Srinagar, Feb 12: While they are no less than a nightmare for the stranded passengers, the frequent blockades on Srinagar-Jammu highway, the only all-weather road connecting Kashmir with the rest of the world, are equally affecting all and sundry in Kashmir.
The highway has remained closed for a total of more than four weeks in 2019, leading to a shortage of essentials including vegetables, meat, chicken besides petrol and diesel in the valley.
Khalid Nazir, an engineering student, said that all the previous regimes have failed to effectively deal with the recurring issue of closure of Srinagar-Jammu highway.
“A poor man is left to die. There is acute shortage of mutton, chicken and fresh vegetables in the market. In such a situation what can a poor Kashmiri do, where he shall go?” Nazir rued.
An elderly Abdul Hameed, a resident of Saraf Kadal, Srinagar said that almost every other day, the highway is closed forcing an ordinary Kashmiri to depend on the black marketers, who, ironically, always get away with their illegal price hikes.
“The price of vegetables has skyrocketed while LPG and petrol too are sold against higher prices. After searching for LPG cylinder in Srinagar for hours, I finally got one at Karanagar against Rs 2500, thrice the fixed price of the government,” he said.
Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Baseer Khan, as per news agency KNS, admitted that people were facing hardships due to frequent closure of the highway.
“One can’t stop landslides and shooting stones. I believe Mughal road should have been fully functional long back, vulnerable areas prone to shooting stones and landslides should have been dealt with by the concerned departments and that the train services from Jammu to Srinagar should have been through,” he said.
“Had these three things been done, there would have been no shortage of essentials in this hour of crisis,” he said.
Meanwhile, tens of hundreds of Kashmiri passengers stranded in Jammu due to a closure of the highway alleged that the state administration has done nothing to help them.
“The fares, which were in the range of Rs 4,000 for traveling to Srinagar, have been hiked steeply to Rs 12,000 by the airlines after highway closure,” one of the passengers stranded at Jammu Bus stand told The Kashmir Monitor over the phone.
The hike, he said, has hit the passengers who belong to labour class and have exhausted all their cash in buying the essentials.
“We cannot afford the hefty air fare,” he said.
Pictures and videos of passengers wrapped in thin blankets reclining against the luggage bags in the bay area of Jammu bus stand are being widely shared on social media in the last one week.
The passengers–students, businessmen, labourers¬–all rue the apathy of the government in dealing with the issue.
Wasim Ahmad, a University student complained that the frequent closure has made him skip his examinations.
“We kept calling the officials and they gave us false hopes for three days that the snow was being cleared but we are still stuck. As a result, I am unable to appear in the examinations,” he said.
Many commuters also accused the governor’s administration of being biased towards them and deliberately turning a blind eye to their plight.
“The governor rule was implemented in the past as well but this administration has other priorities. They are more interested in granting division status to other places and not attending to the needs of the people,” the passengers said echoed, adding that the governor is not paying any heed despite witnessing the difficulties they are facing.
While the travelers lament the apathy of the administration, they also complain of overcharging by nearby hotels and shops.
“For charging a mobile phone, we are asked to shell out fifty rupees,” said 20-year-old Umar.
“The people living in the nearby quarters gave us some food. We are literally living like beggars right now.”
Lethpora attack: UN urges India, Pak to defuse tensions
Geneva, Feb 20: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called on India and Pakistan to exercise “maximum restraint” and offered to mediate in the face of rising tensions following the attack at Lethpora in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir that claimed the lives of 49 CRPF troopers.
Guterres, through a spokesman, said that the UN is deeply concerned about the situation while offering to mediate if the two parties request it.
The head of the UN received on Wednesday the Pakistani ambassador, Maleeha Lodhi, whose government has asked the organization to intervene in the current crisis, Efe reported.
For now, Guterres calls on both sides to “exercise maximum restraint and take immediate steps” to defuse the tension, spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
The historic tensions between the two nuclear nations skyrocketed in recent days after New Delhi accused Islamabad of supporting the militant group that killed 49 CRPF troopers in a suicide bombing with a vehicle loaded with explosives on February 14, the deadliest attack in the region in 30 years.
In addition, nine people, including four army soldiers, a cop, and a civilian were killed in a gunfight again in Pulwama on February 18.
Rupert Colville, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), said the UN was also saddened by the further loss of life reported from the gun battles in Pulwama on February 18.
“We hope escalating tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours will not add further to the insecurity in the region” he said.
Colville said the High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, is also concerned about reports from India that some elements are using the Pulwama attack as justification for threats and potential acts of violence targeting Kashmiri and Muslim communities living in different parts of India.
“We acknowledge actions taken by the Indian authorities to tackle these incidents and we hope that the Government will continue to take steps to protect people from all forms of harm that may be directed at them on account of their ethnicity or identity,” he stressed.
Following the February 14 attack, India announced that it will take all possible diplomatic measures to isolate Pakistan from the international community.
UN asks additional escorts for military observers:
After one of its vehicles was stopped by a group of protesters in Jammu, the UN has asked the Indian government for additional escorts for its military observers in Kashmir.
“The observer group reported on February 16 that a UN vehicle in the city of Jammu was surrounded by a group of protesters who placed a Pakistan flag in front of the vehicle. The vehicle attempted to bypass the flag but was unable to do so,” Dujarric told the media on Tuesday.
He said the circumstances of the incident was “regrettable and unavoidable” and that the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) had informed the governments of both countries.
“The Mission also requested India to provide additional escorts and will be conducting an investigation,” he added.
The 44-member UNMOGIP, now led by Uruguayan Major General Jose Eladio Alcain, began operations in 1949 to monitor the ceasefire in Kashmir following up a Security Council resolution the previous year.
India maintains that UNMOGIP has become redundant because under the Shimla Agreement of 1972 between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistan’s then-President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto the Kashmir dispute is a bilateral issue with no role for third parties. (With IANS inputs)
Govt downgrades, withdraws ‘security’ of 18 separatists, 155 others
Jammu, Feb. 20: In a major step on Wednesday, the Government of Jammu & Kashmir downgraded and withdrew the security of 18 Hurriyat leaders in the state.
According to the spokesperson of Home Department, it was felt that providing security to these separatist leaders is “wastage of scarce state resources which could be better utilised elsewhere”.
“Among the leaders whose security has been downgraded and withdrawn are SAS Geelani, Aga Syed Mosvi, Maulvi Abbas Ansari, Yaseen Malik, Saleem Geelani, Shahid ul Islam, Zaffar Akbar Bhat, Nayeem Ahmed Khan, Mukhtar Ahmad Waza, Farooq Ahmed Kichloo, Masroor Abbas Ansari, Aga Syed Abul Hussain, Abdul Gani Shah and Mohd Musadiq Bhat,” a government handout said.
This is in addition the 4 persons whose security was withdrawn on Sunday.
In addition, the handout said the security of 155 political persons and activists, who did not require the security provided to them based on their threat assessment and their activities, was also withdrawn. This includes Shah Faesal, who resigned from the IAS and PDP member Waheed Parra.
“Through this, over 1000 police personnel and over 100 vehicles are freed to do regular police work,” the handout said.
Reservation to EWS: Guv welcomes central law’s extension to JK
Jammu, Feb 20: Governor Satya Pal Malik has welcomed the decision of the Union Cabinet regarding giving reservations in admission in educational institutions, for appointments and posts in favour of economically weaker sections of the citizens and giving benefit of promotion in service to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
“The reservation to the economically weaker sections of the citizens will be in addition to existing reservation and subject to maximum of 10 percent of totals seats/posts,” a Raj Bhavan spokesperson said.
It is pertinent to mention that the Constitution (Seventy Seventh Amendment) Act, 1995 provides for giving benefit of promotion in service to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and the Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act, 2019 provides for giving reservations in admission in educational institutions and for appointments and posts in favour of economically weaker sections of the citizens.
“Both these amendments in the Constitution of India were not applicable to the State of Jammu and Kashmir in the present form. The Union Cabinet’s approval to the extension of these amendments will enable providing of 10 % reservation in admission in educational institutions and for appointments and posts in favour of the economically weaker sections of the citizens,” the spokesperson said.
He added that the move will also give powers to the State for making provisions for reservation in the matters of promotion to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
Governor, the spokesperson added, has described these decisions as having far reaching consequences in helping to ameliorate the lot of the weaker sections of society and in ensuring their economic progress and prosperity.
SAC to meet tomorrow
Srinagar, Feb 20: The J&K State Administrative Council (SAC) will meet under the chairmanship of Governor Satya Pal Malik at Raj Bhavan Jammu on 22 February.
This is likely going to be last SAC meeting before Model Code of Conduct (MCC) for General Elections-2019 comes into force.