Highway ban halts life in Kashmir

Highway ban halts life in Kashmir


The weekly two-day closure of the 270-km Baramulla-Srinagar-Udhampur national highway for troop movement, which came into force from Monday, has thrown life out of gear in both Kashmir as well as Jammu regions.

The state government has ordered the highway closed for civil and public transport from Baramulla to Udhampur every Sunday and Wednesday to facilitate security forces movement for the Lok Sabha election duty. The order will remain effective till May 31.

There was chaos in the Valley, where the maximum impact was felt, and this led to a major controversy as two former Chief Ministers, Dr. Farooq Abdullah and Ms. Mehbooba Mufti, took to the streets in protest.

Dr. Abdullah, who led a highway sit-in at Pantha Chowk on Srinagar outskirts, said it was necessary to withdraw the order to prevent more bloodshed. 'Are we living in a free country or a colony? They have totally imprisoned us. It is crucial to withdraw the order to prevent more bloodshed,' he cautioned.

He claimed the Centre was aware of the Pulwama attack, which has triggered the ban. 'It is their (Centre’s) mistake, they knew it was going to happen. Where did the explosives come from? Modi had to win the elections, so he did this ‘karnama’.'

Ms. Mehbooba, the PDP president, leading her party's protest, said they would move court. 'It is not an occupational force. If the Centre thinks by such acts they will suppress they people, it is wrong. We will defy the ban. We will go to court tomorrow and we have every right to use these roads. I urge everyone to defy the ban.'

Commuters on the 161-km stretch, which links different districts and serves as a lifeline for the landlocked Valley, had a harrowing time as civilian vehicles stayed off the road. Carrying his granddaughter, elderly Abdul Rasheed Shah of Bijbehara town, walked 3 km from the Padshahi Bagh area to the Nowgam railway station. 'This ban has put people to a lot of inconvenience. We are really angry. It is only adding to our hardship.'

The authorities began deploying hundreds of security force personnel along the stretch, blocking all intersections and passageways to the highway from Baramulla to Jawahar Tunnel in Kulgam district and concertina wire was put up on intersections.

As emergency vehicles and tourists have been exempted, the government deputed magistrates to ensure that those in need did not get stuck. A magistrate deputed at Pantha Chowk-Nowgam railway station stretch said he had issued around 100 passes to travellers.

Around 100 Army, CRPF and BSF vehicles crossed the Jawahar Tunnel from Jammu on the first day. The government in the evening claimed movement of emergency vehicles was allowed by making necessary arrangements. 'Reports from the DCs of Pulwama, Anantnag, Budgam and Baramulla suggest special passes were given to 493 vehicles falling in the exempted category,' an official spokesman said.