J&K Prepaid Ban To Stay

31 December 2009
The Economic Times

New Delhi: The centre, while ruling out any immediate move to lift the ban on pre-paid mobile services in Jammu and Kashmir, has offered to revisit the ban provided the telecom service providers can ensure 100% verification of pre-paid customers. Denying that the government was contemplating lifting of the prepaid ban in J&K - imposed on November 1, 2008, in view of security concerns arising out of lax customer verification procedures - Union home minister P Chidambaram said that government was nevertheless in consultation with the telecom service providers of the state regarding their demand for re-instatement of prepaid services. “In case the service providers give a foolproof plan involving 100% verification (of pre-paid customers) and I am satisfied with the plan, I will revisit the issue,” he said at his month-end press conference here to present the MHA’s report-card for December. Mr Chidambaram also informed newspersons that two committees had been constituted by the J&K government to deal with ‘vacation of properties occupied by the security forces in a time-bound manner’ and for ‘construction of alternate accommodation for security forces.” Defending the tightened tourist visa rules, the home minister clarified that the overwhelming majority of tourists who visit India for a few weeks “would face no difficulty whatsoever.” As for the small number of tourists who use India as a hub and visit neighbouring countries, a relaxation in the 60-day cooling off period has been made and upto three entries permitted “if the itinerary shows visits to India and other countries as part of the same trip.” On objections raised by Kerala government against NIA’s decision to take over investigation of six terror cases pertaining to the state, Mr Chidambaram clarified that the NIA Act was very clear in that the agency could take over any terror case with inter-state or international ramifications. Clarifying as to how the NIA could step in to probe cases registered before it was even set up, the home minister said the mandate of the agency empowered it to probe all new and old terror cases with links beyond the state in which they were registered. “Once a notification (taking over the case) is made, the state government is sent a copy....the NIA has powers to associate the state police in the investigation or carry out the probe on its own...the DG, NIA, takes this decision,” he noted and added that agency had taken over cases not only in Kerala and Goa but also in other states including Assam and J&K. While insisting that NIA probe into the Headley-Rana case was progressing well, he reiterated that Pakistan was yet to dismantle the terror infrastructure on its soil. On Left-wing extremism, Mr Chidambaram said the problem was not yet under control. Stating that the fight against Maoists was a long-drawn out process, he said it may take two to three years before the government is able to tackle the Naxal menace. “But a beginning has been made,” he added. On counter-Naxal joint operations in Jharkhand, where a new government has been sworn in, the home minister said he would give time to Mr Soren to settle down a formulate a policy. Recalling the fruitful consultations with chief ministers of affected states in January and August, he hoped that Jharkhand would be part of the concerted action against Naxalites. Mr Chidambaram, however, sounded more upbeat on tackling insurgent groups in the north-east. While conceding that militancy continued to be of concern in Assam and Manipur, he said significant gains had been made with all but 2-3 top Ulfa leaders in custody and talks with smaller rebel groups in Assam in “an advanced stage.” At the same time, Mr Chidambaram made known his dissatisfaction with the West Bengal government’s handling of the anti-Maoist operation in Lalgarh. “The situation is pretty depressing...adequate forces have been sent, but the West Bengal government has not been able to control the situation,” he said, pointing to the bandh in force in Jhargram over the last several days. Even the inter-party clashes, he indicated, were due to lack of adequate prevention measures by the state government.