Press Trust of india

Day 2 of highway ban: As inconvenience continues, a 'stamp' of relief for Kashmir residents

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Srinagar, Apr 10:  Kashmir residents as well as tourists faced inconvenience on the day two of the ban on civilian traffic on Srinagar-Jammu national highway on Wednesday, but the state-appointed magistrates provided some respite by "stamping" special permission on either a piece of paper or palms of travellers.

Several people, including the elderly and women, were seen at various intersections pleading security forces and duty magistrates appointed by the state government to allow them to move on the highway, which will remain out of bound for civilian traffic on Wednesdays and Sundays.

At Pantha Chowk through which the highway passes to south Kashmir and beyond, the security forces, deployed in strength, could be seen sending people to a vehicle parked on the roadside in which the duty magistrate for the area was considering requests from people and giving special permission to ply on the road.

Mohammad Shafi, who works as a revenue officer, has been posted as the duty magistrate for the area and it is his signature that would allow people cross the security check-point and move freely on the highway.

A family from Maharashtra, on a visit to Kashmir Valley, experienced first-hand the ban as the vehicle they were travelling in was stopped by security forces at the check-point.

They were told that they could move forward only if the magistrate gave them a pass -– a written permission often on a piece of paper having a set of required details such as vehicle registration number.

Having never experienced such restrictions before, Francis, a resident of Mumbai who was heading the family, felt a sense of unease, wondering whether the vehicle would be allowed for a two-day trip to the famous health resort of Pahalgam in south Kashmir. The resort also serves as a base camp for the annual Amarnath pilgrimage, which this year is scheduled to begin on June 1.

The driver, a local, came down from the vehicle and approached the magistrate's vehicle and pleaded before him that he had to take the tourist family to Pahalgam and be given a pass according to the government directions for exempting tourist vehicles from the ban.

Shafi took a sheet of paper -- a photo copy -- from a bundle of similar ones and filled the vehicle number and the other details in it and then signed below a typed paragraph which broadly said the vehicle be allowed to move.

Taking pass from Shafi, the visibly happy driver then boarded his vehicle and Francis expressed joy over his trip not getting spoiled by the security measures.

"I am very happy now. At first, it seemed we will not be allowed because too many vehicles were stopped by the security forces and they had to return. But now, I am thankful to the magistrate for allowing us, as otherwise, we would not have been able to visit Pahalgam and see for ourselves the beauty that it is said to be," Francis told PTI.

After the tourist vehicle, a car, belonging to a local, was next in line. Two men and a woman were going to attend a wedding ceremony of one of their close relatives in the Bijbehara area of Anantnag district.

Manzoor Ahmad pleaded before Shafi and after some insistence, he succeeded in getting the pass. Elated, Ahmad then boarded his car and drove away. He was stopped by the security forces at a barricade some distance away, but was allowed to drive after he showed the pass.

Shafi had, till about noon, given 80 such passes – most of them to the people with some kind of emergencies.

"We have orders to allow people in emergencies, tourists and school buses to move on the highway. But, they can only move once they have the necessary permission signed by a duty magistrate like me," Shafi told PTI.

Imran Ahmad, who wanted to travel to south Kashmir for some work but was not allowed by the security forces, said travelling on the highway was fast becoming a nightmare for the people of the valley.

"Though, they (government) have banned the (civilian) traffic for two days, we face such inconvenience every day. Our vehicles are stopped whenever convoys move. Travelling between south and central Kashmir is fast becoming a nightmare. Now, a piece of paper will decide whether we are allowed to travel or not on our own roads. This pass is like a lifeline for us now,” Ahmad said.

In some places, commuters were stamped on their palms, drawing sharp reactions from the netizens, including former chief minister Omar Abdullah who termed it as "inhuman treatment".

"This is how permission is granted to people in J&K to use their highway. Their hands are being stamped & written on. I don't know what to say! Should we be flippant & mock the attempt at saving paper? I'm just angry at the degrading, inhuman treatment being meted out to people,” Abdullah, the vice-president of National Conference (NC), wrote on Twitter.

The governor administration has announced a ban on civilian traffic on the 270-km highway on Sundays and Wednesdays to facilitate safe passage of security convoys till May 31.

The decision comes in the aftermath of the terror 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.

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