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India's plans for Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service

By Josy Joseph in New Delhi
January 06, 2004 00:07 IST
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India has drawn up a detailed plan, including immigration checks at the Line of Control, military escort and construction of a new bridge, for the resumption of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service.

The bus service was among the dozen proposals that India suggested in October 2003 for improving people-to-people contacts. The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway was Kashmir's main link to the rest of India before the first Indo-Pak war over Jammu and Kashmir. In 1952, India snapped the road link and developed the Srinagar-Jammu road, improved the air links and changed the face of Kashmir.

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The Centre's plans to resume the road link include repair of a four-kilometre stretch of damaged road in Uri and using an emergency bridge of the army for linking the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road across the Line of Control.

According to government sources, J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed has consented to most of the suggestions. The plans would be conveyed to Pakistan during the proposed bilateral talks on January 19, 2004 to discuss the resumption of the bus service.

India has already made it clear that it is against any identity cards issued by the United Nations or any other external agency. "Documents of both India and Pakistan would be acceptable," the official said. Details of documents, proving domicile, to be accepted from Kashmiris are being worked out.

Initially, the state government wanted its officials to deal with the verification of such documents. However, the Union home ministry convinced the chief minister that Immigration Bureau officials should be entrusted with this task.

Sources said the home ministry wants passengers to undergo immigration checks at a facility to be created at the Line of Control.

The J&K government had suggested that checking of the identities could be done at Uri town, which is in India a few kilometres inside the Line of Control. However, central officials do not think this is practical. If any passenger has to be sent back, it could create logistical problems.

The bus will not halt anywhere between Srinagar and the LoC to pick up or drop passengers. The Centre is reluctant to allow a halt at Baramulla, the biggest town between Srinagar and Uri. Residents of the area will have to go all the way to Srinagar to board the bus. Central officials said a halt at Baramulla is not feasible 'in the present security environment'.

Army personnel will escort the bus till the LoC, an arrangement somewhat similar to that for the Delhi-Lahore bus for which the states en route provide police security.
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Josy Joseph in New Delhi