Chandigarh: Punjab remained on high alert and evacuation from villages along the international border with Pakistan continued on Friday while a number of rumours on the Pakistan Army’s build-up did rounds on social media despite authorities urging people not to panic as no such situation was reported.
Punjab ministers Bikram Singh Majithia and Gulzar Singh Ranike toured areas of the border belt and listened to problems of people being evacuated.
The Indian Army, the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Border Security Force (BSF) were put on high alert in Punjab and neighbouring states to counter any escalation of the situation following the the Indian Army’s surgical strike across the Line of Control (LoC) on Thursday.
Army convoys, carrying artillery guns, could be seen moving towards the border belt in Punjab on Thursday and Friday in preparation to thwart any retaliatory move from Pakistan for the LoC strike.
The IAF also has been put on high alert with forward air bases on the western front in full preparedness. The IAF bases in the region include Halwara and Adampur (both in Punjab), Ambala (in Haryana) and Hindon (near Delhi).
IAF fighter jets carried out sorties over some parts of Punjab as a preventive measure.
The international border in Punjab frontier is manned by the Border Security Force which is on maximum alert following the latest developments at the LoC.
Anxious villagers on Friday continued to move out of border villages as panic gripped the area regarding a possible retaliation by Pakistan.
People alleged mismanagement by local authorities at evacuation camps, saying that arrangements were poor or non-existent.
“We were asked to evacuate our homes on Thursday evening. There were no means to travel out and we did not know where to go. There were no arrangements in any schools as we were told,” said Gurdev Singh, a villager of Rajatal area in Amritsar district’s border belt.
Since most villagers are from farming families, they were worried that their standing paddy crop, which is ready, could be affected if it was not harvested on time.
“The crop is ready for harvest. We don’t even know when we will return to do that,” said farmer Shamsher Singh.
However, some male residents refused to move out saying that they had to tend to their cattle and animals, properties and crops.
The Punjab government, following directions from the Union Home Ministry, had on Thursday ordered evacuation of people to “safer areas” from within the 10-km belt from the 553-km border with Pakistan.
Over four lakh villagers in six border districts have been affected due to the evacuation. Many people moved out of the villages to homes of relatives and friends a little away from the border belt.
But officials in the border districts — Fazilka, Ferozepur, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur and Pathankot — said that arrangements were still being made to accommodate people being evacuated.
“We got the evacuation orders on Thursday afternoon only. It takes time to make arrangements. The schools were ordered closed around that time only. We are working round-the-clock,” an official in Ferozepur district told IANS.
Cots and beds were arranged and put up in government school buildings, community centres and private marriage palaces. Local gurdwaras and social organisations made arrangements to serve food and water to the evacuated people. People could be seen moving out on tractor-trolleys, trucks and private vehicles out of the border belt.
In most of the nearly 1,000 villages in the border belt which have been evacuated, there was silence on Friday. In some villages, Punjab Police personnel could be seen keeping a vigil.
The villages being evacuated as a preventive measure include 300 in Ferozepur, 290 in Gurdaspur, 137 in Amritsar, 135 in Tarn Taran, 65 in Pathankot and 60 in Fazilka.
Army convoys with artillery moved towards the border with Pakistan on Thursday.
The Punjab government has ordered all schools falling within a distance of 10 km from the border be shut down, while leave of all officials in the border belt, including police, has been cancelled.
The BSF strengthened the security along the border, while leave of troopers has also been cancelled.