January 2000 News

Farooq in London as Valley simmers

3 January 2000
The Indian Express
Arun Sharma


JAMMU: Once again Farooq Abdullah, who has earned the reputation of being the 'non-resident chief minister' of Jammu and Kashmir, has chosen to leave for London, citing personal reasons. The visit comes at a time when militants in the Valley have stepped up their activities, emboldened by the release of three of their top leaders in exchange for the hostages of an Indian Airlines plane on December 31.

The heightened tension is evident by the ultras' attack on the Army's Brigade headquarters and police stations in Poonch and Rajouri border districts recently. Today, Srinagar was rocked by a powerful blast that killed 17 people and injured 40 yesterday, the Jammu police recovered two rockets from Paunichak area.

According to sources, Farooq Abdullah left for London yesterday after putting before the Prime Minister in New Delhi the demand for Central assistance for the state. "He is expected to return in a couple of days," state Housing and Urban Development Minister Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Shah said.

The visit also comes at a time when work in all government offices, including the civil secretariat, has been paralysed as the employees are on strike for the past 15 days. They are demanding arrears and DA installments as recommended by the Fifth Pay Commission. The agitation has hit health services and the public distribution system (PDS) besides paralysing teaching in government schools.

Hospitals and primary health centers wear a deserted look. Due to the closure of  the government treasury, even policemen and Special Police Officers, who have not joined the agitation, are yet to get their December pay.

Some employee leaders pointed out that this was the Chief Minister's second visit to London in the last two months. They reiterated that he was a 'non-resident' Chief Minster of the State. Since the reopening of the civil secretariat in the state's winter capital Jammu, Farooq Abdullah had been in Jammu and Kashmir for only 25 days, they pointed out. The offices opened on November 8.

During this period also, he attended office for only about 30 hours and spent most of the tie in various functions and meetings. For the rest of the period, the Chief Minister was either abroad or in other parts of the country, especially New Delhi

Recently, he had gone to Umra and was scheduled to go to London form there. However, he had to cut short the visit and return to the state following the hijackers' demand for release of the jailed terrorists.

Official sources, however, said the Chief Minister was taking action on the striking employees demand. He had set up a cabinet sub-committee headed by the Housing and Urban Development minister to decide on the employees' demands. The government had held negotiations with the employees' leaders but there was a deadlock as the latter walked out the meeting on Saturday, accusing them of trying to break their agitation.

Since then, talks have not been resumed in spite of the employees' decision to continue their agitation till January 15. "We are prepared for negotiations, but they walked out of the meeting last time," Shah said.


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