Panic gripped Srinagar’s commercial hub Lal Chowk on Saturday when Special Operations Group (SoG) of J&K Police and anti-fidayeen squad of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) conducted a sudden search operation in the area.
The Cordon and Search Operation (CASO) returned to the Lal Chowk area after nine months as last such exercise was witnessed in the area on September 15, 2016, when Police and Army had conducted a joint search operation.
Nazir Ahmed, a street vendor at clock tower (Ghanta Ghar), said, “All of a sudden teams of SoG and CRPF appeared in Lal Chowk at 12 noon and started searching buildings. Some pedestrians started running for safety as a word spread that encounter may start.”
Another witness said, “A Casper vehicle also reached the spot and rumours started making rounds that Army too has joined Police and CRPF and encounter was about to start.”
“The joint teams of forces searched shopping complex at Court Road and also conducted a thorough search operation in Bund area. Later it came to fore that Army wasn’t part of the operation,” the witness added.
Traffic in the area came to a halt for some time. “We even started packing our goods and were about to down our shutters. Normalcy returned after forces called off the operation at around 12: 45 pm,” he said.
Inspector General of Police, Kashmir Range, Muneer Ahmed Khan, said, “It was just a patrolling exercise. I had directed my men to do some leg work as I felt they were feeling lazy. They carried out a sort of area domination and that’s it. There is nothing more to it.”
However, CRPF spokesman in Srinagar, Rajesh Yadav, said, “Anti-fidayeen squad of the force joined SoG to conduct the operation. We had inputs about presence of militants in the area. The search operation was later called off.”
Police sources said the concerned police station Kothibagh was also kept aware about the development. “Many CID sleuths mistook the Casper vehicle as army vehicle. It was later conveyed to the police higher ups that the vehicle belonged to CRPF and not the army,” a source in the police said.
The CASO, also called crackdown by locals, has been a regular feature of forces in Pulwama and Shopian districts in south Kashmir. The CASO was re-introduced in Kashmir on May 5 after a gap of almost 27 years in Shopian district after army launched a day-long operation to trace militants. Such operations were a routine affair in early ’90s.