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, October 12, 2008

Shifting the Blame

In confessing to follies, though in the wrong order, is a rare admission by the author who usually specializes in shifting the blame south of the border

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 33, 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. His forthcoming books: " Kashmir: Towards a New Political Economy", and "Water: Spark for another Indo-Pak War?" are scheduled for release in 2008.)

Our ADB Romance: A path correction is still possible, provided we confess the follies

As the official festivities about the inauguration of the train services and the Baglihar Power Project would be over by Sunday, it is time we try to salvage the Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan project from the quagmire it has landed into. As work on the Rs 1200-crore projects being executed by the Economic Reconstruction Agency (ERA) remain suspended, and the government plans to seek a 1-2 year extension for the project, J&K's system of governance is again for a serious test.

By September, a total of Rs 370 crore was said to have been spent by ERA as against a target of Rs 500 crore. Looking at this situation and further anticipated delays due to the upcoming winter and non availability of requisite man power, the ADB has finally communicated its dissatisfaction to the J&K government over the progress of the project. Tadashi Kondo, ADB's Country Director, INRM, is also said to have asked the J&K Government and the ERA to ensure that the works are resumed soon and the delays are not prolonged.

As most of the works, including roads, remain incomplete and open drainage pits have left streets dilapidated, lakhs of people in and around Srinagar are bracing for a tough winter. Co-incidentally, for the third straight time this week, we the residents of Shah Anwar Colony, Hyderpora – reeling under ravaged roads due to incomplete drainage work since almost a year now - contributed several thousands of rupees to improve the ravaged roads. All this despite people having paid handsome municipal taxes!

There are many reasons why work remains suspended on these projects. Curfews, strikes and occasional disturbances are a genuine cause. So is the flight of skilled and unskilled labourers from Kashmir and the unanticipated market wages for the available labourers. Beyond that there is the chronic non-cooperation and lack of coordination between the ERA, other government departments, project consultants and the contractors. That part has taken the shape of a full-fledged conflict, so much so that the ERA has finally hired an "arbitrator" on a monthly fee of Rs 1 lakh for settling the matters between these parties.

As I have written in this column previously also, there are some fundamental flaws with the very design of the ADB project.

The first is the very premise that it is a "post conflict" project. When a project of international funding is designed as "post conflict" it automatically closes its eyes to the situational uncertainties arising out of the conflict situation and the political instability. That is what precisely happened with the ADB project. Had it not assumed that the project is being implemented in a "post conflict" situation, it would have laid due emphasis on detailing out underlying risks and assumptions – as we all do while designing and implementing such international projects. Under no circumstances should it have been treated as a normal "development project." It must have recognised the reality of the existing political conflict in the State, and identified the risk factors like labor flight, non-conducive work environment, regime change, governance collapse, etc. Importantly, there should have been in-built alternative implementation strategies should such situations arise.

The second folly – as I had written at the very outset of this project - was dividing the project "equally" between the three regions of the State something like war booty, in disregard to the existing developmental realities. Resultantly, the fissiparous dynamics of the inter-regional political power play and the usual inter-regional bureaucratic wrangling degraded it into a normal development project, affecting its pace and special terms of reference. If the project was meant to give a fillip to the local economy because of the ravaged infrastructure as a result of the conflict it should have been confined to the areas whose infrastructure really suffered in the on-going conflict. Sadly, there was a serious lack of political will to design and plan the project as a post-conflict project and confine it to the conflict affected areas of Kashmir and Jammu regions.

The third is the factor of executing man power. As thousands of skilled and unskilled labourers left Kashmir and labour costs shot up by 100 per cent, the doom was inevitable. As the contractors are said to have suffered losses as well they are now seeking compensation from the ERA under Force Majuere clause, which take care of such extraordinary situations. This scenario must have been foreseen in the project design.

Fourth relates to the statutory aspects of the project. It is well known that the ERA is not a government department per se, it is a society registered as with the Registrar of Societies like any other non governmental entity. No doubt there are mechanisms in built seeking some degree of inter-departmental integration of this entity but the fact remains that other regular departments are highly wary of cooperating with ERA. No wonder, a UEED official filed an FIR against ERA in Jammu for not taking its permission before starting work on a project.

Fifth is the overkill of bureaucratic procedures. There are so many organs and actors in the project which are overly centralised in nature with undue concentration of power. I think the model of the World Bank-supported upgradation of the State's Polytechnics should have acted as a useful example in replicating the success stories there. Although some minor problems of under spending have remained there as well but relatively the project was implemented in an efficient manner. One reason was that World Bank's guidelines for such projects discourage red tape and created decentralised planning and execution systems, which do not consume lot of time.

Sixth, ADB has committed a folly by treating J&K as a normal state with a democratic set up. Its stake holder analysis must have been really poor, and that is why it did not foresee the chronic lack of accountability and responsibility in the government administration in the State in such crisis situations. The reason ADB today is seeing "warlords" sitting at the helm of government departments is that it has not appreciated the democratic deficit in J&K.

There is still ample room for a path correction. For that, the first thing would be to confess that there are certain in-built contradictions in the project design. ERA's contemplation of hiring of 34 fresh engineers is a move in the right direction. The risk factors need to be duly considered now and alternative strategies put into place. Binding statutory coordination platforms need to be created and not just informal and non binding mechanisms, which simply do not work. The role of consultants also needs a major reconsideration.

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