An Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel searches a Kashmiri man and his scooter next to a road sign asking to stop for checking in Srinagar on February 24, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Highlights

  • Large crowds of people seen queuing outside petrol stations across the Indian state.
  • Panic-gripped people stocked up on essentials
  • State government orders immediate rationing of fuel, citing low stocks
  • Overnight arrests of top separatist leaders and anticipation of an imminent war with Pakistan exacerbates situation

Srinagar: Panic gripped Kashmir after a string of advisories issued by authorities led to confusion and mass hysteria in the valley. By evening large crowds of people could be seen queuing outside petrol stations across the Indian state.

As panic-gripped people stocked up on essentials, the state government ordered immediate rationing of fuel, citing low stocks. Overnight arrests of top separatist leaders and anticipation of an imminent war with Pakistan only exacerbated the situation.

People seen queuing outside petrol stations Image Credit: Suhial

"The divisional administration in Kashmir has stated that rationing of fuel has been ordered because of shortage of stocks," an official spokesperson said in the evening.

The statement did little to assuage the situation as people were seen scrambling in Srinagar and other major towns, trying to buy foodstock and other essentials. Panic-gripped motorists braved the winter chill to fill their vehicles with fuel.

As evening wore on, Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir tweeted: “The administration needs to take steps to reduce the sense of panic. People are wound up tight with worry & the speculation on some TV news channels is contributing to this as well. Let’s hope someone in the government is listening.”

Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel patrol a street in downtown Srinagar February 23, 2019. Image Credit: REUTERS

The Department of Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, which provides ration to people through its outlets, issued an advisory, asking its staff members in Srinagar to ensure the sale of food grains in their respective areas.

“Someone needs to take people out of the state of scare and ambiguity. The government should make an official statement. Attributing it to elections makes things worse. Because elections have been held in the past too. But current state of alert was never there in the past,” Sajad Lone, former minister in the BJP-PDP government wrote on twitter.

Military jets

Frequent movement of military jets and helicopters in Srinagar skies — an unusual development — added to speculation that the Indian Air Force (IAF) was conducting mock drills in the build up for a possible war with Pakistan.

“In view of the prevailing situation, it is impressed upon all the Chief Medical Officers to collect the available supplies of drugs, medicines, surgical disposable items and other allied items under rules for their districts(s) including district hospitals....tomorrow positively in the interest of patient care,” an urgent order from Director of Health Services Kashmir read.

Security forces patrol in Karan Nagar area, near Srinagar in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Image Credit: AFP

Sensing general unease and reports of widespread public panic, the state authorities issued a statement at night, urging the general public not to heed any rumours and sought the cooperation of people in this regard.

The state’s Consumer Affairs department also advised the residents of Kashmir against getting panicky.