Kashmir valley with its ten districts has a unique topography and a climate that differentiates it from the other states and regions. These unique features translate into both good and bad for the people. As a popular tourist place, Kashmir valley is provided with vast treasures of the nature in the shape of snow-covered mountains, fresh water bodies and beautiful valleys. But at the same time, being a landlocked region, the valley also sees crises mount in no time. It has become a place for opportunists who take advantage of the situation to exploit the people in the wake of their miseries.
Kashmir is connected with Jammu division by a highway called Srinagar-Jammu highway that remains open mostly in summers but not in winters. Most of the live stock likes mutton and poultry, food including vegetables and fruits are imported into the valley via the Srinagar-Jammu highway. In winter months the highway often remains closed due to recurring landslides, heavy snowfall and avalanches. With the result there is shortage of food products in valley in a matter of days as domestic stock is insufficient to meet the demand of the people. With the shortage of the food products, the vendors and shopkeepers usually sell the commodities at higher prices and even hoard them. The authorities are aware of the situation but remain mute spectators leaving the people here with no choice but to pay the exorbitant prices.
On Wednesday, moderate to heavy snowfall was witnessed in different parts of the Valley. The highway that had just been opened for one-way traffic was closed again following landslides and as precautionary measure against avalanches in the region. On Thursday the highway remained closed for the second day. There was shortage of stock even before the recent snowfall, but with the recent closure of the road the remaining stock is being sold at high prices. Mutton was sold in the city market at Rs 550-600 per kg on Thursday for which the approved rate is Rs 400 per kg. In vegetables, a kilo of onions was sold at Rs 30-35 whose price earlier was Rs 20-25. The eggs were sold at Rs 60 a dozen earlier, but after the snow the shopkeepers were selling them at Rs 72-75 a dozen. All this could have been stopped if the market checking squads were active on the ground. But unfortunately, there is manpower shortage in the Food and Civil Supplies department. An official revealed a team of less than 20 members has to look after the entire city, which is not possible.
People in Kashmir do not have to suffer only because of the closing of the highway. With the air traffic also being suspended frequently due to poor visibility, people go through tough times. When the flights are cancelled, the air fares witness 70 to 80 percent hike. The reason behind the sudden rise in air fare is the profiteering by travel agents associated with the airlines. The travel agents buy bulk of air tickets in advance at nominal price. In the wake of cancellation of flights the sense of urgency force people to buy the air tickets at high prices. A ticket that costs around Rs 4000 normally is sold at around Rs 15000. The situation is such that it is cheaper to travel to foreign destinations than local ones.
The miseries of the people continue even after the roads are reopened. When the roads are opened again the transporters exploit the passengers by charging extra money. For example cab owners usually charge Rs 700-800 from Srinagar to Jammu. But when the roads are reopened they charge Rs 1200-1400. The passengers do not know whom to approach or forward their grievances. To avoid paying more to the cab owners, the passengers take help of the rail services in Kashmir. However, here too they are exploited as reaching the railway station (Banihal) becomes a costly affair. For a stretch of about 150 kms, the normal fare is about Rs 350-450, but taking advantage of the highway closure the cab owners charge from Rs 500-700.
In the case of fuels like kerosene and LPG, the agencies usually hoard the stock and sell it in black to earn more profits. A gas cylinder that usually costs around Rs 800 is sold at Rs 1100-1200. There is another reason for hoarding the LPG cylinders. The usual domestic cylinders (14.8 kgs) are sold to smaller outlets and agencies who refill the smaller cylinders at the rate of Rs 110-120. A cylinder of 5 kgs is refilled with gas for Rs 600.
The administration is aware of all these things, yet it prefers to remain in slumber and make people suffer in the harsh winters. The government can easily check the price rise and inflation in Kashmir during winters, especially when the road and air traffic remain suspended. But things have remained unchanged on the ground. Need of the hour is that the government comes up with the enforcement squads that would strictly monitor the prices and regulate the same.