Valley Pays The Price For Cut Off Highway
26 February 2007
The Indian Express
Srinagar: As the 300-km Srinagar-Jammu Highway - Kashmir's only road link with the rest of the country - continues to remain closed, markets in the Valley are fast running out of essential supplies. Conspicuous by their absence are mutton and chicken - Kashmir's favourite food. The scarce supplies have also put pressure on prices with essential food items becoming increasingly unaffordable for the common man. 'Yes, mutton and poultry have gone out of the market. But we are taking measures to mobilise internal resources. I have asked Director Foods to see if there are any sheep and chicken locally available,' Divisional Commissioner Basharat Dhar told The Indian Express. Dhar, however, said if the need arose, the government could also arrange the trans-shipment of the sheep and poultry in light vehicles. 'I have already had meetings with the Traders Federation and the Butchers Association who assured me that they had enough stocks to last the time needed to repair the road'. The highway was closed on February 20 after landslides at Panithal, 150 km from Srinagar, washed away a 30- metre stretch of the road. With shooting stones interferring with the reconstruction effort by the Border Roads Organisation, which maintains the strategically important road, officials are reluctant to put a date for the restoration of the traffic. 'Hopefully, the blasting will be completed by Monday evening. I hope that the road will be restored within a day or two,' Dhar said. However, the Divisional Commissioner said he had also issued ultimatum to the BRO that if the agency expected the job to take longer, it should not keep the government in the dark, so that an alternative arrangement could be worked out. Around 1,000 vehicles, including trucks loaded with rotting supplies, are stranded on the road. However, according to the Additional Deputy Commissioner, Ramban, the tehsil located on the highway midway between Srinagar and Jammu, most of the truckers have sold out the vegetables and fruits at reasonable prices following requests from the administration. The closure has also resulted in a humanitarian crisis. Hundreds of poor passengers are not only stranded at the Inter-State Bus Terminus (ISBT) at Jammu, waiting hopelessly for the road to open, there are hundreds with their luggage stuck on the road too.Though the Jammu Municipal is providing for the passengers at the ISBT, they have complained of getting to eat only one meal a day and having to pay Rs 3 to Rs 5 for answering the call of nature. Though the government has taken measures to evacuate the stranded people by deploying vehicles on each side of Panithal to ferry them to their respective destinations, it is not enough to relieve the pressure. The outcry from the people and their relatives back in Jammu and Srinagar are only increasing by the day.