Confusion, frustration over J&K highway travel curbshttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/confusion-frustration-over-jk-highway-travel-curbs-5669564/

Confusion, frustration over J&K highway travel curbs

Although there was no convoy movement on Srinagar-Baramulla stretch of the highway, public transport was mostly off road.

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Army convoy plying on Srinagar-Jammu National Highway on the second day of curbs on movement of civilian vehicles. (Express photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

* Ghulam Mohammad travelled 45 km from Beerwah in central Kashmir to Panthachowk on the outskirts of Srinagar. A horse at the back of his mini-truck, he wanted to travel to Bijbehara in south Kashmir, to treat his ailing horse, when he was stopped on the highway leading to south Kashmir.

* Mohammad Asif, 23, was on way to Shopian to play the semi-final of a cricket tournament in the militant hotbed.

* Kulsooma, 50, was on way to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital in Srinagar for therapy, and in absence of public transport was stuck on the highway.

While all of them were issued travel permission and allowed to travel on the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla national highway by the duty magistrate at Panthachowk crossing, a picture of a hand stamped with travel permission from an executive magistrate highlighted the helplessness of people taking the highway on Wednesday, one of two days of the week when civilian traffic stands barred on the highway between Baramulla and Udhampur as per the administration’s order.

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Explained | How closing J&K highway to civilian traffic impacts life in Valley

A traveller from south Kashmir’s Anantnag district was permitted to move after the executive magistrate put an official stamp on his hand and scribbled: “allow to Sangam”. The picture soon went viral on social media, triggering anger across the Valley.

Army vehicle passes Srinagar Jammu National Highway. (Express Photo by Shuaib Masoodi/File)

Calling it “degrading and inhuman”, former Chief Minister and NC leader Omar Abdullah tweeted, “This is how permission is granted to people in J&K to use their highway. Their hands are being stamped & written on…. Should we be flippant & mock the attempt at saving paper? I’m just angry at the degrading, inhuman treatment…”

Deputy Commissioner of Anantnag Khalid Jehangir told The Indian Express, “We are verifying it. I have asked Bijbehara SDM (sub-divisional magistrate) to investigate it.”

Also read | Highway out of bounds, railway stations out of reach

On the second day of travel restrictions, the northern stretch of the highway — from Baramulla to Srinagar — was thrown open to traffic despite the ban. Traffic on the stretch was allowed after Baramulla Deputy Commissioner G N Itoo ordered that the highway stretch in the district will be open to allow the movement of election officials. Baramulla goes to the polls on Thursday.

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Army personnel takes a picture during Security convoy crosses national highway near Panthachowk in Srinagar. (Express Photo by Shuaib Masoodi /File)

Although there was no convoy movement on Srinagar-Baramulla stretch of the highway, public transport was mostly off road.

Free movement was also allowed on the highway in Srinagar. But once the highway took a curve at Panthachowk towards Srinagar, Armymen and paramilitary personnel stopped vehicles of people who did not possess required travel permission.

Travelling from Tengna village towards SMHS Hospital in Srinagar, Kulsooma managed to reach Panthachowk by hitchhiking but was stuck there for over an hour since no public transport was available due to the restrictions. “I would not have left home but I was given a date today for my therapy,” she said. “If I miss it, my turn will come next after a month.”

Travelling in his Maruti Alto car, young cricketer Asif was stopped at the crossing. Asked for reason of travel, he said: “I have to go to Shopian. We have to play the semi-final there. You can check my car – there is a cricket kit.”

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A boy rides a bicycle during Army convoy crosses national highway near Bemina in Srinagar. (Express Photo by Shuaib Masoodi/File)

“Don’t you know there is travel ban today,” the duty magistrate asked him, before letting him on with the travel pass.

Ghulam Mohammad was on way to Bijbehara when he was stopped by soldiers and asked to show the travel pass. He had to return to the crossing to get permission from the duty magistrate. “You can stop me but how can you stop a horse, who can’t plead for itself,” he asked the magistrate.

The magistrate gave him a travel pass.

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Although duty magistrates did not stop issuing travelling passes to any commuter, many said the process in itself is hectic. “In the morning, we allowed all employees to travel on the highway without a pass. They are exempted from the travel ban order,” a duty magistrate said. “But some of them were returned by security personnel from as far as 15 km and asked to get the passes. We gave them passes and took up the matter with the Army as well”.