(The MHA notified air travel for Central Armed Forces, including CRPF, between Delhi-Srinagar, Srinagar-Delhi, Jammu-Srinagar and Srinagar-Jammu on on 21 February, 2019, five days after this story was originally published.)
“We are concerned about our safety in the Valley. Travel between Jammu and Kashmir involves too much risk, why couldn’t CRPF jawans be transported by air or in bulletproof buses?”
A grieving CRPF jawan told The Quint on the condition of anonymity after the fidayeen attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama, Jammu & Kashmir on 14 February which killed 40 jawans. The convoy comprised over 2,500 CRPF personnel travelling in 78 vehicles.
It turns out the CRPF had indeed requested air transit for the jawans to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) earlier this week. However, the request was ignored.
“A lot of jawans got stranded in Jammu because of roadblocks due to snowfall. Last convoy movement happened on 4 February. Hence, we wrote to our CRPF headquarters requesting them to provide us facilities to transit jawans by air. But nothing happened. No one bothered to reply to us.”Senior CRPF official to The Quint
After the senior official, posted in Srinagar, wrote to the CRPF headquarters, as per procedure the request was forwarded to the MHA.
He further added that earlier also requests were made to transit jawans by air. But they had never been accepted.
“Transit of jawans by air would not only ensure their safety but it will be much faster and cost-effective.”Senior CRPF officer
MHA Didn’t Comment On the Air Transit of the Attacked Convoy
In response, the MHA said that “Over the last few years, MHA had significantly enhanced the air courier services for CAPFs (Central Armed Police Forces) in all sectors to help the jawans cut down on travel time during their journey to and back from home on leave.”
But when The Quint asked MHA specifically about what happened to the air transit request sent by CRPF senior officials for the attacked convoy, they did not comment.
However, MHA pointed out that “in December 2018, MHA has approved enhancement of air support by increasing the routes and flights” between Delhi-Jammu-Srinagar-Jammu-Delhi.
Intelligence Had Inputs on ‘Use of IEDs’ 6 days before Attack
A letter was written by the Intelligence Bureau on 8 February to top CPRF officials saying “please sanitise the area properly, as there are inputs of use of IEDs” in the Valley.
But the intelligence note does not provide any specific details on the type of attack or the place and date.
Retired IGP, CRPF VPS Panwar, who had been a convoy commander in the Valley, told The Quint that an attack like this shows complete security failure and that it seems the senior officials ignored intelligence inputs.
“The need of the hour is that the CRPF should be provided with bulletproof vehicles and arrangements should be made for their transit by air, especially when so many jawans get stranded during winters.”
VPS Panwar, retired IGP, CRPF
Generally, a convoy doesn’t comprise more than 300-400 jawans and the days of the movement of the convoy is also decided beforehand, he further added.
“Movement of 78 vehicles in a convoy was like a sitting duck for the terrorists. I feel transporting so many jawans together was not a correct decision.”
VPS Panwar, retired IGP, CRPF
Civil Vehicles Are Allowed while the Convoy is on the Move
How did the vehicle, carrying around 200 kgs of explosives, manage to reach the convoy? Wasn’t there enough security for the jawans who were returning from their homes?
Here are the answers to these questions by CRPF officials.
- The convoy of 78 vehicles with over 2,500 CRPF men started at around 3:30 am on Thursday morning.
- Road Opening Party (ROP) was provided to the convoy from Jammu to Srinagar by the CRPF and Army.
- Traffic for civil vehicles remains open during convoy movement. Civil vehicles are not stopped while convoy passes any stretch and are even allowed to overtake and come in between security force’s vehicles if required.
- On reaching vulnerable places additional bulletproof vehicles are attached with the convoy as a countermeasure for any firing or ambush attempt by militants which remains the main threat in the region.
- The buses which are used for the jawans transportation have thin metallic plates which offer no protection from bullets or IEDs.
- ROP clear the road for any IED planted therein. Only after clearance from ROP, convoy moves through that area.
- In this case, the militant entered the highway from a link-road (from Lakapora-Lelhar side) and was moving on the left side. The moment the CRPF convoy was on its right, he triggered the explosive-laden vehicle which hit the no 5 and 6 buses in the row.
Transporting the jawans by air will not only solve the above security loopholes and be faster, “it is also cost-effective although it shouldn’t be a concern for the government”, said the senior CRPF official.
(The article was originally published on 16 February and has been updated with the MHA’s response to the article on 17 February.)