Two men were found dead inside a mini-truck on Sunday in Banihal along the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, which was opened for Kashmir-bound stranded vehicles after remaining closed for a day due to snowfall, officials said.
The 270-km highway, the only all-weather road linking Kashmir with the rest of the country, was cleared on Sunday afternoon for vehicles going to Kashmir, they said.
Shabir Ahmad Mir, 22, and Majid Gulzar Mir, 30, both residents of Kralpora village in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district, were on their way to Srinagar but left stranded after snowfall around the Jawahar Tunnel forced closure of the highway early on Saturday, the officials said.
They said that the duo was found unconscious inside their vehicle on Sunday morning and rushed to a nearby hospital, where both of them were declared brought dead.
It was not immediately clear whether they died of severe cold or asphyxiation, the official said, adding that preliminary investigation suggests that they had kept the heater of the vehicle on and had also burnt coal in a fire-pot to keep themselves warm during the night.
Following the incident, people, including drivers, staged a violent protest at the Railway Chowk in Banihal, holding the government responsible for the death of the duo.
Senior police and civil officers rushed to the spot along with security personnel and managed to bring the situation under control by dispersing a stone-pelting mob, the officials said.
Protesters said that officials should have allowed stranded vehicles to pass through the recently completed Banihal-Qazigund tunnel.
However, the officials said that the work inside the tunnel is going on and it is not fit for traffic movement yet.
The Jammu-Srinagar highway was cleared of debris from multiple landslides between Nashri and Banihal and snow that had accumulated on both sides of the Jawahar Tunnel, the gateway to the Kashmir Valley, paving the way for resumption of traffic movement, they said.
A traffic department official said subject to fair weather and better road condition, only stranded vehicles would be allowed towards Srinagar on Monday as well.
“No vehicle shall be allowed in the opposite direction,” the official said.