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.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Disaster Everywhere

An editorial in the Kashmir Observer repeats the obvious

Disaster In Dal

For the past many decades a tragedy of monumental proportions has been unfolding before the very eyes of Srinagar dwellers with every passing day. Quart by quart, the once pristine waters of the Dal Lake have been vitiated to unpardonable levels, and the lake itself has shrunk to a bare 11 square kilometers from its once majestic expanse, as human settlements, “reclaimed” land, and habitations of all forms ate into what should have been an inviolate realm. As the jewel of Srinagar is suffocated to death, hundreds of crores of rupees are being claimed to have been spent to save it, an expenditure - undertaken after constant goading - that seems to have gone totally down the drain.

Successive state governments since partition have been criminally remiss in ignoring the potent threat the growing “colonization” of the lake and its environs posed to its survival, and the policies the governments have pursued ever since the Dal’s sickness became starkly and unavoidably evident in the early eighties are both obtuse and opaque. Down the decades, the lake and its environs have been milked for all they are worth, both in terms of the so-called exploitation of their tourist potential, and using them as largess to dispense favours to politically sympathetic quarters. Traditional lake dwellers have been left to their deleterious devices without any let or hindrance as they represented a solid vote bank for the National Conference that did not impose any preventive restrictions on their activities in a bid to keep them in good humour. Further, the party, along with other political forces, has cultivated the valley’s money bags by permitting the construction of a number of hotels and shopping complexes on land girdling the lake that had wisely been kept out of bounds even by autocratic rulers.

The stretch from Dalgate to the Nehru Park along the Boulevard, chock-a-block with constructions inimical to the health of the lake, represents the politically-motivated profaning of the lake’s surroundings. True, the catchment area of the Dal beyond Nishat, Shalimar and Harwan, and stretching into the Zabarwan hills, was populated by villages, but a crassly mercenary political dispensation has transformed the rural character of the critical zones into a semi-urban slum by allowing the rich and the powerful to build luxurious retreats and residences, setting the tone for widespread defiling of the lake’s regenerative lungs. A scrupulously regulated and managed rural setting could have found answers to the inevitable fallout of human habitation – solid and liquid waste – in these areas, but mindless colonization has overtaken any remedial measures as the toxic effluents from the mushrooming settlements find their way directly into the Dal.

The fringes of the lake have become a squalid sight with countless inhabited constructions contributing to the pollution and decay of its waters. Lands offering a breathtaking view of the Dal, particularly in the vicinity of the Cheshma Shahi and the newly developed Royal Springs Golf Course, have been turned into prized real estate for the custodians of Kashmir’s heritage, its powerful politicians and bureaucrats, to live in secluded splendour. Such developments in the zone crucial for the lake’s survival have sounded its death knell, and no government appears to have the political will to reverse the decades of abuse.

The much-touted Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA), instituted to give the Dal a new lease of life, has morphed into a money-guzzling corpus that moves only when the High Court cracks the whip. Instead of any real achievements to its credit, it has been in the news for fraud, irregularities and favouritism. Even its present drive to bring violating houseboat owners to book has come at the goading of the High Court. Left to itself, it has been able to achieve nothing except half-hearted experiments at various methods to rid the lake of unwanted weeds. Even this unproductive exercise has been chiefly motivated by pecuniary gains to be made out of ordering machinery of various sorts, equipment that eventually gathers rust out of unsuitability or misuse. For the long years it has been in existence, LAWDA has been unable to come up with any worthwhile ideas to prevent houseboat sewage from finding its way to the water, and today, with the High Court breathing down its neck, it begins to flex muscle by ordering non-complying houseboats to shut down.

The lakes plight has also engendered a host of NGOs that solicit massive funds ostensibly to work for the survival of the Dal, but what happens to the finances is as murky an affair as the waters of the dying lake.

So brazen is the financial exploitation of the Dal’s condition, that the LAWDA does not even bother about questions raised about its use of funds. The least it could have done all these years with the moneys in its kitty was to subsidize sewage collection and treatment facilities for the houseboats that have been facing a resource crunch over the past two decades. But, obviously, official loyalties lie in affairs transcending the fate of the Dal.

For all the breast-beating in the government, the failure to evacuate the thousands of troopers stationed in hotels in its periphery, another big source of pollution, is a real sign of its capabilities.

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