'Triggered AFSPA debate to force its withdrawal'
Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Monday said he had triggered a debate on the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) last year to "force a decision" for its selective withdrawal.
"Unfortunately, so far we have not been able to cross the final mile towards the selective revocation of AFSPA," Abdullah said.
He was speaking at a media session at the civil secretariat on the occasion of the reopening of the top government offices here after their six-month sojourn in winter capital Jammu.
"One could either keep quiet about it or one could make a public discourse to force a decision in that direction. We chose the second option," Abdullah said.
"Yes, there was some digging of heels from certain quarters which was accepted. I believe in the months ahead there will be significant forward movement towards the selective revocation of AFSPA from areas where the presence of the Army is not needed," he said.
The chief minister said: "After a gap of six months the civil secretariat has started functioning in Srinagar. We have arrived here from Jammu with the hope that the coming six months would remain peaceful in the state and like last year we will get people's cooperation so that the commitments made by the coalition government are fulfilled."
Abdullah said the panchayat elections (rural civic polls) held in the state in 2010 were a huge success.
"We were able to re-establish the Panchayati Raj after more than 30 years. The process of empowerment of 'Panches' (civic representatives) and 'Sarpanches' (senior civic representatives) is not going to be painless," he said.
There is a generation of politicians who do not know how to function together with the elected Panches and Sarpanches, Abdullah cautioned.
"It is a resistance we are going to break. I believe in the next six months you will see significant empowerment of the Panchayats in the state," he said.
The chief minister also said the final decision on the timing of the forthcoming civic polls in the state is yet to be taken.
He said it was yet to be decided whether the civic polls would be held after the present tourist season ends or it could be held in other places, leaving the big cities of Srinagar and Jammu out for the time being.
"In any case, these polls have to be held before the end of 2012," he said.
He also said that for this year's annual 'Amarnath Yatra' (Hindu religious pilgrimage) health checks of pilgrims has been made compulsory.
"Last year more than 100 pilgrims died because of poor health. The Amarnath Shrine board has made health checks of pilgrims compulsory this year", he said.
On his arrival at the civil secretariat here, the chief minister was given a guard of honour by a smartly turned out contingent of the state armed police. Senior civil and police officers were present at the function.