Speculation, Fear as J&K Govt Orders to Stock up on Fuel, Make Schools Available for Forces

The unusual orders and government's efforts to dispel 'rumours' have triggered memories of last August when a build up of troops preceded the sudden announcement of the Article 370 move.

Srinagar: Amid the ongoing face-off between India and China in Ladakh, two government orders have triggered a fresh wave of anxiety among people in the Kashmir Valley.

In an unusual move, an advisor to the Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor has directed that the Valley stock up on enough LPG cylinders to last two months.

An official said advisor Farooq Khan held a meeting on June 23 where he passed directions to ensure that there is sufficient stock of LPG cylinders in the Valley “as supply gets affected due to closure of [the] National Highway on account of landslips.”

Although the stated cause was landslides, a separate order passed by the director of Food, Civil Supplies, and Consumers triggered further speculation has he described it as a “most urgent matter.” The director asked oil companies to ensure adequate stock of the LPG at bottling plants and godowns, so that they can last for up to two months.

This is the first time that the government has ordered fuel to be stocked up at the peak of the summer. Fuel and other essentials are stocked up in the Valley at the beginning of winter every year when the Srinagar-Jammu highway shuts down for days and sometimes weeks.

In a separate order, the Superintendent of Police for Ganderbal in central Kashmir requested the administration that 16 educational institutes in the district, including schools and ITI buildings be made available for security forces.

“In view of SANJY (Shri Amarnath Ji Yatra) and due to the dearth of accommodation facilities in district Ganderbal for incoming CAPF (Central Armed Police Force), it is requested that the accommodation centers/education institutions may kindly be made available for accommodation of the companies,” the order reads.

An official from the school education department said the requisition from the police was “unusual.” “This is the first time that we have been asked to keep the school buildings available so that the yatra can be conducted,” he said.

Though the build-up assumes significance in view of the upcoming yatra, the government is, however, yet to take a final call on whether the annual pilgrimage to a cave located at 12,756 feet in south Kashmir will be conducted at all amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Speculation of a troop build up has been further fuelled by the fact that Ganderbal is beside Ladakh, which has been the hotspot of India-China tensions.

Collective anxiety

The orders have led to fear among people in the Valley at a time when jets have been hovering over skies on a daily basis for the past several weeks.

“Government orders are creating panic in Kashmir,” tweeted National Conference vice president, Omar Abdullah.

Though a statement from Food, Civil Supplies and Consumers late on Sunday evening tried to “dispel rumours,” and sought to highlight that the fuel stock-up order was to prevent any shortfall during the ensuing monsoon (which may lead to the closure of Srinagar-Jammu highway), many have questioned the logic of the clarification.

“Everyone knows that the highway is closed in the winters. It is unheard of that the highway will be closed for an extended period of time during summer. Both the order and the clarification have added to the confusion,” said a member of Kashmir Chambers of Industries and Commerce, which is an amalgam of Valley-based trade and business bodies.

People are now reminded of the days prior to August 5 last year when the Centre read down Article 370 and bifurcated the state of J&K into two Union Territories.

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For more than a week, several government orders asking tourists and Amarnath pilgrims to leave Kashmir, deploying additional companies of paramilitary forces, and ordering that essential commodities be stocked up had added to speculation then.

Last August too, then J&K governor Satya Pal Malik and officials from state administration and J&K police had repeatedly asked people “not to believe in rumours”.

Aatif Hassan, a resident of uptown Chanpora locality of Srinagar, said the orders have led to “a fresh wave of panic.”

“What are they (the government) up to now? Everything has been taken away from us,” he said, referring to the Centre’s August 5 decisions. “It seems the government wants to keep us in a continuous state of panic and unease.”