The Ministry of Home Affairs on Wednesday said the decision to ban movement of civilian traffic on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway was a reasonable one and will ensure safe movement of security forces, PTI reported.

The state government, which is led by Governor Satya Pal Malik, has banned civilian traffic movement between Baramulla and Udhampur on National Highway 44 from 4 am to 5 pm on Sundays and Wednesdays till May 31. The move comes after the February 14 Pulwama attack in the state, in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed.

“The state government of Jammu and Kashmir has already clarified in unambiguous terms, that out of seven days in a week, only reasonable restrictions have been imposed, that too for 12 hours, two days in a week,” said the ministry. “This has been done to ensure safe movement of forces and at the same time minimising the inconvenience to public.”

Rationalising the restriction, the ministry said the total duration is barely 15% of the time – 24 hours out of 168 hours in a week. It added that the restriction is till May 31, effectively meaning only for 15 days.

The ministry said an impression is being created that the national highway has been closed for civilians, which is “farthest from the truth”. “Certain vested interests are raking up this issue with utter disregard to the precious lives of security personnel that could be lost in Pulwama-like attacks and are sensationalising the issue without any consideration for the national security,” the statement read.

The ministry claimed that the restrictions have not caused much inconvenience to the public. “These planned restrictions, which came into force from April 3, have by and large stabilised and are being properly implemented by the state government without any inconvenience to the public at large,” it added.

According to media reports, locals complained of chaos, confusion and inconvenience on the first day of the ban on Sunday. The Jammu-Srinagar-Baramulla National Highway is a key road link between the Kashmir Valley and the rest of the country.

It is a dumb idea, says former Army chief

Meanwhile, former Chief of Army Staff Ved Prakash Malik was the latest to join the bandwagon criticising the ban. Malik on Wednesday called the ban a “dumb idea” that goes against the aim of winning hearts. He added that the decision shows that the security forces were becoming over defensive and not strengthening local police and intelligence.

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah praised Malik for calling it a bad decision. He added that decisions in Jammu and Kashmir were now driven by ego and not logic.

Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti once again urged people to defy the ban. “The restriction is to suppress the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” she added.

J&K High Court gives state, Centre 10 days to respond to plea

On Tuesday, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court asked the state administration and the Centre for a response within 10 days to petitions filed against the restrictions. Petitions have been filed against the government order by bureaucrat-turned-politician Shah Faesal, and leaders from the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party.

A division bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Tashi Rabstan refused to grant an interim stay and scheduled the next hearing for April 19.