A new low

National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) setting up a toll plaza in South Kashmir and levying taxes on the vehicles moving on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway has triggered a row.

Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik has tried to diffuse the crisis by announcing that locals would be exempted from paying any tax and they need not worry, but the NHAI has said that decision to waive off the road tax lies with the Government of India (GoI).

When the NHAI set up a toll plaza at Nagrota on the National Highway -44, at that point of time people in Jammu region termed the levying of taxes on the local vehicles plying on the highway as “arbitrary” following which the government waived off the tax. There is every possibility of government doing the same in Kashmir but the point is if this tax had to be waived off then why was it imposed at the first place? Decision to waive off the tax on locals could have been taken before making the toll plaza functional. People at the helm need to bear it in mind that Jammu and Kashmir is not like other states as avenues, especially in the Valley, are limited. And people cannot bear the burden of taxes due to their income being limited.

People in Kashmir have been struggling to make their ends meet due to the turmoil prevailing in the Valley for the past three decades. Instead of helping the masses out the government taking harsh steps is making their life difficult.

Governor Malik seems to have gauged the situation and has tried to douse the flames. He has been doing it since the day he took over the reins of the state. The Governor on many occasions has stepped in to correct the wrongs. This time around everyone expects him to do the same.

Some people are of the opinion that if the transporters are using the highway then they should pay the tax. But they seem to be ill informed about the fact that most of the vehicles plying on the Valley roads have been financed by banks and the owners of these vehicles have to pay heavy instalments every month to ensure that their vehicles keep on moving on the Valley roads.

In other states life goes on 24×7 all throughout the year but in Kashmir the working season is limited to few months only due to inclement weather conditions. Even the government stays here for six months only as the rulers want to keep themselves warm rather than facing the biting cold conditions in the Valley. In Kashmir the people associated with the private sector earn only for six months. They almost sit idle for half of the year. It’s strange that people, who sometimes ban the movement of civilian vehicles on the highway and sometimes impose taxes on the movement of vehicles on the same highway, just ignore these facts.

One can understand that at present there is no elected government in place in Jammu and Kashmir as the state is directly under New Delhi’s rule but that doesn’t mean that there is no government in place. Governor Satya Pal Malik during all these months has remained very responsive to the needs of people and has always directed the officials to ensure that common people don’t suffer. The Governor every time has had to walk an extra mile to undo the wrongs.

The Jammu-Srinagar National Highway has remained in news during the past few months. This year it remained closed for days together due to inclement weather conditions in the winter months. Soon after the weather improved, the government imposed restrictions on the movement of civilian vehicles on the highway for 2-days in a week to facilitate the movement of the security forces convoy. The restrictions have been almost done away with as the elections have ended but still the civilian vehicles cannot move on the NH-44 between Udhampur and Srinagar on Sundays. Pathetic condition of highway between Banihal and Ramban leads to its frequent closure and this has triggered shortage of various products in the Valley markets. Less supply and more demand has made common man’s life more challenging as prices have shot up and his income has been squeezed.

It’s high time for the incumbent administration to shift its focus from the highway towards something constructive and allow the vehicles to move without any taxes and restrictions. People of Kashmir need a breathing space and they should be given a chance to breathe freely.

(Javaid Malik is Senior Editor Greater Kashmir)