NH-44 restrictions trouble pilgrims, tourists, locals

Civil traffic stopped during yatra convoy on the Highway. —Excelsior/Sajjad Dar
Civil traffic stopped during yatra convoy on the Highway. —Excelsior/Sajjad Dar

66% yatris travel without security

Fayaz Bukhari
Srinagar, July 18: As the Government has held tourists, majority of yatris and people of the State hostage to Shri Amarnath yatra convoys due to restrictions on movement on National Highway (NH-44), official figures suggested 66 percent of yatris travel without security.
According to official records, over two lakh (2, 19, 011) yatris had darshan till July 17 when only 75, 389 travelled in security convoys. So 64.6 percent of them travelled on their own and only 34.4 percent travelled in high security convoys.
On June 30, 2234 yatris left Jammu for Baltal and Nunwan base camps in Sonamarg and Pahalgam respectively but, as per official figures, 8400 yatris had darshan next day which means 6,166 travelled on their own without any security.
On July 8 and July 13, yatra was suspended from Jammu and no yatri travelled in convoy but on July 9 and July 14, 9500 and 8700 yatris had darshan respectively which means all of them travelled on their own without any security.
“If majority of yatris travel without any security and move around in Srinagar and other places of Kashmir freely why common people are made to suffer on the name of yatra security”, asked Zahoor Ahmad, who travels on Srinagar-Anantnag highway daily and spends half of the day in travel which normally takes 2 hours.
Ajay Khajuria, 45, of Jammu said that he goes to yatra almost every year and has not faced any problem. “I went on my own and was among the first batch of yatris who performed darshan on the first day. I was then in Srinagar for 15 days. I travelled to various places during my stay in Srinagar”, he said.
Khajuria said highway restrictions for yatra is causing problems for majority of yatris who don’t travel in convoys, tourists and locals of the State. “I missed the morning train to Banihal from Srinagar and had to travel to Qazigund only in next train as there are restrictions on the movement of trains during convoy timings. I took a shared taxi from Qazigund and was stopped till 2 p.m. The stopping of traffic on highway for yatra convoys is leading to lot of trouble for commuters which could have been avoided”, he said.
The strict restrictions on travel for civilians continued on Nashri-Qazigund sector of the NH-44 despite claims made by Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Baseer Khan, that there is no ban on the movement of civilians and tourists on the highway.
In the morning, till 10 a.m only non-locals and tourists are allowed to travel on Nashri-Qazigund sector of the NH-44. This is followed by Yatra convoys from both the sides till at least 2 p.m.
The non-locals including businessmen and tourists are not allowed to cross the Jawahar Tunnel after 3 p.m. Mukesh Singh, businessman from Punjab, who frequently travels to Anantnag was not allowed to cross the Jawahar Tunnel early this week.
“I frequently travel to Anantnag for my business. When I reached near Jawahar Tunnel on Monday, I was stopped and asked to go back. I pleaded with the security forces that neither I am a Yatri nor tourist but a businessman, however, they never listened. I had to spend a night in Banihal and was allowed next morning”, he said.
Tourists or non-local who are not able to cross the Jawahar Tunnel by 3 p.m are not allowed to enter the Valley. Some of them are escorted to Mir Bazar in Anantnag where they are kept in camp for the night and allowed to proceed ahead to Srinagar or other destinations in the morning only.
In the same way non-locals, tourists or businessmen, are not allowed to proceed towards Srinagar after 2:30 p.m. and 9:30 a.m onwards from Pahalgam and Sonamarg respectively.
The traffic on Srinagar-Qazigund sector is stopped at about dozen of places leading to huge traffic jams. Besides this, between Gallander and Qazigund, one of the tubes of the highway is being blocked by the security forces since morning and civilian traffic is allowed in one tube only till 2 p.m. One tube is being kept exclusively for security forces and yatra convoys.
Riyaz Ahmad, a taxi driver, who traveled on the highway on July 16 told Excelsior that it took him 3 hours to reach Anantnag from Srinagar which normally takes only 30 minutes. “I was stopped by the security forces at least a dozen times. Even if the two vehicles of security forces are plying on the highway, traffic is stopped leading to traffic jams. There is a mess on NH-44”, he said.
Even at places Ambulances are being stopped and not given any preference. The school buses are also caught in the traffic jam due to highway restrictions affecting the studies of students.