The setting up of seven new village defence committees recently by the J&K Police in areas around Kishtwar town has triggered a controversy, with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) describing it as the Centre s move to arm RSS workers against a particular community.
The decision to overhaul the anti-militancy grid through setting of new VDCs was taken following militant activities in the hilly district, six years after it was declared militancy-free by the police, official sources said. The VDCs, comprising villagers and police officers, were earlier set up in the mid 1990s after militancy had spread to the Chenab Valley area, sources said.
Senior PDP leader and former MLC Firdous Tak has said that 60 new VDC members have been deployed in communally-sensitive areas and the government is arming RSS and BJP workers against a particular community following the killing of a BJP leader and RSS functionary. This will disturb peace and communal amity in the area, he said, comparing the VDCs to the Ikhwan force pro-government militia groups formed in the Valley in the backdrop of the militancy of the 90s.
Tak has demanded the Governor s administration to withdraw its decision of setting up new VDCs, failing which the PDP will take out a procession in Kishtwar town and hold a dharna at the SSP s office on July 19.
However, Kishtwar SSP Shakti Pathak said, We have received over 100 applications from people for setting up VDCs and a good number of them are members of majority community… As we are facing shortage of weapons, we are responding to all the requests in phases.
The anti-militancy grid had gone defunct after the last anti-militancy operation was carried out in Kishtwar district on December 23, 2012, with police personnel involved in such operations either shifted out or sent to the district police lines, sources said.
When four people, including a senior BJP leader and RSS functionary, were reportedly killed by militants in Kishtwar town in two separate incidents in 2018 and this year, there were not enough inputs about the movement of militants due to the defunct grid, sources said.
To strengthen the grid, the police department decided to remove older members over 60 years of age from the VDCs and has also shortlisted 117 such Special Police Officers in nearly 60 VDCs, besides disengaging nine others on charges of indiscipline, sources said.
The Kishtwar SSP said that they had also received written requests from 352 VDC members who wanted to return their weapons as, according to them, they were now too old to handle arms.
While we have taken back weapons from those VDC members, we have asked them to give the name of any other member of their family as their replacement and these weapons will be provided to them subject to verification, Pathak said.
The hilly district already has 3,251 VDC members nearly 800 of them SPOs who have been provided weapons by the police.