New Delhi: A group of union ministers are set to visit Jammu and Kashmir between January 18 and 24, more than five months after the Narendra Modi government scrapped its special status and bifurcated the state into two union territories of J&K and Ladakh.
A list of the 36 ministers that will make the trip, however, showed that most of this outreach effort will remain restricted to Jammu as 51 of the 59 places that they will visit are in the district, while the remaining eight are in Srinagar.
Among those who will visit are railways and commerce minister Piyush Goyal on January 19 and law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on January 23. Junior home minister G Kishan Reddy, textile and women and child development minister Smriti Irani and junior road transport and highways minister General (retd) VK Singh are some of the other Cabinet ministers that would make the visit.
News agency PTI quoted sources as saying that the ministers will make people aware of the “positive impact” of abrogation of Article 370, which granted the state its special status, and share “development initiatives taken by the government” with them.
The government’s move comes amid mounting questions in India and abroad on the continued lockdown in Kashmir, the arrest of state politicians, including former CMs Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and Farooq Abdullah, and the suspension of internet.
The authorities have continued to describe the internet restrictions in the erstwhile state as a pre-emptive measure to prevent misuse of data services by “anti-national elements”. Internet services in Jammu and Kashmir have been suspended since August 5, when abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution was announced.
Complying with the Supreme Court's directions the union territory's administration has ordered restoration of 2G mobile internet services on postpaid connections in five districts of Jammu division and broadband facilities in both Jammu and Kashmir divisions only for institutions dealing with essential services and tourism, such as hospitals, banks and hotels.
Aiming to play down international criticism of the situation, the government had recently facilitated a two-day visit to J&K by a team of 15 envoys, including US ambassador Kenneth Juster. The delegation was accompanied by Secretary (West) of Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup and was briefed by a team of top army officers led by Lt Gen K J S Dhillon, who heads the strategically-located XV Corps in Kashmir.
The visit of envoys had evoked sharp reactions from opposition parties with Congress accusing the government of adopting double standards by resorting to "guided tours" for foreign envoys, but not allowing Indian politicians to go there.