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.

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.
www.kashmirforum.org

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Agenda for Good Governance

Ashraf suggests a way forward

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 66, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Fran├žaise in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)

Agenda for Good Governance

One of the main planks on which most of the parties fought the recent elections in Kashmir has been the promise of “Good Governance”. People have made a conscious distinction between “Azadi” and Good Governance. They have been aspiring for “Azadi” for a pretty long time and are not sure when they will achieve it. In the meantime, the Governance of the State concerning the day to day living has considerably deteriorated. In fact, the State had got real “Good Governance” only for a couple stretches in its recent history. One was the first tenure of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah from 1950 to 1953 and the other was the tenure of G.M.Sadiq from 1965 to 1971. For the rest of the period most of the politicians have indulged in “Self-Governance”. They have been governing for their own selfish interests and not for the benefit of the common man. In the run up to the elections, various leaders have been promising moon to the common public. They have all spoken about “Good Governance”. Post election many columns, letters, and suggestive pieces have been written about what needs to be done. Most of these have made general suggestions for improving the governance and attending to very urgent and pressing issues. In fact, there are umpteen issues which need to be attended on priority if the promises are to be kept.

It is, therefore, very important not only to prioritise various issues but also to ensure planned implementation of the same with continuous monitoring. Some of the important ones connected with development side could be named as “Environment”, “Unemployment”, “Corruption”, “Healthcare”, “Power”, “Civic Services”, and so on. Let us begin with the most burning one. This is regarding our living environment. It may not seem so important to the common people at the present moment but it is going to be a decisive one for the very survival of our so called “Paradise on Earth”. When we talk of Environment in Kashmir, the first thing to hit us in the face is the dying Dal Lake. For more than three decades now the Lake is supposed to be under the process of restoration. However, instead of getting restored it is deteriorating at a fast rate and may be extinct soon! The so called Authority constituted for its conservation is not really a statutory authority which it should have been but a simple extension of a Government Department.

Had it been an autonomous organisation headed by an expert, it may have delivered something. It is just like any other government department and mostly headed by bureaucrats drawn from administrative services. The measures for the restoration of the Lake had been initiated by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah himself when he had commissioned a group of New Zealand experts to give a project report. That report known as the “Ennex Report” is the best so far on the subject. Subsequently the bureaucracy muddled the whole process of restoration by getting report after report. From a clear water area of 32 square miles it has been reduced to less than 11 square miles. The last Chief Minister called it a “Money Minting Machine”, thereby admitting his failure to save it. Corruption, red-tape, lack of popular concern have all contributed to its destruction. But the primary factor has been the lack of political will and initiative among the people at the helm. There is no better way to save Dal and restore it to its previous glory than to hand it over on a turnkey basis to an International Agency/Agencies specialising in such tasks. Unless we do it, it is doomed to extinction!

The Dal Lake is only the tip of the ice berg of an environmental disaster being faced by Kashmir. The other water bodies like Wular, Nageen, Manasbal and the River Jhelum are in no better state. Especially the River Jhelum has become a huge sewer. The previous governments have only tried to put make up on its banks and that too near the civil lines area. It once used to be the main channel for transportation and was fully navigable even for highly loaded barges. It needs to be made navigable once again by dredging. No dredging has been done in the River since Maharaja’s time. Next to water bodies are the lush green forests of the valley which have been massacred wantonly by timber smugglers (quite a few of whom are supposed to be so called ex-militants) in connivance with the authorities and the security forces. This butchery of our green gold must be stopped immediately if the valley is not to become a desert sometime in future. The diminishing forest cover has already resulted in freak weather in recent times.

The second most explosive problem being faced in ensuring “Good Governance” is the unemployment. Hundreds of thousands of youth some of them highly educated both academically and professionally are totally unemployed. It is they who had come out in large numbers to vote in the hope of getting some gainful employment. During election rallies it had been given out that two hundred thousand youth will be provided government jobs. Some leaders had stated 70,000 jobs are available. The State is already overburdened with staff. More than 4,000 crores is the annual pay bill of the establishment. If the bulk of funds go for the salaries of the staff what will go into development? It had also been given out that more and more battalions of India Reserve Police will be created. There seems to be a plan to create armies of paid slaves. It is just like keeping unemployed on social security without any productive work. What is needed is creation of productive employment avenues. Kashmir is rich many resources which have remained unexploited.

Agriculture, Horticulture, Floriculture, and many other fields present good opportunities for self employment. Similarly, there could be many industries based on the products of these sectors. One of the important sectors totally neglected is the possibility of finding overseas employment for Kashmiris on an organised basis.

There had been a proposal to set up an overseas employment corporation but this never materialised. The entire Gulf region has at the present moment an infrastructure development boom. There are thousands of jobs available but it is impossible for Kashmiri youth to land these jobs on their own because of numerous restrictions in getting travel papers and other clearances. Similar jobs are available in Malaysia, Brunei, and some other places. If Kashmiri youth could be guided and facilitated, they could be easily employed gainfully abroad. They would earn a lot of foreign exchange and also broaden their vision. One of the main sectors for economic development could be Tourism provided peace prevails. In a peaceful atmosphere Tourism could become a key sector and being a service oriented industry it can provide thousands of jobs. Even now with a limited scope it provides employment to a large section of the population. However, till the situation fully stabilises in Kashmir and in our neighbourhood, it cannot be depended upon solely as a viable and consistent economic activity. It needs to be taken only as additionality. For future it can be an important sector for large scale employment at all levels. Thus the unemployment problem needs to be tackled intelligently on a long term basis and no short cuts of creating armies of daily wagers and casual workers should be resorted to.

Any type of governance which is supposed to be good has to be uncorrupted. Corruption is the mortal enemy of good governance. The worst form of corruption is the political corruption. Everything depends upon the Chief Executive of an organisation and it is more so for a political organisation. If the top is clean, the bottom will have to get cleaned up. If the top is dirty, the bottom cannot be clean and even if a part of it is clean, it will not last! Corruption in Kashmir has totally lost the stigma normally attached to it in any reasonably good society. Here no one frowns upon corruption and it is taken to be a part of the system. Corruption has seeped into the blood stream of Kashmiris. One would have to conduct a special dialysis to clean the blood! Transparency International has now upgraded Kashmir to the first position among the most corrupt States of India.

The State authorities may try every means to create a fool-proof system to stem the corruption in different sectors. Unfortunately the operators themselves show the ways and means of short circuiting the system. An interesting episode is the installation of electronic meters for power consumption. The new ones are impossible to tamper with but the personnel who are supposed to guard these against tampering are themselves showing the common people the ways and means of by passing these! Thus, apart from transmission, and distribution losses, our power system has to face the deliberate human losses. The system of corrupt practices has been refined to finesse. An interesting example is the traffic department. There is a sophisticated system in operation throughout the state right from the first entry point in Lakhanpur.

Every truck driver, minibus owner, and a number of other vehicles like load carriers have to pay a monthly “tax” on plying various routes. By a strange secret code the traffic people posted at different points en route come to know whether the concerned driver has paid his monthly “tax”. The proceeds are distributed among all concerned. Similar is the situation in engineering departments where people in hierarchy have a fixed percentage for each work allotment right from the lowest officer to the senior most one. This process is not considered corruption but a regular and normal system of working. Corruption is when fictitious bills are drawn for non-existing projects. At one time it was the Revenue Department which was supposed to be the most corrupt due to an unimaginable amount of paper work involved in various procedures but now the disease is universal. Additionally, the disease has now gone into the moral fibre of the society and along with material corruption, moral corruption has spread fast in every sphere.

Material corruption can be possibly eliminated or reduced to some extent but how can the moral corruption be checked? This would need some drastic action not only from the government but by the members of the society itself. One of the surest ways of bringing in some order on the material side at least in the day to day working of different government organisations with lesser chances of corruption is the digitising of records and computerisation of different procedures. A beginning had been made in this regard in late nineties but with the change of government, the project was given a go by after the person who had initiated it was shown the door. The process needs to be restarted. It has been given out that an Information Technology Agency is being constituted.

Such an agency should be more like a statutory body without any outside interference from both bureaucrats and politicians. Only there should be a mechanism for co-ordination with the concerned authorities in the government. The job should be entrusted to an organisation having requisite expertise and resources on a turnkey basis in a specific time frame. Another important measure for lessening corruption is to have a strict system of accountability fully transparent and easily accessible to a common man. The implementation of the Central Right to Information Act in full in the state may ensure this. One of our other misfortunes is absence of an incorruptible development policy which would not get affected by any change of government.

With the change of government, everything changes even the basic principles of planning and development. There should be some sanctity for various government policies and procedures including the overall policy for development.

Any change should require sanction of the legislature so that works and projects started in one government automatically get carried on during the tenure of the succeeding government even if it is of a different political party or combination of parties. The projects or works should be suspended only if there is something terribly wrong with these as a matter of principle. This will not leave us a baggage of unfinished tasks and abandoned projects with the change of every government. Another avenue of corruption is the policy of frequent transfers. Normally there should be a fixed tenure for all officers and officials unless there is something adverse reported against them. People give and the concerned authorities both political and bureaucratic accept bribes for what are known to be prize postings. Sometimes prices are fixed for certain specific postings. This malaise is universal even in the Central Government! A sure way of developing vested interests and consequent avenues of corruption is the patronising of specific staff members by politicians, bureaucrats, and police officers.

All these people have a habit of carrying their personal staff, special assistants, sometimes even orderlies to whatever position or posting they go during the tenure of their service career especially at senior positions. The same is true of Ministers who desire officers of their choice regardless of the portfolios they are allotted to from time to time. It is said that some of these people insist on even carrying with them the same escorts and personal security officers wherever they go!

This is a sure blueprint for promoting corruption. It has been reported that the new rulers are not able to expand the state cabinet because there is a dearth of right people among the elected lot! Even some of the incumbents taken earlier are under a shadow. Here, one is compelled to appreciate the American Presidential System where the Chief Executive has the choice of picking the right people for the right job and does not have to depend upon a motley crowd of so called elected people. With each Presidential change in America about 5,000 people change jobs and a large number of advisors come from the top notch Universities which normally function as “Think Tanks” for the State policies in different sectors. One wishes that our Universities too would take the American example and become genuine think tanks for various government policies.

This needs, first of all, the removal of the taboo of political discussions in these centres of higher education. Coming back to corruption, it is so deeply entrenched in the society that the person honestly interested in removing it has a tough job ahead. Many people have become sceptical due to the imbalanced team and the failure to have the full complement soon. Nevertheless, someone has to make a determined effort to begin the process. Everything depends upon the Chief Executive now. If he takes the difficult but decisive first step, he will get full backing of the public. The fate of the widely publicised “Good Governance” depends upon that first step!

After tackling the most important item of “Good Governance” pertaining to the rapidly deteriorating living environment, the other urgent task is the provision of basic amenities of day to day living for both the urbanites and the village folk. In spite of being in the twenty first century in what has been called the “Paradise on Earth”, the dwellers in general here lead a pathetic life. No doubt compared to some other parts of India like Bihar, Eastern U.P., Rajasthan, Orissa, and some parts of Africa, we have a much better life style, yet it is not what one would expect with our natural resources! The amount of money supposed to have been invested in building our infrastructure during last 60 years or so should have made Kashmir like a real Paradise but it is still worse than hell in some places. During the severe weather conditions in winter life in the valley and remote areas is really tough. The first and foremost deficiency in the basic infrastructure is the perennial power famine. It is our tragedy that in spite of having the maximum potential for generating hydro-electric power we face a power famine.

The worst part of the story is that the same waters are being used to generate power on both sides of the divide but its full use has been made taboo for Kashmiris and we are entitled to mere 12% of the generated power! The potential of power is so much that after fulfilling our needs we could sell it to our neighbours and live only on that revenue. It is alleged by many that this water has been taken hostage on both the sides of the unnatural divide. However, no one seems to be really concerned about this supposed usurpation of our water resources. Neither the mainstream parties nor the leaders of the popular movement have earnestly thought about this problem. Our first priority should be to solve our power generation problem. This can be done only by mutual interaction between the three concerned parties, India, Pakistan, and the Kashmiris. Both the countries have to accept that they are exploiting the waters over which the first right is of Kashmiris. The least they can do is to set up some joint projects for the exclusive use of the local people. There are a number of major projects in the pipeline on both sides of the divide. These projects have not taken care of the local needs honestly and sincerely.

These have been planned with the aim of providing power for the use of people living in the mainland on two sides of the border. No doubt, Kashmiris may be getting 12% of the power without any investment but that does not solve our basic problem of the power famine. There is urgent need to sort out this basic issue of power generation. The micro-hydal projects and the run of the river small power houses are not going to solve the problem. For the generation to keep pace with the demand there is need of some high capacity storage projects for the exclusive use of the local people. These can be set up only when there is agreement between the signatories to Indus Water Treaty which has kept the Kashmir waters hostage to the two neighbouring countries. There is a Power Development Corporation but it has been mostly headed by bureaucrats and is abnormally short of funds. The Corporation should be headed by a top professional in setting up of power projects especially ones connected with hydro-electric power generation. Such a person could be even a foreign expert where many similar projects are functioning. Moreover, the Corporation should be able to raise global finances for setting up various projects. Along with resolving the basic issue of power generation, the government has to revamp the archaic distribution system. The entire distribution network is the most unscientific and obsolete in the present digital age.

Maximum losses occur because of this system. I remember one of my friends, a former Chief Engineer, relating to me an anecdote about the system. During the visit of an Engineering Delegation from the erstwhile Soviet Union to downtown Srinagar, the head of the delegation asked the host as to how many people get electrocuted in the city daily? On being told, none, he exclaimed that he had started believing in God! That was a couple of decades back. Since that time the world has moved far ahead but not our electric system. Recently there had been a news item about creation of a reservoir of transformers. According to another electric engineer, “Instead of rectifying the basic problem, which is poorly laid and overlaid distribution system, and unknown consumers, the engineers have proposed a solution which will increase their under the table earnings, (purchasing a large number of new transformers). The proposed remedy is like prescribing cough syrup for a patient suffering from lung cancer!”

One way of ensuring properly functioning transformers could be a maintenance contract with suppliers of the transformers. This would amount outsourcing the job to the companies which are supplying the transformers. They could be legally bound to ensure maintenance/replacement in case of default within 48 hours or so. Failure to do so should entail a progressive penalty. However, in any case the whole distribution system needs to be revamped. Sometime back there was talk of an Asian Development Bank loan being given to J & K for the revamping of the whole system. It is not known what happened to that scheme? Apart from technical problems, the power system in J & K has a human element which sabotages it. It is what is known as the “Power Theft”. This means consumers using more power than they pay for or using it without paying for it. This is a regular mafia involving both public and the departmental personnel. It is very disheartening for some people who pay full metered charges to see some of their neighbours paying just a pittance by having their meters bypassed by the very staffs which are supposed to monitor these! There is a massive revenue leakage. In a number of cases people do not pay at all by hooking wires that too on high voltage lines in some instances which is extremely hazardous. It may be ultimately worthwhile to realise fixed charges for each connection irrespective of the load. If an average is worked out depending upon energy consumption, a uniform charge can be levied. The overloading can be taken care of by relays which can be suitably calibrated to trip on overload in each receiving station. Thus the problem of “Power” in Kashmir is not an isolated one. It is quite comprehensive and involves multidimensional approach. Few isolated ad hoc measures are not going to cure the disease. Symptomatic treatment may give temporary pain relief but if one is sincere in solving this most basic major problem confronting the planned development of the state, one has to undertake an all inclusive and in depth study and devise a long term time bound programme for its rectification. Unless we do it, we will not be able to talk of good governance in real terms!
For “Good Governance” there are many essentials which have been highlighted in earlier columns. However, the basic and the most important ingredient of all the systems is a human being. Physical well being and good mental health is the fundamental necessity for a human being to deliver. An unhealthy person cannot be expected to develop and improve any society. Thus, the very concept of “Good Governance” of a State should start with the improvement in the health of its citizens. Numerous articles, columns, news reports, and public grievance letters about the deficiencies in our Healthcare System have been written umpteen times. Many attempts have been made to improve the set up but in spite of all these efforts the system has not shown appreciable improvement. On the contrary it has been deteriorating exponentially. One cannot hold the Department of Health wholly responsible for this deterioration. The malaise is much deeper. During the last couple of decades the most conspicuous visible impact on state administration in all spheres of its activity has been the loss of discipline and accountability. No one is answerable to no one! The entire focus of the people in authority had been on the maintenance of law and order and catching or killing the illusive militants. One could take any liberty under the cover of security reasons. The basic amenities and civic services were given a go by or these were allowed to be deteriorated to such an extent that it now seems impossible to redeem these. Instead of pointing out more deficiencies, it would be rather worthwhile to give suggestions to improve the system.

While talking of accountability one is reminded of regulations in the western countries or even in Middle East especially Saudi Arabia. If a patient under treatment dies in a hospital, there is an automatic inquiry into the cause of death and the role of the attending medical staff. If it is proved that a doctor or medical staff was at fault, he or she apart from losing the job and facing deportation can also be fined and sent to prison. In our case, there are almost daily deaths and sometimes even on the operating table which totally go unnoticed. Regarding administration of drugs, in the west if a patient in a ward is put on an antibiotic, the entire ward is on red alert. On the contrary, here any kid can buy a third generation anti-biotic over the counter and take it on his own. The Health Department needs to enforce the Drug Control Act vigorously to avoid complications by indiscriminate use of drugs by common people as well as the free circulation of spurious drugs. Drugs especially ones having severe side effects should in no case be dispensed without a proper prescription of a licensed medical practitioner.

To begin with, we have to improve the Primary Health Care which is not up to the mark. The Primary Health Centres have to be fully equipped both as regards the staff and equipment. There is common complaint of doctors refusing to serve in rural areas. We have Health Centres in far flung remote areas where we expect doctors and other staff to live on a punishment basis. In the deserts of Arabia, there are Medical Centres even in remoter areas but the facilities provided there are better than those available in the major metros of the country. The very same doctors who refuse rural duties in Kashmir gladly serve in the desert centres. It is not only because of higher emoluments but because of good living facilities available there. Why can’t we recreate similar facilities for our doctors in far flung areas? If it is made more lucrative and comfortable to serve in remote areas people will gladly opt to go there. Next come the sub-district and district hospitals.

Again these are not what hospitals should normally be. These lack both in specialists and specialised equipment. Most of the cases have to be referred to the City Hospitals. This is worse in regard to maternity cases. There is only one hospital in entire Kashmir and that is by now the most infamous “Lal Ded” Hospital. Totally over loaded and virtually in shambles. Same is the case with the Paediatric Hospital. The only one in the valley is an apology of a Children and Maternity Hospital. A number of reports have appeared about the status of these hospitals. In fact, the very first act of the new Chief Minister was to sack the top brass of Lal Ded Hospital. It is not difficult to maintain district or sub-district hospitals at a reputable standard. Only will to do so with the support of higher authorities is required. In late seventies when I was supervising winter sports in Gulmarg, the sub-district hospital at Tangmarg was kept in excellent shape by the then superintendant, Dr. Sheikh Mustafa Kamal. The centrally heated hospital was probably the first to have an auto-analyser! The reason for specialists avoiding district hospitals is the fact of these being non-teaching hospitals. The tenure of a specialist there is not counted as teaching experience required by him for promotion to higher posts. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to locate every important facility in Srinagar only.

This is true not only in Health sector but in almost all spheres. If one plots the growth of our urban areas on a map, the Srinagar City is like a football where as the other towns are no more than pinheads. Even in the City of Srinagar there is total dispersal of various specialities. Specialities concerning various parts of a human body are located in four corners of the city. The super-speciality institute, SKIMS, is operating as a normal hospital than a super-speciality centre because of the tremendous out patient load.

Kashmir does not have an ambulance service. In many other countries or even some of the metros the ambulances are so well equipped that a patient gets half the treatment during the journey to the hospital. In our case, many a patient may not survive the ride to hospital in view of the condition of the ambulances. One of most visible aspects which one notices in our hospitals is the lack of dedicated nursing staff. In any hospital, the success of treatment depends upon the post operative care. We have excellent consultants and some of these can be rated among the best in the world but their efforts go many times waste because of the lack of post operative care. If we do not have good nursing staff, why can’t we import good nurses such as the Keralites famous all over the world? This is more relevant in view of the massive import of both skilled and un-skilled Bihari labour. One suggestion for improving the facilities provided both by government and the private hospitals is to allow setting up of some international standard institutions in the state. These can be a bench mark for others to improve. For some unknown reasons the vested interests have not been allowing such establishments even by some non-resident Kashmiris desirous of serving their own people. An instant case is the permission to set up an International Hospital by some Kashmiri doctors from USA, UK, and Middle East which has been in the pipeline for last couple of years. It is reported that some politicians had demanded heavy bribes from them for giving the requisite permission!

Apart from Health Care, Civic Services like Municipal Services, Traffic, Drainage, there are umpteen other sectors involving basic amenities for the common people which need to be attended to urgently as part of “Good Governance”. There are other areas like Education which need attention. However, detailing all these would require writing a full fledged book on “Good Governance”. One would like to conclude the present series of the articles with the sincere hope that the issues already raised would get due attention of the concerned authorities. Depending upon the response it may be worthwhile to discuss other aspects especially pertaining to Civic Services in some future columns.

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