Delhi’s Doda solution: More AK-47s
11 August 2001
The Indian Express
New Delhi: AFTER extending the Armed Forces (J&K) Special Powers Act to Doda, the Union Home Ministry is now preparing to set up a fresh force of 1,000 Special Police Officers (SPOs) in the hilly district and arm them with ‘‘modern weapons,’’ including AK-47s. These SPOs are expected to reinforce the existing Village Defence Committees (VDCs). Since the killing of shepherds in Kishtwar on August 4, one additional battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has reached. With this, the total number of CRPF battalions in Doda is now seven. The district, almost equal in size to the entire Kashmir Valley, has a total of eight Army battalions and a battalion of the Indo Tibetan Border Police, in addition to the CRPF and state police. Half of the estimated 1,000 policemen in the district are deployed for counter-insurgency duties and the rest manage the police stations. It’s in this context, that the VDCs assume significance. Currently, there are about 500 of them in Doda alone, groups of villagers, about a dozen in each, armed by the government with .303 rifles. ‘‘VDCs have posed an effective challenge to the militants but the members have to do with inferior weaponry and that goes to their disadvantage,’’ Minister of State for Home I D Swamy told The Indian Express. He says that with more guns and more modern guns, the ‘‘ground situation’’ in Jammu and Doda will improve as the VDCs will be better equipped to tackle the militants. Swamy says the 1,000 Special Police Officers will be recruited from ‘‘young people and ex- soldiers of Doda.’’ They will also be ‘‘imparted proper training and armed with sophisticated weapons, including AK-47s.’’ Another important move under active consideration of the Home Ministry is to set up VDCs in the high-altitude areas of Jammu region. The recent massacre of a group of shepherds in a far-flung, inaccessible Doda area is an example of VDCs not being able to reach up to the victims’ assistance. ‘‘We realise the problem. The shepherds live on hill-tops in makeshift huts called ‘dhoks’. They remain out of bounds even for our central forces. We have now decided to spread the VDCs to as many such ‘dhoks’ as possible,’’ Swamy said.