The Central government's decision to withdraw the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) manning the sensitive border along the terrorist-prone area of the Chamba district that adjoins Kathua and Doda districts of Jammu and Kashmir has raised concern for the Himachal Pradesh government.
The state government will now urge the union home ministry to review its decision which is likely to prove adverse for the security of the sensitive inter-state border.
Himachal Pradesh shares about 224 kilometres of its boundary with the remote region of Jammu and Kashmir. The security along the tranquil border was little concern till 1998 when Pakistan-trained militants massacred 35 labourers in two separate incidents in Satrundi and Kalaban in Chamba district.
This was the time when the state government realised the urgency of deploying central security agency for manning the border. The state government then decided to seal the areas and sought Central assistance for securing its borders in the Chamba district that adjoins the terrorist-infested regions of Jammu and Kashmir.
Since 1998 there has been no big untoward incident in the area though there have been minor incidents of militants opening arms at shepherds and nomadic cattle rearers. The army along with the police of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh has been conducting joint operations in the region to instill confidence in people in the area. The Himachal Pradesh government has even set up village defence committees to resist any militant attack.
The area has been peaceful for the past 14 years. The Central government for long had been contemplating to recall the Indo-Tibetan Border Police battalion that mans about 64 kilometres of border stretch in the Chamba district.
Recently, the union home ministry had communicated its decision to recall the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, while the state's intelligence and security agencies expressed their apprehension over covert and overt threats being received by militant groups that were once active but had gone dormant for the past some time owing to high security in the region. The Central government has set a month-long deadline for the withdrawal of the ITPB.
"We will again request the union government to reconsiders its decision. People's security is utmost importance for the government," PC Dhiman, principal secretary, home, told Hindustan Times.
Director general of police ID Bhandhari had himself toured the sensitive areas of Chamba to review the security situation along the Jammu and Kashmir border.
Bhandhari along with district police officers have had rounds of consultations with the villagers along the border area. The villagers reportedly expressed apprehensions over the withdrawal of ITBP from the borders areas.
The state police chief has assured the villagers about safety and security. Bhandhari told the villagers that Himachal police's Indian Reserve Battalion was fully equipped to provide security in the bordering district.
The state police chief directed the state police personnel to step up surveillance along the areas even as the main passes connecting Doda, Kishtwar and Kathua get closed in winter following heavy snowfall.
In the wake of snow, the border check points are relocated to the lower region and shifted back after the melting of snow.
In case the Centre rejects the state government's request to keep the ITBP at the border, the state government will have to deploy one more battalion of Himachal police and have to further equip them with modernised weapons to meet the need.