Introduction to KashmirForum.org Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

Please send your personal suggestions or relevant news clips by clicking here and these will be posted at the earliest opportunity. Differing points of view are welcome and encouraged. Thank you.

Vijay Sazawal

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Hero By Any Calling


Pervez writes about a remarkable and a resilient Kashmiri young man named Javed Tak, rendered disable in a militant attack, who fights for the rights and welfare of physically challenged people in Kashmir

(Mr. Pervez Majeed Lone, 37, was born in Ashpora, a hamlet located in Handwara Tehsil in the Kupwara District. His primary schooling took place in government schools in his hometown, and he finished his higher secondary education from the Government Higher Secondary School, Kupwara. He graduated from the University of Kashmir as a Continuing Education student with Sociology, Philosophy and English Literature as major subjects. In 2004, he completed his Master's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Kashmir. He has worked in various local Urdu journals (Chattan, Pukar) and the Radio Kashmir (Sheharbeen) before joining the Sahara Time, a weekly national news magazine from the Sahara Group. He is passionate about the Urdu language and poetry, and loves to listen to music, read English literature and traveling.)

Standing on His Own Feet

He was like any other enthusiastic boy of the times; keen on studies while nurturing a dream to become a lawyer. But a fatal attack by militants crushed his body, yet not the dreams. Today Javed Ahmad Tak is an embodiment of determination, courage and hardwork. He overcame the physical trauma by his sheer imagination and grit, and changed not only his own life, but many of his ilks around.

On 21st March 1996, Javed, then 21 and a BSc final year student was fatally injured in midnight attack by militant in his uncle’s house. His spinal cord, liver, kidney, pancreas, spleen and intestine got injured. After multiple surgeries his right kidney, spleen, a part of the liver and intestines were removed while as a spinal fixation was done. “It is a miracle I am alive,” Javed says as he reminisces that gory night. 

Sixteen years after that bloody episode, Javed has come a long way of hard work and preservation. “After remaining gloomy for sometime, two episodes changed gave me impetus to stand up and work,” he says: “When a reputed orthopaedic surgeon said my injury is so grievous that it will take years to heal, and another surgeon specialist said, ‘God helps those who help themselves,’ I took my life in my hands and started to live and make the most of my present,” he maintains.

Despite being wheel-chair bound with hundred percent disabilities, Javed qualified a number of academic and professional courses including masters in social work and certificate course in human rights from The University of Kashmir. He took up cause of the disable and various social service initiatives and today he is known for his charity work, social advocacy and community work in Kashmir. Appalled by the pathetic state of disable in Kashmir, Javed formed “Humanity Welfare Organization Helpline (HWOHL)” an NGO working for the rights of persons with disabilities in the Valley. Besides HWOHL has established a school for the poor and differently-abled children where physiotherapy, speech therapy and special education is provided to the 75 enrolled students.

He is active as a defender of the rights of disable and has filed several PILs and suits in J&K High Court and State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) which resulted in immense relief to disable. His PIL in J&K High Court resulted in formulation of Draft policy for the persons with disabilities in Jammu and Kashmir. With his efforts various government institutions including office of Divisional Commissioner Kashmir office, Raj Bhawan Srinagar and The University of Kashmir established ramps for the disable employees and visitors.

 Javed has received nearly a dozen awards and honours for his social service including national award for working for “Welfare of Persons with Disabilities in2004 and J&K State Award for Empowerment and upliftment of Disabled People in2007. He was also part of the youth delegation to China under “Understanding and friendship program” in 2007.

“Today, I consider myself blessed for what happened to me. Despite my disability I have found a place in society at the academic and professional level. I am privileged to help the needy and disables like me,” he says with all humility and confidence.

(This story was originally published by New Delhi's English weekly "Sahara Time" in its August 2012 edition)

Editor's Note: You can read about Mr. Javed Tak elsewhere on this Blog.

An Era Gone For Good


Fazili laments about the times and recall glory days that will never return

(Er. Mohammad Ashraf Fazili, 69, was born in Srinagar. He received his early schooling from the Government Middle School, Nowhatta, Srinagar, and from M.P. High School, Baghi Dilawar Khan in Srinagar. Mr. Fazili completed his F.Sc. from the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar, and received his Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from the Annamalai University with honours grade. He joined the J&K government service upon graduation and steadily rose up the ranks to the position of Chief Engineer at his retirement. He managed a number of important infrastructure projects during his government service, including the Model Town Chrar-i-Sharif, Lower Jhelum Hydro Electric Project, Solid Waste Disposal Scheme Srinagar City, Circular Road Project Srinagar City, etc. He has numerous publications to his credit, including Srinagar the Sun City, Our Ancestors and Saints of Kashmir, etc., which were presented in seminar and symposia. He writes for various journals and is presently working on the Jhelum Valley Civilization.) 

MORAL BANKRUPTCY

Ministers, Bureaucrats, Preachers etc. found in the same dock. Every now and then some kind of scandal is reported in the media either from the quarters of the top brass like ministers-(the so-called elected but not selected public representatives) or the top bureaucrats – (the educated elite of the society) or the common hooligans. Although the treatment to this disease prevailing among human beings has been devised by many doctors of morality over the years, yet the same seems to be failing now-a-days, for which root cause needs to be found and treated permanently; instead of slip-shod methods or spot treatments, used by the present set-up at the helm.

There is a lacuna in our education system, where children in very early age are loaded with heavy bags of books exceeding their own weight, but not carrying a single book on real moral education. Before the introduction of modern system of education, the child was sent to learn Quran, Shaikh Sadi’s Karima-Nami Haq and then Gulistan Bostan, Ikhlaq-i-Mohsini, which are based on stories with a moral end, and the same would remain inscribed in the child’s mind throughout his life. Later on, even the subject of Dinyat- taught till 5th primary was also removed from the curriculum with sinister designs. It appears that Iblis has succeeded in his mission in distracting the people from their moral path. All this is responsible for the present day moral bankruptcy that we face at the level of ministers supposed to be the law-makers, but functioning as law-breakers and also at the level of bureaucrats reared in a system devoid of moral education.

In earlier days, the common man would inculcate fear of punishment of judgment-day through the sermons of Imams on Friday prayers, which too has lost its effect as many religious heads too have reportedly indulged in immoral activities. The respect and fear of elders too has been lost. The process of the building of morals starts from mother’s lap, so first of all, the parents have to set up an example- a role model, for the child to follow; next the proper moral education needs to be introduced in the curricula for all the classes; besides dire legal punishments need to be imposed in public to the culprits to serve as a deter for others. The present situation has been predicted by Shaikh-ul-Alam about eight centuries back as:

 "Ether is khan hendhar grezan-gold braid aasi property wandahar raj" i.e. The rivers will dry up and the polluted drains will gush forth; that time the apes shall be the rulers.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Slow Death of a Yet Another Water Body in Kashmir


Majeed says that a vast water body once considered as the pride of the city for its crystal clear waters is about to perish

(Dr. Abdul Majeed Kak, 62, was born and in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He received his primary education from the Government Middle School in Nowhatta and his secondary school education from Bagi Dilawar Khan Higher Secondary School in Fateh Kadal. He completed his college education at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. In 1977 he was the first candidate from the University of Kashmir to be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of the Government of India for a doctoral research scholarship at the university leading to a Ph.D. in Botany in 1980. He is currently the Research Coordinator in the Department of Botany at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. Dr. Kak has over 35 years of teaching experience and research experience of over 25 years. He has received numerous research awards resulting in publication of 70 research papers and has authored two books on Botany. He completed a novelty ethno-botanical museum with about 600 antique and extinct wooden artifacts of Kashmir that has been created in the Islamia College of Science and Commerce (ICSC), a project supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi. Presently the Ministry of Environment and Foresta of the Government of India, New Delhi, has awarded him a major prestigious research project along with a team of four highly qualified scholars that are working on the impact of anthropogenic activities on Himalayan lakes.)

Khushal Sar: Breathing its Last!

Khushal Sar is within Shehri Khas between Hawal and Zadibal Just 5 km away from Srinagar city.It is demarcated from Gill Sar (another ailing water body) near Gill Kadal. Once Khushal Sar stretched up to Zoonimar, Aali Masjid and was linked up with Anchar Lake. Unfortunately due to negligence of State government and the concerned authorities it has squeezed to its half and the practice is still continued on war footing without any panic or terror. The name of the lake itself refers to most healthy, prismatic, glittering, lustrous and prosperous water body. This vast, alive and thriving water body was considered as the pride of the city for its limpid, crystal clear waters, without contamination and effluents, used as portable water by the locals both for drinking and other domestic purposes. This healthy and flourishing lake was famous for its scenic beauty, cool breeze and picturesque. Lake products were delicious, so tasty and mouthwatering. Fish, Nadru and other lake products were produced in huge quantity. Boats, Shikaras and house boats were present. People both young and adult bathed and swam in the lake for the whole day both in summer and in winter. There used to be great activities in this lake like what we see in present days in the famous Dal Lake. Zadibal Nadru, was highly preferred by the locals. Besides fish and fodder along with other lake products were palatable. The lake was deep and pellucid with no sign of eutrophication or excess weeds. Population surrounding the lake was meager, till Dr. Ali Jan road was constructed by the State Government, obliterating Khushal Sar, erasing most of its part from Idgah and Aali Masjid upto Bahlachipora, Soura side. This was a devastating step which obliterated the overall shape and structure of the lake. Locals started grabbing land from all sides because of the approachable road for filling water and depositing construction material. Constructions on grabbed land started on war footing basis due to lack of surveillance by the concerned authorities and the state government. Sewage and trash from the fast growing population around the lake and innumerable constructions wreaked havoc. All effluents and garbage were directly dumped in it. Polythene and garbage chocked it entirely. Floating and decomposing carcasses are seen everywhere emitting unpleasant odour. This has made the lake a complete cesspool. Noxious weeds Azolla and Alligator grasses are abundantly growing in thick layers, suffocating and eradicating underwater life including fish.

Surrounding areas of the lake like Zadibal, Sazagari pora, Aali Masjid, Saidapora, Donipora, Tengpora, Zoonimar, Mandibal, Batakpore are becoming densely populated and whole of sewage is directly poured in it. Nallah Amir Khan coming from Nigeen and Dal lakes also joins Khushal Sar near Nallabal, supplementing it with all the effluents of its journey through Pukhribal area. Nallah Aamir Khan has also been squeezed from both sides and is reduced to a narrow passage, which too is completely chocked with thick layers of noxious weeds that hinder the free movement of water in these interconnected lakes. It is on record, that tourists in houseboats from Dal and Nageen lakes used to scull through Nalla Aamir Khan into Anchar Lake, via Khushal sar. Today even a small ordinary boat cannot pass through it.

Khushal Sar is a neglected lake without any supervision by the government, neither there is any authority that owns it. It is under the supervision of SMC along with Anchar Lake and Gill Sar Lake. They are totally ignorant about the methods of conservation and maintenance of these water bodies. It is a burden on their shoulders and they are unable to take care of it, with the result influential and wealthy locals are busy in grabbing the water by filling it for the construction of factories, other establishments and also for construction of residential houses resulting in the shrinkage and extinction of this glorious water body. Some locals allege that there is a mutual understanding between some SMC officials and the land grabbers, saying that in the broad day light people fill the lake and are fearlessly constructing houses. No restriction or any action has been initiated against them. The government is sleeping, it should initiate high level enquiry on the number of constructions that have come up around this lake illegally. Normally it is not possible for anyone to undertake construction without getting building permission from the SMC.

Formation of floating islands both from the peripheries and in the centre is one of the severe problems that have totally changed its shape. Observing such a worst and deteriorated condition while exploring the lake, one gets severely suffocated and hurt to see its pathetic condition and irritating smell. SMC officials were apprised many a times about the extinctive condition of this beautiful lake but no attention was paid. Simply vague promises were made that a severe action will be taken against the culprits and the officials involved. Unfortunately no official has ever visited nor has any action been taken. Instead influential people are busy in covering the water at a swift pace. The lake is being filled throughout day and night from Eidgah to Bolachipora, Soura by encroachers while the State Government despite being aware of what is happening around is not willing to go against the bureaucrats who are helping these encroachers to fill this urban lake. Encroachers with the help of Municipality officials have constructed Palaceous houses, shops, automobile workshops, and saw mills.

Government’s slack approach has not only encouraged encroachers but has also given birth to numerous questions regarding the protection of water bodies in the valley. Khushal Sar despite being desiccated is still a wonderful tourist destination. Regarding the deteriorated condition of the lake it seems that government is not at all interested in the safeguard of these precious water bodies. More than two kilometer length of the lake from Eidgah to Bolachipora has been totally grabbed I don’t know as to why the authorities despite being aware of everything are not reacting firmly. On the one hand the government’s promises and claims that water bodies are to be saved at any cost while on the other hand encroachers with the help of corrupt bureaucrats are looting these precious water assets.

Gulistan-e-Banat


While most of the thousands of girl orphans of Kashmir militancy live a wretched life, Pervez reports of an orphanage in Handwara, town of border district Kupwara, that has given shelter and hope to some

(Mr. Pervez Majeed Lone, 36, was born in Ashpora, a hamlet located in Handwara Tehsil in the Kupwara District. His primary schooling took place in government schools in his hometown, and he finished his higher secondary education from the Government Higher Secondary School, Kupwara. He graduated from the University of Kashmir as a Continuing Education student with Sociology, Philosophy and English Literature as major subjects. In 2004, he completed his Master's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Kashmir. He has worked in various local Urdu journals (Chattan, Pukar) and the Radio Kashmir (Sheharbeen) before joining the Sahara Time, a weekly national news magazine from the Sahara Group. He is passionate about the Urdu language and poetry, and loves to listen to music, read English literature and traveling. The following article has appeared previously in the Sahara Time, New Delhi.) 

Blooming Garden of Daughters

The babbling and laughter inside this building is actually a grim reminder of the lost childhood of the orphans of conflict in Kashmir. Had there not been Gulistan-e-Banat (garden of daughters), these forty odd small girls too would have been living in abject neglect like thousands of other orphans have to. But for this orphanage, these kids have a reason to laugh and rejoice, for it has provided them not only shelter and food, but education and a hopeful future too.

Situated in a residential colony of Handwara town in North Kashmir’s border district Kupwara , this orphanage for the girls is run by Jammu & Kashmir Yateem Trust (JKYT), a respected charitable organisation founded in 1973. JKYT could establish this badly-needed orphanage here only because of the eagerness and selfless service of the organisation’s head of the Handwara unit, Master Ghulam Ahmad Kumar, who is the administrator of Gulistan-e-Banat.

JKYT decided to establish an orphanage for girls in Kupwara district given the fact that this border district bore the most brunt of the conflict in Kashmir. Known as the “gateway of militancy,” this backward and majorly hilly district has more than four thousand orphans, most of whom live a wretched life. Once a hotbed of militancy, the fighting between security forces and militants, like elsewhere in Kashmir, robbed thousands of children of their childhood innocence. Most of this army of orphans are those children whose fathers were killed either by security forces or militants. While some were militants and got killed in gunfights with security forces, or disappeared in their custody, many fell to the bullets of militants for being the ‘informers of the enemy.’

JKYT runs a number of orphanages in the state, only three among them being exclusively for the girls. The other two are in Tral and Chadoora area of Pulwama and Budgam districts respectively. When the organisation decided to built an orphanage for girls in Kupwara district, they chose Handwara town for the purpose, because Kumar was enthusiastic to shoulder the responsibility. After around one year’s of construction, Gulistan-e-Banat started admissions in May 2005. Beginning with ten admissions, the orphanage shelters forty girls at this time. They are as young as four-year-olds and hail from various parts of the district, as far as Karnah near the Line of Control. Even one Farhat is from the neighbouring district of Bandipore.

Kumar says Gulistan-e-Banat is an effort of JKYT to draw society’s attention towards the plight of orphans particularly the girls. “There are thousands of such orphan girls living a wretched life. This orphanage is just a sample of this ill-fated lot,” he laments. “We have set up this orphanage to motivate our people to raise upto the occasion and care for the orphans. If relatives and society perform their duty of taking care of orphans, then we don’t need to have orphanages. They can’t get that love and warmth of families in orphanages,” he maintains adding, “we have just lit a lamp of hope for these orphaned girls, this should not be an end but a beginning.”

Abode of Hope

For these orphaned girls, Gulistan-e-Banat is their world. They eat and sleep here, play and jostle in its premises. There is no dad and mom to cuddle them or sing them a lullaby. Whether they have any complaint or a demand, they do it with Abbajan, as Kumar is being lovingly called by them. Kumar says, “Our focus here is on their shelter, upbringing and education; our job would have been easier if we could a school of our own.” Gulistan-e-Banat is a model boarding and lodging facility for girls. The two-storey building has 17 rooms and seven bathrooms. The kitchen menu is like any standard boarding school, timetable is being strictly followed, rooms and surroundings are neat and clean, and everything is in order despite the fact that the inmates are too young to follow rules and schedules. Five young women have been appointed to serve as cooks and wardens and watch and ward staff. “For us this is more worship than a mere job,” they said. They not only cook, wash and care for the children, but also help them in their studies. Not only the rearing but education of kids is a focus of Gulistan-e-Banat. All the girls go to schools and study like any other child of the town. Kumar has ensured their quality education by admitting them in more than dozen private schools of the Handwara town. “The schools are kind enough not to charge fees from us, however we provide all other facilities like books and uniform to the students,” Kumar said. After their return from schools, the girls do their homework or play at their common home, Gulistan-e-Banat. The orphanage has a computer lab for the children, having eight computers. Worrying that these girls should not lag behind in computer education, Kumar was anxious for the computer lab. However, Zahoor Ahmad Sofi, a Chandigarh-based corporate professional belonging to Handwara town, donated six computers to help orphanage establish a computer lab. Shared tragedy The inmates of Gulistan-e-Banat are victims of different guns, different ideologies. But they share a common tragedy, common pain of losing the love and compassion of their parents. Their parents might have fought and killed each other, but here their wards are living under a single roof. These tiny tots are too small to understand the intricacies of politics. A peep inside their lives gives a hint of what they have went through.

Asiya, 13, lost her both parents in the turmoil. Her father Ghulam Hassan Magray, a fruit vendor died when army cordoned his house and the frightened Magray went to second storey and fell down to death in 2003. Years later, her mother was gunned down by militants. She is one of the six orphaned children of the deceased couple. Its her sixth year at Gulistan-e-Banat. There is nobody except Abbajan she identifies himself with. Saima studying in 3rd standard has not seen her father. He was allegedly subjected to enforced disappearance by security forces eight years ago. Later her mother too passed away. She is in this orphanage since five years. “Dadi visits me here sometimes,” she said.

Safeena’s father Mushtaq Ahmad Mir of Kralgund village was a militant and killed in a gunfight with militants. Her mother abandoned her three children and remarried in a nearby village. Safeena was sent to this orphanage while as her elder siblings, brother and sister live with grandparents. She doesn’t remember if she has ever seen her father. “Ma ne suna voh shaheed hua hai ( I have heard he was martyred),” this is all she knows about her father. And she has a faint memory of seeing her mother, because she abandoned her when Safeena was an infant. Studying in 6th standard, she is a bright student. In the last examination she stood second in her class with 94.9 percent marks. “Do you go to home?” She chuckles, “twice a year.” Azra’s father Abdul Ahad Mir was an Intelligence Bureau operative and mysteriously went missing in 2006 from Kupwara town. Some people of his village Trehgam say he was sent across LoC on some ‘mission,’ arrested there and returned Kashmir after his release. Prevalent speculation in his village is that he was ‘disappeared’ by his employers. Mir has three children, one son and two daughters. Azra is one of the first inmates of Gulistan-e-Banat.

The orphanage admits other girls too who are orphaned for non-conflict situations. Shaista Jan of Lach Mawer village, lost her father Ghulam Mohi-u Din War some years back. She is youngest of War’s three daughters. Her mother occasionally visits her. “She is a loyal of this institution. Last time she brought hand-made rotis for us,” Kumar said. Two sisters of Karnah area (near the Line of Control), Yasmeen and Kulsoom lost their father in the devastating earthquake of 2005. Later mother died to asthma. There was nobody to care for them and a relative brought them to Gulistan-e-Banat. Infact, requests for new admissions continue. Kumar shows two four-year-olds, Shabnam and Asmat, both hailing from Yamrad Rajwar village. They have lost both parents due to natural deaths. They are the fresh entrants to the orphanage, he said. (Box Items)

Excellence in Studies

These innocent victims of violence have proved that if provided the requisite care and opportunities, they can prove their mettle. Overcoming their trauma of losing the parents, they have excelled in their studies. The latest results of various classes speak about their hard work and intelligence. Almost all of them have secured not less than 70 percent marks. Ulfat Mukhtar of 2nd standard topped in her school with 99.8 percent marks. Shaheena Raheem (3rd standard) and Ulfat Manzoor (4th standard) topped their classes securing 80.85 and 96.27 percent marks respectively. Enthused by the girls’ academic performance, Kumar has a dream, “I wish we had resources to establish our own school!”

Callous Representatives

Handwara is known for hot politics. Be it the mainstream or separatist politics, both camps have ‘famous’ leaders and ‘ardent’ followers from here. Though both camps claim to represent and fight for the people, no leader has been generous towards Gulistan-e-Banat. Local MLA Muhammad Ramzan Chowdhry, a two time minister and senior leader of ruling National Conference, whose palatial house is less than half a kilometre away, has never visited the orphanage. However, he has once sent some grocery items to it. Sharif-din Shariq, who has been elected to Parliament the third time in 2009, too has never visited the orphanage of his hometown. “I even invited him once but still he didn’t come here,” rues Kumar. Separatist leaders, the brother duo Sajjad Lone and Bilal Lone have once visited the orphanage separately. “Sajjad provided some help during its construction, while as Bilal had promised to provide a generator set during a visit here a year back, but till date we have not heard from him,” Kumar said.

The Saviour

Master Ghulam Ahmad Kumar epitomises philanthropy. He is associated with JKYT since 1975, the days of its founder late Tak Zainagiri. A resident of Wadipora Rajwar, he retired as vice-principal of Govt Boys Higher Secondary School Handwara in 1998. After retirement, he devoted himself as a full-time worker of JKYT. He is one of the seven permanent trustees of JKYT, and like his colleagues doesn’t receive any remuneration for his work. As administrator of Gulistan-e-Banat, he has to remain available round the clock. “I have to reach here even during night time in case anyone falls ill,” he said and added, “but this is my garden and am happy to see it blossom.” His elder daughter Fareeda Shouq assists her father in his work and the girls call her Behanji. Kumar is known as a teacher and has received “Best Teacher award” from the government in 1978. Since past 28 years, he is chairman of a public school owned by people of his village. “Kumar sahib is an inspiration for self-less and charitable service,” says Abdul Majid Banday of Handwara.

 (NOTE: This story was published as a special report in 2011 in Sahara Time, Delhi.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Leaving Legacy of a Wasteland


Majeed is convinced that our coming generations will soon crave for a drop of water and curse us (the present generation) when they locate our vast natural resources of water only in the books and photographs

(Dr. Abdul Majeed Kak, 62, was born and in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He received his primary education from the Government Middle School in Nowhatta and his secondary school education from Bagi Dilawar Khan Higher Secondary School in Fateh Kadal. He completed his college education at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. In 1977 he was the first candidate from the University of Kashmir to be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of the Government of India for a doctoral research scholarship at the university leading to a Ph.D. in Botany in 1980. He is currently the Research Coordinator in the Department of Botany at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. Dr. Kak has over 35 years of teaching experience and research experience of over 25 years. He has received numerous research awards resulting in publication of 70 research papers and has authored two books on Botany. He completed a novelty ethno-botanical museum with about 600 antique and extinct wooden artifacts of Kashmir that has been created in the Islamia College of Science and Commerce (ICSC), a project supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi. Presently the Ministry of Environment and Foresta of the Government of India, New Delhi, has awarded him a major prestigious research project along with a team of four highly qualified scholars that are working on the impact of anthropogenic activities on Himalayan lakes.)

The Destruction of Gill Sar

One amongst many of the neglected and endangered urban lakes, Gill Sar is just 5 Km away from Srinagar city, in between Soura and Nalabal Nowshehra. Lake “Gill Sar” was once rich in Lotus cultivation (Nelumbium nuciferum) adorning the entire lake. King Zain ul Abidin (Badshah) named this scenic lake as Gul Sar (A lake with numerous lotus flowers; Gul is a Persian name for flowers). This name later on got gradually distorted to “Gill Sar” by illiterate boat men and locals. Lake products like Nadur and fish were in abundance, sustaining whole populations of boatmen. Nudur (lotus rhizome) of this magnificent lake was considered among delicacies. Locally its fruit is called as Pambach, flowers as Pumposh, leaf as Khilwathur and rhizome (vegetative part) which is edible is called as Nadur (drum stick).

Recent exploration of Gill Sar Lake has revealed all those serious threats caused due to human greed and negligence of the state authorities. Unfortunately human population around these lakes increased tremendously; there were no restrictions or prohibition from any quarters. Political conditions in the state were unstable, nobody bothered for laws or Court orders, that made a havoc and mess of Gill sar lake. Lake dwellers depended on free lake products that sustained their life started gradually grabbing land margins for both construction purposes as well for the agricultural production, resulting the drastic anthropogenic activities that resulted ultimately reduction and near extinction of this Lake. Due to the unchecked encroachment and the growth of obnoxious vegetation that infiltrated in these water bodies propelled by sewage from the catchments, Gill sar waters became stagnant and stinking. The pollution have reached to such an alarming level that its waters, fish, Nadru and other products are declared harmful for human consumption. The water deterioration and weed infestation have posed number of problems to the lake dwellers, particularly fishermen and their children. Most of them suffer from waterborne diseases like Amoebiasis, Hepatitis and Gastro- intestinal problems besides skin and eye diseases.

Gill sar is connected to the famous Dal lake and Nageen lake through a watercourse called Nallah Aamir Khan, and from the other side it pours in Khushal sar, which in turn is connected to Anchar lake. All these lakes are called interconnected lakes. Unfortunately human interference has destroyed these water resources for his selfishness and greed. Revenue generating world famous lakes like Dal and Nigeen Lakes are dying because of the severe anthropogenic activities, heavy pressure due to land grabbing and construction of 5-7 star hotels, restaurants, increased number of houseboats and Tourist shikaras, besides formation of floating islands for the cultivation of commercial vegetables. Water supply from Dal and Nageen lakes to Gilisar, Khushalsar and Anchar sar lakes, is gradually ceased and blocked due to formation of floating islands and residential constructions. Scores of springs in all the three lakes also get filled up because of the deposition of filth, garbage etc. Besides Nalla Amir Khan through which water used to flow from Dal and Nageen to Gill sar has been squeezed from both sides, has turned into a narrow stream. It is on records that house boats with tourists used to move from famous Dal Lake to the Anchar Lake through Nallah Aamir khan, Gill Sar, and Khushal sar. Presently even a small boat cannot pass through it. It is chocked by noxious aquatic weeds; piles of polythene, trash and other non degradable items. Three decades before Gill sar water was portable, used by inhabitants for drinking and other domestic purpose. It was crystal clear and hygienic. Presently it has turned poisonous one cannot touch it with naked hands. Two decades before lake was fed by a number of springs, from its adjacent areas, many of them have been filled up and encroached for residential buildings. Presently only a few springs locally called Mukhta Pokhar and famous Vichar Nag springs, all are in pathetic condition over sighted, ignored, covered over and totally hidden by dense aquatic weeds. These springs still are feeding Gill Sar through a canal passing through Nowshera, Channa Mohalla, Renzoo sathu, accumulating all effluents, surface drains, garbage, polythene along with non degradable items and depositing directly in Gill Sar, besides it is fed by its own numerous springs. A bridge named after Gill Sar Lake locally called Gill Kadal separates and differentiates two lakes Gill Sar and Khushal Sar. Area Zoonimar was named by King Zain ul Abidin (Badshah) in his reign after his name. It is also said that Queen “Noor Jehan” used to stay in this area to enjoy the scenic beauty of Gill sar and Khushal sar. Remains of ancient building still exist in Zoonimar area. She used to stay during summer nights to watch natural beauty; reflection of high mountains in the crystal clear water. Gill sar was rich in springs, with cold water in summer and warm water in winter. It is connected to Anchar Lake through Khushal sar, and drains out water from Dal lake and Nageen lakes into it. Lake Anchar also gets water from Ganderbal (River Sind) via Nagbal, Ganderbal and finally joins River Jhelum through Rakhe Shalbugh at Shadipora, Sumbal. These interconnected lakes were good for the economy of the people and the state. They were nature’s best gifts to the valley. Their past was glorious, but their present looks bleak. These lakes were spread over vast areas, but today due to encroachments, they have become cesspools, and resemble small pools. Their water has become poisonous and polluted. Our ancestors kept all these lakes preserved for we people. They were God fearing and eco-friendly, though uneducated, they took care, and preserved them. They were of the view that these natural gifts are for their prosperity. They lived a simple life. Their bathroom and kitchen wastes never went directly dumped in these precious lakes. Now things have changed due to modernization. Encroachments have started on war footing basis, and these lakes have shrunk. All types of wastes through drains and effluents are flowing in them. People living around these water bodies are literate but uneducated as compared to their ancestors. They are selfish and lack aesthetic sense, They are not eco-friendly resulting ultimately purity deterioration and weed infestation, that have ultimately posed number of problems to them and particularly fishermen and their children. Most of them suffer from number of waterborne diseases. Due to increase in water nutrients number of noxious weeds liked Azolla and Alligator grass are growing in thickets. Whole lake looks like a turf with thick boundaries of Alligator grass. No conservation plans have sofar been formulated for these neglected lakes like Gill Sar, Khushal Sar and Anchar sar.

Number of suggestions have been put forth for the restoration measures of some of these urban neglected lakes but the authorities have always paid deaf ear. Strict actions are needed to be taken against influential land grabbers having nexus with Srinagar Municipal Corporation, (SMC) officials, demarcation of the lake may be seriously and immediately undertaken, regular monitoring of water quality bio-diversity changes may be done and publicly published. Drugging for removal of excess aquatic weeds and noxious plants should be undertaken periodically. Diversion of all surface drains and settlement tanks should be constructed; springs that are filled up or encroached should be revived. Still it is the time that the state Government should frame a policy based on beneficial measures for the protection of all our natural resources particularly lakes and other wetlands of Kashmir.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Shaame-e-Mehfil Like No Other


Amin separates real concerns from bogus rants and in the process shows how the civil society got it wrong

(Dr. Mohammed Amin Sofi, 59, was born in Handwara. He received his early education from the Higher Secondary School in Handwara, and his B.Sc. from the Government Degree College in Baramulla. He subsequently received a Master's degree in Mathematics from the Aligarh Muslim University, and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur. Prof. Sofi teaches and conducts research in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Kashmir. In his leisure time, he enjoys reading books, listening to classical western music, Urdu ghazals and Bollywood music (pre-1980's), and reading newspapers and journals.)

CONCERT OF CACOPHONIES

I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears when I learnt, for the first time, that a grand musical extravaganza was being organized at the historic Shalimar garden in the outskirts of Srinagar where the great musical maestro Mr Zubin Mehta would conduct the timeless symphonies of Beethoven, Bach, Hayden and Tchaikovsky. It was indeed a longcherished dream come true as it would provide a life-time opportunity to witness an event that I had attended a number of times, but always away from my homeland in the elegant and sophisticated ambience of a Berliner Philharmonie Orchestra in Berlin and elsewhere in Europe. It is one thing to listen to the soulful symphonies of Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert at home but being treated to a live show that would feature the great maestro Zubin Mehta and that too in my own backyard was going to be very special. In my keenness to grab the first opportunity to attend this event, I immediately reached out for my friends and sources in the state administration-especially those directly concerned with this event- to enquire about the logistics involving Govt-issued passes or tickets being made available to those wishing to be part of this occasion.

Up to this point, I was completely unfazed by the shrill cacophonies of support and protest for and against this event by both sections of the political divide and of the civil society on grounds which to me sounded banal and lacking in content. This despite Idreesa Pandit’s exasperation “Will the audience know when to clap” voiced in her writeup “Symphonies of Oppression” that had appeared in today’s issue of Greater Kashmir. I am also unimpressed by the brand of logic proffered by a section of the press that the concert had to be boycotted on the grounds of Zubin Mehta’s political predilections and his hardcore Zionist ideology which has earned him a lifelong stint as director at the Israeli philharmonic orchestra in Tel Aviv. In fact, by the same logic, we shall have to close our eyes to the fascinating world of science and mathematics where the sheer bulk of the many spectacular achievements have been occasioned by scientists and mathematicians of Jewish origin- Einstein’s revolutionary theory of General Relativity and Andre Weil’s deep breakthroughs in Algebraic Geometry are amongst the chief examples. The fact is that whether it is science or art in the form of music, these are essentially secular in nature and it doesn’t behoove reading too much into a piece of art or science as being a lesser piece of creative work, just because it has been conceived by someone who holds a contrary worldview.

This euphoria of expecting to be part of this event, however, soon evaporated until, to my utter dismay and astonishment, I was told that there were no passes or permits or even tickets being made available for the purpose and that the entry was restricted to the crème de la crème of the Kashmir society, comprising mainly the ministers and bureaucrats of the state administration and those flown in from Delhi and other parts of the country, while keeping at bay those who should have been granted a glimpse of this fascinating spectacle even if they were required to shell out exorbitant amounts of money to buy a ticket for the concert! Let me hasten to add that it’s still possible to use personal contacts to arrange a ticket or a pass for myself to attend this event, but that is of no consequence and no reason to plead that ‘all is well’ as long as the local population is sought to be kept away from what could actually be a once in a lifetime event. This together with the fact that in the run up to the event, all the roads leading to and from the venue have either been closed or declared out of bounds for the general public amounts to enacting a farce on the people of Kashmir in the form of a concert which is supposed to be too sublime to be dragged into such unseemly controversies.

Notwithstanding his lofty intentions of presenting Kashmir and its culture to the rest of the world which had informed his conception of the idea to organize this show in Srinagar, it seems that Mr Michael Steiner is oblivious to the ways in which this event has been allowed to be hijacked and exploited by certain quarters to advance their designs in presenting a picture that is not there. As such, Mr. Steiner’s refrain that this concert is for the people of Kashmir and for their rich cultural heritage sounds a trifle hollow. How on earth can that be if those for whom this event has been conceptualized in the first place, have been kept out of bounds of this event as bulls in a china shop! That certainly betrays a devious streak in the thinking of those who have provided the necessary wherewithal for the ‘successful’ organization and culmination of this event, never mind the mindless vandalization of the area surrounding the venue which has been declared a heritage site. To those who scoff at the idea of connoisseurs of classical western music grabbing their first opportunity to attend a concert in Berlin or in Vienna while boycotting the one being held in Srinagar as being hypocritical-as a TV anchor had decreed in a recent news show- let it be told to him that such shows conducted elsewhere are purely for reasons of entertainment and are by no means sullied by the prospect of political games being played in the name of entertainment.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Parsees Enrich Kashmir's Heritage ... but you would not know it from the narrative gripping the valley today


Zubin Mehta, a Parsee, is bringing his orchestra to Kashmir for a special concert in the Shalimar Garden on Saturday, September 7, 2013. The 90-minute concert, reminiscent of musical programs in the garden from the days of Mughals, will be telecast live in over 50 countries. While the entire civil society of Kashmir has exposed its myopic character by denigrating the musical concert organized by the German Government, thank heavens for people like Saleem who look into the same canvas and recall the connection of Parsees with the valley

(Mr. Mohammad Saleem Beg, 62, was born and raised in Srinagar. He was educated at the S.P. College and the Gandhi Memorial College, receiving his Bachelor's degree from the latter. He was awarded a EEC fellowship in 1998 which allowed him to attend study courses at Universities of Luven, Belgium, and Trinity College, Dublin. Mr. Beg entered the State government service in 1975 and retired in 2006 as the Director General of Tourism. In the 31 years of public service (which included two deputation assignments in New Delhi), Mr. Beg promoted local arts and crafts, and raised public awareness of Kashmir's rich heritage and architecture. He was a leading figure in getting Srinagar listed as one of the 100 most threatened heritage cities by the World Monument Fund in 2008. Mr. Beg has traveled extensively and has attended numerous conferences, including the 1997 UN Special Session on Environment in New York, and the 1997 Kyoto Convention on Climate Change in Japan. His articles and essays have been published in various publications. Since retirement, he has remained active as the Convener of the J&K Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage - INTACH.)

Parsis and Kashmir

The forth-coming performance of Zubin Mehta, born in 1936 in a Parsi family in Mumbai, has rekindled our interest in a very rich but lesser known Parsi presence in Kashmir. Parsis or Zoroastrians are the followers of Zoaraster known as Zartusht in the Islamic world. Muslims are intimately acquainted with this religion as it is the only non Arab belief that finds honourable mention in Holy Quran. Islam equates pious followers of zartush, mentioned by Arab name Majusi, to the men of piety from semitic religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Zartusht lived some time in 6th century BC in Middle Asia, then comprising Iran and Afghanistan with a lineage tracing to a spiritual family from Balkh, Afghanistan.

The close affinity of Zoarastrians with the semitic religions, especially Islam is well documented in the literature of the two religions. Majusis, like Muslims, believe in one ness of God, Ahur Mazda, and offer prayers five times a day. The only surviving monotheistic belief at the time of prophet of Islam (pbuh), it therefore evoked keen interest in this religion from the Muslim saints and scholars. The first Majusi who came in contact with the prophet (pbuh) and converted to Islam was Hazrat Salman Farsi. Recognizing his superior spiritual prowess and piety amongst the believers, Prophet (pbuh) showed great affection towards him and called him among the Ahl bait, a distinction bestowed to no other Muslim. Salman Farsi made great contribution towards establishing a just, honest and egalitarian society in the formative years of Islam. The Zoarastrian thought and philosophy was integrated into the larger fabric of Muslim society in the form of what is known in history as the Iranian influence. This subsuming gave Islam and the world the great Abassi empire, the zenith of Islamic faith, art, and culture.

The research on the forgotten parsi presence in Kashmir has an interesting and revealing backdrop. In 17th century a pathbreaking book surfaced which took the religious and temporal scholarly world by storm. The persian book was known as Dabistan or Dabistan-i- Mazahib (treatise of religions). This book gave a fair and unbiased description of the faiths of the time, the details of which were mostly obtained from the followers of the respective faiths. At a time when the religious scholarship was plagued with contestations, this book evoked tremendous interest. The book was attributed to Mulla Mohsin Fani (d 1671), a poet, renowned Islamic scholar and a popular figure in Kashmiri literary world. Fani seems to have been much ahead of his time and must have gone against the then prevailing traditional ethos. He was declared murtad for committing blasphemy by his co religionists (Sufi, Kashir). Subsequent historic writings attributed his being declared murtad to the book, Dabistan-i. mazahib, purported to have been authored by him. The book was first published in Calcatta in 1809 followed by a lithographed reprint by Ibrahim ibn Noor Muhamad, Bombay in 1875. This historic fallacy needs separate treatment by someone who is more into the concept of irtidad and the persian scholarship in Kashmir, a subject that has received scant attention from our historians.
Dabistan, for reasons of its great importance in understanding the religio-political environment of 17th century, has been put to some genuine scholarly scrutiny. Professor Athar Ali, Prof. Of History AMU, Wilson fellow, Wilson Woodrow centre for scholars (d 1998) took up this honorific task. He has come up with astounding facts about the authorship of the book. He has categorically established that Dabistan was authored by a parsi, Mobad, a disciple of Mobad Hoshyar, a parsi spiritual personality who lived in the company of other saints and mystagogues of his time. Here we enter into a hitherto lesser known world of parsi mystics of Kashmir. The author comes to Kashmir some time in 1630, where he records intellectual contacts exclusively with parsi priests who were living as a community in sects and sub-sects in Kashmir. This revelation has also opened up vistas for further research about our parsi heritage. He records his meetings with another mobad Hoshyer, mobad Sarosh, Pilazar, a follower of Shidragi sect of Parsis; Raham of paikari sect, and Andariman belonging to Alari sect and Shaidab of akhshi sect. He also meets yogi Ishar kar. Interestingly his first contact with a muslim mystic has been when journeying out of Kashmir, Arif Subhani in NWEP. Later on he meets Mahmud fal Hasiri in Kashmir who narrates a story about a parsi saint, disciple of farshad who again had lived in kashmir and who was known to Hasiri. He also meets ashur Beg, a sufi, who narrated a personal encounter with a parsi divine, Farzana Bahram.

We all know that Mian Mir whose disciple, Mulla akhoon was the spiritual master of Dara Shokoh for whom Dara built a sarai, madrasa and a hammam in the mughal city in Srinagar, Nagar Naagar. Mobad also meets Mulla Ismail sufi, another disciple of Mian Mir in Kashmir. While in Kashmir he also meets followers of Akhshi, a parsi sect whose followers had assumed muslim names. These saints were well versed in persian and Arabic and had extensive knowledge of persian literature, Islamic beliefs and mystic thought. Dabistan reveals substantial presence of parsi saints from different sects who found this land conducive to their spritual amd mystic urges revolving round the tenets of their indivisual faith and belief. These revelations, brought to light by Prof. Athar Ali, open up new vistas and a need for delving deep into the period literature using Dabistan as reference point. A new definition for resh waer, the land of saints as kashmiris call their country,is awaiting some masterly treatment so that this rich mosaic is exposed and presented to the world at large in the form in which it evolved and flourished here.

Reverting to the concert of Zubin Mehta at Shalimar on 7th Sept, it is very well known that the spirit and influence of music patronized by sufis and mystics resulted in music becoming the integral part of all flourishing muslim societies. Many great philosophers of Islam, including al –Kindi (d866), Al-Farabi(d950), Ibn Sina(d1037) wrote profusely on the theory of music and encouraged its performance. Al-Kindi argues that music can turn anger into calm, grief into joy, avarice into generosity and cowardice into bravery.

One is reminded of this treatise when one looks at the great work Zubin and his brother are doing in occupied territories of Isreal where they are lighting the tender hearts and souls of Palestinian children in villages like Nazareth and Shawaram by treating them to music therapy. The concert has been named Ehsaas-i-Kashmir. We hope it will measure up to its title and present the feelings of Kashmir through the medium of music.

The following urdu couplet points towards the expectations from the concert.

 ‘Kya zulmatoon main geet gaye jayein gey Haan, zulmatoon main zulmatoon ke geet gaye jayein gey’

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Destruction of Nature


Athar's moving report is a clarion call for a change of course in a paradise no more

(Mr. Athar Parvaiz Bhat, 37, was born in Bedibera Lolab, Kupwara. He completed his schooling from Government High School in Madanpora, Lolab. He received his bachelor's degree from Government Degree College in Bemina, Srinagar, and his Master's degree in mass communications from the Media Education Research Centre (MERC) at the University of Kashmir. As a journalist, Mr. Bhat writes for prominent newspapers published from Srinagar. He has also completed half a dozen international fellowships which includes two fellowships from Thomson Reuters Institute and three national fellowships. He has worked as a researcher for two environmental documentaries which were broadcast by Discovery Channel, and was awarded twice for his journalistic work. During leisure time, he likes taking long walks especially via green areas, especially while visiting his native village.)

Paradise Lost: Kashmir’s Resorts of Filth and Concrete

Srinagar: India’s seventeenth century Mughal emperor Jehangir is probably best known for his comment on the valley of Kashmir: “If there is paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.”

For about two decades, few outsiders could see this paradise, as insurgency and anti-insurgency rendered Kashmir a global trouble spot. But now that the violence is on the wane and there is talk of ‘paradise regained’, haphazard hotel construction and unattended rubbish threaten to spoil this heavenly abode. The idyll of Kashmir is ill-prepared for an influx of tourists and the features that attract visitors could well prove its undoing.

Regulations to manage sewage, rubbish or solid waste were totally ignored during the atmosphere of violence that reigned for around 15 years. But even after Kashmiris witnessed almost a decade of governable era since 2003, those who have been at the helm all these years could hardly do anything for Kashmir’s treasure trove – its environment and ecology.

 Recent improvements in the security situation have led to a surge in tourism. Around three million tourists visited Kashmir in the last two summers, according to official figures. With half a million people directly or indirectly involved in the valley’s tourism industry, this is now easily shaping up into a major contributor to the local economy. Thus the swelling up of tourist numbers is certainly a cause for joy, but has also led to a boom in hotel construction, especially in the famed resorts of Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonamarg.

There is least of desirable planning in the construction procedure. Most hotels try to maximise the number of rooms even if they block the best views of the Himalayan peaks in the process or, woefully, sit on the banks of erstwhile pristine waters of Lidder and Sindh. The three major resorts are fast becoming concrete jungles. 

With tourists from all over India and the world moving into Kashmir in droves, rubbish now threatens not just the ecology but the tourism industry itself. Environmentalists have expressed their concern about the policy paralysis saying the construction should be prohibited within these resorts. But the government has not only allowed construction of hotels right on the most scenic spots, but has also failed to provide adequate disposal systems for solid and liquid waste.

According to the official records in Pollution Control Board (PCB), only two out of over 100 hotels in Gulmarg and only three out of over 150 hotels in Pahalgam have secured No Objection Certificates from PCB; the rest are functioning without the standard norms. The only waste disposal site in Pahalgam has been set up right at the bank of a stream which flows into Lidder River, an important tributary of Jhelum.

In Gulmarg, garbage is thrown under the forest trees, which has caused huge damage to them. The high-altitude meadow that turns into a golf course every summer and a ski-slope every winter has no waste-treatment facilities either. Thousands of tourists throng to the meadow throughout the year, especially in summer. The growing number of tourists visiting the heath resort, especially those high-end tourists who come for playing golf at world’s highest green golf course, means more greed for those who remain in hunt of high business. An influential businessman has recently built a huge hotel here, having chopped down hundreds of trees to make way for the project.

THE SORDID SAGA OF SONAMARG

The directorate of Ecology, Environment and Remote Sensing has recently issued notices (which this writer exclusively gained access to) to Sonamarg Development Authority calling for immediate measures to undo the environmental damage caused by unplanned construction at the famous Sonamarg resort, but nothing has changed except the scenic beauty of that charming resort often called “the golden meadow.”

“While development of modern infrastructure is of paramount importance for meeting the needs of the tourism industry, it is important to design such development in an eco-friendly fashion to preserve and conserve the fragile ecology and environment of Sonamarg,” warned one of the notices.

“The development which has already taken place at Sonamarg or is in progress has a serious adverse impact on the ecology and environment.” The waste generated by hundreds of thousands of tourists is thrown around without any treatment or scientific management, as per the survey of the department officials.

And all untreated effluents find their way into the Indus River which straddles the beautiful resort. “This causes extensive pollution in the river because no Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) is in place,” the officials have observed.

In terms of popularity, Sonamarg is a relatively recent addition to Kashmir’s tourist map. Areas outside the town remain idyllic. But many people worry the area will soon suffer a similar fate to the better-known tourist resorts of Pahalgam and Gulmarg, where unconstrained tourism has caused havoc.

Though a few conscientious citizens have started raising their voices against the environmental mess, yet things look far from getting better. A few years back a local NGO in Pahalgam, Pahalgam Peoples Welfare (PPF) filed a public interest lawsuit in the High Court against illegal construction in Pahalgam. As a result, the court served several notices to the government and its official limb, Pahalgam Development Authority.

“We said in the petition that building permission laws have been thoroughly violated,” said Reyaz Ahmed, member secretary of Pahalgam Peoples Welfare.

A local teacher, who did not want to be identified, said the bureaucrats and influential businessmen have converted the green zone in Pahalgam into an area permissible for construction in the master plan of the tourist resort after purchasing chunks of land in Pahalgam. 

THE CURIOUS CASE OF A CONSULTANT

A consultant from outside Kashmir, who was part of a team from a Consultancy Agency which is helping Jammu & Kashmir government to form an action plan on climate change, recently refused to accept the accommodation at a houseboat in Dal Lake when he learnt that the liquid waste from houseboats in Dal Lake was going into the lake without any treatment.

“He asked us to change his accommodation without any delay saying his conscience won’t allow him to stay there,” confided an official of the Ecology, Environment and Remote Sensing department.

Two years back, revelations by Wikileaks included a cable in which an American diplomat had used a striking simile about Dal Lake’s pollution and Kashmiri politics saying Kashmiri politics was “as filthy as Dal Lake”.

For people like Kashmir Houseboat Owners Association president, Azim Tuman, who demands that the government should announce a special package for the houseboat owners for installing Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) in their houseboats, the government is unfair in dumping the blame on the houseboat owners rather than taking a stock of its poor policies.

“Instead of devising a solution for preserving the great heritage of Kashmir’s houseboats, the government is hell-bent on forcing the closure of houseboats,” Tuman said.

 “It is not only the matter of securing the livelihoods of thousands of families, but a question of protecting our heritage as well.”

Houseboats were first built by British rulers in the 19th century on the pristine waters of Dal Lake to allow their officials in India to take a break from the scorching heat of Indian plains in summer months.

Since then, the houseboats have been the most preferred accommodation sought by the tourists who come to Kashmir. So Tuman has reasons to worry. “We don’t want them to die because of the government’s failure to provide a solution,” he said.

Houseboats alone are not responsible for the environmental devastation caused to Dal and other major water bodies in the city. The 372 hotels registered with Kashmir’s tourism department in Srinagar city, have no sewage treatment facilities either. Having 10785 rooms with 21073 beds, these hotels remain chock-a-block with tourists especially during summer and drain their sewage directly into Jhelum, Dal Lake and Nagin Lake.

For the past three years, Srinagar has been facing a serious space crunch to accommodate the tourists in summer. According to official figures, more than 3.5 million tourists have travelled to Kashmir during the past two and a half years. This has forced the tourism department to allow residents of a number of areas to convert their houses into guest houses in Srinagar where most tourists prefer to stay. This would mean the disposal of additional untreated sewage into our water bodies.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Corruption Rules But There is Hope


When a young teacher like Shabir is concerned enough to use his voice for publicly denouncing bribery, one has to hope that some day a million Shabirs will arise with the same cry

(Mr. Shabir Ahmad Sheikh, 33, was born in Kulgam, Kashmir. He completed his schooling from Government Higher Secondary School, Kulgam, and received his Bachelor's degree from the Government Degree College in Anantnag, Kashmir. He is currently employed in the Government service as a teacher in Kulgam. In his leisure time Shabir enjoys reading, and writing poems, short stories, and topical commentaries that are published in local newspapers and magazines.)

Say ‘No’ to Bribe

Jammu and Kashmir State is facing several problems like unemployment, illiteracy and poverty. Among these problems, it is the bribery and corruption that is most grave. Bribery is an outrageous problem and should be treated as newsworthy to set the discourses.

Big scandals and scams of corruption often hit the headlines of media, but daily incidents of bribery in public services seem to be immune to public consternation. It has become an in-house business in department with the officials charging money from the citizens as if it is a legal fee – Rs 500 for state subject, Rs 200 for medical certificate, Rs 1000 for loan approval, Rs 3000 for driving license... so on and so forth. Greasing the palm of public servant has become an unwritten law, a convention in the state.

Not for conscience but to make it easy to speak, bribery enjoys several names such as chai, methai, party. After being served, there is that goodwill handshake that depicts the two – one who offers the bribe and the one who receives the bribe - have common understanding on how things work. A handful of people, who voice against it, end up in serious trouble. Bribery is so pervasive that the whole society takes the unacceptable as normal and finally, it makes common people get used to a certain lawless way of life.

Bribery does immeasurable loss to the national economy. The World Bank ranks bribery among the biggest hurdles to a country’s growth, reducing it by a margin of 0.5 to 10 percent in a year. The root cause of the problem is ineffective law enforcement. As a result, the bribe-taker feels no legal fear. Further, the absence of transparency in applying rules and regulations encourages a public servant to favour those willing to pay. Many people believe that curtains can be dropped if the public servants are not underpaid, overworked and if they are better monitored. Some argue that incentives be given. Bribery can be eliminated by the concerned and responsible actions of citizens only, by their steadfast attitude of saying ‘No’ no matter how they are harassed and instead expose those corrupt officials who demand or expect monetary gain.

In my opinion, the culture of bribery will eliminate when the government tackles it, in all its institutions with zero tolerance attitude. Further, we need to ensure full public awareness about bribery being an exploitative tool used to fleece public.

Wish They Were This Honest and Truthful When in Power


Financial wiz Dr. Haseeb Drabu, who has the dubious distinction of taking doublespeak to its glory during his years in authority by calling highly subsidized J&K budget as "zero deficit budget," can also be brutal and frank in his retirement. He lays out the case against false statements perpetuated by the National Conference and the Chief Minister. Drabu says allegations of low allocation of central assistance is a red herring that seeks to divert attention from the gross fiscal mismanagement of the last five years

Problem of the Plan

Haseeb A Drabu

The annual state plan, normally a low key technical matter, has evoked considerable public interest this year. No sooner was it finalized with the Planning Commission (PC), the Chief Minister expressed his dismay over the “low annual plan allocation to JK”. Many political analysts deciphered the “political smoke signals” and journalists saw it as yet another “snub” to the state government. The government economists are writing unending articles on PC’s lack of understanding of the J&K economy while the industry bodies are venting their anger on it. The bewilderment at the Plan “fiasco” behooves only the ignorant. The facts are quite simple: the fiscal management of the state government for the last five years has been exceptionally poor. It this that has led to the truncation of the state plan size. Here is how.

The PC has provided Rs 10,396 crore as central assistance to the state plan. This amount is more than sufficient to cover the approved plan of Rs 7,300 crore. Indeed, it should not only be able finance the state government’s proposed plan of Rs 8,000 crore but also leave a surplus of Rs 2,396 crore for all the frills and fancies of the state government.

As such, by no standards whatsoever is the plan allocation low. For instance, Assam, a comparable special category state, has got a central assistance of Rs 8,873 crores to finance a plan of Rs 12,500 crore. That is how it ought to be: plan size should be more than the central assistance. In the case of J&K, it is the opposite: the central assistance is higher than the plan! And has been so for a while now.

What is happening to the money that the PC is giving? Of the Rs 10,396 crore allocated for the state plan, Rs 6,867 crore is being used to meet the non-plan deficit. This leaves the state with Rs 3,529 crore of central assistance for the plan. To this are added borrowings of Rs 3,770 crore to arrive at a plan size of Rs 7,300 crore instead of the Rs 8,000 crore proposed by the state. Why was the plan size cut?

Simply because, in the last five years, Centre’s assistance to the state plan has increased by Rs 6,000 crore but the size of the state plan has increased only by Rs 2,800 crore! The difference between what the Centre gave and what was used in the Plan -- Rs 4,200 crore has been diverted to fund non plan expenditures. The implication is straight forward: irrespective of the past legacy, incrementally the fiscal situation in the last five years has worsened substantially.

For the record, what did this government inherit as it fiscal legacy, in terms of plan financing, from the previous regime? In 2008-09, the state plan of Rs 4,500 crore was financed through central assistance of Rs 4,403 crore. The plan was bigger, albeit marginally, than the central assistance. The state contributed, in the form of state’s own resources, Rs 97 crore to its own plan.

Five years later, in 2013-14, the state’s own resources are budgeted to be negative; (-) Rs 3,200 crore. What this means is that the current expenditures exceed current revenues including borrowings by Rs 3,200 crore. It can’t get any worse than this when a government borrows to defray its current expenditure and still not able to meet all its current liabilities. In less than five years, the state has skillfully been driven from poverty to penury.

The poor fiscal health is ascribed, from the peon to the principal secretary, to the problem of power; the under recoveries, the low tariffs and then, of course the Indus Water Treaty! That the power revenues and expenditures distort the fiscal balance is correct to some extent. It was precisely in recognition of this structural issue the PDP led coalition had introduced a separate power budget as Part B of the state budget. It was done to ensure that fiscal policy doesn’t get distorted by the power sector.

Till 2008-2009, power deficit was indeed the main contributor to the over deficit. That year, state’s balance from current revenues (BCR) was (-) Rs 2,000 crore while the power deficit was Rs 1,400 crores. This meant that the non-plan deficit of the state without power was Rs 600 crores which was easily covered by the plan grants. Not anymore. The BCR projected by the state now is (-) Rs 7,800 crores! The power deficit for 2011-12 was Rs 2,000 crores. Assuming an increase by 40%, it will now be around Rs 2,800. Even then, the state resource position budget without any impact of power deficit, has a gaping hole of Rs 5,000 crore! In fact now the non-plan deficit without power is now almost double that of the power deficit. This is the real problem.

The implication of this fiscal crisis is that even the Rs 7,300 crore state plan will largely be on paper only. For, Rs 1000 crore borrowing in the plan is in violation of the ceiling of Rs 2,771 crores. If approved, by the Ministry of Finance, it will fritter away the big advantage of J&K’s plan financing of 90 per cent grants and 10 per cent loan. Actually the plan then is 51 per cent loan financed and not 10 per cent as is claimed. If it is not approved, then the Rs 1,000 crore is a pie in the sky, and the effective plan is only about Rs 6,300 crore.

Further, the non plan deficit projected by the state government was Rs 7,837 which has been “improved” by the PC to Rs 6,939. In real terms, a gap of Rs 898 crores has been left unfunded. Adjusting for this, the plan is down to Rs 5,400 crore. Out of which, Rs 2,300 crore are tied grants, wherein the state government has no flexibility. The actual state plan then reduces to Rs 3,100 crore! Finally, using the proportion of plan capital expenditure given in the budget 2013-14, the total capital expenditure in the plan will not even be Rs 2,500 crores! No wonder if people complain of where the money disappears! The fact is that it wasn’t there from the beginning. The emperor, it turns out, doesn’t have any clothes.

(Reproduced from the Greater Kashmir)