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Held hostage

Highway closed

The Srinagar-Jammu highway has once against held the people of Kashmir hostage during the most difficult period of the year. Earlier this week, an entire bridge collapsed at Kela Morh, in Ramban district of the Jammu region. Following it, the highway has been shut for the last three days and it will take at least another 10 days to repair the only so-called all-weather road connectivity between the valley and the rest of the world. Year on year, the highway seems to be getting more and more vulnerable and dangerous, but the administration, other than doing the regular repair work, is not seriously considering the massive humanitarian problem this highway brings with it. The Divisional Commissioner Kashmir P K Pole has said that stocks including food grains are available for two and a half months in Kashmir while as other essentials are available for 15 days. However, one knows that the shortage and prices of essentials in the valley are directly proportional to whether the traffic on this highway is open or shut. People are already reporting incidents of black marketing and hoarding in the valley. At what a time for the highway to close! We are dealing with the aftermath of one of the heaviest snowfalls of the last one decade, a bone-chilling chillai kalan, a bird flu scare, and to top it all a global pandemic that continues to affect people each day here as well. It is the sheer mental strength that people of the valley deal with all of them together and still manage to live their lives. Interestingly, while one may think it is the snow and the inclement weather that might be responsible for frequent closures of the vital road link, the fact of the matter remains that the highway has been cut through the Pir Panjal range, which according to experts, is geo-morphologically different from the rest of the ranges because it is a plateau. With tropical climate, such a geomorphic unit forms a thick column of soil which is easy to slip away since there are steep slopes throughout the way. Such slopes obviously increase the pressure on the soil and the rocky surface making them prone to sliding. Over the years, the authorities have used heavy machinery for cutting the sides of the hills resulting in more loosening of the soil given the vibrations. As a result, a lot of cracks develop in the hilly slopes giving way to water and resulting in huge landslides that not only shut the highway for days but also kill several hundred people each year. Over the last few years, the incidents of landslides, even during the summer season, have increased since the entire land stretch is prone to them if natural or man-made activities occur. With thousands of vehicles crossing through it every day, a never-ending kinetic movement is generated which keeps the danger of landslides perpetually active around the entire region. The authorities must look for an alternative to it and save people of Kashmir from this unending agony and frustration they are enduring for decades now. When the coldest and the remotest areas in the world can manage year-long connectivity, why do Kashmir and its people have to suffer this plight?