Highway closure move triggers outrage

The state government’s decision to ban civilian traffic on the Jammu-Srinagar-Baramulla highway for two days every week to facilitate movement of forces’ convoys came in for severe criticism from state’s mainstream political leaders, who called for “immediate review” of the “anti-people” and “undemocratic” decision.

According to an order issued Wednesday by the state home secretary, no civilian traffic will be allowed to move from Baramulla in northern Kashmir to Udhampur in Jammu region on Sundays and Wednesdays till May 31.

The restrictions on civilian traffic on the 271-km-long highway will remain in force from 4am to 5pm, said the order. The highway passes through important towns such as Anantnag, Awantipora, Pampore, Srinagar, Pattan and Baramulla.

REVIEW THIS ORDER: OMAR

Former chief minister and National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah strongly denounced the ban on civilian traffic on the highway and asked the governor Satya Pal Malik to review the order “which will bring miseries to the people of Kashmir”.

Talking to reporters on the sidelines of an election rally in Rafiabad, Baramulla, Omar said: “In the last three decades of militancy, the state government has never issued such an order despite witnessing some of the worst incidents like a car bomb blast near the state assembly”.

“Does this order reflect that Jammu and Kashmir is passing through the worst phase?” Omar asked.

He urged the state administration and New Delhi to review this order and “if need arises, manage the movement of security forces through train from Banihal to Baramulla”.

HIGHWAY WASN’T CLOSED EVEN DURING KARGIL WAR: FAROOQ 

The Srinagar-Jammu highway was not closed even during the Kargil war when intelligence reports suggested suicide attackers were at large, former chief minister Farooq Abdullah said.

“What is happening for god’s sake? Are you trying to make Kashmir a colony of the British?” an anguished Abdullah asked and termed the governor Satya Pal Malik led administration’s decision as “interference with a citizen’s fundamental rights”.

 “The fundamental rights of people are being tampered with,” Abdullah told PTI.

Such a decision flies in the face of the BJP-led Central government’s assertion that the security situation in the state had improved, he said.

“We brought the state from the 1989 turmoil to 2014 when tourism was booming the state and separatists had become redundant. Look where we are now?” asked the National Conference patron, who is contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Srinagar.

“We have never seen such a situation. Even during Kargil war when intelligence reports suggested suicide attackers were roaming, such a decision was never taken,” he added.

Those who had passed such orders were acting as a rubber stamp for Delhi and only worsening the life of the people in the state, Abdullah alleged.

“The highway is the lifeline of people. Patients pass (through the highway), marriages take place, tourists come…Those passing such orders must have surrendered their ability to think before acting,” he said.

The decision to block the highway for two days has been taken to facilitate the unhindered movement of security forces’ convoys to eliminate the possibility of fidayeen attacks during the ongoing poll process, the home department order said.

In case of an emergency requiring the passage of a civilian vehicle, police and administrative officials will take appropriate decisions in line with the provisions for movement of civilian traffic during curfews, it added. 

Officials said the notification took the state police by surprise and, till the last, it was being argued that the decision would not be beneficial for the state.

ANTI-PEOPLE MOVE: SAJAD

Terming the government’s decision to restrict vehicular movement on Baramulla-Srinagar-Jammu highway as undemocratic and an anti-people move, the Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Gani Lone Thursday said such measures “would trigger a humanitarian crisis” in Kashmir.

Addressing a series of election meetings in Lolab, Lone said the state government should not carve a militaristic identity for itself and “military needs will always have to remain subservient to civilian needs”.

“At a time when the state is gripped with an extended sense of alienation and persecution, these measures will further exacerbate the situation. It has made a mockery of civil liberties and will have a long-term impact,” Lone said.

He said the highway serves as the main communication artery of the state linking it with rest of the world and imposing restrictions on it will “severe this link not just physically but emotionally too”.

“Such a step has definitely sent out the wrong message and will create unnecessary inconvenience which will harm both the interests of the government and the people alike,” he said.

REVOKE ORDER: BUKHARI

Former finance minister Syed Altaf Bukhari Thursday demanded immediate revocation of a government order banning civilian traffic on the Srinagar-Jammu highway for two days a week.

Bukhari said that prohibiting civilian traffic “tantamount to confining people of the state to their homes without any reasonable justification”.

“Government wants to enforce curfew for two days a week without bothering about the miseries it can cause to the people,” Bukhari said in a statement.

He said the forces must adopt other means of hassle-free convoy movement without putting the civilians to immense inconvenience.

SAFEGUARD INTERESTS OF PEOPLE: TARIGAMI

The government decision banning movement of civilian traffic on the highway for two days every week to facilitate movement of forces must be a security issue but why should a common man be put to avoidable hardships for whom all this security bandobast is meant, the CPI(M) leader Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami said Thursday.

“What about patients, students, employees, businessmen, and others who will suffer hugely due to this ban,” he said in a statement.

“Do authorities want to say that if a patient is serious, instead of taking him to a hospital, he must be first brought to the district magistrate’s office for getting a pass to travel on the highway?” Tarigami asked. “What will be the fate of those patients, who have to be brought from the other districts of the Valley and need immediate treatment in hospitals in Srinagar? What kind of logic is this? A patient can’t wait till a pass is issued, as in some cases it can prove disastrous and life threatening”.

“Similarly, will employees, who have to reach to their offices, observe a holiday when there are traffic restrictions on the highway? And what will students do, who have to attend their schools, colleges and universities on the day there is ban on movement of traffic on the highway?”

“There must be clarity on these issues and government must find and offer a credible option to it before imposing the ban. The convoy movement timing must be devised in a way so as there is no inconvenience to the general public.

There is a need to fine-tune the standard operating procedure (SOP) for the movement of security forces convoys so that there is no clash with the movement of civilian traffic.

The timing of the security forces’ convoy could be fixed such that it is different than the timing when highways and other roads witness peak civilian traffic movement,” Tarigami said, adding that the government and its agencies “have to safeguard the interests of the common man in all the situations”.

ATTEMPT TO TERRORISE KASHMIRIS: SHAH FAESAL

J&K Peoples Movement president Shah Faesal Thursday demanded immediate revocation of the government order banning civilian traffic movement on the Srinagar-Jammu highway for two days every week.

Addressing a meeting of his party workers at Hanjura, Chrar, he urged the authorities concerned to revoke the ban forthwith or face civil disobedience.

“Such attempts to terrorise Kashmiris will have to be fought back tooth and nail and no one shall be allowed to deny the right of movement to seven million people,” Faesal said.

He regretted that “illogical” policies were being made to “marginalise Kashmiris and push them further to the wall”.

He called for exploring “alternate arrangements” for movement of forces’ convoys “so that common masses are not put to inconvenience”.