Srinagar: The train service in Kashmir continues to remain suspended for nine-months, since the announcement of first Covid-19 lockdown, leading to sufferings for many commuters from different districts of Kashmir.
On 18 March, the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir recorded its first Covid-19 positive case of a sixty-seven-year-old woman from Srinagar. The administration of Jammu and Kashmir, on 21 March, announced a lockdown till 31 March to curb the spread of Coronavirus.
All the services were suspended, excluding the essential ones. Public transport and train were also suspended till 31 March. While everything else was restarted, trains didn’t. The suspension of the train in Kashmir has made it difficult for the commuters, who were dependent on the train, to travel.
“It has been really difficult for me to travel through local transport,” said Basit Farooq, a twenty-one-year-old student of civil engineering at the Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipura Pulwama.
Farooq, a resident of Soibugh Budgam, who now travels either in public transport or in his own car, has visited his university many times, as per him, since the suspension of train services. “It was hard to reach on time as there are frequent traffic jams, due to Army convoys, etcetera,” he said.
On 15 December, Jammu and Kashmir Right To Information (RTI) movement issued a statement for resuming the Qazigund-Baramulla train service without any delay as people continue to suffer due to frequent traffic jams on the roads and highways.
In a statement, Raja Muzaffar Bhat, Chairman RTI Movement stated that the train service on the Qazigund Baramulla section was stopped after the announcement of the Covid-19 lockdown on 21 March this year and the service has not been restored to date. He said that people suffer a lot due to the continuous suspension of train services.
“For almost nine months the train service has been suspended in Kashmir valley. People in North, Central, and South Kashmir suffer a lot as they face difficulties traveling on the highways where traffic jams have become a norm plus it costs a lot traveling in cabs and taxis,” he said in a statement.
He further added: “Civilian traffic movement is halted at many places due to the movement of the army and other paramilitary convoys. Train service would have helped the people, but the same is not resumed due to unknown reasons.”
Farooq the student believes that the restoration of train services is extremely important for everyone who is dependent on the train as a means of transport. “When the train services used to run normally, I didn’t have to bother about getting late or any kind of discomfort,” he said.
He has seen the crowd in the trains, which according to him is clear evidence for him to understand that the people of Kashmir prefer train services. Students, employees, and laborers, as per Farooq, are most hit by train service suspension, especially in the harsh winter season. “We are facing much more difficulties in winter due to the very cold atmosphere.”
In Kashmir, the train has not only provided comfort to the commuters but also been cheap means to travel. “It would cost me twenty rupees from Budgam to Awantipora and vice versa in the train,” said Farooq. “And now it almost costs me 300 rupees. Also, it is uncomfortable.”
In the RTI movement’s statement, Muzaffar questioned that if in other states of India, train or metro rail service can be operational with proper COVID-19 protocol then why are people of Kashmir being denied of this right? He appealed to Lieutenant Governor, Manoj Sinha, and Chief Secretary to look into the matter.
Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, on 14 December, held a meeting at Civil Secretariat to steer Light Metro Rail Projects for Jammu and Srinagar. Lt Sinha emphasized speedy implementation and gave the directions for the project to be completed within two years from the date of commencement after being approved.
He added that the Metro Project will not only have an impact on the quality of life in these two cities but will be cost-effective and a surge towards sustainable public transport.
However, local residents cum commuters like Farooq believe that the “railway authorities of Kashmir fail in running the normal train services” even when the conditions are normal. “For example, when a gunfight breaks out anywhere in the valley, the first thing they do is that they suspend the train service,” he said.
According to Farooq, the authorities should maintain uninterrupted train services in Kashmir first then think about new projects.
He doesn’t think there is any specific reason for the authorities to not allowing the train services to resume in Kashmir. “It is due to the negligence of higher departments towards the service.” Farooq lamented.
Meanwhile, the Chief Area Manager Budgam, Saqib Yousuf said the reason for the closure of the trains is COVID-19. “Only reserved trains are working and the trains here are in unreserved category,” he said.
Talking about everything else being resumed in Kashmir while the trains are shut, he said. “I have no idea, I can’t comment on that.”