The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is focussing on a hawala racket relating to the annual Haj pilgrimage and trade fraud along the Line of Control (LoC) as two funding channels being used by separatists and terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir.

As part of its probe, which recently led to the arrest of seven Kashmiri separatists, the NIA is examining what it regards as a ‘deep conspiracy’ to ‘keep the Valley burning’, and not just individual acts of terror.

What does NIA say?
According to the NIA, some travel agents who send Indians on the Haj pilgrimage are hand in glove with associates of separatists based in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. A part of the money collected from pilgrims is diverted for terror and separatist activities, while the cost of accommodation and food are borne by these associates.

How does it happen?
Some of these travel agents charge around Rs. 2 lakh per pilgrim and purchase tickets as per the subsidy scheme of the government. Around Rs. 1.5 lakh cash given by the pilgrims is pocketed by them and transferred to separatists.

The pilgrims were taken care of during their pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia by associates of the separatists in Pakistan.

This opened up a “ready stock of legitimate cash” for illegal activities.

Does the NIA have proofs?
NIA has “statements from pilgrims as well as office-bearers [of separatist organisations] who have confirmed the money trail,” the official claimed. So far, 80 witness statements have been recorded by the NIA on funds generated to organise terror in Kashmir, he said.

About the Haj subsidy
Haj subsidy is given to pilgrims only in the form of subsidised air tickets; pilgrims make their own arrangements for food and stay in Saudi Arabia.

Travel operators provide a package deal, which includes accommodation. Pilgrims pay agents by cash and through bank accounts.

What is the other fund-raising channel?
Trade across the LoC, has brought some traders under the scanner for alleged fraudulent transactions worth Rs. 2,100 crore at the Salamabad-Uri trade point and Rs. 670 crore at the Chakan Da Bagh-Poonch point since this trade began in 2008.

There are 21 items cleared for trade across the LoC through a barter system, which include garments, handicrafts, carpets and almonds.

The NIA has found undervaluation of products that come from Pakistan, which are then sold at as much as triple their exchange value, generating cash surpluses.

Interestingly, the NIA has recommended to the Home Ministry that the trade across the LoC be stopped, but Jammu and Kashmir Chief Mehbooba Mufti said that this exchange would not be stopped, and more trade routes would be added.

Other revelations by NIA about professional stone pelters
1. 28 WhatsApp groups with over 5,000 members had been identified as linked to the continuing unrest. These groups were being used to mobilise youth to pelt stones [in the Valley]. Most of their administrators are in Pakistan.

2. A list of 103 persons, each involved in more than four incidents of stone-pelting in the Valley in the past one year, has been prepared, and the NIA claims to have established the financial trail between the separatists and these “professional stone-throwers.”

3. “There are quite a few who use mosques to provoke locals against the administration. We have made copies of their speeches and they will also be summoned for investigations,” said the official.

About National Investigation Agency (NIA)
National Investigation Agency (NIA) is a central investigation agency established by the Indian Government to combat terror in India. The agency is empowered to deal with terror related crimes across states without special permission from the states. The Agency came into existence with the enactment of the National Investigation Agency Act 2008.

(Adapted From The Hindu)