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Srinagar-Jammu highway is considered to be the jugular vein of Kashmir valley because it connects the valley with the rest of the world and the country. It is the most notable source of transporting men and goods into the valley and vice versa. No doubt, India has world’s one of the largest railway networks but the valley is still awaiting its train connectivity with the rest of the country though Baramulla-Banihaal railway project is emerging as a preferred and less expensive alternative for passengers to visit different places of the valley. Even, people who wish to visit outside the valley by road, use this railway route for multiple reasons. It saves time, money, and helps you to reach Banihal very easily. No doubt, Banihal-Udhampur railway project will commence a new era of connectivity but it is still a dream. We have Shaikhul-Aalam International airport at Srinagar which joins the valley with the rest of the world aerially but it has its own limitations. Srinagar-Jammu highway is critical for exports and imports for the major supplies and productions to and from the valley. Most of the transportation takes place through this highway.
This highway grabs the limelight during winters because inclement weather halts traffic movement on this highway very frequently. And interestingly, middle and lower middle class families prefer this route during winters to visit outside because soaring air fares discourage people to think about them.
During the winter of 2018-19, the then governor of Jammu and Kashmir had taken a strong cognizance of the issue, and all the aviation service providers were strictly directed to keep the rates of air fares under check. The winter of 2019-20 was very harsh, and recorded many heavy to moderate snow spells and multiple landslides on Srinagar-Jammu highway which added immensely to the miseries and sufferings of the people of the Kashmir valley and passengers. The traffic plied erratically on the highway. Stranded passengers went through difficult times. And the highway continued to take toll on the human life and this year too, many passengers were buried under the debris and cruel landslides.
It is not all about the drivers and the passengers that face the brunt of the closure of this highway, it is the but common people residing here in the valley are put to numerous hardships. Scarcity and non-availability of essential commodities add to the woes of the people. People crave for fresh vegetables and fruits for days together because during winters, we become dependent on the rest of country for fresh vegetables and fruits. The rate of consumption of non-edible essentials like petrol, diesel, kerosene, LPG, and even medicines see a surge during winters in Kashmir, and the erratic traffic movement on Srinagar-Jammu highway leaves people here tormented. The ugliest part about the closure of this highway is in exorbitant and sky- increase in the prices of essential commodities. Eggs, fresh vegetables and fruits, pulses, edible oils, spices, baby foods are sold at back-breaking prices. Shopkeepers take undue advantage of the closure of the highway. Hoarding and artificial shortage is created by our own business fraternity. Many conscienceless businessmen leave no stone unturned to peel off the skins of poor. This displays our double character and hypocrisy. Such practices bring a bad name to Muslim societies. The scenario turns uglier at Dabas, hotels and restaurants across the highway where stranded passengers are looted with both hands. An omelets which costs rupees 20 or 30, is sold at rupees 100 or 150. A simple cup of tea may cost rupees a person rupees 50 or 60.
There are no administrative checks and balances in place to counter these malpractices. Market checking squads disappear with the periodic shift of Darbar move in November from Srinagar to Jammu. Number of market checking squads should have been increased during winters but they hibernate during this season. Government should intensify the operations of proper checks and balances through different flying squads. And our Imaams should deliver sermons about the ills of black marketing and hoarding. Common masses should be sensitised about the religious aspect of such bizarre, immoral and illegal practices. Shopkeepers and street vendors go to any extent to make hefty gains.
And we have to look for alternate links and Mughal road was thought to be an alternative for the existing highway but it is probably the official insensitivity which has proved it a bad choice. There is a lot to be done yet on this front and to make this road an alternative for Srinagar-Jammu highway. Authorities should prioritize the road connectivity of the valley with the rest of the country because all other services are subservient to transportation of goods and men. Good roads and proper transportation are instrumental for a society to take big strides in the field of progress and prosperity.
Kashmir is wholly and solely dependent on this highway for its economy. Fresh fruit like apple is considered to be the backbone of our economy. Most of its marketing is done in different Mandis of India. Here, the role of Srinagar-Jammu l highway becomes very important because the fruit is ferried to the different states and parts of the country through this road. Prolonged closure of this highway has damaged our fruit industry. The apple spoils in the trucks on the highway, and growers back in the valley mourn it haplessly. People at the helm of affairs should ensure smooth ferrying of these trucks during inclement weather as well. Frequent closure of this highway is detrimental for us. Let Border Roads Organisation intensify and optimize its operations on this highway. World has conquered impossible destinations but we are still mourning our losses to natural calamities.
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