Highway ban brings J&K to halt

Commuters stuck | Farooq, Mehbooba hit streets | Emergency vehicles allowed

Ishfaq Tantry & 

Majid Jahangir

Tribune news service

Srinagar, April 7

The biweekly closure of the 270-km Baramulla-Srinagar-Udhampur national highway for troop movement, which came into force from today, threw life out of gear both in Kashmir and Jammu regions.

The J&K Government has ordered the closure of highway for civil and public transport from Baramulla to Udhampur every Sunday and Wednesday to facilitate movement of security forces for the Lok Sabha election duty. It will remain effective till May 31. 

In the Valley, where the maximum impact was felt, chaos ruled as the closure turned into a major controversy as two former Chief Ministers — Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — took to the streets in protest, urging people to defy the ban.

NC chief Farooq Abdullah, who led a highway sit-in at Pantha Chowk on the city outskirts, said it was necessary to withdraw the order to prevent more bloodshed. “Are we living in a free country or is this a colony? They have totally imprisoned us. It is crucial to withdraw the order to prevent more bloodshed,” he said.

He claimed the Centre knew about the deadly Pulwama attack, which has triggered the ban. “It is their (Centre’s) mistake. They knew that the attack was going to happen. Where did the explosives come from? Modi had to win the elections, so he did this ‘karnama’,” he said.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, leading a party protest, said they would move court. “It is not an occupational force. If the Government of India thinks by such acts they will suppress people, it is wrong. We will defy the ban. We will go to court tomorrow against the decision. We have every right to use these roads. I urge everyone to defy the ban,” she said.

Commuters on the 161-km stretch in Kashmir, which interconnects different districts and serves as a lifeline for the landlocked Valley, had a harrowing time today as civilian vehicles remained off road. Carrying his granddaughter, elderly Abdul Rasheed Shah, a resident of Bijbehara town, walked 3 km on foot from the Padshahi Bagh area to the Nowgam railway station on the city outskirts. “This ban has put people to a lot of inconvenience. We are really angry at this order. It is only adding to our hardship,” he said.

Early morning, 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. Concertina wire was put up on intersections to block traffic.

As emergency vehicles and tourists have been exempted, the government deputed magistrates to ensure that those in need did not get stuck. At the HMT Crossing on the city outskirts, however, Magistrate Mohammad Abbas refused to listen to grievances of scores of early morning city-bound travellers, as he asked them to look for alternative routes.

On the other hand, a magistrate deputed on the Pantha Chowk-Nowgam railway station stretch said he had issued around 100 passes to travellers in need.

Another magistrate said as government servants, they had to follow the orders. “The order should be revoked as people faced a lot of hardship today. I wonder what would happen on Wednesday when everyone would be out to use the highway,” he said.

On the first day of the ban, around 100 Army, CRPF and BSF vehicles crossed the Jawahar Tunnel from Jammu. 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.

In the Jammu region, people of Doda, Kishtwar, Ramban and parts of Udhampur districts also faced hardship. These districts rely on the highway for essential supplies, including fuel.

“My sister’s son is in Srinagar for an exam. He has to appear in another exam in Jammu. He had to wait till 5 pm for the road to open to travel to Jammu in the night,” said Imran, a Doda resident. “I had come from Doda to Jammu for official work a few days ago. I wanted to return today but due to the ban, I am stuck here,” said Tahir Hussain of Kishtwar. 

How traffic restrictions impact Valley 

  • 10,000 vehicles  enter & leave Srinagar from north, south Kashmir every hour
  • 200 major intersections along Srinagar-Qazigund highway
  • 5 of 10 districts — Baramulla, Srinagar, Pulwama, Anantnag, Kulgam — covered
  • 2 districts — Bandipora and Budgam — accessible only through highway
  • 3 govt, 5 private hospitals located along the highway 
  • 6 top private schools, scores of govt schools, colleges located on it 
  • 40 companies comprising 3,000 security men deployed to secure highway

Leaders hit out

Driving to Uri, I’m getting to see first-hand the extent of disruption & inconvenience being caused to people because of mindless closure order. —Omar Abdullah, NC Vice-President

We won’t allow you to turn our beloved land into an open-air prison. Jis Kashmir ko khoon say seencha, woh Kashmir humara hai.  —Mehbooba Mufti, pdp chief

It’s turning into a humanitarian disaster. People in dire need to travel stuck in a state of helplessness. @jandkgovernor needs to scrap  inhuman order. —Sajad Lone, JKPC Chief

(With inputs by Amir Karim Tantray in Jammu)

 

RELATED Did you just say this, sir?