Traffic on highway to Kashmir falls by 50 percent

August 22nd, 2008 - 1:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, Aug 22 (IANS) The traffic, including goods supply, on the highway to the Kashmir valley has witnessed a steep fall of more than 50 percent during the last two months as compared to the same period last year, according to official figures. The number of vehicles carrying essential commodities, the figures suggest, has declined drastically in the month of August during which the agitation over the Amarnath land row peaked in Jammu and several Kashmiri truck drivers were allegedly targeted by the rioters.

During July and August this year, about 23,600 vehicles from the Kashmir Valley crossed Lakhanpur check post near the Punjab border - a fall of more than 50 percent during the same months in 2007 when 45,000 vehicles crossed the state border, suggest the figures from the excise and taxation department.

A little over 36,000 vehicles entered the state this year in July as against nearly 73,000 during the same period in 2007.

The figures suggest that during the first three weeks of August, 29,500 vehicles crossed the border from other Indian states against 51,000 during the same period in 2007.

Jammu and Kashmir is currently battling a crisis over the land row that has created unprecedented communal divide in the only Muslim majority state of India.

Unrest has killed at least 40 people, most of them in firings by police and paramilitary troopers, in almost three months since the government first allotted land to the Amarnath shrine board in May and then revoked the decision on July 1 - triggering protests first in Muslim-majority Kashmir and then in Hindu-dominated Jammu.

Some Hindu groups in Jammu protested on the 300 km-long national highway - the only motorable road link to the valley - resulting in the disruption of supply of essential commodities.

Kashmiri traders, backed by separatist groups and mainstream political parties, are alleging that the Jammu protesters have forced an “economic blockade” against Kashmiris.

Meanwhile, miffed by the alleged continuous “economic blockade” by Hindu protesters in Jammu, Kashmir fruit growers have threatened to go on a fast unto death protest.

Alleging that extremist Hindu groups were “endlessly blocking the highway and attacking Kashmiri truck drivers”, the fruit growers of the valley have reiterated their demand of opening trade links with Pakistan-administered Kashmir across the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the region between India and Pakistan.

United Fruit Growers Association president Irfan Hafeez Lone said the Kashmiri fruit growers have been facing huge losses due to what he called “sustained and planned attacks by extremist forces on the fruit-laden trucks from Kashmir”.

“Protesters supported by extremist and anti-Kashmir groups have been attacking our fruit-laden trucks on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway. A Kashmiri driver was killed and dozens were critically wounded,” Lone said.

Apples, pears and cherries and other dry fruits produced in the valley are sold in various Indian markets. More than two million Kashmiris are directly and indirectly involved in the fruit business that is considered the backbone of the valley’s economy.

The Kashmir valley exports nearly 700,000 metric tonnes of fruit every year.

“We have nearly 2,000 truckloads of apples ready this time and if not exported soon they will rot,” Lone said.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil had announced compensation to the affected fruit growers.

“If the economic blockade and atrocities on Kashmiris are not immediately stopped, we will go on fast unto death. We are also planning to sit on a hunger strike on the Srinagar-Muzaffaradad Road,” Lone said.

Javaid Ahmad Bhat, executive member of coordination committee of Kashmir Fruit Growers and Dealers Association, said Kashmir’s fruit industry has incurred an estimated loss of around Rs.4 billion due to the blockade.

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