The administration has devised a new strategy of shutting down mobile phone towers in south Kashmir districts to prevent protesters from holding large-scale gatherings in the aftermath of gunfights and killings of militants.
According to sources in the telecom sector, the authorities ordered a shutdown of mobile phone towers on two occasions this month when gunfights resulted in the killing of militants in south Kashmir.
The telecom companies were ordered to switch off mobile phone towers across Pulwama district earlier this month when security forces killed three militants in a pre-dawn operation. The communication services were later restored in the afternoon, hours after the operation ended.
The telecom companies were again asked to switch off mobile phone towers in Shopian district of south Kashmir yesterday when the security forces killed a local militant, the sources said.
A police official in Shopian confirmed the mobile phone towers were shut down in parts of Shopian district “to prevent rumour-mongering” in the aftermath of a gunfight yesterday. The official said the measure was taken “on an ad hoc basis, not as a matter of policy,” and will be repeated, in future, if needed.
Several districts have already ordered imposition of restrictions for civilian movement around encounter sites as security forces battle militancy. In recent months, the security forces have come under increased pressure from stone-pelting protesters who gather around the encounter sites and try to break the outer rings of cordon to help the militants escape.
As a measure to restrict the gatherings of protesters, the Pulwama administration had in February this year ordered imposition of Section 144 CrPC – that bans gathering of more than three people — around two-kilometre radius of the encounter sites. A similar order has been issued for Shopian district.
A police official in Pulwama, where mobile phone towers were switched off on May 7 when three local militants were killed, said the security agencies are facing increasingly belligerent crowds who try to storm cordoned off sites. The official said that in some recent instances, protesters had travelled up to 30 kms to reach the encounter sites and pelt stones at security personnel.
Over 40 militants have died in different gunfights with security forces across Kashmir valley this year while the militant strength is estimated to be around 150 to 170 in the region.
Disclaimer: This post was originally published in the Tribune