Is Kashmir Red Cross using coercion for donations?

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The Indian Red Cross Society’s Kashmir chapter is being accused of using government machinery to collect money from people by coercive ways even if they are not violating COVID-19 SOPs.

Dozens of people have accused the charity, the Jammu and Kashmir Police and other government officials of collecting money from them against the receipt of Indian Red Cross Society.

Indian Red Cross Society is a charitable trust meant to provide relief in times of disasters and emergencies and promote health and care of vulnerable people and communities.

A Srinagar resident who wished not to be named told The Kashmir Walla that police personnel in Srinagar asked him to pay 200 rupees on account of donation which he was not willing to pay. He asked, “how can a police personnel ask for donations for a charitable trust from people?” and said, “It is coercion and not donation.”

Another resident said he was forced to pay donations several times within a week’s time even as he was not in violation of rules.

The Kashmir Walla tried to reach Indian Red Cross Society’s Kashmir Chapter to know the reason behind the use of government machinery in collecting money “forcibly” from the people.

The Honorary Secretary of the Society’s Kashmir Chapter was not available on phone as his Personal Assistant who identified himself as Noor ul Hassan received the call.

He responded to the queries as: “it is not the policy of the society to use government machinery for collection of donations as we follow the government rules and regulations. We follow the directions of the government.”

“We have received instructions from the Governor’s office about collection of fines from the people found violating COVID19 SOPs,” he said.

He further said that if there is any case of collection of money from people even if they are not found violating the protocols of COVID19 “was against the procedure”. “If money is collected from people forcibly and without finding them violating COVID-19 SOPs, it is against the guidelines issued in this regard,” he said.

The police constables collecting fines and donations at several checkpoints told The Kashmir Walla that they have been given a timeline to finish the receipt books.

The Indian Red Cross Society’s Kashmir Chapter is headed by Divisional Commissioner Kashmir. The Kashmir Walla constantly tried to reach the current Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir for comment on the alleged extortion by the government officials and police in the garb pandemic and collection of fine against the receipt of Indian Red Cross Society, but he could not be reached.

District Development Commissioner Srinagar Aijaz Assad also did not respond to repeated phone calls from The Kashmir Walla

The Kashmir Walla also received reports from north Kashmir’s Kupwara district about the extortionist approach in the name of fines which District Development Commissioner Kupwara Imam Din denied.

“The reports are baseless. People who do not follow COVID19 appropriate behaviour would be fined. I request people to follow the COVID appropriate behaviour and do not force us to impose fines,” Din said.

The Trust has at an estimate collected crores of rupees during COVID19 pandemic with the help of government machinery in Kashmir.

Since 1 April this year, he said, an amount of more than 19 lac has been collected on account of an alleged violation of COVID19 SOPs in the district against the receipt of Red Cross Society.

Similarly, Senior Superintendent of Police Baramulla Rayees Mohammad Bhat denied any reports of “extortion” by the police in the district. “If people are following the SOPs, why would we chalan them? This is wrong. Only those who are found violating standard operating procedure are challaned,” Bhat said.

More than 7 to 8 lac rupees have been collected in Baramulla district on account of alleged violation of the SOPs.

The Jammu and Kashmir government imposed a strict lockdown from time to time since the outbreak of the pandemic in March last year to contain the spread of the COVID19 virus.

Since then authorities booked hundreds of people under different sections of law for violation of the lockdown. The collection of fines from the violators, however, against the receipt of the Indian Red Cross Society Kashmir was introduced last month.

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