Introduction to 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.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Curse of the Good Life: Valley on the brink of food disaster because of the massive real estate boom

Conversion of Agricultural Land Into Commercial Goes Unabated


Srinagar, Dec 25: The conversion of fertile agricultural land into residential and commercial is going unabated in the Valley, posing a serious threat to food security, experts have warned.

The conversion is going at "large scale" in Pulwama, Anantnag, Varmul, Kupwara and Budgam districts. As per available records, residential colonies, brick-kilns and shopping malls have been constructed on hundreds of acres of agricultural land. The trend amounts to violation of the Revenue Act that bars conversion of any land under the cultivation of paddy, maize, vegetable or saffron.

Some officials in the Agriculture Department have been objecting the trend for the past many years, given its serious implications on the food security of people and fodder for animals.

Some top officials of the Agriculture Department have written letters to Tehsildars and Deputy commissioners of these districts, asking them to check the conversion of agriculture land into commercial and residential.

One of the letters mentions that a residential colony is being constructed in paddy fields near Narbal crossing in city outskirts, posing a serious threat to food security.

"A private construction agency is busy in expansion of the colony by way of earth filling of the submerged area in the interior of paddy fields at Narbal crossing. You are requested to look into how the colony has come up in the area," reads the letter from Joint Director, Agriculture (Extension) to DC Budgam.

The letter, written in 2006, has evoked little response. The land, according to the Narbal residents, is a submerged water body that serves as drainage of excess water in paddy fields and is also a source of irrigation water for many areas. "The present activity undertaken in the said area is also threat to eco-system as the area was a sanctuary for fish and many other birds," the letter reads.

Another letter to DC Pulwama mentions the large scale removal and excavation of soil from a saffron rich area at Pampore. "The excavation is about 50-60 feet deep, endangering a large area of about 500-600 kanals of most fertile saffron growing area," the letter reads. "The matter may be treated as most important as any activity, be it the construction of house, business establishments or excavation of earth is highly prohibited on the area under saffron cultivation."

Sources in the Agriculture Department said that hundreds of kanals of agriculture land have been used for residential and commercial purposes at Chackla and Chanand areas in north Kashmir's Varmul district.

Another two-page letter to tehsildars of Budgam, Chadoora, Beerwa, Khansahib and Charar-i-Sharief mentions many places in these areas where the land conversion is taking place. In Chadoora, the letter reads, the situation is "dangerous as the most fertile lands under paddy and vegetable crops, with perennial source of irrigation, are being converted." "All land is being converted at the face of the government departments responsible to implement the Revenue Act in letter and spirit," the letter reads.

But the letter hasn't evoked any response, even though is states that if the trend is not stopped forthwith, the governments efforts aimed at boosting of production of food and other crops to achieve self-sufficiency shall prove futile. Many brick-kilns, residential colonies and shopping malls have come up on pure agriculture land along the Khanabal-Pahalgam road in south Kashmir's Islamabad district.

In Srinagar, many houses have come up on agriculture land at Hyderpora and Parimpora.

Documents available with Greater Kashmir reveal that some 4200 kanals of paddy land have been transferred to the Srinagar Development Authority for development of some housing colonies at Rakhi Gundakshah, an area which houses thousands of migratory birds every year.

About 235 kanals of land have been transferred to the Railway Department for construction of a Railway station in Awanitpora. Nearly 8000 kanals of paddy land have been transferred to the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority. According to experts, the usage of agriculture land for purposes other than agriculture has brought the Valley on the brink of food disaster. As per the available information, there is a growing deficit in food drain production in relation to population growth in Kashmir.

In 1980-81, Kashmir had a food deficit of only 23 percent for a total population of 3.3 million. In 2005-2006, the food deficit has risen to 40 percent for a population of six million.

"Right now, the valley has 44 percent deficit in food production, 33 in vegetable production and 69 in oilised production," sources said, adding that the 44 percent food deficit is likely to touch over 60 percent in the next 10 years.

Experts say that such a situation could lead to serious food insecurity in Kashmir, given its topography and closure of its link with rest of the world. Many officials in the Agriculture Department, who spoke to Greater Kashmir, said the land conversion trend needs to be stopped immediately, given its hazardous fallouts.

"There is no well-defined policy with the government that could monitor the food security mechanism. The government should immediately come up with a policy that calls for end to conversion of agriculture land into any other form. Otherwise, a food disaster is certainly in the offing," the officials said. "The trend to encourage constructions on agriculture land is being pioneered by the government. This is highly detrimental and encourages the land brokers to utilize agriculture land for construction purposes," they said. The government, they added, should immediately ban the purchase and selling of agriculture land so that the food-grain deficit is controlled and production elevated.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007 Copyright © 1998-2007-

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fiscal Challenges in J&K: A Pre-Budget Review

Arjimand Hussain Talib treads where few Kashmiri journalists have ventured so far

(Arjimand, 32, is from Srinagar and matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University. He is also an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit. Arjimand is currently working as Project Manager for Action Aid International (India) in the Kashmir region and is a member of its International Emergencies and Conflict Team (IECT). His forthcoming books: " Kashmir: Towards a New Political Economy", and "Water: Spark for another Indo-Pak War?" are scheduled for release in 2008.)

SRINAGAR, Dec 21: It is always like a trade off between electoral populism and fiscal prudence. With the elections to the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly just round the corner, this year the coalition government is faced with quite a few challenges with regard to the 2008-09 budget.

Would it go that extra mile, act more prudently and address the challenges of rising fiscal and revenue deficits, low internal revenue mobilisation and burgeoning debt? Most importantly, would it be able to give a longer term direction to the State for creating job opportunities for the huge mass of unemployed youth and also raise the much-needed internal revenue generation capacity? And would it be able to address the structural lacunae and fine tune the public delivery systems to ensure funds utilization as per the set time lines?

J&K is a classic case of a State with a relatively sound economy according to South Asian standards but with rather poor g o v e r n m e n t finances. Can it capture the opportunities in the economy to make the State finances achieve a respectable and sustainable revenue generation capacity?

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its report for 2005-06 has raised some very disturbing trends in J&K’s financial management. It reported the State’s overall fiscal liabilities having increased from Rs 9224 crore in 2000-01 to Rs 16,801 crore in 2005- 06. It also reported the fiscal deficit to have risen from Rs. 1311 crore in 2002-03 to Rs. 2,643 crore in 2 0 0 5 - 0 6 . According to it, the State also had a serious primary deficit, which increased from Rs. 216 crore in 2002-03 to Rs. 1,528 crore in 2005-06. All these revelations have come up in the midst of the government claims that we are now having “zero deficit” budgets – something which the Opposition National Conference has also pooh poohed and something which the coalition government has not satisfactorily explained. The other aspect is the chronic use of overdraft by the government from J&K Bank and the State’s tax payers ending up paying hefty interest to the bank.

The 2005-06 CAG report indicated that there was no improvement in the management of cash balances, as overdraft facilities were used for all 365 days during 2005-06 rather than on discreet basis with the J&K Bank. And, as a result, the State’s interest payment on the overdraft has increased from Rs 71.57 crore in 2000-01 to Rs 138.42 crores during 2005-06. No wonder there was an outstanding balance of Rs 2047.44 crore at the close of the year.

Another dimension which is seldom talked about in the State’s budget statements is the growth rate of fiscal liabilities which was 18.33 per cent during 2005-06 over the previous year. The ratio of fiscal liabilities to Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) also increased from 60.37 per cent in 2000-01 to 73.78 per cent in 2005-06. That means that the fiscal liabilities had grown faster than the State’s GSDP.

Given the fact that the basis of the GSDP calculations are far from accurate, given the concerns about our mechanism in quantifying certain economic activities in the State it is likely that the actual fiscal liabilities grew even faster than what the CAG has reported.

Over the years many of us have been saying that high reliance on unproductive borrowings, including loans from NABARD and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) – which the governments have been presenting to people as “heavenly grants” – would land J&K in a despicable situation.

CAG has already raised its concerns on that. It is common sense that the spiraling debt liabilities often result in a vicious cycle of deficit, debt and debt service payments, unless suitable measures are taken to arrest the persistent increase in fiscal liabilities. The premise that these loans would spur economic growth and hence enhance the State’s ability to re-pay loans has been based on faulty assumptions, more often guided by narrow populist considerations rather than sound economic logic. The huge backlog of NABARD loans, for instance, for making rural roads is a case in point.

As pointed out in the CAG report, public debt is considered sustainable as long as the rate of growth of income exceeds the interest rate or cost of public borrowings subject to the condition that the primary balance is either positive or zero. An analysis of the primary deficit vis-à-vis quantum spread clearly reveals that their sum turns out to be negative in each year of the period 2000-06 indicating rising debt-GSDP ratio and deteriorating situation of debt sustainability in the State. It is incredible that the State is yet to enact its own law which could put a limit to the borrowings.

There is another dimension to it: that is preference to creation of populist and decentralised political systems to sound fiscal management without relative accountability. How would the State address this problem in the budget? How would the government rein in the deficit on account of the power purchases?

Part II: Work culture 'deficit': Under-spending and cost over runs need attention

Srinagar, Dec 20: Political governance in a State like J&K has never been just all about securing financial allocations from the Centre. It has always been about the ability of the governance structures to spend funds in time and with quality. It is not that we have a problem of plenty. It is basically about the capacity of the State's delivery systems to do things in time and quality.

It is not only about the projects being executed in the State sector it is also but special projects and centrally sponsored schemes.

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has already highlighted this disturbing trend. According to it, there were 348 incomplete projects as of March 2006 in which Rs. 1, 716.58 crore were blocked. Besides, there was cost over run of Rs. 1,718.79 crore in these projects as the initial estimated cost of Rs. 2,319.28 crore was revised to Rs. 4,038.07 crore.

The way the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the State Legislature has been taking up follow up and action taken issues has always been far from satisfactory. There is no doubt that it is the legislature which in theory has to use its moral discretion to take up audit issues for correction and remedy. But we will have to acknowledge the fact that the credibility of J&K's democratic system has a long way to go before our legislature could do it with integrity.

When it comes to the special schemes the state of affairs is hardly different. During the last budget session, it was revealed that out of Rs 848 crore released under the PM's Reconstruction Package our State was able to utilise only Rs 484 crore during that year.

Out of the Rs 4100 crore released last year under ADB-funded projects and Bharat Nirman Yojana hardly 5 per cent of the funds had been spent.

The dismal state of spending and delayed delivery of public services has been exposed in a government document itself which was prepared to argue for time extension for the PM's Reconstruction Package. The ways we have failed to deliver makes interesting reading.
The Package which was scheduled for completion in 2007-08 has already been extended to 2009. J&K's planners are upbeat that the Rs 500 crore which were not released by the centre for State sector projects for 2006-07 until January 2007 would not lapse and they will be extended to next financial year. It has been revealed that many central projects under the Package which are to be implemented by State government agencies, either work is yet to be taken up or little progress has been made over them.

Under State sector projects, the PM's Package has Rs 3316.12 crore worth of projects, whose cost was subsequently revised upwards to Rs 3787.42 crore. Out of this only Rs 1215.36 crore had been spent till early this year.

As against a provision of Rs 1056 crore for transmission and distribution of electricity, only Rs 133 crore have been used until 2006. Out of Rs 142 crore kept for model villages only Rs 44.68 crore have been spent so far. For upgradation of nine women's ITIs only Rs 14.91 crore have been spent against the actual outlay of Rs 30.60 crore. Surprisingly, hardly Rs 17.77 crore have been spent against the sanctioned amount of Rs 49 crore for 14 new degree colleges, which were billed to help decongest the existing colleges and help provide quality education.

The dream of electrified villages and quality supply to others has remained unfulfilled despite a provision of Rs 700 crore as reportedly until now only tenders had been floated.

Out of Rs 83.62 crore sanctioned for National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), a mere Rs 8 crore have been used on civil works in Community Health Centres (CHCs) even as people in our State continue to die for want of basic health facilities.

Although promotion of tourism continues to remain the pet goal of the State's governments, nothing could be as ironic as the fact that our State had spent only Rs 1.64 crore out of Rs 31.50 crore approved for development of tourist villages until early 2007. Shamefully, only Rs 3.85 crore had been used for providing assistance to Tourism Development Authorities as against Rs 240 crore sanctioned under the Package.

Out of Rs 201 crore sanctioned for rehabilitation of horticulture and establishment of agri-clinics, a paltry Rs 25.44 crore had been spent. The document reveals that only Rs 1 crore was incurred on urban self employment as against Rs 26.94 crore reserved under the scheme during last year. As if all this was not enough work is yet to be launched on upgradation of Jammu and Srinagar Medical Colleges for which Rs 120 crore each were sanctioned.

The PM's package had also earmarked Rs 1741 crore for Greater Srinagar and Rs 1470 for Greater Jammu for drainage and sewerage. But the government had not spent anything until early 2007 despite the fact that Srinagar city has witnessed two floods due to lack of drainage facilities during the last one year alone.

In these state of affairs what is needed for J&K State is not only the traditional appropriation and regularity audits, the propriety audit and the efficiency-cum-performance audits need primacy. For that to happen we must have external audit and quality delivery appraisals and transparent system of ensuring actions are taken.

It also needs transparency and public information on the Action Taken Notes by various ministries so that people know about the outcomes.

Part III: Power budget puzzle: Taking on the myths and contradictions

Srinagar, Dec 23: Power economics in Jammu & Kashmir has always remained a kind of puzzle difficult to demystify. Post 90s, every government in the State has held the argument that if the deficit on account of power purchases could be curbed, the State could well achieve "financial self-sufficiency". The reasoning has been simple: we are not being able to raise as much revenue as we pay to purchase power. But is that the only reason?

One thing that a separate budget for power has done is that it has demystified many a myth about this power deficit. An analysis of the Power Budget 2007-08, apart from bringing to light its intrinsically paradoxical premises, also brings out quite a few conflicting conclusions.

As per the official figures, J&K purchased 6400.96 MUs of power from various Central Power Sector Undertakings (CPSUs) in 2003-04 while as in 2006-07 the purchase is expected to be around 7260.852 MUs. Purchase of power from the State-run Power Development Corporation (PDC) in 2003-04 was to the tune of 850.677 MUs, while as in 2006-07 it is expected to raise to 884.866 MUs. This simply shows, something not so novel, that our demand for purchases from both CPSUs and PDC are on a rise.

The cost per unit and the total purchase bill show almost the same trend: According to official figures, in 2003-04 total cost of purchase of power was Rs. 1071.778 crores while as in 2006-07 it is likely to be around Rs. 1838.00 crores. Then there are the costs of "Other Expenditure" as detailed in the Power Budget 2007-08 which are expected to be Rs 188.14 crore. Let us also note that the rate/unit (in Rs/KWH) has also been steadily increasing: in 2003-04 it was Rs 2.001 while in 2007-08 it has risen to Rs 2.256.

It is obvious that J&K's power demand would continue to grow steeply given the rise in consumption and upward social and economic mobility. But how would J&K meet this demand?

A section of strategic analysts in New Delhi have of late maintained that in case India and the United States could make their nuclear energy co-operation agreement successful there were good chances that the centre would heed the recommendations of the Rangarajan Committee and, at least, hand over the Dulhasti Power Project to J&K State.

Now that the Indo-US nuclear agreement stands in jeopardy India's energy needs, mostly in its north are clearly linked to the hydro-power potential in J&K State. Under such circumstances can any J&K government successfully negotiate transfer of the Dulhasti or Salal Power Project to it?

The problem is that under such circumstances J&K's financial condition would continue to remain precarious given its inability to quantify its energy losses in a political economy where it is not just the State and civil society but also armed forces/police who constitute a significant portion of the energy consumption grid.

As far as revenue/receipts from power are concerned they are rising too, albeit with huge mass of deficit. In 2003-04, our revenue from power was Rs 393.05 crores while as in 2006-07 it is expected to be Rs. 711.64 crores. While the deficit on account of power was Rs. 847.02 crores in 2003-04, the deficit this year is likely to be Rs. 1314.50 crores.

But the point is why the mass of deficit in percentage terms has remained almost the same over the years? There are many questions that are rising again and again and which need to be addressed.

Let us take the issue of revenue generation from power being directly linked to installation of electronic power meters in the State. It is on several occasions that government ministers and officials have said that once all our consumption centres are metered and people pay power fee, J&K's power woes would be history. But is that so?

As per the 2001 Census, there are a total of 15,68,519 households in our State, out of which 7,95,100 are in Kashmir division while as 7,73,419 are in the Jammu division. According to the figures given in the 2006-07 Power Budget, it is revealed that in the year 2005-06 there were 10,14,745 registered power connections in the State which are expected to rise to 10,51,745 by the end of this financial year due to the addition of another 37000 registered connections. This means that about 67 per cent of all the households are having a registered power connection.

As per the figures made available by the PDC, a total of 10,66,181 electronic meters shall be in place by the end of this financial year in the State, out of which 5,33,803 are installed in Kashmir division while 5,32,378 are installed in the Jammu division. This means that about 68 per cent of our total households are electronically metered as well.

It is possible that there are other commercial entities which have not been mentioned in the Power Budget. But it is obvious that their number is not a significant one.

Now the point is that if about 67 per cent of our connections are registered and one would assume that they are paying for power then why are our power losses and transmission and distribution (T&D) losses so high? Are the gigantic numbers of government and military/para military establishments included in this analysis?

The percentage difference makes it clear that there are some other factors as well which are not reflected in the State's budget analysis.

Part IV: Mobilising internal revenue - What are the choices by the way?

SRINAGAR, Dec 26: It is not about rocket science but basic economics in budget making: J&K has to take some extraordinary steps, including going back to the Article 370 and the powers of tax devolution, to raise enough revenue internally to arrest the fiscal deficit, debt and other fiscal liabilities. The problem is that J&K government under the present circumstances has very little choices to raise revenue internally. Let us see how.

There are no such economic activities in the State currently which could be taxed and revenue increased. If at all there are a few activities, primarily in primary sector, government would not like to tax them given the populist compulsions. Then if there is an increase in economic activities in the services sector, the revenue from there would go to the central kitty and in the absence of clarity on J&K's tax share formula and its role in taxing services after the Indian Constitution (Eightieth Amendment) Act, 2000 optimism in that remains elusive.

During the current year revenue receipts as per government's initial estimates would be Rs 12666 crore, which would be all those receipts, which do not incur repayment liability. But there is every possibility that this figure would be revised downwards. This figure also includes grants from the central government for the financing of State Plans as well as non-plan grants, in addition to the State's own tax and non tax revenues.

In comparison, the revenue expenditure, the State's routine administrative expenditure, such as wages and salaries, expenditure on maintenance and repairs and other overheads like payment of taxes, interest, insurance premia etc. is likely to be around Rs. 9774 crore. Going by this optimism there is a revenue surplus of Rs. 2892 crore this year.

But the source of worry is our capital receipts, which include loans raised by the State from the market, borrowings from RBI and other institutions, loans from the Centre and the State's recovery of its own loans, which have been pegged at Rs. 1770 crore for this year.

The capital expenditure, which constitutes spending on capital assets like roads, power projects, water supply schemes, buildings etc. during this financial year are likely to be Rs. 4662 crore. This also includes disbursements which are on account of repayment of State's public debt and the loans and advances made by the State to the various entities.This would put our capital account deficit at a whopping Rs. 2892 crore. And the budgetary deficit is not small too. The budgetary deficit, which represents the State's total expenditure minus the total receipts, is large too but since the State Governments in India have no access to the monetisation route and as such budgetary deficit in J&K's case also ought to be zero.

When it comes to the fiscal deficit it is likely to be Rs. 1337 crore this year, which in any case is not small.

The fact is that the increase in the revenue receipts by 16.34 per cent during 2005-06 has been mainly on account of central transfers comprising grants-in-aid from the centre. But the overall fiscal liabilities of the state increased from Rs 9224 crore in 2000-01 to Rs 16,801 crore in 2005-06. The fiscal deficit increased from Rs 1311 crore in 2002-03 to Rs 2643 crore in 2005-06. The primary deficit during the same period increased from Rs 216 crore to Rs 1528 crore.

The overall fiscal position of the state as reflected in terms of key parameters revenue, fiscal and primary deficits, indicates deteriorating fiscal situation during 2005-06 over the previous year.

In its annual report last year the CAG has pointed out that the J&K continues to be dependent on borrowings for plan or development expenditure and has also criticised the way in which government departments were utilising the money. It has also already asked the J&K government to "take immediate steps to improve the buoyancies in resources because of the deterioration in its overall fiscal position." But does it have that room? The fact is that the capital and revenue expenditures have increased by 38.5 per cent and 19.5 per cent during the year but revenue receipts and non-debt receipts could not keep pace with the increase in expenditure of the state.

Questioning the government claims of zero deficit budgets, the CAG has summed it all up: "The cardinal indicators of debt such as quantum spread together with primary deficit being perennially negative, increasing ratio of fiscal liabilities to GSDP with a growing fiscal deficit and the higher buoyancy of the debt with regard to its revenue receipts indicates unsustainable debt situation of the state in the medium to long run."

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Dawn of a New Age in Kashmir: All Politics is Indeed Local

(Ahmed Ali Fayyaz writes about common citizens willing to make supreme sacrifice to improve the quality of life in their neighbourhoods.)

MAGAM, Dec 17: For over a decade, sponsors of Kashmir's secessionist movement interpreted all development-related demands of the poor people as a "treacherous distraction from the freedom struggle". "Let Azadi come, development will automatically follow", they would argue, forcefully. In next few years, people began taking to the streets to demand BPL rice, subsidised power, pure drinking water and metalled roads. Some former champions of Azadi later declared the elections Halal on themselves with the argument that "day-to-day problems afflicting the masses" could not be ignored for unlimited elasticity of the "freedom struggle". In the last three days of massive demonstrations, each and every 'leader' and organisation has described the demand of 20,000-strong Magam population for a degree college as "genuine" and everybody has jumped the bandwagon of "condemnation" to the State Government and her Police for the shootout that gave birth to Kashmir's first non-Azadi martyr since 1988.

Nearly 20 years ago, Police in Srinagar had opened fire on a mob demanding uninterrupted power supply and left four people dead and many more injured.

Demand for creation of a degree college in the twin towns of Magam and Beerwah five years ago, united and split the people for a many reasons in Budgam district. With the dubious distinction of being Jammu & Kashmir's most backward district in education, Budgam became India's only district with not a single degree college. In the wake of skirmishes between Chadoura, Chrar-e-Sharief, Khansahib, Beerwah and Magam, Mufti Sayeed's coalition Government finally gifted it to the centrally located district headquarters. On February 27th, 2004, when Chief Minister Mufti was declaring creation of another College at a rally in Beerwah, residents of Magam burned not only hearts but also tyres on the streets. And 'militants' threw a grenade on the rally, killing a woman and leaving many others wounded.

Like Jammu, a shutdown in Magam has been the last option. This economically prosperous township of 5,000 population and over 700 shops on Srinagar-Gulmarg highway has been bustling with business even in the thick of militancy. Everybody here asserts that Magam's worst time of the last 20 years was when militant commander Mustafa Khan forced the town shut for 29 days in year 2001.

"Magam has always been a hub of business but invariably sinned against by successive Governments. Uptil 1967, Magam was an Assembly constituency. Later, it was shifted to Narbal and Beerwah. Our added bad luck is that none of our MLAs since 1967 has been a Matriculate. Earlier we had veterans like (former Ambassador) Mubarak Shah, but they actually belonged to Baramulla etcetera. Thereafter, Magam's PWD Division was shifted to Sumbal. NC Government did cut a cruel joke when it maintained for six long years that a Community Development Block would be set up here. Later, we learned that the same was being considered for two different villages on Soibug-Beerwah Road. PDP's government promised us a District Hospital but didn't get one till it expired in 2005. Congress leaders, including Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, assured us, of late, that we would get the degree college in December. The other day, Mr Azad gifted 18 colleges to villages and hamlets but none for Magam", complains, retired Dy SP Mohammad Ibrahim Mir.

According to Mir, there's one-odd reason behind the "injustice": Magam is a Shia population township. He is surprisingly corroborated by prominent academic and close relative of PDP's Beerwah MLA Sarfaraz Khan. "It's a fact that this entire belt has been suffering on account of Magam being a Shia-dominated town", says Ghulam Hassan Shabnam, a retired Chief Education Officer. Shabnam, who lives in the peripheral Adina village and runs his own Green View Public School at Magam, adds: "Be it Farooq, Mufti or Azad, everybody tells us that your demand is hundred percent just and genuine. All of them promised us a college but none of them honoured the commitment. Other leaders of their parties complain to us that Magam has been casting very few votes and it should not dream about development. But, we believe that the turnout is essentially a reciprocal activity. When they don't give us a block, a district hospital, a works division or a college, why should they expect us vote? Tati chhee noon teel rayi rayi baagraan" (Government functionaries are utterly biased and selective in distribution of development avenues), Shabnam complained in verse.

"From districts to Tehsils to colleges, this Government has showered everything on particular political faces. It created two districts (Shopian and Kulgam) between Anantnag and Pulwama. Two more between Bandipore and Srinagar (Bandipore, Ganderbal). Now, it is looking for villages which could be decorated as Tehsils", Ghulam Hassan Bhat, a retired school-teacher in Mazhama vomitted. "Look to Kulgam and Khansahab. Earlier this year, Khansahab was declared as Tehsil headquarters. A couple of months later, it was declared as Sub Division. The other day, it got a degree college", Bhat added. According to him, there were only 25 shops in Khansahab compared to 700 in Magam. He said total roll of Higher Secondary School Khansahab was less than 200. On the other hand, Magam has over 1,000 students at two Higher Secondary Schools.

Shabnam counts the population of Magam belt anything between 20,000 to 25,000. According to him, there were more than 7,000 students enrolled with 10-15 High and Higher Secondary Schools in Magam belt between Khag, Tangmarg, Hanjivera, Narbal and Magam. "They are all subjected to untold miseries by seeking admission either in a College in Baramulla or in Srinagar. Consequently, more than 50 percent of them fail to continue studies", said Mohammad Akbar Mir of Kanihama.

And, the common man on the street is turning more and more militant. On third consecutive day today, entire Magam belt observed complete shutdown to protest "Government's humiliation to this village of respected people" and the Saturday last Police firing in which shopkeeper Zahoor Ahmed Mir died and 40 others were left wounded. SSP Ashiq Bukhari doesn't appear to be in controversy but both of his Magam subordinates, SDPO Manzoor Ahmed Dalal and SHO Haseeb, continue to be in the eye of the storm. Hundreds of demonstrators converged on the streets on the third day with anti-Government and anti-Police slogans and burning effigies of SDPO and SHO. PDP's Maulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari and NC's Ali Mohammad Sagar dashed in the town to show their 'solidarity' with the residents of Magam but the people here have developed so much of hatred for politicians of all hues that they suspect every incoming leader as the Government's emissary or 'trouble-shooter'.

"All separatist politicians have sold us dreams in the last 18 years. And, all mainstream leaders have betrayed us with their false promises. It's no religion, no region, no politics but only development. We will take a decision with regard to future course of action on occasion of the martyr Zahoor Ahmed Mir's Rasm-e-Chaharum tomorrow", said a prominent leader of Magam Coordination Committee. "We are determined to get not only the degree college but also a District Hospital and other facilities", he asserted and his followers yelled: "Chheen ke lenge apna haq". They added that the strike would not be called off until SDPO and SHO were placed under suspension and a murder case was registered against them.

"Even yesterday, Police has beaten up and injured 30 people, including 8 women. They ransacked over 30 houses and smashed several cars. They even stormed the mourners' gathering, roughed up women and dismantled the tents", said a bitterly hurt bearded youth. It appears that much more than the political and religious leaders, the residents of Magam are now banking on continued closure of Srinagar-Gulmarg Road. With the strike in Magam, entire winter sports and tourism activity in Gulmarg has come to a standstill and the Police firing has failed to open this vital communication link. Traffic was completely off the road and no vehicles have plied on Srinagar-Beerwah-Arizal, Srinagar-Magam-Khag and several other links since Saturday.

Even as Magam continued to simmer with protest, two of the civil society organs---Citizens Council and Alamdar Traders Union---enforced complete shutdown in Chrar-e-Sharief town, in Budgam district. Yet again, the demand is creation of a degree college. Hundreds of the residents and traders gathered at Bus Stand, near Sheikh-ul-Aalam Sheikh Noor-ud-din Noorani's shrine and staged a demonstration in order to press for their demand of a degree college. Speakers expressed "surprise" over the fact that the coalition Government had distributed as many as 40 colleges in two installments and showered blessings on "nondescript hamlets and villages" but it had not announced a college in Chrar-e-Sharief. They said that Chief Minister Mr Azad had assured the local Mirwaiz that his Government would grant a college to Chrar but the holy town did not figure in the list issued by the Government on December 14th.
Reports of a similar protest poured in from Noorabad area in Kulgam district of south Kashmir.

Kashmir's rural economy (the largest employment generator in J&K) is in shambles

Horticulture takes major blow
Zubair A. Dar

Srinagar: The engine of JK’s rural economy - horticulture - is heading for a major hit with rates of apple falling drastically - beyond 50 percent in certain grades. The situation is resultant of a desperate selling practice as Kashmir has yielded a bumper crop this year.

The loss is estimated to cost a whooping 1000 crore rupees this year for want of a retention capacity for fresh fruit in Kashmir despite being a major apple producing region, making the growers anxious. The problem is complicated by the absence of a proper marketing mechanism for fresh fruit from Kashmir. According to a rough estimate, 4 to 6 crore rupees are lost by Kashmir growers every day in Azadpur where 500 truck-loads of apple are sold every day. The total losses for the last one and a half month amount to over Rs 250 crore. “Last year, the yield in my orchard was 800 boxes. This year, it increased to 1400 boxes but the rates fell from 850 to 350 per box for the top quality apple,” says Shabir Ahmad, a grower in Shopian, one of the major apple producing areas in south Kashmir.

The annual average produce in Kashmir ranges between 10 to 11 lakh metric tones. This year, however, the bumper crop has increased the estimated yield between 20 and 25 percent, taking the total yield to 14 lakh metric tones. Shabir says that he was forced to send his apple, which otherwise he could have retained till rates improved, to Delhi’s Azadpur market before winter. “Highway remains closed for several days during winters so we have to sell it as early as possible. We can not store it. There is no cold store to preserve our apple till an appropriate time when rates would again increase,” says the grower.

Like Shabir, most of the growers are desperate to sell off their produce before the packed fruit rots. Around 80 percent of Kashmir’s apple produce is exported annually while the rest is consumed in local market. With 5.5 crore boxes of apple likely to be exported this year, as against a 4.0 crore boxes last year, around a half has already been supplied outside the state, mainly to Azadpur. Rest is waiting to be supplied in trucks at the earliest, some of it already making its way to Delhi.

While an increase in apple yield should have played to the benefit of the growers, it has proved fatal for the industry. Unable to break the strong trader lobby, growers blame the government for failing to provide assistance in marketing the apple better. “Last year I sold 800 boxes of fruit for 4 lac rupees. This year, the yield increased but the price fell to 2 lakhs,” says Mohammad Akbar, a grower in Kulgam. “A trader from Delhi who purchased my fruit here offered me same rates as were prevalent in Azadpur while the freight was deducted from the amount,” he adds. “Had there been a store, we could have waited for better times.” When asked why the growers do not look beyond Delhi while selling their fruit, Akbar said that the market is beyond his reach and it is for the government to guide him. “Who would show us the way?”

However, the Horticulture Marketing and Produce Department disputes the allegation by claiming that changing the mindset of the grower is nearly impossible. Says the director, Showkat Zargar, “No one can dispute the fact that our retention capacity is minimal. But markets are not closed for the grower. We have failed to change the mindset despite trying all these years. The grower does not look beyond Azadpur.” Adds the director, “We have no enforcing powers. We can only guide them not compel them.” For now, however, the collaboration does not appear to work, taking Kashmir horticulture to its lowest ebb. “Even desperate times can be expected in future,” the director admits, while adding, “Unless the growers do not cooperate. They have a right to agitate. But they also have to behave responsibly.”
2007-12-15 11:18:17

Kashmir University's Dirty Little Secret: Scam involving B. Ed. degrees

INDIAN EXPRESS (November 30, 2007)

"Guess what is one of Valley’s biggest draws? B Ed colleges where degrees come easy "

Bashaarat Masood

Students from the Valley may be flying to Bangalore, Pune and Delhi for higher studies, but it has also become the favourite destination for many students from other states. Educationists in the state, however, are not amused.

Thousands of students from outside enrol themselves in colleges here that offer Bachelor’s Degree in Education. And while the number is swelling every year, the reason is also clear. The B Ed colleges here offer a one-year degree and. that too, while the students stay home for most of the period.

This is also perhaps one of the reasons why the Valley has only 30 degree colleges and 67 B Ed colleges.

Kashmir University Vice Chancellor Abdul Wahid Qureshi admits that there are problems with the B Ed colleges here. “This is an area of concern for us,” he said.

The mess in the B Ed colleges, affiliated to Kashmir University, came to the fore during an inquiry into a scam at the university. The report submitted termed the B Ed colleges as the “face of corruption” in higher education. However, since then the university has done little to clear the mess.

“B Ed colleges affiliated with the University of Kashmir are the worst examples of corruption and manipulation,” reads the report submitted by the inquiry committee early this year in the “Admission against Cash” scam.

The report had also suggested some corrective measures. “The colleges affiliated with the University in 2006 have fulfilled all the requirements for affiliation not by merit but by some mysterious help from certain elements,” it says. The report blamed the university administration for the mess saying the university had “extended the deadline for the B Ed colleges for development of infrastructure to benefit some of its blue-eyed businessmen in the Valley”.

The scandals that surfaced in Kashmir University in the recent times too hint towards the B Ed scam. The “Admission against Cash” scam in which the varsity terminated the services of Public Relations Officer Abid Hussain Musawy too is related to the B Ed admissions. A university inquiry revealed that Musawy had earned more than Rs 1 crore through the B Ed admissions. In fact, the whistleblower himself was a non-state subject from Rajasthan.

The Kashmir University, last year, affiliated 13 new B Ed colleges despite many of them not complying with the guidelines set by the university and necessary for affiliation of any B Ed college in the Valley. This year, four more B Ed colleges have been affiliated taking the total number to 67. The university guidelines make it mandatory for the colleges to have separate boys and girls hostels, a minimum of one acre of land, separate academic and administrative blocks, and well-equipped laboratories.

“Most of these colleges do not have hostels,” said a senior university professor. “The results are obvious. The non-state subject students are asked to pay the mess and hostel fee and are allowed to go back to their home states after completing their admission formalities. They attend a few classes and return only for the examinations.”

A non-state subject student pays over Rs 15,000 as hostel and mess fee even if he or she doesn’t avail the facility. More than 15,000 students — more than 80 per cent of them from outside — are enrolled with the 67 B Ed colleges here.

The Vice-Chancellor admitted that there were political pressures. “When I asked these colleges to submit fine, I received several calls from political figures asking me to re-consider the decision,” he said, adding that it included even a sitting J&K minister.