Rumour’s about Geelani’s falling health, eye on upcoming tourist season halts withdrawal of additional forces from Kashmir, reveals top CRPF official*

‘In Dec last year 72 companies of additional forces were shifted from Valley on MHA’s directive’
Srinagar, Feb 29 : Withdrawal of additional forces from Kashmir has come to a grinding halt in the wake of strong rumours about fast deteriorating health of aged separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani that griped entire Valley mid-February triggers fears of “massive law and order issue.” Another major reason why additional forces were not withdrawn was the Centre’s eye on the by-elections for over 12000 vacant panchayat seats and the upcoming tourist season.

A top CRPF official while speaking to Kashmir News Observer (KNO), on the condition of anonymity, said that there were thorough deliberations of the security grid both in New Delhi and Kashmir in the wake of strong rumours about falling health of separatist leader Geelani.

“Rumours were all around in Kashmir about Geelani’s fast deteriorating health in mid-February that raised serious concerns on law and order front. Keeping this is in view, there was a decision taken by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) that further withdrawal of security forces should be halted immediately,” the officer, privy to the decision said.

A series of security review meetings were conducted in Srinagar to “devise a strategy as to how to face law and order challenges if the ailing leader dies.” “The need to put status quo on withdrawal of additional forces was also felt in the review meetings held in Srinagar and Delhi,” the officer said.

He said that while as rumours subsided after a week and it seems that the aged leader has recovered a bit, two other reasons that prevented troop-cut from Kashmir are—Panchayat by-elections for over 12000 vacant seats and the upcoming tourist season. The J&K administration is all set to open Asia’s largest Tulip Garden spread over 600 kanals of land in the lap of Zabarwan foothills, overlooking famous Dal Lake will be opened for guests including tourists—anytime between March 26 to April 1.

A security official said that they are hoping for a bumper tourist season from March onwards. “All tourist spot will be provided adequate security while as a close vigil will be kept on the suspects,” he said, wishing not to be named.

In December last year, on the directions of MHA, 72 companies of additional forces including CRPF, BSF, ITB and SSB were withdrawn from Kashmir. At least 380 to 400 additional companies of forces were brought in Kashmir day before August 5, when Centre announced roll back of Article 370 and sliced the erstwhile state into two Union Territories (UTs)—Ladakh and J&K.

Even as official figures suggest that 160 incidents of law and order were reported from Kashmir, majority of them from Srinagar, but no major incident was report neither did any civilian causality took place in the security forces’ action—