoys by road for logistical and operational reasons will continue in Jammu and Kashmir as it is "necessary", the union home ministry said Sunday, even though it has increased air support to carry forces to the state.

In the wake of reports suggesting that the central government has rejected a proposal to ferry personnel of paramilitary forces from the Jammu-Srinagar sector by chopper, the ministry said it has significantly enhanced air courier services in all sectors to cut travel time of forces personnel.

"Movement of convoys by road for logistical and operational reasons has been and will continue to be necessary. This is also the case with the army," the home ministry said.

Reports in a section of the media that air transit facility in the Jammu- Srinagar sector for CRPF has not been allowed are "untrue", it said.

 "Fact of the matter is, over the last few years, the MHA has significantly enhanced air courier services for CAPFs in all sectors to help forces personnel cut down on travel time during their journey to and back from home on leave," it said. (with PTI inputs)

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