Toll tax, rotting eatables and cane-control: Hassles are growing on Kashmir Highway

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With the beginning of 46-day Amarnath Yatra, the highway has once again started holding commoners in Kashmir hostage to the host of conditions—notorious being the cane-controllers. Despite official utterances and assurances, Kashmir’s only surface connection with the world is now derailing the normal pace of life in the valley.

By Zeenish Imroz

Ever since the human bomb exploded and killed around 40 CRPF men at Lethpora in the afternoon of 14 February 2019, the highway hassles have only grown manifold in the valley. The backlash is mainly being felt by the commoners like Imran who frequents the stretch for ferrying passengers.

“It’s unthinkable to even talk logic with irate forces,” Imran, the gaunt-faced young driver, said. “They talk less and dictate more.”

The restrictions on civilian movement on the highway was sanctioned by Ministry of Home Affairs, a day after the Pulwama attack, wherein a Jaish-e-Mohammad’s local recruit rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into paramilitary convoy and brought the two nuke-neighbours on the brink.

Since then, number of videos detailing the grim picture and plight of the highway has gone viral and sent shockwaves in the valley.

Lately, a viral video showed a group of students on way to Islamic University of Science and Technology campus in a heated exchange with with agitated troopers who stopped and subjected them to frisking. The students can be heard telling the forces: “What do you think of us, terrorists? We come here to study and not to face these security hassles!”

At the same time, the locals are now facing the toll tax blues on the highway.

But, as the decision initially drew flak, Governor Satya Pal Malik on 9th May exempted locals from paying toll tax. However, according to travelers, the yatris are being exempted which is badly affecting the economy of tourism in Kashmir. Locals who even fall in the 20km range of exemption are forced to pay.

“I paid Rs 85 every time my vehicle passed the toll plaza,” Imran, the local driver, said. “Their behavior is so rude that we prefer not arguing and paying the tax instead.”

No one has exempted locals from the toll, the Divisional Commissioner Baseer Khan said. “No order is passed. Only a specific category in the 20km range is being exempted from it,” he said.

On the other hand, the traffic advisory issued for the security of Amarnath Yatra pilgrims has proven to be a mess creating problems in traffic movement. Tempo and sumo drivers complain of their vehicles being thrashed putting them in a position of loss.

According to the traffic advisory, vehicles, excluding the yatris, are not allowed to ply from 10am to 3pm at the 90km stretch of Qazigund to Nashri because of “security reasons”, when people complain of restriction of traffic from Pantha Chowk itself.

“Not just trucks, but people traveling with families are also treated ruthlessly,” said Munawar Zaman, a journalist who was traveling to Jammu in a local taxi with his wife and a six-month-old daughter on 1st July.

He had to catch a train to Delhi at 7:30pm on the same day. It took them five hours to reach Lower Munda where they waited for three hours, before being debarred from moving any further.

“They treated us like animals, limiting us to a small patch of land like cages. They were thrashing vehicles and people as if we were fugitives,” said Zaman. He had to return from the place with his family. Even the travel back was also full of miseries.

Not just Kashmiris but the tourists who had come to visit the valley were also treated the same way, he said.

These restrictions are fast derailing the normal pace of life in Kashmir. Now, courier companies complain of delays, which in turn are creating problems for customers as well.

“Our trucks are not allowed to ply,” said a representative of Sahara Agency. “They are stopped now and again without a reason. The couriers which would reach Kashmir in a day, take 3-4 days.”

Besides delayed couriers, perishable items are stuck on the way affecting the business sector badly.

“The trucks carrying fresh vegetables like tomatoes, onions, fruits, eggs, mutton, poultry items were stopped on the Dan Road on Saturday and only yesterday they were allowed to move further,” said Ghulam, a trader at Parimpora Fruit Mandi.

“Now, what are we supposed to do with the rotting eatables we receive due to these growing highway hassles? Feed them to administration?”

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