Srinagar: In view intermittent closure of Srinagar-Jammu highway—it remained shut for more than a month since January this year—the business community has demanded opening of alternative routes, while claiming Kashmir suffered a loss of about Rs 450 crore because of the decrepit road.
Every winter, the closure of 300-km long Srinagar-Jammu highway not only leads to scarcity of essential commodities in markets here but it also leads to closure of industrial units whose supplies depend on this sole operational road link to the rest of the world.
Fresh landslides triggered by rains led to its closure for the past five days.
The issue prompted Peoples Democratic Party president and Member of Parliament Mehbooba Mufti to demand opening of alternative routes such as the historic Mughal Road and Kishtwar-Sinthan-Anantnag road.
Shakeel Qalandar, a businessman and former member of C Rangarajan committee set up by the Centre for re-energizing economy of Jammu and Kashmir, said the Srinagar-Jammu highway was a cart and bull during the Dogra rulers’ time, and its frequent closure these days “shows that it has changed little”.
“The closure of the highway impacts us because we are a consumer state. We import goods from outside to the Valley worth Rs 40,000 crore a year. That speaks volumes about our dependence on this road,” said Qalanadar.
According to him, alternative routes such as Mughal road and Sinthan road would not only lessen the dependence on the decrepit highway but also attract tourists. The Mughal Road is also the shortest road link with the Valley while Sinthan road would bring Kashmir region closer with Chenab Valley, the Muslim-dominated belt in Jammu region.
“The highway will be an all-weather road unlike the bull and cart road a mere drizzle can close. The government should start work on tunnels on Mughal and Sinthan roads. The industries suffer due closure of Srinagar-Jammu highway as no raw material is available,” Qalanadar said.
Also, Kashmir Economic Alliance, an amalgam of traders, tour and travel and allied sectors said restricting the entry to the Valley through a single route reveals the region is a “conflict zone”.
“Why can’t government open alternative routes? The businesses community contributes 30 percent to state’s economy but the blockade of the highways hit us directly. The economic activity comes down,” said KEA chairman Mohammad Yasin Khan.
“Mehbooba Mufti also accepted Mughal and Sinthan road as alternative. Even we have all weather Jehlum Valley road, which can connect the Valley with central Asia. All these routes should be opened to make Kashmir not suffer especially in winters.”
Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, an apex body of traders said they submitted a proposal to Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed demanding swift up gradation of Srinagar-Jammu highway and development of alternative routes.
“Government shouldn’t rely on rail projects because that’s a time consuming process. Alternative highways such as the Mughal Road should be developed so that people don’t suffer,” said KCCI joint secretary Fiaz Bakshi.
The highway closure earned the Valley a bad reputation among the tourists because they had to return to their destinations from Jammu, Bakshi said.
“We have been hearing a lot from government but we need some action on ground so that it can ease our sufferings,” he said.