Personnel of the paramilitary forces deployed in the Kashmir Valley for counter-terror operations have been entitled by the government on Thursday to take commercial flights to either join duty or go on leave, in the wake of the killing of 40 jawans in a deadly attack on their convoy in Pulwama.
The Ministry of Home Affairs issued an order saying it "has approved the entitlement of air travel on Delhi-Srinagar, Srinagar-Delhi, Jammu-Srinagar and Srinagar-Jammu sectors to all the personnel of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs)".
This includes, the order said, their journey for joining duty, transfer, tour or going on leave.
Till now, officers in the rank of Inspectors and above were given this air travel facility.
As many as 65,000 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel are deployed in the state as part of 65 battalions apart from units of the Border Security Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Central Industrial Security Force, Sashastra Seema Bal and the National Security Guard present in the Kashmir valley for rendering a variety of roles in the internal security grid.
The decision of the government comes in the wake of the February 14 Pulwama attack in which 40 personnel of the CRPF were killed when a explosives-laden vehicle was blown off by a JeM terrorist, near a force bus that was plying between Jammu-Srinagar as part of a convoy.
Questions were raised as to why these troops are not allowed to travel by air so that the risk and threat of travelling on road, in large convoys in the Kashmir Valley, is eliminated.
A senior official said jawans and sub-officers, the ranks who were killed in the suicide attack in Pulwama, will now be able to book tickets in regular commercial flights and claim reimbursement from their organisation or force for this travel to and from Kashmir.
The home ministry said the new facility is "in addition" to the existing air courier services for CAPFs where an entire aircraft is booked for the force personnel from either Delhi or Jammu to Srinagar and back.
A statement on Home Minister Rajnath Singh's official Twitter handle said the decision will "immediately benefit approximately 7.8 lakh paramilitary personnel of the ranks of constable, head constable and assistant sub-inspector who were otherwise not eligible earlier".
The ministry said that for the Jammu and Kashmir sector, an air courier service was already available for CAPFs jawans and this was extended in December, 2017 to cover more routes like: Delhi-Jammu, Jammu-Srinagar, Srinagar-Jammu and Jammu-Delhi.
"The number of flights were further extended in December, 2018. In addition, air support is provided from the Indian Air Force as and when required," it said in a statement.
A senior official said the step will allow more and more personnel to undertake air travel to and from Kashmir but the requirement of running convoys of the security forces cannot be brought to zero.