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The decade-long wait for a visit to PoK

By M I Jehangir in Srinagar
April 08, 2008 13:17 IST
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Many of the 14,600 aspirants, who want to cross the border to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus, will have to wait more than a decade for their wish to come true, if there is no change in the frequency of the existing service.

The fortnightly bus service, which has completed three years of operation, can only ferry 450 passengers a year on an average to the other side of the border.

The service was launched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi on April 8, 2005, amid threats from militants to disrupt it. Only members of divided families separated by the Line of Control can avail the bus service.

Regional passport officer B S Manavalan said that altogether 14,600 applications have been received from those who want to meet their relatives on the other side of the LoC by traveling on the bus.

So far, 1,371 people from the Indian side had traveled to PoK through the bus service, while 1,541 persons from that side had visited Jammu and Kashmir in the past three years, Manavalan said.

During that period, altogether 3,020 persons had crossed over to PoK, while 3,500 persons from that side visited Jammu and Kashmir through all routes, including Srinagar-Muzaffarabad, Poonch-Rawalakot and Teetwal crossing points in the state.

However, many applicants are dejected and have lost hope of taking the bus route due to low frequency of the service and the cumbersome process of verification from authorities on either side of the LoC.

"Going by the current fortnightly frequency of the bus service and the number of persons allowed to cross over, I don't think my mother is going to live long enough to take the ride," Rafiq Ahmad Mir, a local resident, said.

Mir said that his mother, who was hopeful about meeting her brother when the bus was flagged off by the Prime Minister, was too weak to undertake the journey through Wagah.

"I have visited my uncle on the other side of the border during the marriage of his son in 2007 using a Pakistani visa. But the bus ride seems elusive," he added.

Several political parties, including the People's Democratic Party, an ally of the ruling Congress, have appealed to the Centre to increase frequency of the service in order to make it a more meaningful exercise.

They have also sought extension of travel permits to ordinary residents of the state in order to increase the people-to-people contact between the two sides of the border. At present, only members of the divided families can board the bus.

Manavalan said that a proposal to increase the frequency of the bus service was under active consideration of the government at the highest level.

"There is a proposal to make the bus service a weekly affair. It is under consideration at the highest level of the government," he said, adding that a report has been sought in this regard by the government from his office.

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M I Jehangir in Srinagar
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