Srinagar, Apr 7: Hundreds of vehicles were Sunday stranded on intersections while people took on-foot journeys to their destinations as government executed the ban order by prohibiting civilian traffic on the over 300- kilometre long highway to facilitate the movement of convoys.
Sunday became the first day in the history of Kashmir when the entire highway was closed for civilians to facilitate forces’ movement.
Earlier this week, the government ordered closure of the highway for civilian traffic every Sunday and Wednesday till May 31 for smooth movement of the convoys.
On Sunday, no movement of civilian vehicles was witnessed on the highway since early morning barring a beeline of armed vehicles that continued almost throughout the major part of the day.
Forces had set up barricades and concertina wires at several intersections along the road blocking any civilian vehicle to use it.
Since Saturday night, forces frisked the vehicles on highway and noted down their numbers.
Throughout the stretch from Baramulla to Udhampur, there was heavy security deployment as government forces guarded the passing convoy and prevented people to use the route for the day.
The otherwise noisy 128-kilometre stretch from Baramulla to Anantnag was deserted and at many places distraught commuters were seen walking on foot to their destinations, who, even after pleading to the forces were not allowed to drive their vehicles.
Among the commuters were many who had to visit hospitals, appear in exams or had to attend a function or participate in a funeral.
Right from Baramulla to Srinagar, scores of the commuters in groups were seen at junctions, who were showing permissions or papers to the deputed forces in order to let their vehicle pass on the highway.
Mohammad Yasin, an elderly person from Pattan, had left home early morning with his daughter for Srinagar to attend an engagement ceremony of his cousin.
“I had to walk almost 20 kilometres from Singpora to Srinagar. We couldn’t find any vehicles nor is there any alternate route other than the highway,” he said.
Similarly Ghulam Mohammad Bhat started off from his home in Srinagar to reach a hospital where his daughter is admitted, but couldn’t find any means of transport to get there.
“I have been walking for the past 15 minutes, but there is no public transport in sight. I have to reach JVC hospital (SKIMS Medical College and Hospital, Bemina), where my daughter is admitted,” Bhat said near Tengpora bridge as he braced himself for another hour of walk.
There were people who had patients in the vehicles and wanted to take them to hospitals or parents accompanying their children on way to tuition ahead of the various competitive exams due next month.
In south Kashmir, particularly Anantnag and Awantipora, the ban was most felt where one would hardly see any civilian vehicle passing on the highway.
Mushtaq Ahmad, a teacher of Islamic studies at Muslim Student Board from Awantipora had to skip his annual test as the entire area leading to Anantnag was sealed by the forces.
“Those who were residing near Anantnag appeared in the test. Even the internet was barred here today,” he said.
A groom from Anantnag district, who got married in Doda district on other side of the Jawahar Tunnel, had to obtain permission from the authorities concerned to take his wedding entourage to the bride’s home.
Danish Ali, a resident of New Qazibagh in Anantnag, got the permission for himself and his 12 companions to travel on the highway on Saturday and Sunday, but only after the entourage was put to proper frisking and security check.
Pained by the scenes, a urologist decided to cycle his way to his hospital instead of travelling in an ambulance, which have been exempted from the ban order.
“I decided to use the cycle so that I can feel the pain of the people, what they are going through because of this order. I am not going to get into arguments with anyone if I am stopped. I will change my way and pedal on,” Dr Umar said.
He said roads were the lifeline of any place and shutting them down meant shutting down the city, state or the country.
A senior police officer told The Kashmir Monitor that the highway was closed till 12 pm as forces vehicles were passing in large numbers.
“There was a threat. Arrangements were made today but the closure didn’t remain for a long time. Authorities are examining various aspects related to it,” he said.
Asked about the punishment on violation of the order, he said Deputy Commissioners have already imposed section 144 at many places.
Deputy Commissioner Anantnag Khalid Jehangir said that there are “enough” provisions in the law that could be invoked against the violators.
“It depends on the nature of violation. Section 144 is a prohibitory order but then there are many penal provisions that could be invoked depending on the nature of the offence,” he said.
The ban drew outrage on social media platforms with netizens sharing photos of the highway. Many drew comparison of the ban order with German government’s forbidding Jews from using pathways and streets in Poland from 9pm to 5am in 1939. They juxtaposed the two ban orders and the same went viral on social media platforms.
Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Baseer Ahmad Khan said that he had deployed 110 officials to facilitate people on the highway.
On violation of the Highway Act, which states that Government of India has to notify in the official gazette for banning public movement on highways, he said, “Regarding the Act I don’t know. But we allowed all the vehicles and people didn’t face any problem.”
“No popular government could have even thought about banning civilian traffic on Kashmir highway as I personally saw students and patients trapped at various places while driving from Srinagar to Uri. The Governor’s administration should withdraw the ban immediately.”