Residents of the villages along the International Border (IB) and Line of Control (LoC) falling in the three Lok Sabha constituencies, Jammu, Udhampur and Baramulla, were continuing to face the brunt of shelling by Pakistani troops as the government has failed to implement the last election’s promise of building bunkers for their safety. This has become a major election issue in the border areas.
The Jammu and Baramulla Lok Sabha constituencies will go to polls on 11 April in the first of the five-phased election in the state, while Udhampur will go to polls on 18 April. Jammu constituency shares the IB and LoC with Pakistan and the Pakistan occupied areas of Jammu and Kashmir (POJK).
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh have, during their successive visits to Jammu and Kashmir, been talking of more than 14,000 bunkers being sanctioned for the residents of the border areas, but hardly any progress has been witnessed on the ground and innocent children, women and men were getting killed due to the indiscriminate shelling by Pakistani troops in the civilian areas of J&K.
During his recent election rally here, Modi had said that his government has constructed bunkers for the safety of the people of border areas. Rajnath Singh had last year said that 14,460 bunkers, at a cost of Rs 415.73 crore, have been sanctioned for the border residents facing constant shelling and firing by Pakistan.
While 7,298 bunkers were sanctioned for Rajouri and Poonch districts along the LoC, 7,162 were marked for the residents along the IB in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts.
Jammu and Kashmir shares 740 km long LoC with the POJK and 110 km is the IB touching the districts of Jammu, Samba and Kathua. More than 340 villages were affected due to Pakistan shelling last year.
While in the rest of the country the government is busy implementing its plan of housing for all, the growing demand in the areas of Jammu and Kashmir along the LoC and IB is for the immediate construction of underground bunkers for the safety of innocent civilians.
More than 75 people, including civilians, Army, and BSF personnel have lost their lives in the recent incidents of shelling by Pakistan troops on the Indian villages and positions along the IB and LOC. More than 100 people were injured in the exchange of fire.
The worst affected are the five districts of Jammu division, Kathua, Samba and Jammu on the IB and Rajouri and Poonch on the LOC. The Uri area of Baramulla also faces Pakistan’s shelling from time to time.
More than 95 houses were damaged due to shelling and over 300 cattle heads perished in last year’s shelling in the IB areas of Jammu and Samba. More than 45,000 people had to flee from their homes to safe camps established by the authorities and this has become a regular exercise whenever Pakistan indulges in shelling and firing. They do not spare the children and target even the schools in Rajouri and Poonch districts. Jamsheed Khan, a resident of Nowshera area, said that the people were suffering because of shelling but not a single bunker has come up in the area.
The capacity of the 160 square feet individual bunker was eight people, and that of the 800 square feet community bunker was 40 people. The proposal was for 4918 individual and 372 community bunkers in Rajouri, and 3076 individual and 243 community bunkers in Kathua district. A total of 688 community and 1320 individual bunkers were to be constructed in Poonch and Jammu was to get 1200 individual and 120 community bunkers, and 2515 individual and eight community bunkers in Samba district. However, people were still waiting to see a structure.
Because of the inhospitable topography of the LoC areas, there was a poor response from bidders for the construction of bunkers as the cost of each bunker was fixed low by the government.