September 2002 News

Border villagers set to brave bullets for ballots

4 September 2002
The Statesman
Kavita Suri

Kathua (International Border): Just a couple of months ago, while Indian and Pakistani armies were trading heavy mortar fire, the hapless villagers, who had to flee their homes and were forced to live in camps, could not have even dreamt of casting their ballots. Today, however, most of them have returned to their villages near the 43-km-long international border in Kathua district and are preparing to chose their representative to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. The district administration has taken extra precaution to enable people in the 51 villages to vote. Fifteen of the villages are on the Zero Line. “Of the 503 polling stations in Kathua which will go to the polls in the third phase, on 1 October, 103 have been declared hyper-sensitive; 263, trouble-prone and 132, normal,” Mr Amjad Parvez Mirza, SSP Kathua, said today. The district administration fears Pakistan may try to disrupt the polls by firing from across the border. The authorities have prepared a contingency plan to shift some hyper-sensitive polling booths on the Zero Line should the need arise, said Mr BD Sharma, Kathua deputy commissioner, doubling up as the district election officer. The polling booths on the Zero Line include Londi, Chilleri, Sadwal, Chak Sadwa, Sathi Kalan. Chilleri is just 300 metres from the Zero Line, said Mr Vikas Sharma, Gagwal BDO. About 20,000 people, displaced from these 51 villages, had taken refuge in 25 camps when war seemed imminent, Mr Sharma said. “Now they are ready to cast their votes,” he said. Voters’ lists and photo-identify cards have also been prepared. The SSP said that adequate security arrangements were being made with two sections of para-military forces deployed in the sensitive areas.


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