The national highway from Baramulla to Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir has been made out of bounds for civilian traffic on Sundays and Wednesdays from 4 am to 5 pm till 31 May to facilitate unhindered movement of security forces' convoys. The move was introduced to eliminate the possibility of a Pulwama-like fidayeen terror attack during the ongoing poll process.
According to the new order, the prohibition will apply from Baramulla through Srinagar, Qazigund, the Jawahar-Tunnel Banihal and Ramban to Udhampur.
However, what it inadvertently entails is inconvenience for the residents of the Kashmir Valley, for whom this is the only all-weather motorable road that connects them to the rest of the India. At stake is the business interests of hundreds of traders who travel to and fro from Jammu to Kashmir and vice versa.
The move evoked a strong response from local leaders who paralleled the decision to government's failure.
National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah on Wednesday called the decision to close Jammu-Srinagar national highway for civilian traffic proof of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's failure to manage the internal security of Jammu and Kashmir.
"Another first for the Modi government after the first ever delayed Assembly election. Now this shocker — never before, in 30 years, has the national highway been closed for civilian traffic like this," the former chief minister tweeted.
"Patients will not be able to reach hospitals; students will be deprived access to schools; employees won't be able to reach work; and the list goes on and on. There has to be a better, less people-unfriendly way of protecting forces using the highway," Abdullah said in another tweet.
Instead, security forces should be facilitated to travel in special trains, he suggested.
"I've made this suggestion before, and in light of today's highway closure order, I feel the need to repeat it — why can't the forces travel between Banihal and Baramulla by special trains? Quicker, safer and more comfortable for the security forces," he said.
Former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ally, Jammu and Kashmir People's Conference chairman Sajad Gani Lone also hit out at the government.
"In the civilised world, military needs will and always be subservient to civil needs. This certainly will be a first of its kind and will have disastrous social, political and economic consequences. The government should not carve a military identity for itself," Lone wrote on his Twitter handle.
"The order issued by the government today on vehicular movement is too bad to be true. Can't believe they actually issued such an order. Makes a mockery of liberties and restricts even the right to move," he added.
Meanwhile, Peoples Democratic Party president and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti compared the decision to martial law. "The last I checked, we were a democracy. But this sounds like a diktat of martial Law. After bringing Kashmir to the brink, the administration is adamant on ensuring collective punishment for Kashmiris," she said.
Even BJP leaders were not happy with the announcement. According to the Hindustan Times, BJP state spokesperson Altaf Thakur said the order was against civilians.
"This is a completely unjustified order aimed at creating problems for civilians and should be revoked. Stopping movement of civilian traffic on the national highway is unthinkable and should be revoked."
It is true there are security concerns, but they should not be addressed at the cost of civilians, he emphasised.
Local residents, too, decried the move, pointing out the inconvenience they will have to suffer because of the move.
As if already imposed bans weren't enough! this authoritarian government imposed a ban even on general traffic/masses on Jammu-srinagar highway. I can relate to what orwellian govt. looks like in Orwell's "1984". If not resolved, everyone of us will be in room no. 101 soon.
— Omar Zaki. (@Soprukk) April 4, 2019
No civilian traffic movement on Srinagar Jammu highway for 2 days every week.
Holiday for all employee who have to cross these https://t.co/WAbiauBVnU day for all students .No exams on Wednesday.That is the fun of living under dictatorship#kashmir#FreeKashmir
— The Reallysion (@ShahKhalidahmad) April 4, 2019
Closing the Jammu Srinagar highway is the worst anti-People move I've seen in 30 years of militancy. Hundreds of schools and hospitals can only be accessed via this crucial road. Stark admission that the mighty Sec forces can only rule through force. Expect further alienation
— Harinder Baweja (@shammybaweja) April 4, 2019
Another aspect of the order is that it bars vehicular movement in prime Kashmiri cities, which are land-locked and completely dependent on the highway to commute. But life wasn't easy even before the diktat was introduced.
Between the harsh winter months of November to February, the highway remains prone to blockages due to heavy snowfall and landslides. Several spells of snow and heavy constant traffic on the lone motorable road connecting Kashmir to the rest of India ensures that people often get stranded. In the last spell of snow this year in January, the highway was shut for six straight days.
The traffic menace is another aspect locals have to deal with. The ongoing road widening and halting trucks between Banihal and Ramban on the highway usually cause long blockades. In winters, the widening work often trigger landslides and spraying of stones, causing traffic authorities to stop vehicles for hours at a stretch.
Furthermore, the meandering course of the highway because of the geography of the region creates several bottlenecks between Jammu and Srinagar, creating long traffic blocks. Abdur Rasheed, who drives a passenger vehicle, said he has never seen such bad traffic in his 60 years, blaming traffic authorities for the mess.
"Hardly any traffic policemen are at the bottlenecks of the highway," he told Greater Kashmir.
Although the traffic department announces traffic schedules regularly through the media and repeatedly urges people to contact traffic control rooms before embarking on a journey along the highway, traffic management remains a major challenge.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Apr 04, 2019 15:12:13 IST