JAMMU, Jan 25: Bharat Jodo Yatra led by AICC vice president Rahul Gandhi was suspended today at Ramban due to inclement weather and closure of Jammu-Srinagar National Highway after landslides at several places and it will resume from Qazigund in Kashmir on the morning of January 27.
Official sources said that bad weather and landslides during early hours on Wednesday led to the suspension of the second leg of Congress Party’s Bharat Jodo Yatra that was scheduled to start from Ramban town for Banihal.
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Amid rain, Gandhi resumed the foot march from Chanderkote in Ramban Wednesday at around 9 am and the Yatris travelled about 4-5 kms of distance up to Ramban town. But the inclement weather forced its suspension. The march will now resume on Friday (Jan 27) from Qazigund as tomorrow on Republic Day, it is rest day for Yatris, a Congress spokesperson said.
The spokesperson further said that the journey from Ramban to Banihal along the 270-km Jammu-Srinagar National Highway is the most challenging due to several problematic stretches, including Panthyal, Mehar, Battery Chashma and Maggarkote. These spots are prone to shooting of stones and boulders from the hillocks overlooking the narrow road.
Traffic on the highway was suspended during early hours on Wednesday after heavy rains triggered shooting of stones at a few places in Ramban sector that left a truck operator dead and two others on board oil tanker injured.
“Due to poor weather conditions and landslides in the area, the afternoon leg of Bharat Jodo Yatra in Ramban & Banihal has been cancelled.
Tomorrow is a rest day and the Yatra will resume the day after, on January 27th at 8 am,” Congress general secretary and in-charge communication Jairam Ramesh tweeted.
Earlier in the day, JK Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson Jahanzaib Sirwal said the Yatra resumed around 9 am from Bathi after an hour-long delay due to heavy rains and completed the first leg on day 131, covering the old alignment road via Maitra in Ramban town.
Gandhi, who started the march wearing his trademark white T-shirt, later donned a black raincoat. Enthusiastic Congress workers and supporters carrying the tri-colour turned up in large numbers despite the rains to receive the Gandhi family scion.
JKPCC president Vikar Rasool Wani, who hails from Banihal and represented the assembly constituency twice in the past two elections, was seen moving alongside Gandhi and introducing him to various delegations as they covered about five-km stretch.
“We covered about five km in Ramban and were scheduled to restart the Yatra two km ahead of Banihal town after crossing the landslide prone area in vehicles this afternoon. The district administration, both civil and police officers, advised against moving ahead due to the high risk of rolling stones and therefore, the yatra was suspended for the day,” Wani said.
He said Gandhi waited for three hours for the weather to improve and get clearance from authorities but since the road was closed, the Yatris were asked to stay back for the second night halt at Ramban.
A senior official in the district administration said that a few inches of snow had accumulated in Lamber area, where Yatra was scheduled to spend the night camping in Banihal. The weather office has forecast heavy snowfall over middle and higher reaches and rains in plains during the day.
The march started from Kanyakumari on September 7 and entered Jammu and Kashmir via Punjab on Thursday. The marathon march will culminate with Gandhi unfurling the national flag at the party headquarters in Srinagar and addressing a grand rally at the Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium on January 30
Meanwhile, CRPF Deputy Inspector General (Operations), South Kashmir, Alok Avasthi said the force is anyway always on alert. “We are more alert as far as the Bharat Jodo Yatra is concerned.”
Otherwise also, we are alert always. Whoever travels on the highway should feel safe, we have taken all security measures,” he told reporters at Pulwama.
Asked about the security measures for Republic Day, Avasthi said any intelligence about attempts to vitiate the peace here will be acted upon strongly.
“We are fully alert. If there are intelligence inputs of any element trying to disrupt peace, we will destroy those elements,” the CRPF officer said.