By B. Raman
The police of Jammu and Kashmir need to be complimented for promptly arresting five members of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), who had allegedly opened fire on a crowd of an estimated 500 protesters who were protesting over power shortages in the Boniyar area of the Baramulla District in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). The firing allegedly resulted in the death of a 25-year-old person and injuries to two others. The incident has reportedly led to resentment and protests against the CISF by the local residents.
The CISF personnel who opened fire reportedly belonged to a unit posted in that area for providing physical security to the Uri power project. It is not yet clear whether the demonstrators were protesting in the residential township or in the vicinity of the plant.
The CISF is a physical security force specially raised and trained for guarding vital installations such as thermal, hydel and nuclear power stations, oil and gas infrastructure, airports etc. It is not a law and order or counter-insurgency force. Its personnel do receive basic training in crowd control, but they are not equipped for crowd control. Since their primary purpose is to prevent infiltrations and attacks on vital installations, they are issued with live ammunition.
The Uri incident has arisen probably because the CISF personnel were used for crowd control for which they are not specially equipped. Normally, the local police or other para-military forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force should have been used for maintaining law and order and for preventing acts of violence when the crowd was demonstrating. It is not clear how the CISF personnel got involved in crowd control duties for which they should have sought the help of the local police.
Two things need to be enquired into: Why the assistance of the local police or the CRPF was not sought? What were the circumstances under which the CISF personnel opened fire? If the protesters were marching to the gates of the power project, there might have been some justification for the action taken by the CISF personnel. Not otherwise.
CISF personnel deployed on duties for guarding vital installations in insurgency-affected areas need to be specially trained on dealing with situations such as the one that was witnessed in the Uri area and on the need for co-ordination with the local police, who should be entrusted with the responsibility for dealing with crowds which do not pose a direct threat to the plant.
To prevent a spiralling and creeping spread of the protests in anger over the death of a local resident, there is a need for a prompt enquiry into the incident and follow-up action against those found responsible for the mishandling of the demonstration. Any public perception that the Governments of India and J & K are attempting to cover up the incident might prove counter-productive and might be exploited for political purposes by local elements. The incident must be handled from the legal and humanitarian angles without any attempts at politicisation of this tragedy.