Braving cold, Tamana, 6, and Insha, 5, are sitting along with their parents in the open in the Idgah at Narwal since 6 morning, waiting for someone from the administration to inform them about the arrangements for taking them to Srinagar.
Their father Zahoor Ahmed is a serving Border Security Force personnel in West Bengal and he has taken 15 days leave to drop them home in Kupwara’s Tangdhar area. His leave is ending on February 24.
The family including both the children have not taken anything since morning except for a banana each given to them by some social activists. “Children need many things, but while sleeping at railway platform in an uncertain situation since February 5, for how long you can fulfil their needs,’’ asked Saima.
“On Monday, as officials said that they will be airlifting women, children, ailing and the aged, Zahoor made me and both the daughters board a bus to the airport from Mufti House on the Canal Road. However, at 9 in the night, they dropped us at general bus stand saying that there was not enough space to accommodate us,’’ she said, adding “I begged them saying that I was not well and I have two minor daughters, but of no avail’’.
Saima contacted her husband at railway station on phone and the latter then traced them at the general bus stand. “On Sunday also, we were made to return to the railway station after standing in queue at the Jammu airport’s ticket counter for nearly two hours,’’ she added.
During wee hours of Tuesday, the family again reached Mufti House in the hope that early reporting there may get them a chance to get airlifted to the Valley. “However, there we were told by cops to go to Idgah at Narwal and since then, we have been waiting for someone from the administration to inform them about the move plan to the Valley,’’ she added.
Saima’s family is among nearly 5,000 stranded Kashmir bound passengers including women and children who have been left on their own by the district administration for the past seven days. There are thousands more in nearly 2000 to 3,000 vehicles, mostly load carriers carrying essential supplies, poultry and other perishable items, which are stranded at various places en route the Jammu-Srinagar national highway.
With reopening of the highway not in sight, frustration is visible of their faces man of whom virtually are left with no money. In the absence of any arrangements by the administration for their boarding and lodging, a number of stranded passengers with grown up daughters are also compelled to spending nights at the railway platform, general bus stand, mosques and even in the open.
“The things are so bad that many a times, a feeling comes that we shall commit suicide,’’ said Parveena who is accompanied by his ailing husband Manzoor Ahmed, two boys and a daughter who has to take admission in class XII once the family reach Srinagar. “Parveena hails from Calcutta and the family had gone there to meet her ailing father,’’ she said, adding that since February 5 they have been moving from one place to another for help in getting airlifted to Valley during the day and in night return to the railway station to sleep at the platform.
Sixty year-old Ghulam Ahmed Mir of Handwara had come to Jammu for a job in road construction work at Billawar in Kathua district three months ago. As he fell ill, his contractor asked him to go home and for past six days, he is stranded at general bus stand.
Whatever little money he could save has been spent making him dependent on help from social activists and non-governmental organisations. Back home, he has wife and who have advised him not to move unless road reopens, he said, adding that “if I die here, at least someone will pick up my body for burrial’’.
In the absence of any arrangements from administration for boarding and lodging of these stranded passengers, the hoteliers were reportedly charging them exorbitantly. A room which was earlier available for Rs 700 a day is now being charged Rs 2,500. For an air ticket for one way journey from Jammu to Srinagar, which was earlier available for Rs 3,000 to Rs 6,000 on normal days, the airlines are offering air ticket in Wednesday’s Srinagar bound flights for Rs 37,000, said Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Rakesh Gupta. He asked the Governor Satya Pal Malik to intervene as charging of such exorbitant rates under the present situation amounts to exploitation of passengers in distress.
Similarly, for a cup of tea which costs Rs 10 is being, shopkeepers at various places along the national highway are charging Rs 25 and Rs 30 for a samosa. The situation was becoming volatile with each passing days, with a clash taking place between stranded passengers and some college students at Canal Road on Monday.
Truck drivers stranded on the national highway were reportedly selling the perishable items including poultry at throwaway prices so as to arrange money for feeding themselves. A number of them had reportedly mortgaged their valuables with the locals to have money for purchasing essential items.
However, there were many others who were voluntarily coming forward to help these passengers in distress offering them meals, tea and even blankets. Abdul Rashid of Anantnag, who along with his family was stranded at the general bus stand while returning from Ajmer Sharief, said that he does not know people providing them food and blankets but no one from administration visited them so far.
The gurdwaras have opened their doors for passengers offering them food and shelter for the night. Pointing out that a large number of people were visiting Gurdwaras, president of State Gurdwara Parbandhak Board Tirlochan Singh Wazir said that “we have requested community members that wherever any passenger comes to them, they shall be provided langer and night shelte,’’.
Sudershan Wazir, former president of the State Gurdwara Parbandak Board, said that they had even offered help to the administration in case it felt difficulty in attending to such a large number of stranded passengers. “They are our brothers and sisters and are in distress. We do not want them to face any bad situation,’’ he added.
The Indian Air Force on Monday airlifted an over 700 passengers to Srinagar by simultaneous operating two C-17 aircrafts for the first time at Jammu.
Sources said that after the Monday clash between stranded passengers and some students, the police took the former in buses to the airport for airlifting to Jammu. As only some of them could be airlifted, the others were dropped at railway station, general bus stand and at Bhatindi during night.
The college students on Tuesday also held demonstration in protest demanding action against stranded passengers who allegedly raised pro Pakistan slogans. The police have already registered two separate FIRs – one against those raising anti-national slogans and another against those who attacked the passengers.
Deputy Commissioner Jammu, Ramesh Kumar, said that the administration has made arrangements for boarding and lodging of passengers at community halls and mosques near Wave Mall and in Bhatindi area including Idgah. However, stranded passengers at Idgah denied it, saying that no one from the administration so far and whenever they approach any official, he directs them to some one else.
On Tuesday, SSP Jammu Tejinder Singh appealed passengers to stay at their respective locations and not to put themselves in inconvenience by moving from one place to another. No registration (for airlifting to Srinagar) was going on at Bhatindi where police have kept some stranded passengers, he added.
Meanwhile, as the Border Roads Organisation managed to partly reopen the Jammu-Srinagar national highway in the evening, the police allowed vehicles stranded between Ramban and Panthiyal to move towards Valley. However, It was still risky as boulders were still rolling down the hills at some places, police said.
A police constable was injured after being hit by a shooting stone near Ramban when he was monitoring movement of stranded vehicles though a landslide prone area on Monday evening, said SSP National Highway Sanjeev Khajuria. Two people including an assistant accounts officer had died after they were hit by a boulder while crossing the landslide prone area at Marog on February 7, sources said.
About the reopening of highway for vehicular traffic, Ramban DeputyCommissioner Showkat Aijaz said that they were still witnessing shooting stones at Marog and from there, they were allowing vehicles to cross one by one. There was fresh snowfall at Jawahar tunnel in the evening.
Locals attributed the continuous landslides to the ongoing road widening work between Ramban and Banihal, saying that private contractors were not following proper process in excavation of mountains. As present, as the BRO clear the road of landslides, more were erupting to block it, they added.
Meanwhile, normal life was still out of gear in Chenab Valley region comprising Kishtwar, Doda and Ramban districts where there had been no electricity supply at most of the places for the past one week. The people were facing shortage of essential commodities as many a link roads were still closed with snow, sources said.