Residents of nearly 1,000 villages in Punjab districts bordering Pakistan are being evacuated following escalation of tension between India and Pakistan after surgical strikes by the Indian Army across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir.
Punjab shares a 553-km border with Pakistan.
The villages being evacuated as a preventive measure include 300 in Ferozepur district, 290 in Gurdaspur, 137 in Amritsar, 135 in Tarn Taran, 65 in Pathankot and 60 in Fazilka.
“We are trying to evacuate residents of around 1,000 villages. Camps are being set up to accommodate people. We have made all preparations,” Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal told media after an emergency meeting of the Punjab Cabinet in Chandigarh. “The Union home secretary has informed us of the possibility of retaliation. We have activated the state disaster management committee,” he said.
Mr Badal said all schools falling within a distance of 10 km from the International Border with Pakistan had been ordered shut. Leave of all officials in the border belt, including police, has been cancelled.
He urged people not to panic and assured that police will remain stationed in the evacuated villages to protect property.
“One additional officer has been posted in each border district to assist the deputy commissioners and local administration officials concerned.”
“Though the public will be inconvenienced, we are ensuring it is minimal. People are being helped in evacuation,” the Chief Minister said.
Congratulating Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the “bold step” of ordering the surgical strikes, Mr Badal dubbed the army operation as “kamaal da (great work)”.
Punjab Chief Secretary Sarvesh Kaushal said that schools, community centres, marriage palaces and other infrastructure were being used to accommodate evacuated people. Mr Badal said the Punjab government will not raise the issue of expenses incurred on the evacuation with the Centre at this juncture.
Army convoys could be seen moving towards the various Punjab districts bordering Pakistan, including Fazilka, Ferozepur, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur and Pathankot.
Punjab was put on maximum alert on Thursday while villagers living close to the border were told to move to safer locations.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Mr Badal over telephone to request him to immediately start evacuation of villagers living within 10 km from the border, a Punjab government spokesman said here.
Following the Centre’s request due to apprehensions that Pakistan could retaliate, the Punjab government ordered the evacuation within 10-km belt along the international border in Punjab.
The Border Security Force (BSF) was mobilising its troops and strengthening the security along the border.
The BSF has cancelled the Retreat ceremony at the Attari-Wagah border joint checkpost at Attari, 30 km from Amritsar, officials said. The BSF and district authorities asked visitors and tourists not to move towards Attari for the ceremony.