SC SEEKS REPLIES FROM CENTRE, J&K ON HIGHWAY TRAFFIC BAN
23, Apr 2019
Prelims level : Polity and Governance Mains level :
Why in News:
- The Supreme Court on Monday asked responses from the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir restriction of civilian traffic two days a week on the national highway (NH) stretch from Udhampur to Baramulla for movement of security forces.
- The issue is concerning the ban on civilian traffic for two days a week on the 271-km stretch of National Highway 44 between Udhampur in Jammu and Baramulla in Kashmir.
- The State government issued an order on April 3 keeping a view of the Pulwama terror attack, another car bomb attack on security forces convoy at Banihal and movement of forces during the Lok Sabha elections, No civilian traffic movement would be allowed on the NH stretch from 4 a.m. to 5 p.m. twice a week.
- The order said there would be two dedicated days every week Sunday and Wednesday for movement of security forces’ convoy when there would be no civilian traffic on the national highway from Baramulla to Udhampur. The regulation of the vehicular movement on the NH would remain in force till May 31.
- Restriction of civilian traffic movement on the 270 km stretch on the highway directly affects lives of lakhs of people and its indirect economic and social impact is interminable.
- The prohibition on civilian traffic on the highway will have a disastrous impact on the tourism industry and it was a collective punishment for the people of Kashmir.
- Vehicles carrying patients, students, tourists, businessmen and government officials would be affected
A Note on NH 44:
- NH 44 is the lifeline of the State ,it is vital to move goods (including perishable agricultural produce), and along it lie many educational and medical institutions.
- Avoiding the stretch would greatly multiply the time and distance between two points. The government is at pains to emphasise that exceptions are in place for those in medical emergencies, lawyers, doctors, tourists, government employees, students, and so on.
- But such a system of permits and bans militates against the freedom of movement at the heart of a democratic society. To be sure, even before the ban, civilian traffic has not moved on the highway unfettered by checks. Such is the security challenge in J&K.
- But to officially segregate civilian traffic is to put people’s lives at the mercy of a calendar, and to invite confusion about the organising principles of Indian troop deployment.
- The Pulwama attack was a wake-up call about the security drills in place to prevent terrorist strikes. It demanded an appraisal, so that the lives of soldiers and civilians alike can be secured.
- It also positions the administration against the people, as has become clear from the political and legal challenges to the traffic restrictions.
Impact of the Ban: Causing Difficulty for the Common Man
- Facing criticism from both the political class and the civil society, the State government’s ban on civilian traffic twice a week on the 270-km-long national highway in Kashmir is bound to dent the Valley’s horticulture industry and tourism, according to the stakeholders. Planters have stored apple stock in cold storages, which require urgent transportation to various destinations in the country.
- These planters opine that apple crop will be hit badly by the ban. Besides, it will delay the chemical treatment of orchards.
- They take the view that the ban is unjustified and will make small-time farmers suffer. According to an estimation, around ₹300 crore worth of fruit is in cold storages in south Kashmir. However, the ban order issued by the Governor’s administration has barred the movement of civilian vehicles, including trucks, from 4 a.m. to 5 p.m. twice every week.
- The ban will also have serious implications for the upcoming tourist season. Some sections believe that it will only add to the woes of tourists and pilgrims.
- It will result in shortage of essentials.
- Doctors believe that there would be an increase in morbidity and mortality in patients due to delays in patient care.
The Way Forward:
- Petitions have been filed in the J&K High Court arguing that the restrictions violate Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
- It must instead, be a doubling up of the security protocol to make life more secure and hassle-free for civilians and soldiers alike.