Srinagar: People continued to suffer in the Valley as the civilian traffic on the Kashmir-Jammu National Highway (NH) was once again suspended on Sunday in view of two-day weekly ban to allow free and secure movement of security force convoy.
However, the restrictions imposed on civilian traffic between Srinagar and Baramulla in north Kashmir has been limited to only Sundays with effect from Monday though the two-day restriction in week on Srinagar-Jammu national highway will continue.
Despite ban on civilian traffic on the highway on Sundays and Wednesdays in a week, the security forces were continuing their convoy movements on the highway on all days of the week.
Meanwhile, business in weekly Sunday market, which used to attract thousands of customers from different part of the valley, was badly affected due to the ban as all the districts in the valley are interconnected with the national highway.
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court (HC) on Friday sought the government’s response on allegations of non-compliance with an administrative decision to issue travel passes for civilian traffic movement in case of emergencies the ban.
The highway wore a deserted look with only security forces, state police and Army personnel deployed in strength to prevent people from moving towards the highway though it is said that security force convoy, which left Jammu, will enter Kashmir only in the afternoon.
But, district authorities have appointed nodal officers to help people to cross the highway at important places.
Majority of the political parties in the state, including National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Congress, have opposed the ban and demanded its immediate revocation. Three former chief ministers, including NC president Farooq Abdullah, vice-president Omar Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, even staged protest demonstrations separately on the highway against the ban.
The Government had imposed restrictions earlier this month on civilian movement on the National Highway, connecting Jammu to Srinagar, saying that the order was passed to ensure adequate security to the movement of security force convoys, while at the same time, minimising public inconvenience.
Officials said that the entire stretch of highway has been divided into different zones and magistrates, along with police, have been placed at every zone of the highway to allow people with medical emergency, government employees, tourists, schools buses and election rallies.
Security forces have closed roads connecting the highway between Baramulla in north Kashmir and Jammu with other roads with barbed wires to stop civilian vehicles from coming on the national highway, which also connects different districts of the valley with each other. Only security force convoys could be seen plying on the National Highway.
Business in the 3-km-long weekly market from Radio Kashmir (RK), Srinagar, crossing to Hari Singh High Streets (HSHS), including historic Lal Chowk, the nerve centre of the summer capital, was badly affected as customers from other districts are not able to reach Srinagar on Sundays due to the ban.
“Our business has been reduced by more than 70 to 80 per cent due to the highway ban. Customers used to come to this market from different districts, but now that the highway is closed none of them is able to reach here. All the districts are connected with each other through the highway, it is ironic that the government has imposed this ban,” Tahir Ahmad, a vendor, who has been putting up a stall in Sunday market for many years, told UNI.
Roadside vendors and people, whose shops, including hotels, are along the highway, expressed concern over the ban, claiming that it will badly affect their business. “I have been running my fruit shop at Hyderpora bypass, for past many years. If I have to close the shop for two days in a week, how can I make both the ends meet? The government should revoke the ban on civilian movement,” Shabir Ahmad told UNI.
Similar views were also expressed by workers at ‘Dhabas’ (local restaurants) along the national highway.
An official spokesperson on Saturday said the restriction on civilian movement on Srinagar-Baramulla would now be limited only to Sundays with effect from Monday. “There would be no prohibition on civilian traffic on Wednesday on the highway,” he said.
But, he said the restrictions would continue between Srinagar and Udhampur on the highway earlier. “These would be reviewed periodically and relaxation would be made, as the need for restriction reduces,” he added.
A bench of justices Ali Mohammad Magrey and Tashi Rabstan was hearing the Public Interest Litigations (PILs) filed by a battery of lawyers representing the petitioners – including bureaucrat-turned-politician Shah Faesal, National Conference’s Ali Muhammad Sagar, Peoples Democratic Party’s Naeem Akhter and three lawyers – seeking striking down of the ban on the movement of civilian traffic on the Kashmir-Jammu national highway, for two days a week.