Sonia’s Kashmir tour cut short due to bad weather

February 22nd, 2008 - 10:30 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi
(Third Lead)

Srinagar/Jammu, Feb 22 (IANS) United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi and union Home Minister Shivraj Patil arrived in Srinagar Friday after bad weather truncated their tour of snow-hit areas of Jammu and Kashmir. The police, meanwhile, denied reports that the visit was cut short due to a suspected terror plot.

Their tour was truncated as the helicopter carrying them could not cross the Pir Panjal mountain range to reach south Kashmir Valley due to bad weather, officials said. The two leaders and Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad arrived in Srinagar by an Indian Air Force plane.

Kashmir Divisional Commissioner Mehboob Iqbal gave the two leaders a presentation at the Srinagar airport, briefing them on the extent of damage the heavy snowfall has caused in the state.

Gandhi was told that 15 people had died across the Valley because of avalanches, and 50 others were injured due to unprecedented snowfall during February. The presentation added that seven houses were destroyed in the snowfall while 600 were partially damaged.

State Chief Secretary B.R. Kundal and Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda were among those present at the briefing.

Gandhi and Patil landed at the Udhampur airbase Friday morning, where Azad and Union Water Resources Minister Saif-ud-din Soz received them.

Gandhi and Patil then left by helicopter to survey the snow-hit areas of Doda and Kishtwar districts in Jammu region.

The UPA chairperson first reached the chief minister’s hometown Bhaderwah in Doda district to assess the losses, and met a gathering of about 200 people amidst tight security.

“She shook hands with people and listened to them, giving assurance of all possible help,” said an official.

Deputy Inspector General of Police (Doda-Kishtwar range) Farooq Khan denied reports that explosives, and arms and ammunition were recovered from a hideout in Bhaderwah.

There were reports that Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel had recovered five kg of RDX from Chinote area - close to where Gandhi met people of the town.

“There is absolutely no truth in this and we are taking this up with the CRPF,” Khan said.

After spending about 20 minutes in Bhaderwah, the team left for Marwah, a remote mountainous area in adjoining Kishtwar district that was hit by heavy snowfall and avalanches.

In some areas in Kishtwar, there has been up to 4.57 metres (15 feet) of snowfall, leading to collapse of houses, disruption of communication and lack of basic amenities.

Officials said it started snowing again as Gandhi and Patil were assessing the situation in Marwah.

The chopper that they were travelling in was not able to cross the Pir Panjal range to the Kashmir Valley due to the bad weather. As a result, Gandhi and Patil had to call off their tour of avalanche-hit areas of Anantanag and Kulgam districts. They returned to Udhampur.

After the briefing at the Srinagar airport, the two leaders left for New Delhi, ending their daylong visit.

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