Home Ministry for e-linking Srinagar, Muzaffarabad
15 June 2007
The Daily Excelsior
New Delhi: The Home Ministry has asked the External Affairs Ministry to speedily take up with Pakistan a proposal for 'e-linking' Srinagar and Muzaffarabad for quick clearance of documents of people travelling between Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Union Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta, during a high-level meeting held in Srinagar yesterday, asked External Affairs Ministry officials to take up the matter with their Pakistani counterparts at the earliest as it could be seen as a confidence-building measures initiated by the two countries on Kashmir, official sources said. The proposal, which came from the Jammu and Kashmir Government, will do away with cumbersome and time-consuming procedures due to which applications for travel get delayed for months together, they said. The External Affairs Ministry officials informed the meeting that the proposal was with the National Informatics Centre as it had to give a technical feasibility report. The matter could be taken up with Pakistan after this. According to the State Governmentís proposal, two nodal offices in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad will be e- linked to each other. This will ensure that all applications are processed 'as quickly as possible', the sources said. The move is also expected to do away with official wrangling and lengthy procedures, and travel permits could be issued within a few days instead of months, they said. The proposal was discussed with Central security agencies, which gave their nod to it and even suggested a secure line should be used for connecting the two offices in Jammu and Kashmir and PoK. The move is also aimed at benefiting passengers of two trans-border bus services-the Karvan-e- Aman connecting Srinagar with Muzaffarabad and the service between Poonch and Rawalakote-as well as people crossing the LoC on foot via Teetwal-Nauseri in the Kashmir Valley and Mendhar-Tatapani in the Jammu region. Only 1,700 people from Jammu and Kashmir and 1,900 from PoK have used the Karvan-e-Aman since it began on April 7, 2005. According to existing procedures, officials of the two sides meet once a month at Kaman post in Uri in north Kashmir and exchange documents of people who intend to travel across the LoC. It then takes months for the people to get clearance. One of five Working Groups set up after the second roundtable conference on Kashmir in Srinagar last year was asked by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to look into the issue of easy cross-border movement. The group on 'strengthening relations across the Line of Control', headed by former ambassador Hamid Ansari, looked at simplifying procedures for travel across the LoC, increasing goods traffic, expanding people-to- people contacts, including promotion of pilgrimage and group tourism, and opening new routes like Kargil-Skardu. The groupís recommendations, to be discussed in the third roundtable conference on Kashmir to be held here on April 24, also favoured streamlining procedures for the travel of people across the LoC.