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Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service completes a year
Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
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April 07, 2006 13:43 IST

The much hyped Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service completed one year despite the devastating earthquake of October 8, 2005, and militant threats.

The ruling Peoples Democratic Party is holding a rally in Srinagar [Images] to celebrate the anniversary of the bus inauguration.

The bus service had to be suspended for four long months following the massive earthquake that hit the two sides of divided Kashmir, which killed over 70,000 people on the Pakistan side while over 1,400 were killed on the Indian side.

The quake had completely destroyed the Aman Setu bridge and the road on the two sides of the bridge as landslides rolled down and an entire mountainside caved in on the Pakistani side of the road.

During its one year on the road after the inaugural service was flagged off in Srinagar by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] on this day last year, 710 passengers have undertaken the trans-border journey.

Of the 710 passengers who used the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road since the inauguration of the bus, 365 locals went across to rejoin their families while 345 persons came to Srinagar from Muzafarrabad and other parts of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The State Road Transport Corporation, which has been incurring heavy losses, and which runs the buses for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad travel, had to add nine Ashoka Leyland buses fitted with stereo music systems, plush upholstery and air-conditioners to cater to passenger needs for the historic travel.

These buses have to be handed over to the security agencies two days ahead of the scheduled travel date for security reasons and sanitisation, which adds to the overheads of the corporation.

"The bus service runs once a fortnight and it remained suspended for four long months. The cost of maintaining the super luxury fleet cannot be met from the fares paid by the passengers. It was for this purpose the bus fleet had to be diversified so as to carrying tourists to different parts of the Valley, besides ferrying local passengers on the Srinagar-Jammu road," said a senior official of the SRTC in Srinagar.

Days before the inauguration a combo of four militant groups -- Al-Nasreen, Al-Arifeen, Farzandane Milat and Save Kashmir Movement -- threatened to attack the bus and its passengers.

Ironically, the entire yard of the SRTC was gutted in a devastating fire that followed a gunbattle in the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar a day before the inauguration of the Karwan-e-Aman bus service.

Despite the fanfare associated with the bus travel, most locals in Srinagar feel the formalities to undertake the travel are very tedious.

"It is always easier to go to Muzaffarabad via the Wagah border in Punjab. Authorities in Srinagar take an awful lot of time to clear your travel documents for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus travel," said Lateef Ahmad, 56, whose uncle lives in Muzaffarabad.

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