- Technical analysis agency said some 300 phones were active at Jaish camp
- Rajnath Singh said Congress unwilling to accept this assessment
- Opposition has been demanding details of impact of Balakot air strike
On a day Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman refused to spell out a death count amid opposition questions about the impact of India's air strike on Balakot, Home Minister Rajnath Singh came closest to validating the unofficial figure of "300" that has been in circulation since February 26. Attacking the Congress, the Home Minister said the opposition party is not willing to accept an assessment by the National Technical Research Organisation that said some 300 mobile phones were active at the Jaish-e-Mohammed camp before the Air Force's Mirage 2000 fighter jets bombed it.
The NTRO is the country's top technical analysis and intelligence-gathering agency that can track and eavesdrop on communications.
"The NTRO, which has an authentic system, said that 300 mobile phones were active... Were these mobile phones used by the trees? Now will you not believe the NTRO also?" the Home Minister said after inaugurating a surveillance system of the Border Security Force in Assam's Dhubri on Tuesday. He said the Congress should go to Pakistan and count the casualties if it insists on knowing the exact figures.
"India's respected and authentic NTRO surveillance system has said that before Indian pilots dropped the bombs, 300 mobile phones were active there. There's no need to tell you how many were killed," Rajnath Singh said, according to news agency Reuters.
The NTRO is under the direct control of the Prime Minister's Office.
The sparring between the party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the opposition intensified after BJP chief Amit Shah in a public meeting in Gujarat, two days ago, claimed over 250 terrorists were killed in the Balakot air strike.
The Air Force said it does not count casualty figures. "Air Force is not in a position to clarify how many people were inside. We don't count human casualties. We count what targets we have hit or not hit," Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa told reporters on Monday.
Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday said the government has already made its position on the casualty figures clear in a statement by Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale on the day the air strike took place. Mr Gokhale had not given any casualty figures.
The Air Force on February 26 hit the Jaish-e-Mohammed's camp in Balakot, inside Pakistan, over a week after a suicide bomber detonated a mini-van laden with explosives on Jammu-Srinagar highway, killing 40 CRPF soldiers.
(With inputs from PTI and Reuters)