Some 200,000 villagers in India border being moved to safer places

CHANDIGARH - Villagers living along the India-Pakistan border in Punjab are being evacuated to safer places owing to a war-like situation between the two neighbouring countries.

With high alert on the international border following the Indian Army's 'surgical strikes' across the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir, close to 200,000 people residing in six districts of Punjab bordering Pakistan are being evacuated to safer places.

Chief Minister (CM) Parkash Singh Badal stated that the authorities have been directed to oversee the entire evacuation process in the border districts, including Ferozepur, Fazilka, Amritsar, Taran Tarn, Gurdaspur and Pathankot.

The civilian population within 10 kilometres of the international border in these districts is being moved to safer locations. He said 10 million Indian rupees each has been given to the administration in each of these districts for making appropriate arrangements for the evacuated people who are being provided shelters in schools, community halls and Sikh shrines away from the border.

The villages being evacuated include 65 in Pathankot, 137 in Amritsar, 135 in Taran Taran and 16 in Fazilka.

The ceremonial beating retreat ceremony at the Attari border has also been closed for the public today, officials said.

The schools in the border areas have also been asked to remain shut until further orders.

The CM said the entire government and political machinery is in an emergency mode following reports of developments on the Indo-Pak border.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Badal over the telephone this morning to request him to immediately start the process of evacuation of the people residing in the villages falling within 10 kilometres of the international border in view of the escalating situation.

Badal has also directed the concerned cabinet ministers and members of the Legislative Assembly to camp in the above border districts to keep close liaison with the district administration to ensure the safe movement of the residents of the villages within close proximity of the international border.

The Punjab council of ministers, which met this evening under the chairmanship of Badal, hailed "the apt, timely and effective surgical operation" undertaken by the Indian Army across the LoC.

Meanwhile, Punjab Congress (Political Party) president Captain Amarinder Singh today cautioned against evacuating people from the border areas without any proper arrangements.

"Please don't try to create war refugees without, or at least, before the actual war," he warned.

Welcoming the surgical strikes, he said it was highly necessary since Pakistan had failed to take measures that would stop attacks on Indian soil and installations and was rather in a constant denial mode.

At the same time, the Congress leader cautioned against creating panic along the border belt in Punjab by urging the people living within 10 kilometres of the international border to move out.

He said that such measures are not really required at this stage.

"We did not evacuate people up to 10 kilometres of the international border during the 1965 War", he pointed out, adding that this move was absolutely uncalled for.