Over 3000 vehicles stranded on highway

Over 3000 vehicles stranded on highway

19 January 2012
The Daily Excelsior
Fayaz Bukhari

Srinagar: The fresh snowfall in Kashmir valley forced the closure of Jammu-Srinagar national highway today cutting off the Valley from the rest of the country and resulting in the deepening of the crisis of the essential commodities in the Valley. In fact the 300-kilometer long Jammu-Srinagar serpentine National Highway passing through the difficult Pir Panchal mountains has not re-opened for fresh traffic since last five days. Kashmir valley witnessed light snowfall during last night and in the morning today while it still was snowing in Banihal till this evening where around 1.6 feet of fresh snow had accumulated near Jawahar Tunnel. Despite clearance of the stranded vehicles, there are over 3000 vehicles, mostly trucks and tankers, stranded on the National Highway from Samba in Jammu to Pantha Chowk in Kashmir valley. However, authorities said there are no passenger vehicles stranded on the highway. The highway was closed for traffic on Sunday after western disturbance over Kashmir caused heavy snowfall in Jawahar Tunnel, Banihal, Shaitani Nallah, Ramsoo, Batote and Patnitop areas of the National Highway and rains in other parts of it. Although the top priority of the authorities had been to clear the highway, on which hundreds of vehicles are stranded, of snow and mudslides but the continuous snowfall at Jawaher Tunnel, Banihal, Shaitani Nallah, Ramsoo areas, Batote and Patnitop area, while heavy rains in Ramban section is hampering the clearance operations. Inspector General of Police Traffic, H K Lohia, told Excelsior that no movement of the fresh traffic will be allowed on the National Highway till it is not cleared of the stranded vehicles. 'The top priority is to move the essential supplies into the Valley and authorities are trying its level best to get in as much supplies as they can', he added. The IGP said that the Banihal and Patnitop areas of the National Highway are slippery and it is difficult even for the trained drivers to ply on in such parts of the highway. The IGP said that under such conditions no passenger vehicle will be allowed to ply on the highway till it is fully safe. 'The lives of the passengers will not be put to risk. If need arises, only the State Road Transport Corporation (SRTC) vehicles will be allowed to ply on the highway till the weather improves', he added. He said that on January 17 in the evening after the highway was cleared, 130 oil and LPG tankers were moved towards Kashmir valley and 145 trucks were allowed to cross the Jawahar Tunnel towards Banihal as they were stranded at critical part of the highway, between Lower Munda and Zig. Mr Lohia said that 550 trucks and tankers were moved from Chanderkote towards Kashmir valley on January 18 in the afternoon. Around 450 trucks and tankers crossed Jawahar Tunnel and Lower Munda by January 18 evening, he said adding that 100 trucks and tankers got stranded near the South of Jawahar Tunnel due to snowfall. The IGP said that today these 100 trucks were cleared despite continuous snowfall and slippery conditions between Jawahar Tunnel and Lower Munda. 'Majority of these trucks and tankers have reached the Lower Munda and we were allowing the movement of these vehicles one by one as the highway on either side of the Jawahar Tunnel is slippery', he added. The IGP said that areas of the highway in Kud, Patnitop, Jawahar Tunnel and Lower Munda are slippery and movement of the vehicles at these places is very difficult. He said that these are unprecedented situations as such a heavy snowfall has occurred after 50 years. 'There is no lack of coordination between various agencies and even in snow and slippery conditions we are clearing the stranded vehicles', he added. The IGP said that there are 50 vehicles stranded at Banihal, 35 at Ramsoo, 50 at Ramban, 300 at Chanderkote, 300 at Kud, 400 between Tamatar Mode and Bani Nalla on the National Highway. He further said that there are hundreds of vehicles stranded on the highway between Bani Nallah and Udhampur on Dhar Road, Samba and between Pantha Chowk and Qazigund. Sources said there is lack of coordination between the Border Roads Organization (BRO) and local administration. Since morning the BRO has cleared the snow from the highway near Jawahar Tunnel only once, the sources added. Due to the overnight snowfall in Kashmir, around 8 inches of snow had accumulated near the Jawahar Tunnel. It was cleared by the BRO in the morning and since then one more feet of snow has accumulated due to continuous snowfall in the area. The sources said that local police had requested the BRO to clear the snow between Jawahar Tunnel and Lower Munda during the day also for the better traffic management. 'But the BRO has refused to clear the snow as they have told the local authorities that it should stop snowing first before they will clear it', the sources added. In the meantime, due to the snowfall in the morning at Srinagar International Airport, the air traffic in the morning remained disrupted. The Public Relations Officer of the Airport Authority of India (AAI) at Srinagar, Mohammad Shafi said that due to the bad weather and poor visibility in the morning, one GoAir flight was cancelled. However, with the improvement of weather, 15 flights operated from the airport, he added. The air traffic was restored on Tuesday after remaining suspended for two days. The airlines operated 55 flights since then to facilitate travel of stranded passengers and tourists in the Valley. It may be mentioned here that for past 5 days no passenger has traveled on the National Highway due to snowfall and closure of the highway. In the meantime, although authorities claimed fresh supplies of essential commodities reached the Valley over the past two days, there is acute shortage of LPG cooking gas, kerosene and fresh vegetables in the markets. Long queues could be seen outside Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) distribution outlets but people had to return empty handed as the distributors maintained that the supplies were still in transit. However, thousands of LPG cylinders have managed to reach Kashmir valley but the crisis are still there as bulk of the LPG is still stranded on the highway. Senior Manager at the Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL), the company that is the biggest distributor of the LPG in Kashmir valley, said that they have managed to get in around 29,000 cylinders of LPG till this evening since yesterday. He said that around 1.11 lakh LPG cylinders are on way and if weather improves bulk of the LPG will be at our plant in Pampore by tomorrow evening. The shortage of essentials in the markets here has led to price escalation. The authorities have formed market checking squads to keep prices under control but the majority of the people are complaining of being fleeced in the market. Meanwhile, despite improvement in day temperature across Kashmir valley the night temperatures across the region remained below freezing point today. In the summer capital, Srinagar, temperature settled at a low of minus 1.4 degrees Celsius, a Met official said here. Srinagar city has witnessed a slight respite from the extreme cold weather since a spell of snowfall led to increase in the minimum temperature, though mercury has remained sub-zero. The night temperature of Gulmarg in North Kashmir plunged to minus 12.6 degrees Celsius, a drop of 0.2 degrees from yesterday. In the South Kashmir's tourist resort of Pahalgam, the minimum temperature was recorded at minus 5.0 degrees Celsius, an increase of 7.2 degrees. The South Kashmir gateway town of Qazigund recorded a low of minus 1.4 degrees Celsius, an increase of 2.6 degrees, while North Kashmir's frontier town of Kupwara recorded a minimum temperature of minus 3.8 degrees Celsius, a drop of 1.4 degrees from yesterday. Leh town in Ladakh region recorded a minimum of minus 16.6 degrees Celsius, an increase of 3.3 degrees from yesterday, the official said. The minimum temperature in Kargil, slipped to a low of minus 18.0 degrees Celsius, increase of one degree from yesterday.