Srinagar: Prominent Kashmiri politicians such as Farooq and Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti could be moved out of the Valley before the harsh winter sets in, ThePrint has learnt.
Officials in the civil administration said they are looking at the option of shifting them to Jammu, the erstwhile state’s winter capital. Although Delhi is also being considered, officials said, a move to the national capital is unlikely as that would involve a major change in security paraphernalia and bring a lot of attention to these politicians.
Authorities here would ideally want the relocation to happen before the 40-day period of peak winter, known locally as Chilla-e-Kalan, begins on 21 December.
“Nothing has been decided yet, but there have been discussions that the detainees at Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre and other sub-jails will be transferred out of the Valley,” said a source in the state government.
The second rung of leadership from the two parties, the source added, will be moved to government facilities in Jammu.
A total of 6,500 individuals were arrested from the erstwhile state after 5 August, when Article 370 was scrapped and J&K bifurcated into two union territories, official sources said. Around 1,200 of these remain in custody, of whom 50-60 are political detainees, the sources added.
Thirty-four of the political detainees are currently at Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC), one of the premises improvised as jails for the leaders.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah of the National Conference (NC) is lodged at Hari Niwas on Gupkar Road, while Mehbooba Mufti of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is at the Cheshmashi government guest house.
Family members and party leaders allege that heating arrangements at the two places are not adequate.
“There isn’t sufficient heat in SKICC and the power back-up was severely affected during last week’s snowfall, which affected the power supply too,” said a relative of a senior PDP leader lodged at SKICC.
“We have taken up the issue with the authorities,” the relative added, saying they hadn’t been informed about any decision to move the detainees to Jammu.
PDP spokesperson Firdous Tak said heating arrangements were insufficient at both SKICC and the Cheshmashi guest house.
“The political prisoners have been lodged in ordinary hotel rooms that are not built for the winter. Cheshmashi, where Mehboobaji is lodged, is cold even in the summer months. “Can’t imagine how bad it will be in December,” he added.
“We have learnt that the detainees at SKICC have been given a heater to keep themselves warm. That is not sufficient,” said Tak, adding that even they had not received any communication on moving the detainees.
Senior National Conference leader and Anantnag MP Justice Hasnain Masoodi (Retd) also said his party had not been informed about the transfer. The prolonged detention of political prisoners, he added, was unwarranted.
A senior government official said the heating arrangements at SKICC were adequate, but relocation would be in the interest of detainees in light of the adverse weather predicted for the Valley.
While there’s no official confirmation on when or if the detained politicians will be relocated, uncertainty also prevails on the release of the detainees.
‘Relocation to Delhi complex’
Sources in the civil administration said the authorities concerned have held detailed discussions on moving the political detainees to Jammu, where the weather is warmer than in Srinagar, which experiences heavy snowfall
Delhi was discussed as an option too, but this option presents several complexities, the sources added.
For one, state and central government officials involved in the upkeep of the sub-jails at Srinagar would have to relinquish their control to counterparts in New Delhi, which might be a lengthy process. The transfer of detainees to Jammu would be less complicated.
Meanwhile, J&K Lieutenant Governor G.C. Murmu’s advisers have been appointed — retired IPS officer Farooq Khan and former IAS officer K.K. Sharma.
Khan and Sharma also served as advisers to former J&K governor Satya Pal Malik.
Lt Governor Murmu said at an event Thursday that elections in Jammu & Kashmir, which is now a union territory with an assembly, will be held soon.