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, January 4, 2009

Civic Sense or Lack of it

Two articles in the Kashmir Images address two characteristic civic deficiencies - one urban, one rural - requiring new investment and education

Fatalities on roads

Roads in Kashmir valley are turning into death traps with fatal road accidents showing dangerously upward skew. Reports suggest that around 221 precious human lives were lost to 1636 road accidents from January to November-end this year only. And the records further suggest that during the last four years (from Jan 2005–Nov 2008), 1012 people lost their lives in 8052 accidents while more than 12,058 were wounded. There were 835 fatal mishaps while 7392 accidents of lesser intensity. Only a few years back just stray incidents of road accidents were witnessed in the length and breadth of the state but now it is three to five accidents a day with the deaths and wounded far exceeding the number of incidents.

There are about 40,0000 vehicles plying on Valley roads as per official data available and the roads which are considered as the backbone for the proliferation of vehicles in any state or country have become so constricted in the state that pedestrians find it hard to get along a road without fear of being hit by a passing vehicle.

Government seems lagging far behind to lay down roads so that the increasing flow of traffic could be regulated in a smooth manner without the roads getting congested, clogged or jammed for hours together. It is an ill devised strategy to let the population of vehicles multiply unchecked to match the number of persons in the state in absence of the roads. In the last 20 years the number of vehicles has increased by ten-fold while as the road construction could not run with half of that pace resulting in chaos on the roads. It has rendered the plying vehicles as mobile angels of death rather than an item to assist human development. Insult to the injury is that the Regional Transport Authorities are issuing permits without taking the road accommodation into consideration. With it the indiscriminate issuance of driving licenses to those who do not undergo any proper trial makes the mess more stinking. It is no wonder to see even teenage boys driving passenger vehicles without any one taking notice of the killing trend. In most of the cases it is these untrained drivers who are seen hitting and crushing people to death or maimed for life. There can be hardly any state in whole of the India that takes the life of its subjects so easily as in Jammu and Kashmir.

The accidents on Srinagar Jammu Highway are more frequent. True the road is a mountainous one but then this is not the only such road in the world. Fact of the matter is that it is the reckless driving and negligence of traffic authorities that has made this beautiful highway a road of death. There are not much traffic police cops available on this highway who would ensure smooth plying of vehicles. Besides the frequent plying of army and other security forces vehicles create much discomfort as these vehicles don’t care about the travel norms and therefore result into massive traffic jams which waste a lot of time and to compensate the lost time drivers over-speed resulting into tragic accidents. Need is to deploy maximum traffic police men on the highway who would strictly ensure the speed limits and act against the erring people promptly.

Dangerous trend of open-defecation in rural areas continues unabated

Open-defecation still continues in most parts of rural Kashmir despite the target set by the Government of India to achieve “no open-defecation” across India by 2012.

Even as it needs no rocket science to confirm that open-defecation is dangerous for human health, however, the lack of awareness among the people about it together will the lackadaisical attitude of the governmental agencies, the problem of open-defecation continues to be a common thing in rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir.

“By 2012, there will be no open defecation as per the Central government scheme (a scheme Rs 2,000,000) to ensure complete sanitation facilities in rural areas. Besides, there will be 5,98,882 toilets constructed under Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) up to 2012 for those living below the poverty line,” informed Shabir Ahmed Khan, Director, Rural Sanitation, Kashmir.

So far, he said, 1, 06,659 individual household lavatories have been made and in 13,893 government schools almost 7628 toilets have been constructed. However, sources informed that not much progress has been made with respect to TSC so far as Srinagar and Ganderbal districts as the department was able to construct only 2234 lavatories in these twin district till date.

When asked why the response to TSC was poor in these districts, Director alleged the people in these areas “want subsidy on everything!”

However, he said, there are certain areas where people adopt TSC without much hesitation and they do not even demand Rs 2200 as incentive whereas at other places people say that the incentive amount is less and they are reluctant to adopt it.

He said in hilly areas, the department gives almost Rs 3000 as incentive for construction of latrines. He also informed the response to TSC is good in Poonch, Doudha, Rajouri and Ananatnag.

When asked about what the department was doing on the publicity front to make people aware about the dangers of open-defecation, Director said, the department was supposed to organize more awareness programmes last year but due to the undeclared curfews, strikes and elections it got delayed.

“Whatever work or awareness programmes remained incomplete, we will try to complete it this year,” the Director said, adding that there will be tremendous response of the people for TSC within two years.

He also informed that manual scavenging has declined by 65 percent. “Basic purpose of TSC is to put an end to manual scavenging. The campaign provides individual facilities as well as the sanitary complexes for the people.”

Encouraging the people to come forward, Director said the TSC is demand-driven and “they can be constructed only when masses come forward for it.”

He said the mindset and attitude of the people has to change and that can bring a drastic change at the grass-roots level.

Lack of awareness and the human and animal excreta being used as manure in the fields are believed to be the reasons why people stick to the age-old practice of open-defecation.

While taking about the present and future plans of the department, Director said, “In order to make TSC successful, we have already step up village committees and school sanitation committees and we are depositing amount in their accounts for construction of the latrines and in this way we have already covered a target of 30 percent through these committees.”

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