Banihal: Hundreds of travellers including kids and women on Monday spent the entire night in the open at minus 7 degree Celsius, their vehicles stranded on the high-altitude Pir Panjal mountain range on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, due to official negligence.
The passengers had nowhere to go after traffic was halted at Banihal late in the evening. No retiring facility was arranged for them, leaving the passengers stuck inside their vehicles or sheltering under shop fronts along the road.
Six days after the national highway was restored for traffic, the traffic department announced on Monday that they won’t allow movement of heavy motor vehicles due to intermittent sliding and sinking of road triggered by snow and rains.
But flouting its own traffic advisory, J&K traffic police allowed scores of buses and trucks carrying government forces to travel towards Srinagar from Jammu, which led to traffic jams throughout the road. The cabs and private cars coming in from the opposite direction from Srinagar worsened the jams at narrow stretches of the road.
A journalist said that he began driving his car towards Srinagar on Monday at 5:30am, and reached Srinagar on Tuesday afternoon.
He said that right from the start, the highway was blocked as an avalanche of trucks had blocked the entire single tube of the tunnel towards Udhampur, from where vehicles weren’t allowed ahead due to wretched road condition. Like other private cars and cabs did, he maneuvered through interiors to bypass the jam and reach NH44.
“It was a genuine reason for stopping heavy vehicles, including trucks carrying essentials, at that time to allow till cabs and private cars to pass, but they allowed a huge convoy of CRPF buses and trucks to move along with light motor vehicles. This triggered frequent jams due to narrow road passages caused by sinking and landslides,” he said, adding that families including children spent the night on the road. He said he managed to find accommodation after an uphill trek amid the chilling cold and in the dark.
According to another traveller, Asrar Ahmad of Lal Bazar, women and children were the worst sufferers. “Not a single drop of water was given to stranded passengers by the government. In fact, many hapless travellers were dehydrated but nobody cared,” he said.
Many passengers that Kashmir Reader talked to blamed the responsible for their woes. They said the traffic department as well as the administration knows that the condition of the highway worsens in winters, yet no facility has been put in place for stranded travellers.
“There is nothing new in the highway closure. It happens since ages, but my last night’s experience blew the lid off the government’s false promises,” said a schoolteacher, Nighat Jabeen, who spent the night with her two kids and husband in his car near Banihal railway station.
“It was heartbreaking to hear my kids cry and shiver due to hunger and the cold,” Nighat said.