August 2006 News

Thanks to IAF, Kashmir village hoists tricolour

15 August 2006
Indo-Asian News Service
Vishnu Makhijani

Urusa : Living in the shadow of the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan, residents of this village Tuesday proudly hoisted the national flag on Independence Day to express their gratitude to the Indian Air Force (IAF) for rebuilding a school flattened in last year's devastating quake.'Independence Day never meant very much to us. I can't recall the flag being previously hoisted here,' an emotion-charged village elder Anwar Hussein said after a ceremony at which IAF Western Air Command chief Air Marshal A.K. Singh symbolically handed over the school to its young students.'But this year, the manner in which the air force came forward to help us after the (Oct 8, 2005) earthquake without even being asked has made us really proud to be Indians,' said Hussein, who 'believed' he was in his 70s.By road, Urusa lies two km before Kamam Point on the LoC where passengers on the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad bus cross over. On the hill facing the village, about 3,000 feet above, the fencing on the LoC is clearly visible, as is an Indian post with the tricolour fluttering above it. To the left on another ridge, about three km as the crow flies, is a Pakistani post with an ominous looking anti-aircraft gun pointing outwards.Urusa, 12 km from Uri and 110 from Srinagar, is one of a cluster of seven villages the IAF adopted for reconstruction after the quake. The other six villages - Chakara, Khalsapatti, Dharapatti, Batakote, Muripatti and Isham - will be progressively handed over by the end of the year. The villages were selected as they were among the worst affected by the temblor.'We haven't just helped to restore the village. We've made value additions,' explained Singh of the Rs.30 million project the IAF funded from its own resources.'These villages are spread over some four km but had only four schools between them. This meant the children had to walk long distances and we realised this was an impediment to their schooling. By the time we are finished, there will be nine schools in the area,' Singh told a group of visiting journalists from Delhi.Each of the villages will also get a community hall, he added.Apart from this, the IAF has helped the residents rebuild their shattered houses by providing corrugated sheets, wood and other construction material. And, since there was no electricity in the villages, the IAF is constructing five mini hydel projects to provide five KVA of electricity to the villages. Four hundred solar lanterns were distributed to the residents as a stopgap measure.'Some residents said it would be nice if each village had at least one telephone. I've asked my staff to speak to BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited) to see what can be done,' Singh said.The IAF had moved into the area within hours after the quake struck at 9.25 a.m. and over a period of time, supplied the residents of the villages with 460 tonnes of rations and 30,228 litres of kerosene - accounting for six month's requirements for all citizens.A four-bed hospital with qualified doctors was set up at Urusa to provide round- the-clock medical care and medicines. The facility, which has treated 4,000 people so far, will be handed over the Uri government hospital when the IAF moves out.Asked whether the IAF effort was meant to supplement Operation Sadbhavna the Indian Army is conducting in Kashmir to improve the civil-military interface, Singh replied: 'Not exactly.'We are doing what we are doing from the humane point of view. If it earns us some goodwill, so much the better,' he added.That goodwill is apparent as the IAF was urged to conduct a recruitment drive in the area at which some one dozen youngsters were selected.


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