Majid Kapra

Highway closure throws life out of gear

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NC, PC, PDP take out protest marches; defy ban on movement

Srinagar, Apr 07: Like common people, the mainstream politicians too are up in arms against the government ban on movement of civilian vehicles on the highway which came into effect today.

While National Conference (NC), Peoples Conference (PC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) took out protest marches in Srinagar to defy the government ban on movement of civilian vehicles on the highway, others also minced no words in flaying it.

NC president Dr. Farooq Abdullah led the protest of the party members from Athwajan on the highway. Addressing the reporters on the occasion, Abdullah demanded an immediate end to the ban.

“It is a wrong order. They should use train service for the movement of the forces’ personnel. Or they can allow them to move during the night so that people don’t have to suffer,” demanded Abdullah.

“This order should be revoked. It sounds like dictatorship.”

"Driving to Uri I'm getting to see first hand the extent of disruption and inconvenience that is being caused to people because of the mindless highway closure order that is in place today," former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said her party would not allow Kashmir to be turned into an "open air prison".

"This is Kashmir, not Palestine. We wont allow you to turn our beloved land into an open air prison. 'Jis Kashmir ko khoon say seencha, woh Kashmir humara hai' (The Kashmir we have nourished by our blood, is ours)," Mufti tweeted.

“Kashmir is no Palestine and Delhi can’t dictate terms of our travel like Israel. Kashmir belongs to its people and they are free to choose when and where to travel,” Mufti said in a separate press release issued by the party.

She also announced that PDP would challenge the order in the court.

She said the government before taking such hasty and anti-people decision should think about the people. “How is it possible for a sick person to reach hospital in such circumstances. Our children including boys and girls have to reach schools, tuition centers; how could they manage?”

Later, addressing party workers in Beerwa Budgam and Pattan in Baramulla, Mufti, according to the press release, asked people to defy the order and assured them of all support against any coercive action by the government as a result of such defiance.

“Delhi and its people in the state can’t suppress the people of Kashmir. They want to turn the valley into an open prison. We won’t let it happen. I urge all of you to rise against such a repressive measure, defy this order and you have our support in doing so,” she said.

PC chairman Sajad Gani Lone said the highway ban was turning into a "humanitarian disaster".

"Flooded will (with) calls from across the state. People in dire need to travel in order to tend to their day to day needs of survival stuck in a state of helplessness. @jandkgovernor urgently needs to scrap the inhuman order," Lone tweeted.

PC also staged a protest against the order to ban civilian traffic on national highway, saying that this is the most despicable, irrational, undemocratic and senseless diktat ever to have been issued in a republic nation governed by the Constitution.

PC provincial president and former MLA Gulmarg, Mohammad Abass Wani and party’s candidate for Srinagar parliamentary constituency Irfan Ansari while leading the protests said that by barring the movement of the people two days a week, “does the State administration want to convey that the fundamental rights are not applicable to the State of J&K or that the administration has the power to suspend these rights at its whim and caprice.

“This shameful order, reminiscent of totalitarian and despotic era of governance, is bound to turn into a humanitarian disaster as the school children, employees, people connected with trade and business and people in dire need to travel in order to attend their daily needs of survival would not be able to move. This restriction will also have a disastrous effect on tourism industry when the tourism season has just begun. Practically, the hustle and bustle of life in the state would be in off-mode for these two days,” the leaders said.

Appealing the government to reconsider this issue and withdraw the order, Ansari said that such draconian orders have no place in civilized nations where rule of law prevail.

“Resorting to such measures send a wrong signal to the entire world that all is not well in J&K and also rebuffs the tall claims of the government that situation in the state is under control,” he added.

Several PDP leaders, led by former MLA Sonawar Mohammad Ashraf Mir, tried to defy the ban order by travelling on the highway, but were stopped by police at the Athwajan crossing.

"People are being harassed.... This is terrorism by the governor's administration to ban movement of people two days every week," Mir told reporters.

Another PDP leader and former MLC Firdous Ahmad Tak was briefly detained along with several of his supporters in Kishtwar district for trying to defy a ban, officials said.

Tak and his supporters were detained at a check-point in Kishtwar district when he tried to move towards Jammu in violation of the government order. However, he and his supporters were later released.

Prior to his detention, Tak had staged a demonstration and demanded a review of the order. "We cannot remain mute spectators to the oppressive order," Tak said.

The highway closure has drawn flak from various sections of the society.

A senior journalist wrote on social media that people going to attend the election rallies have also been stopped from travelling on the highway.

“Scenes & videos from the Highway in #Kashmir are a reality check at a time when government is conducting #elections. Some people going to rallies in north #Kashmir also stopped. First day of weekly two day travel ban on #Highway (Sun&Wed) for movement of convoys of troopers,” he wrote.

Another senior journalist, who also posted a video, said that the common people are sandwiched between devil and the deep sea.

“It's a unofficial marathon for ppl who want to reach their destinations using national highway today ...really feel for my ppl, for the common man...sandwiched between the devil and the deep blue sea, …,” he wrote and posted a video.

To facilitate the movement of army and paramilitary convoys for the parliamentary polls starting April 11, the government has banned civilian traffic twice a week (from 4 am to 5 pm on Sunday and Wednesday) on a 270-km stretch of the highway from Udhampur in Jammu to Baramulla in Kashmir.

The order shall remain in force till May 31.

The two-day per week ban on movement of civilian vehicles on Jammu-Srinagar-Baramulla national highway for facilitating safe passage of army and paramilitary convoys, came into effect on Sunday.

Army, police and CRPF personnel were deployed at all intersections leading to the highway to ensure that civilian traffic does not interfere with movement of convoys of government forces, officials said.

The ban on civilian traffic on Sundays and Wednesdays will be in force till May 31.

An official spokesman said the ban was imposed in view of large number of security personnel being moved around for election duty in the state.

The ban will be in place from Udhampur to Baramulla via Srinagar.

The Governor administration last week announced a ban on civilian traffic on the 270-km highway on Sundays and Wednesdays to facilitate safe passage of government forces’ convoys till May 31, a decision which is being criticised as "anti-people" and "undemocratic" by almost all political parties and cross-section of the society including business community in the Valley.

The decision comes in the aftermath of the suicide attack on a CRPF convoy on the highway in Pulwama district of south Kashmir on February 14, which left 40 CRPF personnel dead, besides another attempt to target a CRPF convoy with a car bomb on the highway near Banihal in Ramban district on March 30.

Amid public outrage against the curbs, the authorities earlier clarified that patients, students, tourists and others in emergency will be allowed to move after scrutiny during the restrictions.

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