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As highway remains blocked, Srinagar suffers

By Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
March 01, 2007 16:58 IST
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Kashmiris returning to Srinagar from Jammu by air carry unusual baggage these days - fresh vegetables, mutton and dressed chicken.

The strange situation is a result of severe shortages of these commodities in the valley, following the closure of Kashmir's only road link, the Jammu-Srinagar national highway, for the ninth day running on Thursday.

"I am carrying vegetables, some dressed chicken and mutton for my daughter who has delivered a baby two days ago. There were pressing telephone calls from my home in Srinagar to bring these from Jammu. I had to leave some of my personal baggage with a friend to accommodate all them," said Arshad Ahmed, a businessman.

And with reports that the highway might remain closed for at least another three to four days, the situation is likely to worsen.

As there is no definite date coming up for the opening of the road, the situation has become panicky in Srinagar, despite assurances by the state administration of adequate stocks in the Valley.

The road stretch at Panthal, almost midway between the states two capitals of Srinagar and Jammu has been causing trouble since last year, because of mudslides and falling boulders on the slight hint of wet weather.

The trouble spot has not only caused disruptions in the smooth running of traffic but has also caused accidents besides giving creeps to the beacon authorities charged with the task of maintaining the highway.

Milk, mutton, poultry, eggs and vegetables have started disappearing from the markets and in many cases the unscrupulous traders are quoting unaffordable prices for these in Srinagar city.

"After several hours of search, I managed to get a kilogram of mutton at Rs 230," said Mushtaq Ahmad of downtown Srinagar. The normal rates for mutton in the valley are Rs 150 per kilogram.

"We have reports of some unscrupulous traders indulging in unfair trading and I called representatives of traders who assured me all cooperation to keep the markets under control," said Basharat Ahmad Dhar, the Kashmir Divisional Commissioner.

Dhar also said the administration had moved out special market checking squads to check the unfair trading practices.

He, however, said there was no shortage of petrol, diesel and kerosene anywhere in the Valley - "I have spoken to the authorities of the oil companies here and they have informed me that there are sufficient stocks of petrol, diesel and kerosene and these are being supplied as usual to the consumers at various retail outlets in the Valley."

Reports from Panthal near Ramban in the Jammu region where an entire stretch of the road has slipped away indicated that the engineers of the Border Roads Organization had mobilised sufficient men and machines to reconstruct the slipped away section of the road.

"The road would take around three to four days before it is completely restored," said an engineer of the BRO.

The prolonged closure of the road spawned massive demonstrations by thousands of Srinagar- bound passengers in Jammu shaking the government into arranging free air force flights between Jammu and Srinagar on Wednesday and

The two-day operation of the free flights carried over 1000 on day one. "Our effort is to airlift the entire lot of the stranded people from both Jammu as well as Srinagar if weather permits," a senior state government officer said.

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Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar