The chances of re-opening of the Srinagar-Jammu highway which remained closed for the fifth consecutive day are bleak as massive landslides hit the road on Sunday, officials said, even as the local meteorological department predicted another three-day-long spell of snow and rains from Tuesday evening.
“We could not re-open the road today,” inspector general of traffic police Alok Kumar told Kashmir Post.
He said a 150-meter-long massive landslide hit the road at Maroog. The highway was closed Wednesday following landslides triggered by incessant rains and snowfall across Jammu and Kashmir.
Due to the continuous closure of the road—the only surface link of Kashmir with rest of the world—supplies of essentially have run short in the landlocked Valley.
On Friday, major landslides struck the road at Peeda, Sherbibi, Digdole, Maroog, Anokhifall, Pantiyal, Nashri, KhuniNallah and Gangroo, an official said. These landslides, however, were cleared later.
An official source said over 3000 vehicles, including trucks carrying essential commodities, are stranded on the highway for the past more than a week.
Thousands of Kashmir-bound passengers are also stranded in Jammu due to the closure of the highway.
A traffic police official said snow clearance operation was completed from Banihal to Qazigund, but the Ramsoo-Ramban stretch is still dotted with massive debris of landslides.
“The clearance operation however continues on war-footing,” he said, and added until the road clearance operation is fully over, traffic will not be allowed to ply on the 264 km-long highway.
Officials at the national highway authority of India (NHAI) and the Border Roads Organisation—responsible for maintenance of the highway—are working round-the-clock to make the highway traffic-worthy.
However, they said, frequent landslides and shooting stones are occurring at several places between Ramban and Ramsu.
Meanwhile, the local weather department Sunday predicted a three-day spell of rains and snow in Jammu and Kashmir from February 13.
“We are expecting another spell of rains in plains and snowfall over higher reaches of Jammu, Kashmir and parts of Ladakh region from February 13-15,” said Sonam Lotus, director of meteorological department, Srinagar.
He said the spell, however, would be of lower intensity with low snow accumulation than the one seen recently.
“Light snow on western parts of Jammu and Kashmir may commence on 12 February late night or February 13 early morning and will increase in intensity and distribution thereafter. Looks like, this will be followed by another spell around 18 to 19 February,” Lotus said.
He said the onset of winter in J&K this year was ahead of its normal time as the region received very heavy snowfall in the first week of November.
This was followed by frequent strong western disturbances hitting the region in January and February, leading to excess winter precipitation over the state, Lotus said.
Most of the weather models are showing frequent spells of WDs across February, which means more precipitation in coming weeks, the weatherman said.
As the shopkeepers opened their shutters in Srinagar and other areas of the Valley on Sunday, scores of consumers said “there is open loot going on in the markets”.
Groups of customers said shortage of essentials like mutton and chicken was witnessed in most markets, including those in commercial hub of LalChowk and Batamaloo in Srinagar.
However, several consumers who this reporter talked to complained that in absence of mutton and chicken, shopkeepers and vendors selling fish and vegetables are indulging in overpricing and profiteering.
Aamir Majeed, a resident of Hyderpora here, said following the highway closure, rates of vegetables have skyrocketed.
“Checking squads formed by the government authorities are missing from the ground,” he said.
Most chicken shops in Srinagar areas have kept their outlets closed owing to unavailability of stocks.
“As soon trucks laden with chicken reached the markets recently, the entire stock got exhausted soon and was sold at very high prices. I bought chicken for Rs 150 per-kilogram from Hyderporachowk and was told that it is local production,” said Basit Ahmad.
The demand for fish has increased, making fisherwomen along the Amira Kadal (in Srinagar) to dictate terms to the customers, many aggrieved consumers said on Sunday.
A visit to several markets in Srinagar Sunday revealed that vegetables are being sold at much higher prices than those fixed by the government. Tomato was being sold at Rs 60 per-kilogram at Amira Kadal by most of the vendors while Peas were selling at Rs 50 per-kg at Batamaloo.
Similarly, Capsicum was selling at Rs 60 per-kg, Carrots Rs 30 per-kg, PotatosRs 30 per-kg, Onion Rs 30 per-kg, Cauliflower Rs 50 per-kg, Green chilies Rs 100 per-kg, BrinjalRs 70 per-kg, at markets in the city-centreLalChowk and elsewhere.
These rates are much higher than those fixed by the government for these items.
“Every time the highway is closed, shopkeepers increase prices of commodities as per their wishes. Why can’t the government invoke essential commodities Act to keep a check on price hike? I purchased a boiled egg on a roadside stall for Rs 10 which ideally should not cost more than Rs 5,” said GhulamNabi from Pulwama. Even prices of fruits, following the road closure, have skyrocketed.
Director, consumer affairs and public distribution department Muhammad QasimWani said their checking teams have conducted several surprise checks.
“Some people are creating misinformation about the price hike,” he claimed, adding: “I personally visited Batamaloo market on Saturday after I was informed that a layer chicken was being sold at Rs 550 per-kg. I found that it was being sold at Rs 200 per kg.”
“When our checking squads reach a shop, the shopkeepers sell things at notified prices but the moment the teams leave the spot, they indulge in overpricing,” Wani, however, added in the same breath.
He also admitted that due to road closure, shopkeepers are indulging in overpricing. “Joint teams formed by the administration are active in the markets, but people also need to cooperate and inform us about overpricing, if any,” he said.