The government order banning movement of civilian traffic along the Jammu-Srinagar-Baramulla highway came into force on Sunday, causing tremendous hardships to hundreds of commuters, students, patients and their attendants who were disallowed by the police and paramilitary forces to reach their destinations falling along the highway. The movement of forces’ convoys, however, was smooth, according to officials, who also said that they cleared “emergency cases” on priority by issuing them “spot permissions”.
Sunday was the first day of enforcement of ban on civilian traffic along the highway to facilitate movement of forces’ convoys. The highway, according to the ban order, shall remain closed on Sunday and Wednesday every week, from 9am to 5pm until May 31, for all kinds of civilian traffic to “enable smooth flow of forces’ convoys from Jammu to Baramulla”.
The ban order has drawn severe criticism from state’s mainstream and separatist leaders, who have demanded its immediate revocation, though the divisional commissioner announced two days ago that essential services, emergency vehicles, ambulances, tourist vehicles and also civilian vehicles “in need of emergency travel” will be exempted from the restrictions.
Groups of witnesses Sunday said that despite the alternate route plan framed by the traffic department for people travelling from northern and southern districts to Srinagar or vice-versa, hundreds of people suffered badly due to the stringent curbs put in place all along the Baramulla-Srinagar-Jammu highway.
“Police and paramilitary forces were deployed in strength while barbed wires were placed on roads to ensure there is no civilian traffic movement on the highway,” said Abdur Rashid Khan, a resident of Baramulla district.
Khan had brought blankets and food items for a patient admitted at SKIMS medical college at Bemina.
He said he managed to reach Shalteng through an alternate route “but found only deserted streets and lanes, dotted with forces personnel, thereafter”.
“For a while, I thought I am at a place where no one lives. There was a pin drop silence on the roads. After waiting for half an hour, I, along my wife and children, decided to walk towards the SKIMS medical college. There was no other choice,” he told Greater Kashmir.
Some women, along with their children, were also seen walking ahead of Khan. “We have a patient at the SKIMS medical college. We have to reach the hospital because there is nobody to take care of the patient,” the women, who looked visibly tired, said.
They said they had to walk several miles by foot to reach the hospital.
“We came from Sumbal, Bandipora. We managed to reach HMT crossing after changing three vehicles. We have seen many curfews in life, but haven’t seen a situation like this ever before,” they said.
At HMT crossing, dozens of load carriers, several trucks and scores of private vehicles were stranded in queues. They were not allowed to proceed.
“I had to deliver goods at three shops in Batamaloo. The shopkeepers have been calling me repeatedly, but I am helpless as I am not allowed to proceed,” a load carrier owner said.
The situation was same at other vital intersections along the Srinagar-Narbal road, even though magistrates appointed by the government were seen talking to stranded people and trying to help them out.
The government Saturday said it has identified 18 points in Srinagar where sector magistrates will be stationed to facilitate emergency cases on Sunday.
Chaotic scenes were however witnessed at Sanantnagar, Nowgam and Narbal intersections, with people, including women and elderly, seen pleading before the sector magistrates to allow their vehicles to ply.
“It is better to walk as my brother is critical at SKIMS Soura and I have to reach there,” said Majid Gulzar, a resident of Nowgam.
His vehicle was stopped and he was asked to get a pass from the sector magistrate. However, before him, there were scores of vehicles in the queue. Gulzar decided to keep his vehicle at the nearby parking and walk.
“Somehow I should reach Rambagh where from I can board any vehicle to reach Soura,” he said.
At PanthaChowk, even though traffic movement remained smooth, many commuters slammed authorities for the traffic ban.
“Who says Kashmir is paradise on earth. We aren’t even allowed to walk on our own roads,” a group of travelers yelled at a policeman.
Talking to Greater Kashmir, nodal officer for 18 identified points in Srinagar, AijazSidiqi, said hundreds of vehicles—emergency cases, essential services, ambulances and tourist buses—were allowed to ply on the highway after they were issued “spot passes.”
“The drivers of these vehicles had to wait for five minutes to get their passes (travel permits). No untoward incident happened anywhere and people cooperated with the administration,” the nodal officer said.
According to officials, passes were issued from 9am to 5pm at several road crossings, including: “Parimpora (1500 vehicles), Pohru (300 vehicles), Nowgam (1500 vehicles), JVC (1050 vehicles), Hyderpora (1400 vehicles), Bemina (900 vehicles), PanthaChowk (2000 vehicles), Shalteng (1510 vehicles) and Railway crossing (100 vehicles)”.
The ban on civilian traffic on the Baramulla-Srinagar highway caused inconvenience to hundreds of people in northern Kashmir districts, including Baramulla, on Sunday.
Mehmooda Begum, an elderly woman with her daughter had been waiting for two hours at tehsil road Baramulla on Sunday morning with the hope that some help will arrive so that she could reach Srinagar to attend her daughter at the maternity LD hospital.
“We don’t have our own vehicle. We are waiting here for some vehicle to come and give us a lift and drop us at Srinagar. My elder daughter has recently given birth to a girl child at LD hospital Srinagar. I have prepared lunch for her but don’t know how to reach there,” Mehmooda, who was taking rest on a roadside pavement, said.
Like Mehmooda, hundreds of people, who had to visit their relatives or attend to some unavoidable social gatherings, were seen waiting endlessly on the highway “for help”.
“This traffic ban is the worst punishment being given to the people of Kashmir. We were supposed to attend a function at Ganderbal, but the public transport is off the roads. We don’t know what to do,” said GhulamRasool, a resident of Baramulla.
The Srinagar-Baramulla highway witnessed a deserted look. The police and CRPF personnel were deployed at several places along the highway to ensure strict implementation of the ban.
In Baramulla town, barbed wire was placed on several bridges, connecting old town with the civil line area, on Saturday evening.
“We have seen curbs on Fridays or during some other disturbances, but we haven’t witnessed such restrictions ever,” said Tariq Ahmad, a resident of old town Baramulla.
Deputy commissioner Baramulla GN Itoo said permission was granted to several people to travel on the highway.
He said they received 17 applications seeking permission to travel on the highway and it was granted.
“Around 120 vehicles including those from emergency services, ambulances, political parties and others were also granted permission to ply on the highway,” Itoo said.
The highway closure caused huge inconvenience to people in southern Kashmir areas as well.
The new highway stretch saw thin movement of civilian traffic. Forces personnel were seen patrolling the highway, while barricades had been erected at several intersections to enforce the ban.
Thick presence of forces personnel was seen at several points, including Lower Munda, Qazigund, Galender, PanthaChowk, Mir Bazar and Vesu.
The commuters complained that men-in-uniform conducted frisking of travelers and demanded movement passes issued by district magistrates.
“Travelling from Srinagar to Anantnag was a harrowing experience today. My patients were waiting at my clinic in Anantnag but unfortunately I could not reach in time. The delay forced many patients to leave the clinic without consultation,” said a doctor, who wished not to be named.
Hundreds of patients from Shopian, Kulgam, Tral, Awantipora and Pulwama could not reach private clinics and hospitals in Anantnag due to the highway traffic ban.
“I had an appointment with an ophthalmologist for my eye surgery at Anantnag but due to lack of transport I could not reach there. The highway closure has made hundreds of patients to suffer,” said Abdul Ahad, a patient.
Several students also missed Sunday classes at IGNOU study centers.
“I missed a very important lecture at IGNOU study center at SP college Srinagar. I don’t know how to appear in the Sunday classes when I don’t have my own vehicle. I urge the government to help the IGNOU students and provide them with some transport facility on Sundays,” said Insha from Awantipora.
Meanwhile, people at Badargund area in Qazigund alleged that government forces entered their area and disrupted a wedding party. Forces thrashed several people who had gathered for lunch inside a tent, they alleged.
“Many guests received injuries and were treated in nearest health facilities”.
However, the police denied the allegations as baseless.
Meanwhile, the ban on movement of civilian traffic was strictly imposed on Jammu-Srinagar highway from Nashri to Jawahar tunnel.
Vehicles fitted with public address systems were seen making announcements regarding the highway traffic ban, across the district on Sunday.
“It looks like the district has been handed over to security forces. All link roads have been blocked with concertina wire,” said residents of Ramban town.
Locals alleged that the civil administration officers in the district ignored their pleas to allow them to ply along the highway.
( ALTAF BABA/ IRFAN AMIN MALIK / MM PARVAIZ