M A I N   N E W S

J&K highway reopened; 1,200 evacuated
Ehsan Fazili
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, February 12
A hero’s welcome was accorded to Mr Aijaz Ahmad and his two daughters at their house here this afternoon, who returned after being stranded at Banihal on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway for a week. They left for Jammu on Sunday last and since then, had been in touch with anxious family members and relatives from Banihal and Ramsoo through telephone.

They were among at least 1,200 stranded passengers evacuated from Banihal, who returned here today after six days of road blockade on the highway due to heavy snow in the Qazigund-Banihal area and landslides between Banihal and Ramban. Srinagar-bound stranded passengers who were at Ramban were sent back to Jammu, officials here said.

While several other passengers, mostly those close to VIPs, had an early end to the trauma as they were airlifted during the past couple of days, it was difficult for other passengers, waiting for their safe return. Mr Aijaz preferred to return to his home here soon after the announcement of the road having been cleared around the snow-bound Jawahar Tunnel, the only link between the valley and the rest of the world.

His wife, Yasmeen used to burst into tears while responding to the frantic telephone calls from relatives and family friends, enquiring about the welfare of her husband and daughters, studying at a local college here. Mr Aijaz heaved a sigh of relief on returning home after about a week, without having attended to his duties in the Civil Secretariat at Jammu, winter capital of the state.

An official spokesman said here as a result of the drive launched by the police and the Army to evacuate stranded passengers, more than 180 passenger buses and dozens of light vehicles were allowed to pass through Jawahar Tunnel from Banihal, making the road partially operational from Banihal to Srinagar.

Air Force helicopters made a number of attempts to airlift stranded passengers at Ramso, but bad weather hampered the operations.

Members of a high-level committee to oversee the situation were camping at Chanderkote, monitoring the evacuation operations and facilities being provided to the stranded passengers.

Several other passengers, who returned from Banihal, over 100 km from here, today said they had to suffer a lot due to wrong information and assistance by the traffic police here. “I enquired about the road condition from the local helpline on Sunday morning, and was informed that the road was closed due to traffic jams in the Qazigund-Banihal area”, said Mr Bashir Ahmad, another passenger. He added that at the State Road Transport Corporation counter here, they were informed about the road clearance and buses leaving for Jammu. It was only then that he and a couple of his friends decided to leave for Jammu.

Most of the stranded passengers stayed at the local sarai, as the rates charged by hotels were very high. “We are thankful to the residents of Banihal”, said Mr Aijaz Ahmad. He said a local resident, Mr Abdul Waheed, provided free accommodation and food to three families, comprising 10 members.

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