SRINAGAR: M Younis Naik was among the thousands of passengers who were stranded on Jammu-Srinagar Highway near Udhampur. He shares his agonizing journey from Jammu to Srinagar (about 300 kms) that took him two days and several life-threatening situations.
On March 12, the authorities allowed the traffic from Udhampur to move ahead, “At around 9:00 AM we started from Udhampur towards the valley,” says Naik. “At around 11 AM we reached near Chenani tunnel and the authorities diverted the traffic towards the tunnel cautioning that the road wasn’t safe for movement.”
The traffic was again brought to halt as there had been land-sliding near Panthal. “We confirmed that the land-sliding had taken place at 8:00 in the morning. Why did authorities allow traffic when fresh land sliding had taken place mid-way,” he asks.
When the halted traffic failed to restore for hours, Naik along with a few other passengers got down from the vehicles and began to walk. “It was a minor land-slide. Only 5-10 meters were affected. The police didn’t allow the vehicles but some passengers were allowed to cross the land-slides affected area on foot.”
However, they were not allowed to walk on the highway, “We had to climb up and down the hills and walked almost 7 kilometers. It took us nearly 5 hours to cross the distance which would otherwise be covered within 10-20 minutes,” Naik said.
At that time the authorities had also suspended the local traffic. Only pedestrians were allowed. “In such situation, the authorities didn’t even provide water to the stranded people.”
Naik also alleges that the authorities are running a nexus with the hoteliers at Ramban. “They deliberately allowed the traffic from Udhampur and stopped us near Ramban, where hoteliers were taking advantage of the situation,” Naik alleged. “They charge too much and due share goes to the local police who facilitate things for them.”
Upon reaching Ramsu, Naik and others confronted another land-slide where a local resident had set up a make-do bridge with ladder and ropes. “He charged Rs10 per person who would make use of his make-do bridge to cross the area”, Naik said. “This happened in front of the police official who failed to check on this illegal practice that could cost lives. It was highly unsafe.”
When Naik and others realised that they could not make it to the valley before nightfall, they decided to return to Ramban where thousands of stranded passengers were crying for water. “The shopkeepers would sell a bottle of water for Rs 50 which otherwise costs Rs 20. The hoteliers would charge Rs 3000 – 5000 for a single room. Many of the passengers who could not afford had to spend the night under open sky,” says Naik.
There were many elders, women and children and government had made no arrangements for them.
“A few locals flaunted the vehicles and said that they will help in carrying the baggage of the passengers who want to walk down. But they later charged Rs 100 – 200 for carrying each bag. When we approached the police regarding same, they refused to intervene saying this is your personal matter with them,” Naik says.
Soon Naik along with few others approached the police authorities and asked them to make some arrangement for the stranded pedestrians. “At midnight, they opened a local school for the passengers who were left at God’s mercy earlier,” he says.
After taking rest for a few hours inside the school, they were asked to vacate the school premises. “At around 4:00 AM in the morning, we were asked to vacate the school. It was shivering cold,” says Naik.
Upon reaching Ramsu, Naik thought of taking local passenger vehicles to Banihal. “There were a few cab drivers who would charge Rs 50 per person for a distance of 2 – 3 kms. They were breaking the laws and regulations under their (authority’s) nose.”
As there was no option left and the authorities were doing nothing, they were forced to pay Rs 100 per person from Ramsu to Banihal.
At railway station Banihal, the trains would take the passengers to the valley. “But those were overloaded. Inside the train there was no space even for breathing properly,” he says.
Finally after two days of tiresome travel, Naik reached his home, broken and exhausted.
Authorities have cleared the muck at various spots of the highway to pave way for the stranded traffic. If no new tensions emerge, the road might be open for Jammu to Srinagar traffic on Wednesday.