The ‘Highway’ That Cuts Off Kashmir

SRINAGAR — The vulnerability of Kashmir’s only functional road link to the outside world to the vagaries of weather was exposed yet again as the Srinagar-Jammu highway remained closed for almost a week due to snowfall and landslides.

The frequent closure of 300-km long Srinagar-Jammu highway stretch inflicts countless miseries and pain on the people of ill-fated Kashmir valley as prices of essentials soar, shortage of stock triggers frustration among masses and the black-marketing of cooking gas touches all time high.

Since January this year, news agency KNS quoted traffic officials as saying that the Srinagar-Jammu highway, the only surface link connecting Kashmir with the rest of the world at present, has remained closed for traffic for at least 29 times. Since past five days, the highway remains blocked due to landslides and shooting stones at vulnerable points that include Panthal, Ramban, Ramsoo and at few more places.

The frequent closure of the road link, also known as life-line of Kashmir, triggers all sorts of crisis in Kashmir with people asking as to why even after passage of 70-long years all the successive governments failed to find alternative to the closure of Srinagar-Jammu highway which leaves people of Kashmir, especially the poor lot in a great trouble.

The government tacitly admits that Mughal road should have been thrown open for traffic for being an all-weather route while as direct train services from Jammu to Srinagar should have been an old affair but due to “technical glitches” Kashmir continues to suffer.

The latest highway closure has once again led to demands of an alternative thoroughfare.  Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik, Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq Abdullah and various other leaders from the mainstream and separatist camp have demanded the opening of Mughal road and other traditional routes connecting Kashmir to the outside. 

Khalid Nazir, an engineering student, said that despite the passage of 70 years, all the previous regimes, National Conference, Congress, PDP and now BJP failed to ensure an alternate measure was found to deal with the issues of frequent closure of Srinagar-Jammu highway that leaves people in frenzy.

“A poor man is left to die. I myself saw acute shortage of mutton, chicken and fresh vegetables in the market,” Nazir told KNS. “There is an acute shortage or LPG and kerosene is already invisible. In such a situation what can a poor Kashmiri do, where he shall go.”

An elderly Abdul Hameed, a resident of Saraf Kadal, Srianagar area said that every single day, highway is closed and the frequent closure of the road leaves an ordinary Kashmir in lurch.
“Except the dry vegetables, people of Kashmir remain dependent on few selected vegetable produced from the Dal Lake. But that can’t suffice the entire Kashmir population who also need cooking gas, kerosene, petrol, poultry and above all mutton,” he said. “Kashmiris are known as the voracious meat eaters and the non-availability of mutton and chicken make people crazy.”
Ironically, there is no check on the black-marketing as prices of vegetables have gone skyrocketing while LPG and petrol are sold against high prices. “After searching for LPG cylinder in Srinagar for hours, I finally got one at Karanagar against Rs 2500, thrice the fixed price of the government,” said Imtiyaz Ahmed a resident of Lal Chowk.

The Mutton dealers complain that they don’t receive any supply given the road closure but in many places, “butchers were selling mutton at exorbitant prices—Rs 500 per kg against government rate of Rs 400.” “I wonder when the road is closed, how the mutton shops have two sheep hanging for sale. There is no check at all,” said Raja Begum, a resident of Pantha Chowk. “There is a big question mark as to why all the previous regimes sat on the proposal of addressing the highway mess issue. Perhaps there are political dividends and that’s why this issue.”

Divisional commissioner Kashmir Baseer Khan admits that people are facing hardships due to frequent closure of Srinagar-Jammu highway. “One can’t stop landslides and shooting stones. I believe Mughal road should have been fully functional long back, vulnerable areas where prone to shooting stones and landslides should have been dealt with by the concern departments and that the train services from Jammu to Srinagar should have been through,” he said. “Had these three things been done, there would have been no shortage or essentials in this hour of crisis.”

 Students protest 'objectionable' slogans by stranded Kashmiri passengers

Hundreds of college students in Jammu boycotted classes and held protests in parts of the city on Tuesday, a day after a group of stranded Kashmir-bound passengers allegedly raised "objectionable" slogans.

The students alleged that the passengers raised "pro-Pakistan" and "anti-India" slogans and demanded that they be booked for sedition.

On Monday, a scuffle broke out between a group of students and some of the passengers outside the Gandhi Memorial Science College here, but timely intervention by police brought the situation under control.

The passengers allegedly raised the slogans during a protest against the administration. They alleged that the administration had failed to help them in the hour of crisis.

Students of various colleges in Jammu boycotted their classes and assembled in Canal Road, Jewel Chowk, Tawi Bridge and Bikram Chowk areas. They staged sit-ins on roads, which led to traffic snarls.

Carrying the tricolour, the students raised slogans of "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" and "Vande Mataram". They also raised anti-Pakistan slogans.

A students' leader Vijay Chaudhary said a case should be registered against the stranded Kashmir-bound passengers involved in raising "anti-India" and "pro-Pakistan" slogans and they should be arrested.

This will not be allowed in Jammu, he added.

The protesters said they will continue to boycott their classes till action is not taken against those who raised the slogans.

Few hundred Kashmir-bound passengers, including students, have been stranded in Jammu as the Jammu-Srinagar national highway has been closed for the past seven days due to heavy snowfall and multiple landslides triggered by rains.

On Monday, they had come for registration at a hostel to be airlifted by the Indian Air Force to the valley, when they demonstrated outside the Gandhi Memorial Science College after blocking the Canal Road.

Senior superintendent of police, Jammu, Tejinder Singh, said action would be taken if anyone was found involved in raising "anti-national" slogans.

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