Amarnath Yatra and Civilian Traffic Ban Asymmetric

“46 day ban will cause 2000 crores loss to state economy”


Kashmir Magazine

“Locals are irked by the measures that have hampered daily life”
Hamid Rather
With the unprecedented curbs on civilian traffic along the Kashmir stretch of National Highway and the suspension of railway services between Qazigund and Banihal to ensure security to annual Amarnath Yatra pilgrims, the locals in the Kashmir valley, tourists, travelers and traders feel that they are taken hostage for pilgrim convoy. The deployment of the largest number of security forces for ensuring the security of the pilgrims is justified but the curbs on civilian traffic on the National Highways stretches connecting valley to Chenab valley and Jammu is asymmetric with the historic engagement of locals with Amarnath Yatra. The locals in the Valley are irked by the measures that have hampered daily life and will remain in place for 46 days, until the conclusion of the pilgrimage.

According to an order issued by the state traffic police, no civilian vehicle other than the Amarnath Yatra Pilgrims Convoy will be allowed to ply along the 97-km stretch from Qazigund to Nashri between 10 am and 3 pm. This unprecedented move has caused major disruptions in the region, given that the Srinagar-Jammu highway is the "lifeline" connecting the Valley with the rest of the country. The ban will have a huge stress on exports and imports to Kashmir. According to the President, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), Sheikh Ashiq that every day exports and imports to Kashmir are of the value of 90-95 crores and in the 5 hour traffic ban for 46 days the economy of the valley will likely feel shocks. This is the first instance of an administration restricting civilian traffic along the highway to facilitate smooth movement of Amarnath Yatra convoys.

On 2nd July, the Northern Railways also ordered suspension of train services between Qazigund and Banihal from 10 am to 3 pm, starting July 3 till completion of ongoing Amarnath Yatra. The suspension of train service will not only create hurdles for the locals but also hurts the revenue generated by the train. “Such decisions are acceptable in pre-colonial and colonial times and not post-colonial times. These orders outrage every word of the preamble of the constitution”, said Tanveer Ahmad, a student.

Pertinently, after the Pulwama terror attack, the Jammu and Kashmir administration had banned civilian traffic along the highway for two days a week to ensure the safety of military and CRPF convoys. Governor Satya Pal Malik faced severe criticism for the decision, and the ban was withdrawn after two months. However, Malik had apologized people for the inconvenience caused due to the closure of highway for two days in a week for the movement of convey to ensure fair parliamentary elections in Kashmir but had maintained that it was imposed in the national interest. However, this apology has largely remained a political one and its spirit is missing when the governor-led administration has passed another ‘anti-people Diktat’ on the grounds of ensuring security to Amarnath Pilgrims.

The first batch of Amarnath Yatra pilgrims left for the hallowed cave shrine from the Baltal base camp on 3rd July. Over 300 companies of security personnel have been deployed across the state to ensure their security. Eight Amarnath Yatra pilgrims were killed and 19 injured when terrorists attacked a bus in Kashmir's Anantnag district on July 10, 2017. This is the first instance of an administration restricting civilian traffic along the highway to facilitate smooth movement of Amarnath Yatra convoys.

Constitutional Validity
Article 19 (1)(d) of the constitution of India states that every citizen has the right to move freely throughout the territory of the country. The section on fundamental rights in Jammu and Kashmir Constitution also provides for freedom of movement. This order is in direct violation of the fundamental rights provision of Indian and state constitution. A twist was given to this by Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Baseer Ahmad Khan while speaking to reporter in Srinagar, "I have seen claims on social media that there is a ban on the highway. Let me clarify that there is no ban on the highway. We have only adopted traffic regulation as the convoy is very long, giving rise to several concerns". This spin given that this order does not ban civilian movement but only regulates traffic is in itself an arbitrary executive order that still is volatile of the fundamental rights and human rights’ provisions of the state and Indian constitutions.

While talking to Shafqat Nazir, advocate at Jammu and Kashmir High Court about the constitutional validity of the orders, he said, “It is unconstitutional order. How can they (government) block the civilian traffic for the movement of Army or Yatris. It is seen nowhere in any civilized country. This is subjugation. For the security of security forces and Yatries they can’t take the whole population hostage.”

Police Version
Director General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, Dilbag Singh told reporters, “There is some inconvenience, but it's in the larger interests of safety. We are monitoring the situation. Let's
see how things go”. He claimed that small issues emerging in the course of the ban will be sorted out at the local level. “I get regular feedback from field officers. People are cooperating”, he further added.

Politician Reactions
The curbs on civilian traffic movement for five hours daily on a 97-km stretch from Qazigund to Nashri on the national highway and train services from Qazigund to Banihal for 46-days during Amarnath yatra has sparked a fresh row in the Kashmir valley. Politicians and people have questioned the decision saying it will create hurdles for locals.

Former IAS officer Shah Faesal, who resigned from the service earlier this year, to launch his own party ‘Jammu and Kashmir People's Movement’ said that in last 30 years for the first time the national highway was closed for civilian movement for the annual yatra. “First time in last 30 years Srinagar-Jammu Highway was closed to civilian traffic during elections. Now closed again for Yatra. Those signing orders to stop movement of locals must remember that there will be a day of reckoning. We welcome Yatris to land of Shiva. But this curfew must end”, he tweeted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regional National Conference (NC) general secretary and former minister while decrying the restrictions said the measure is “regressive and will put the people to undue duress”. While calling for an early revocation of the reckless diktat, he said, “The frequent restrictions on the sole national highway connecting Kashmir with the rest of the country on one pretext or the other causes unimaginable loses to the business community apart from severe inconvenience to the general public including patients and students.

CPM leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami while demanding the review of the order said, “No doubt security of Amarnath pilgrims is important and the decision must have been taken by the Government as a security issue. But why should be the issues of patients, students, employees, businessmen, and others who will suffer hugely due to this order left unattended?”

Speaking to reporters, Engineer Rashid denounced the ban and called it a "gross violation of the fundamental rights of the people of Kashmir"."Who does not know that more than security agencies, Kashmiris make the yatra a success. But, by creating issues just to defame Kashmiris and make their life miserable, New Delhi is exposing its colonial mindset and hatred towards
Kashmiris," the former MLA from Langate constituency of north Kashmir said. It was unfortunate that the yatra was "being communalised for political gains" and New Delhi was "giving notion that Kashmiris are anti-Hindu", he added further.

The Kashmir High Court Bar Association in a statement described the ban unjustified and unwarranted and sought its immediate removal. “It is going to cause unnecessary restrictions to the civilians travelling from Srinagar to Jammu and vice-versa,” the statement said.

 

Traders and Fruit Growers

The Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers & Dealers Union said that the association is extremely worried about the ban on Civil traffic on Srinagar-Jammu Highway (Qazigund to Nashri stretch) for five hours a day because of Amarnath Yatra. The spokesman of the union, an umbrella body of all Fruit Growers and Dealers Associations of the Valley, said that valley based Fruit Growers & Dealers and the general public always want to make Amarnath Yatra a success, and even welcome the Yatris, but at the same time the five-hour daily civil traffic ban on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway will cause extreme hardships for transporters of fresh fruits. Cherries and plums will be hit hard as they are the perishable items; if these perishable items do not reach their destinations in time, the growers and traders will face heavy losses.

It is unfortunate that frequent hailstorms, stormy winds and torrential rains in the last three months have destroyed crops in fruit orchards of the valley. Apples stored in cold stores in the valley are also required to be transported to their destinations. The management of the Kashmir Valley Union under the leadership of Bashir Ahmad Basheer, has requested the governor-led administration to reconsider the five-hour ban on the National highway.

Service Sector will be Hit Badly

Tourism and hospitability industry’s income is largely dependent on tourist influx in the summer season. Amidst the civilian traffic ban, the price pulls and pushes are seen in the tourism and hospitability industry. While travelling from Jammu to Srinagar, the passenger fare for renting cabs has spiked after the unprecedented administrative decision. The tourists and travelers who had planned their trips via road are choosing other destinations like Shimla, Manali and Masoorie to ward off the 5-hours daily ban on civilian traffic.
This unprecedented move has caused major disruptions in the region, given that the Srinagar-Jammu highway is the "lifeline" connecting the Valley with the rest of the country. The ban will have a huge stress on exports and imports to Kashmir. According to the President, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), Sheikh Ashiq that every day exports and imports to Kashmir are of the value of 90-95 crores and in the 5 hour traffic ban for 46 days the economy of the valley will likely feel shocks. This is the first instance of an administration restricting civilian traffic along the highway to facilitate smooth movement of Amarnath Yatra convoys.

Tourists Reactions
The ban on civilian traffic has irked the tourists and travelers alike. It is the tourist season in Kashmir. When the temperature in the rest of the country is soaring the Kashmir valley is having morning and evening showers that make it the favorite tourist destination. Anil Sharma, a business traveler while travelling from Jammu to Srinagar to attend a business meeting in Srinagar had to wait 6-hours in Jammu before he was allowed to drive to Nagrota. “At Udhampur, I was stopped for two hours and in chanderkote for one more hour. There were few more stops where security forces frisked and questioned me that I am a Hindu and stopped with the suspension that I am a Yatri”, he told this reporter. “I am surprised how such orders are passed that harm common people. I am a traveler and came to Kashmir for business purpose and If I don’t reach on time I would cancel the next projects coming from the state”, he added further. 


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