100's Stranded as Avalanches Isolate Kashmir
SRINAGAR: The only surface link connecting Kashmir Valley with outside world remained closed on seventh consecutive day with hundreds of passengers stranded in two regions of the state.
Officials said the 302-km long national highway 1A between Jammu and Srinagar, the capital cities of J&K, was closed due to massive stone avalanches and severe damage to road surface at many places along the treacherous Banihal- Ramban stretch.
To cope up with the burgeoning size of stuck passengers, the state government today organised air sorties in army aircrafts between Jammu and Srinagar. Due to exorbitant air fares, a big majority of passengers travel using surface transport which remains banned since last Wednesday.
March is the season of influx of natives, who spend winters outside Kashmir, as well as skilled and non-skilled labour from different parts of India, many of whom flee the harsh winters of the Valley. Due to civilian uprising, they had fled Kashmir in advance last year.
According to reports, with the state government pressing army aircrafts and cargo planes into service to airlift passengers from Srinagar today, the rush of passengers is only growing. Today, protests broke out in Chanderkote where hundreds of vehicles have been denied permission by the traffic police to move towards Kashmir.
Yesterday, dozens of passengers coming from Jammu to Srinagar trekked the dangerous cliffs that divide the two regions of the state, to reach Banihal from where they took train and passenger cabs in their onward journey to the Valley.
Criticising the state government, many SOS posts were put up on social media by some of the anguished passengers, narrating their ordeal, while in one picture, men could be seen guiding children and women while descending a steep cliff at Banihal.
“The highway was closed again today due to a massive landslide and shooting stones. We can’t be sure when it will open again, although our men and machinery are working 24x7 to do the repairs before traffic can be resumed,” Ajaz Ahmad, a senior officer in J&K Traffic Police said.
According to experts, the aging highway has outlived its utility and due to harshest winter recorded since the last seven years, the mountainous road may have loosened up along its vulnerables spots, causing frequent landslides, avalanches and shooting stones.
A multi-billion proposal, funded by New Delhi to expand the highway, has been marred by difficult terrain, inefficiency of the executing agencies and red-tapism in the departments involved in the project. While a portion has been completed in Jammu region, the expansion in Kashmir is virtually going nowhere.