Over 1,20,000 items of thermal inner wear, more than 60,000 parka jackets, sleeping bags and blankets, close to 70 insulated pre-fabricated barracks with accommodation for 40 in each, more than 1,500 bukharis (traditional heaters), over 100 specially-designed toilets, hundreds of common bath spaces, thousands of litres of kerosene and miles of tin sheet.
This is how about 70,000 additional security forces deployed in the Valley, following the August 5 abrogation of Article 370, are preparing for the long and harsh winter.
Since the Centre’s decision, it has dispatched more than 700 companies of paramilitary forces drawn from the CRPF, BSF, SSB and ITBP to Kashmir to maintain law and order. These are in addition to the over 60,000 paramilitary personnel who are stationed in the Valley year-round.
With Delhi giving no signal on reduction of troops in the Valley, a senior officer of the central armed police forces said: “The last time I asked Delhi how long the additional troops were supposed to be here, I was told not to ask this question before next April. So we have to prepare for a long winter, where we will be largely fighting the elements.”
The additional troops have been living in tents, government facilities, under-construction buildings, warehouses, abandoned homes and yatri camps. “None of these are suitable for winter. A very harsh winter will set mid-November onward. So we are running against time to erect suitable accommodation and procuring winter essentials,” another officer said.
Among the important acquisitions are insulated pre-fabricated barracks. “This is for the first time that we are procuring these, as earlier we have never needed them. These barracks have insulation sheets inside. The CRPF alone is procuring more than 40 of these,” the officer said.
Even the concrete buildings for accommodation are being reinforced with tin sheets, sources said. “All these accommodations have to be given kerosene-fired bukharis,” the officer said.
Since all additional troops have been drawn from the plains, they never had winter clothing suitable for Kashmir. “Thermals, jackets, blankets and sleeping bags are being procured for each person,” the officer said.
With so many soldiers in temporary accommodation, sources said toilets have become a major issue with long queues every morning. “We do not want to create stress among forces, who are already in a difficult situation. Pit toilets have been built, but they won’t work in winter,” the officer said.
Specially designed toilets have been ordered, which will be connected to sewers linked to the waste management infrastructure. Adequate water supply is also being arranged to ensure hygiene is maintained, sources said.
Given the communication blockade in certain areas and lack of adequate transport, an officer said: “All procurement has to be made online, according to government rules. We had to make some procurement from Delhi — a special Internet connection had to be established in a camp office.”
Given the situation in Kashmir, the material has to be fabricated in Jammu and transported to the Valley. “Private transporters are reluctant to make the journey for reasons of security. We are transporting the entire consignment in our convoys,” the officer said.