Beerwah: Supporters of Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) wave party flags during an election rally, ahead of Lok Sabha elections, at Beerwah, in Budgam district, Wednesday, April 03, 2019. (PTI Photo/S. Irfan)(PTI4_3_2019_000103B)

Lok Sabha Polls 2019 | ‘It’s martial law’

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE government decision on highway closure for civilian vehicular traffic twice a week—Sunday and Wednesday from 4 am to 5 pm—has main-stream regional political parties up in arms in Kashmir.

In the wake of a massive mobilisation of troops for the Lok Sabha elections, the Governor Satya Pal Malik-led administration on Wednesday evening notified specified days for the movement of security forces on the 270-km Srinagar-Jammu highway for the next two months.

The move has come in the aftermath of the Pulwama suicide bombing which claimed the lives of over 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers on February 14.

“Keeping in view the large movement of forces on the highway during the parliamentary elections and associated possibility of any ‘fidayeen’ attack on forces’ convoys, the state government has notified specified days in a week for the movement of forces from Srinagar to Jammu. During these days, no civilian traffic would be allowed on the highway,” an official spokesman said in a statement.



“To mitigate the inconvenience to the civilians by this move, the government has notified two dedicated days in a week (Sunday and Wednesday) exclusively for movement of forces’ convoys and there would be a complete ban on civilian traffic on the highway during these two days from 4 am to 5 pm. This prohibition would be from Baramulla through Srinagar, Qazigund, Jawahar tunnel, Banihal and Ramban till Udhampur,” the spokesman said, adding that “in the event of any requirement for local traffic movement for any emergency or for other purpose, the local administration and the police would evolve necessary procedures for this as is done during curfew days”.


A draconian move


However, the decision has not gone down well with many in the Kashmir Valley, who have described the move as “draconian”.

Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti decried that after bringing Kashmir to the brink, the administration was adamant on the collective punishment for the people. “…this sounds like a diktat of martial law,” the Peoples Democratic Party president wrote on Twitter.



Stressing that the road closure will shut all access to the Valley as there were no alternate routes connecting Kashmir, Mehbooba’s predecessor and National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah in a series of tweets said, “Has anyone in the administration applied their minds before planning to issue this highway closure order? J&K is not Chhattisgarh or Andhra Pradesh where there are alternate routes. Here if you close the national highway you shut down all access to the Valley. This is a lifeline.”



“Another first for the Modi government after the first ever delayed assembly election now this shocker – never before in 30 years has the national highway ever been closed for civilian traffic like this. It’s a glaring admission of failure to manage the internal security of J&K,” Omar remarked.

“Patients will not be able to reach hospitals, students will be deprived access to schools, employees won’t be able to reach work and the list goes on and on. There has to be a better, less people unfriendly way of protecting forces using the highway.”



Omar also suggested “safer and more comfortable” special trains to travel from Banihal to Baramulla instead of closing the main road. “I’ve made this suggestion before and in light of today’s highway closure order I feel the need to repeat it – why can’t the forces travel between Banihal and Baramulla by special trains? Quicker, safer and more comfortable for the security forces.”

Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Movement chairman Shah Faesal termed the government’s decision as “extremely shocking”. Taking to Twitter, Shah wrote: “Policies imported from Israel will turn Kashmir into Palestine.”

“The decision to close national highway to civilian traffic on every Wednesday and Sunday is extremely shocking,” he wrote, asking Home Minister Rajnath Singh, “How will the employees attend office? How will patients travel? School children?”


Additionally, several traders and fruit growers have also slammed the government decision.

Zahoor Qari, president Kashmir chapter of the Travel Agents Association of India, said that it would have a negative impact on Jammu and Kashmir’s tourism and the state’s overall economy.


Beerwah: Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) President Farooq Abdullah and Vice-President Omar Abdullah during an election rally, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, at Beerwah, Budgam district, Wednesday, April 03, 2019. (PTI Photo/S. Irfan)


“Most tourists prefer to visit Kashmir by road and many had already planned their trips to Kashmir. Now, they will have no option but to cancel them,” he said.

Pertinently, the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, during his visit to Kashmir after the Pulwama attack, had announced that no civilian traffic movement would be allowed during convoy days.



As recently as March 30, there was a possible suicide-terror attack on another convoy of security forces near Jawahar Tunnel — the gateway to Kashmir Valley— on Jammu-Srinagar highway at Banihal.

During the incident, a CRPF vehicle had suffered slight damage when a car went up in flames after an explosion. The driver of the private vehicle managed to flee before the fire engulfed the vehicle and turned it into a mangled heap of iron. The alleged militant who is suspected to have made an abortive bid was arrested by the police on Tuesday.

The ban, however, follows the Home Ministry’s reported approval to air travel of the Central Armed Paramilitary Forces, moving between Delhi and Srinagar, and Jammu and Srinagar, on official duty, transfer or on leave.

The Leaflet