THE SITUATION IN the troubled Kashmir valley is turning from bad to worse. The handling of the situation particularly after the imposition of Governor’s rule has left much to be desired.
The Pulwama incident, in which 40 security personnel were martyred, was indeed a very unfortunate incident and our intelligence agencies must share blame for the failure to detect the transportation of huge quantity of explosives. The subsequent strikes by the Air Force on terrorist camps inside Pakistan followed by attempt by Pakistan Air Force to enter Indian jurisdiction has also brought the relations between the two countries to a new low.
The decision of the government and the election commission to go in for elections only for Lok Sabha and not for the state assembly, evidently due to security considerations, has added to the criticism by political parties in the state.
The freedom of movement and travel is guaranteed by the constitution as a fundamental right. Restricting such movement is bound to increase resentment and anger among the common people.
While that may not be a major concern for the common people, the closure of the main Udhampur-Srinagar Highway for two days every week is directly and adversely affecting people and is an ill advised move. The justification given for banning traffic every Sunday and Wednesday is that it was being done keeping in view the large movement of security forces on the national highway. The order also mentions that there is also possibility of fidayin terror attack on security forces convoys. It has therefore decided to ban civilian traffic on the highway for two days per week to enable movement of security forces between Jammu and Srinagar.
Besides the strong reaction from political leaders of the state, the orders have caused huge resentment among the common people. Hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people travel on this vital highway every day. It is the lifeline for the people living in the valley. Their day to day life is directly impacted by the highway which cuts across five districts of the state. People have to travel for jobs, for schools and colleges, for medical treatment, for attending social functions and so many other essential requirements. Just imagine if the Kalka-Shimla Highway was to be closed for two days every week and how would it impact the people in that state.
There is no doubt that concern for the safety of our troops is of paramount importance and all efforts must be made to ensure their safe travel. However there are other ways to do it rather than close the highway. Shortly after the Pulwama terror attack there was a welcome announcement that henceforth security forces would be transported by aircraft to and from Srinagar.
In the changed circumstances of more security forces needed for Lok Sabha elections, such ban could have been imposed for the limited period of troop movement which could have lasted one or two hours. The state has witnessed several elections but never was such ban imposed. In fact the move would also adversely affect campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections. Moreover troop movement has been a routine affair and in the past the highway was closed for an hour or so to let the convoys pass. Significantly just about 50 security personnel vehicles used the highway on the first day of such a ban last Sunday.
Even during the height of militancy over the last 30 years, this kind of step has never been taken. The freedom of movement and travel is guaranteed by the constitution as a fundamental right. Restricting such movement is bound to increase resentment and anger among the common people. It is like punishing the innocents for the Pulwama terror strike and for the militancy which the government claims is being conducted by a small section of people backed by Pakistan.
Government must take back the ill-advised orders which are bound to increase resentment and sense of alienation while at the same time it must take measures to ensure the safety of our security personnel.
Main Pic Courtesy: Indian Express photo by Shuaib Masoodi
(The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.)
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