Economic blockade of Kashmir Valley a myth: Jammu leaders, army

August 20th, 2008 - 10:36 am ICT by IANS  

Jammu/Srinagar, Aug 20 (IANS) Was there an economic blockade of Kashmir Valley as some of its leaders are alleging? There are conflicting stands on “economic blockade” of the Valley, with Jammu’s traders terming it a “blatant lie” bandied by separatists to whip up passions while the authorities in the Valley admit there were “some disruptions” in supplies.

“Supplies were disrupted to the entire Jammu and Kashmir, just not the Valley,” maintains Ram Sahai, president of Jammu’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce. “The state has 22 districts, of which the 10 in Jammu and two in the Ladakh region were equally affected,” Sahai says.

According to a trader, who did not want to be named, the Kashmiri leadership, whether mainstream or separatists, was “distorting facts about the supplies” as they did in the case of the Amarnath land issue.

He cited official data recorded at the Lakhanpur toll post in Kathua district of Jammu through which all trucks entering the state have to pass. More than 35,000 trucks carrying supplies reached the Kashmir Valley since July 1, according to the data recorded at the Lakhanpur post - the gateway to Jammu and Kashmir.

All essential commodities are imported into the state, from wheat, rice to raw material for industries. Pilgrims to Vaishno Devi and tourists, particularly to the Valley, also move through Lakhanpur.

However, an official spokesman in the Kashmir Valley said that from July 30 to Aug 18, “around 2,800 trucks carrying essential commodities like fuel and medicine have come to the valley.

“Around 3,300 fruit and vegetable laden trucks left the Valley during the same period for different parts of north India,” the official added.

He also acknowledged there was “some disruption on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway. Otherwise we used to get 1,000 trucks per day going to the Valley”.

A trader in Jammu said that during street demonstrations in July to protest the revocation of the land transfer to the Amarnath shrine board, protesters in Jammu had stoned all passing vehicles without making any distinction whether they were Jammu-bound, headed for the Valley or carrying supplies to the cold desert region of Ladakh.

“My vehicle was stoned and I saved myself by ducking,” said Amrit Lal, a truck driver of Jammu, who was ferrying sheep to the Valley. “The protesters were not sparing anyone.”

According to another driver, things worsened when some of the trucks made it to the Valley. Many truck drivers were beaten by mobs in south Kashmir in the last week of July. All the truck drivers headed for the valley then happened to be from Punjab. When word of the beatings reached Punjab, people there came out in protest on the highway linking Jammu and Kashmir to Punjab.

“We were carrying supplies for them and they beat us up,” Narinder Singh, a driver belonging to Gurdaspur, Punjab, had told reporters July 28 on his way back to Punjab.

“Even now if they call it an economic blockade and fuel the fire in Kashmir on a non-issue, this is the most unfortunate thing to happen,” said Bali Bhagat, general secretary of the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The truckers have been the ones to lose in the violence.

Yash Pal Gupta, a trader of Kanak Mandi, a major trading centre in Jammu, says the roads are open and trucks are headed towards the Valley.

The army, paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and police have been deployed at sensitive places along the highway to ensure that it is not blocked by protesters.

The Indian Army is firm on keeping the highway open. “Anybody disrupting the traffic would be severely dealt with,” Lt. Gen. Vinay Sharma, whose troops are responsible for guarding the borders and counter-insurgency operations from Pathankot, Punjab, to Jammu, said at a press conference a few days ago. “There is no economic blockade; there never was one.”

Commenting on economic blockade, separatist leader Sajjad Ghani Lone said: “The world has been seeing and reporting the economic blockade enforced by the extremist forces in Jammu against the Valley people. It was their frustrations and they cannot deny what is the writing on the wall.”

The Jammu agitation had started on July 1, the day the then Ghulam Nabi Azad government revoked the order transferring land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board following massive street protests in the Valley. The Peoples Democratic Party had also withdrawn support to the government on the issue.

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