Anantnag: Overwhelming presence of army along the Anantnag-Srinagar stretch of the Jammu-Srinagar highway, and their frequent altercations with civilians, has left commuters as well as locals concerned for their safety.
One civilian has already been killed, after the army allegedly opened fire following a tiff with locals in Bijbehara town of Anantnag. Several people have been left injured in other such incidents.
Traffic on the highway has often come to a grinding halt for hours at a stretch, with people coming out in protest against the army’s highhandedness.
Ambulances, patients, students and other commuters have been bearing the brunt of such impasses.
According to local sources and commuters, army presence on the highway has grown manifold in the past few months.
“Not only do they manage the traffic, they also grow impatient with civilian commuters,” local sources told Kashmir Reader. They said that many people in the past few months have been beaten up by army soldiers, sparking protests in the particular area.
On certain occasions, locals said, drivers have been thrashed for overtaking an army vehicle, or for not stopping at the orders of an army man. “The driver sometimes fails to see the signal (to stop),” locals said.
“I have been driving a Sumo (jeep) on the national highway for more than 15 years now. Never in all these years have I felt so unsafe as I feel now,” a driver, requesting anonymity, told Kashmir Reader.
Several other drivers said that for more than two months now, the army has been halting traffic every time their convoy passes through.
“Even ambulances and school buses are made to halt,” local sources told Kashmir Reader.
The army has been denying such allegations. After every altercation between army and civilians, the Srinagar-based army spokesperson flatly denies the allegations and maintains that no army man was involved in such an incident.
Today as well, army spokesperson Colonel Rajesh Kalia asserted that army convoys always move in sync with traffic rules and regulations.
“If at any point in time a few of our men are seen at a busy crossroads or junction, along with the traffic police, that is only because we do not want any public inconvenience because of our convoys,” Kalia told Kashmir Reader.
Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police (IGP) Munir Khan said that the army’s presence on highways is in form of ‘road opening parties’ (ROPs) or a highway domination party (HDP), during times when their convoys have to pass.
“The Jhelum corridor (Khannabal to Pampore) has been a vulnerable stretch in terms of militant attacks and it needs to be properly manned and guarded,” Khan said.
He said that traffic jams along this stretch of highway, at Pampore, Awantipora, Bijbehara, and Khannabal, make movement of army convoys in these areas vulnerable.
“The first phase of the (extension of) national highway (Pampore to Lasjan) is getting completed by the end of this month. It will certainly ease traffic pressure on the NH and will automatically sort out other problems as well,” Khan said.
Khan also said that traffic police have been understaffed, but this been taken care of now.
September 17: Several people were injured, one allegedly in army thrashing and others in ensuing protests, after army men manhandled a truck driver and beat up a newspaper hawker in Halmulla area of Anantnag. Police used teargas shells and baton charge to clear the highway of protestors, who kept it clocked for an hour.
September 14: Protests in Wanpoh area of Anantnag followed the beating of a private school’s bus driver allegedly by the army. During the protests, a student of the same school was grievously injured when police fired shells to disperse protestors. Traffic remained halted for more than an hour.
July 17: A young motorcyclist allegedly beaten up by army men sparked protests in Bijbehara town. Army soldiers allegedly fired bullets in the air to disperse the protestors. One bullet hit a 60-year-old man, who succumbed to his injuries at Bone and Joint Hospital Srinagar.
March 17: The highway remained blocked for more than an hour after local shopkeepers in Bijbehara town blocked it in protest against army men beating up a civilian driving a car. Police had to intervene to pacify the protestors.
March 4: The highway was blocked in Bijbehara after a truck driver was allegedly beaten up by army men. It took police half an hour to clear the way for traffic.