Srinagar: Inspector General of Traffic Police (J&K), Vikramjeet Singh Tuesday said that the administration was making every effort to guarantee that all vehicles travel hassle-free on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway (NH-44), but, occasionally, this effort was hampered by infrastructural issues.
In an exclusive interview with Greater Kashmir, IGP Singh rebuffed the claims that over 8000 apples-laden trucks remained stranded on the highway.
He said that to relieve strain on NH-44, the Traffic Department conducted a variety of actions to facilitate traffic flow through the Mughal Road.
“Since taking over, I have been advocating for using Mughal Road. We have asked the Army to add more check posts on it. Cranes were deployed which was one of the issues raised by the transporters. Earlier, an average of 120 vehicles travelled on this route every day. Today, the number has increased to 1000 vehicles. Fruit growers can move their products outside of Kashmir through this route too,” Singh said.
He said over 48,000 trucks including 30,786 apple trucks moved from Srinagar to Jammu via Jawahar Tunnel since September 1.
“As shooting stones began at Mehar on September 24 and traffic had to be stopped, only 825 trucks (including 671 apple trucks) were released. Among the 4554 trucks that were freed on September 25 (including 3995 apple trucks), 1500 got stuck at Mehar due to rolling stones and have since made their way to Jammu,” Singh said. “We lost a third of our time due to roadworks and shooting stones. About 15 hours have been lost during the past 36 hours as a result of repairs and other problems.”
He said that the 45-km stretch of road between Banihal Market and Mehar was the source of the issue.
Due to the damage caused by the rain and shooting stones, the majority of this road section is single-lane, which has decreased the traffic flow.
LMVs could travel on this section, however, when trucks with heavy loads arrive, Banihal Market becomes congested.
“The number of vehicles using the highway has increased due to the favourable tourism season. On a good day, 9000 vehicles use the highway on both sides. However, there was a critical requirement for repairs that required 3 to 4 hours of traffic halting. However, the situation is not critical since some sources have claimed that over 10,000 vehicles are stuck, which is not true at all,” Singh said. “We must let LMVs travel on the highway as well. If someone is driving his car, I cannot stop them. This is the crux of the problem.”
He said that when the road was being widened, shooting stones activate resulting in landslides.
“This is a natural occurrence. The issues confronting us on the Srinagar-Jammu highway are primarily due to the infrastructure limits rather than administrative constraints,” Singh said. “To enhance the flow of apple trucks, Traffic Police has taken several additional initiatives. Even before the apple season began, I held a series of meetings with Kashmir's Directors of Horticulture and Agriculture, as well as other stakeholders like J&K Union Territory Horticulture Associations.”
He said that the down convoy was granted extra time to facilitate a smooth clearance of apple vehicles.
“In the event of an NH-44 obstruction caused by shooting stones, down HMVs were launched on consecutive days to ensure the timely clearance of apple-laden trucks,” Singh said. “Extra traffic officials were assigned to the Qazigund and Banihal-Ramban segments to ensure a smooth flow of traffic. Traffic SSPs were instructed to ensure that no vehicle was allowed for up traffic to guarantee smooth passage. To maintain complete transparency, I had requested that the Horticulture Department and Horticulture Association send a representative to work with Traffic officials in Banihal and Qazigund to ensure the smooth flow of fruit trucks.”
He said that DC Ramban was approached about declaring Ramban Market a ‘No Parking Zone’, and he was gracious enough to quickly issue the directives.
“On each fruit-laden truck’s windscreen, the Department of Horticulture was requested to paste stickers with the words ‘apple’ or ‘fresh produce’ as applicable, and a picture to aid in identification,” Singh said. “For the prompt resolution of fruit producers' complaints, a WhatsApp group was developed at the Traffic Headquarters level and all interested parties were invited to join.”
He said that the members of various trade organisations were advised to observe the schedule for truck release on the national highway and dispatch their vehicles beyond Kashmir as HMVs ply on NH-44 on alternate days.
Meanwhile, as per the J&K Traffic Police statement, after three continuous days of down HMV movement, all the stranded trucks at Qazigund were cleared on Monday.
The statement said that as per the data collected by NHAI at the Qazigund toll plaza, since September 1, 2022, 48,845 trucks including 30,786 apple-carrying trucks moved from Qazigund to other parts of the country via NH-44.
It said that due to the constraints of NH-44, which is a single lane for 12-14 stretches between Nashri and Banihal, the movement of HMVs happens on alternate days.
The statement said that the movement of traffic on NH-44 was also subject to stoppage due to frequent falling of stones at various locations like Cafeteria Morh, Mehar, and Sherbibi around Ramban town.
It said that the Mehar Pass, which became active on July 18, 2022, leads to the stoppage of traffic several times during the day.
The statement said that the shooting stones make it dangerous for traffic to pass.
It said that since September 24, the NHAI had also initiated urgent repair works at these single stretches of NH-44, requiring the stoppage of traffic for a part of the day.