20 hours on a bumpy, jumpy Jammu-Srinagar highway
Jammu: Travelling on the strategic Jammu-Srinagar National Highway has become traumatic as the over 300-km journey, which would normally take eight hours, takes more than twice that time these days.
Added to the pitiable road condition is mismanagement by the traffic department. The highway is daily used by over 7,000 heavy and light vehicles.
All essential supplies to the Valley, including food grain, edible oil, meat, poultry, medicines and petroleum products are routed through this highway.
Landslides triggered by rain, blockades by heavy snowfall and sinking of the road even during fair weather have been forcing the authorities to close the highway without notice during the last seven months.
The authorities are still unable to restore two-way traffic on this highway, making travellers fret and fume.
My queries fell on deaf ears as the traffic police on the highway seemed to be more interested in allowing trucks against the announced schedule for the day than answering a car driver who stood along with others asking why heavy vehicles were being allowed from Jammu to Srinagar on a day the authorities had announced one-way traffic from Srinagar to Jammu.
Being halted at Nagrota, Udhampur, Peeda and at least three other places because of endless traffic jams when the temperature outside is over 33 degrees Celsius is no enviable experience.
The callousness of the traffic police was visible as they stand as mute spectators watching how drivers blame one another for double-lining at places where the road is hardly fit for a single vehicle.
I was reminded of a comment made in lighter vein by a senior police officer who said cops usually got recommendatory letters from politicians in the past saying a certain cop should be posted on the Jammu-Srinagar highway because he belonged to a poor family!
Interestingly, army officers deployed for security duties on the highway are seen clearing traffic jams that happen in areas where they are present.
Trucks loaded with goods are parked all over as the drivers take tea and snacks at roadside dhabas caring not a whit for passengers in light motor vehicles waiting for them to clear the road so that they too can pass.
Reaching home at 12 a.m. on Thursday after I started at 5 a.m. on Wednesday was quite traumatic as dust, smoke and fatigue took their toll.
Calculating the speed, I discovered that on an average, I had travelled at less than 20 km per hour.
The authorities have announced the closure of the highway on Friday for maintenance. This is not the first time this has happened during the last fortnight.
The state high court has passed an order asking the state government to repair and restore the highway at “whatever cost” to make it operational for the smooth passage of traffic.
The problem seems to be that none of the VVIPs, including ministers, travel on this highway.
Unless the VVIPs in Jammu and Kashmir suffer the grilling experience, 20 hours to cover 300 km on a treacherous highway would continue to be the plight of the common man.