Banning of traffic for two days on Srinagar-Jammu from Uri to Udhampur (301.5 kilometres), the only road connecting Kashmir to the rest of the world, is set to lead to massive socio-economic problems, say economists from the valley.
On 3 April 2019, Government of Jammu and Kashmir Civil Secretariat issued an order under order number No. 353-Home (ISA) in which it is directed that civil traffic on Srinagar-Jammu highway will be banned for two days on Sunday and Wednesday every week for the movement of army convoy.
Soon after the order was announced, it faced huge criticism in the valley and around the world as well. The ban will make a huge impact on transporters, students, teachers, patients, schools, tourists and traders as well. According to the divisional commissioner Kashmir that ambulances, school buses, and tourist buses will be exempted from the ban.
Economist Tasveer Ahmad Bhat heading the department of economics at Amar Singh College at Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir believes that banning the transport for 48 hours in a week will lead to a huge economic loss.
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“Transport is the engine of growth and highway is its lifeline when it is choked people will face the shortage of goods which we import from different parts of India. Shortage of goods will lead to a hike in prices and ultimately it will lead to the crisis,” said Tasveer.
Sub-optimal use of available resources (highway) leads to the escalation in the price of goods which will hinder Kashmir’s economic development.
Apart from fruits and handicrafts, Kashmir is famous for many different flowers and its trade of cut-flowers serves the economy of floriculture.
April and May are the main two months in which different types of flowers are exported to various parts of India through Srinagar-Jammu highway.
“Due to the short shelf-life of flowers, it’s impossible not to transport them via the highway. Generating the same revenue will be impossible if we transport them by air,” Tasveer told NewsClick. “Implementation of such orders reflects that we are being discriminated.”
Kashmir is yet to recover from the losses that it suffered in the 2010 mass uprising, the 2014 floods as well as the losses Kashmir faced during the post-Burhan shutdown for seven months across the valley.
This ban has added to the trauma of travellers and drivers on Srinagar-Jammu, which remains closed for long periods due to the landslides during rain and snowfall.
Mohammad Abbas a 30-year-old cab driver, who usually carries passengers from Srinagar to Jammu and vice versa revealed transporters have to face big problems and heavy losses.
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Abbas said that since Pulwama attack which took place on the Srinagar -Jammu highway at Lethpora an area of Pulwama district, forces would stop traffic for hours during the passage of army convoy.
“We have to plan our trip to Jammu two days before, we have to take care of weather as well, we never know when a landslide will hit the highway and it remains closed for days. Banning traffic for two days has made it next to impossible to plan a safe trip,” said Abbas.
Students who travel from different districts to Kashmir University and other coaching centres are upset and have demanded removal as early as possible.
Fatima Rashid 26-year-old girl travels from Baramulla to Srinagar every day to attend her classes at Kashmir University. While speaking to NewsClick she said that this decision may serve the security purpose but the rest of the citizens of Kashmir are forced to suffer.
“I travel from Baramulla to Srinagar for education, losing two days of my education will affect my future. My father does different labour jobs and pays for my fees, I can’t afford to waste my two days,” Fatima told NewsClick.
She further added that if the central government claims safety of army is more important then why they can’t transport the army on army choppers and aeroplanes. Why only local Kashmiris are forced to witness the worst situations.
“If there is a huge deployment of the forces in Kashmir which is one of the most militarised zones in the world, the ban raises many questions on the security and intelligence agencies. Aren’t they able to monitor the militant activities? Forces must join hands to make life easier not crumble the people of Kashmir,” Fatima told NewsClick.
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Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Association (KTMA) has expressed huge disappointment with the ban. Yasin Khan President of the association while speaking to NewsClick said that banning the civil traffic is a human rights violation. Harassing people on the name of safety is totally unacceptable. Khan further added that such decisions make every Kashmiri feel that they are under martial law despite being a part of so-called democracy.
“People are calling me what shall we do, we aren’t in the situation to call for a strike as out two days are already getting wasted. Economically we aren’t in a position to follow such orders,” Khan told NewsClick.
Khan further mentioned that no such action is taken in any part of India such as northeast, why Kashmiris are forced to feel indifferent. Instead of bridging the gap between people and government, they push Kashmiris further away. KTMA will meet Governor of J&K Satya Pal Malik to discuss the matter.
Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) urges for the immediate revocation of the order to avoid the losses.
While speaking to reporters at Srinagar KCCI said that the order does not augur well for a democratic setup and has been rightly condemned by all stakeholders.
General Secretary of KCCI Farooq Amin said that the order has been issued without considering its impact on the population of Kashmir and is indicative of the lack of awareness of local problems.
Pointing towards the inconvenience faced by people of Kashmir KCCI said that at a time when the Kashmir Chamber has been raising the issue of lack of alternative routes and means of travel to Kashmir, the closure of the only available road link will put the whole population to unimaginable inconvenience and will have disastrous consequences for our economy.
KCCI also said that the order likewise disrupts the smooth movement of fruit-laden trucks from Srinagar for which April and May are critical months. The Horticulture Sector will also suffer due to the impact on the movement of fruits and vegetables.
KCCI added that the order will also negatively impact the inflow of tourists to J&K and interfere with the booking schedules and plans of tourists. KCCI is not aware of such a restriction of any tourist destination in the world. At a time when the Government and tourism players are making efforts to revive the tourism sector, these actions would not be well-taken.