Forced to take shelter in camps in five schools in Nowshera sector, border dwellers are reluctant to go back to their homes even after three months due to repeated shelling and firing by Pakistani troops. The affected villagers rue lack of proper medical facilities and other amenities at the camps which have become their second homes. “We have been facing Pakistani aggression for decades but over the past two years, the situation along the LoC has become very grave. We prefer to stay away from our homes rather than becoming sitting ducks for unprovoked firing by Pakistani troops from across the border,” Parshotam Lal, a resident of Jhangar village along the zero line in Nowshera sector, told PTI. Four civilians have been killed and five others were injured in firing by Pakistani troops in different sectors of Rajouri district in the recent past. District Development Commissioner, Shahid Iqbal Choudhary said the government is planning to construct nearly 7000 underground “individual and community” bunkers along the LoC for the safety of civilians and has already submitted the project report to the Centre for its approval and funding. The government has already started construction of 100 bunkers in the worst-hit Nowshera district under the local area development fund and the work is in progress.
Lal, who is sarpanch of this village along with that of nearby Sariya, said nearly 830 families comprising over 3600 persons are living in the five camps set up by the government in different schools including two higher secondary schools for the displaced border population of Nowshera sector. In addition, several hundred other residents of half a dozen villages located near the zero line or vulnerable areas are living with their relatives. Nearly 10,000 border residents have been affected in the Pakistani shelling which intensified after May 10 this year. Majority of them were shifted to camps set up by the government.
However, several thousand returned to their homes after the firing incidents dropped. “Last year, we lost standing crop to the shelling as we could not attend to the crop in time. This time most of the residents have not been able to carry out farming activities, which is the main source of our living,” he said, adding besides two deaths, dozens of livestock perished in the Pakistani firing.
Inderjeet Mahi, also a resident of Jhangar, said earlier the firing used to take place once in several months but the frequency has gone since last year. “For the past two years, there is almost daily firing from across the border targeting our village. Mortar shelling has added to our fears leaving us with no choice but to move to safer places,” he said. Lal, a resident of Sehar village, said the government is providing 11 kg of flour and rice per per per family each month which is “not enough”.
“We need money to meet other demands.Some of us are working as labourers but this is a small town and there is not much to do here to earn a living,” he said. The District Development Commissioner said the administration was doing its best to provide ameliorate the sufferings of the people putting up in camps. “The district administration is providing them free rations, electricity, water, schooling for their children and accommodation,” he said. Choudhary said the district administration is aware of their issues.
“We have identified land to provide them plots in safer zones and a decision in this direction is expected shortly. We have prepared a project for construction of 6121 individual bunkers and 700 community bunkers and submitted the proposal to the Centre for its approval and funding,” he said. The officer said while the proposal is pending, the district administration had already started construction of 100 bunkers in Nowshera sector. “We are also planning to construct 100 more bunkers in another worst hit area of Manjakote,” he said. He said the administration has started class work of displaced students so that their studies are not affected inside camps.
However, the sarpanch said their children are disturbed due to the firing and subsequent displacement. Over a dozen schools along the LoC are still closed in the sector though most of the 67 closed schools reopened over the weekend after remaining shut for a week in the wake of fresh Pakistani shelling. “Once back home, we have to deposit electricity charges and school fee. The government is not giving any concession ignoring the fact that Pakistani firing has rendered us without any source of income,” he said demanding cash assistance to meet their day-today needs.
Mohammad Latief, a resident of Makdi village, said a plot of land for the border residents was a long pending demand of the people as they can move there temporarily in case of firing from across the border. He said non-availability of adequate medical facilities is putting the lives of injured persons in danger. “Each community health centre should be equipped with adequate manpower, latest machinery and an ambulance to meet any eventuality in view of the hostile situation along the borders,” he said.
To safeguard their property and feed their livestock, the sarpanch said the villagers have stationed groups of volunteers in abandoned villages to keep away anti-social elements from taking advantage of the situation. The border villagers of Manjakote tehsil, however, stayed back at their homes and did not move to the camps. The area is being frequently targeted by Pakistan, causing several casualties, both among humans and livestock in the past.
The majority of the people are staying back despite adverse conditions. “We are habitual to border skirmishes and take precautionary measures whenever shelling takes place. We want the government to take necessary measures like construction of protection bunkers and easily available first aid to avoid casualties in Pakistani firing,” Ashrafuddin said. The health department has requisitioned 10 ambulances and is filling up vacant posts of doctors and para-medical staff to address the demand of the people, an official of the department said.