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.

Monday, April 20, 2009

First 100 Days of the Omar Abdullah Administration

Fayaz conducts a prognosis of the new State administration

Evaluating performance

Fayaz Malik (Rising Kashmir)

As Omar Abdullah government in Jammu and Kashmir completes 100 days in office, it is customary for both print and electronic media to present before its readers and viewers a progress report on governance, which essentially tracks a State government’s record across a range of key parameters like infrastructure development, health, employment, investment, education and economic growth.

Peace is a prerequisite for development. The atmosphere of violence and uncertainty are the greatest enemies of both. The new Chief Minister is fully aware of this. His insistence on the need for dialogue between India and Pakistan and New Delhi and Srinagar is a clear indication that he is seriously committed to the lasting solution of Kashmir issue and wants peace in the region to flourish. He has made no bones about the efficacy of the withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act and zero tolerance to human rights violations to invest in peace and development in the State. What makes his statements significant is that he is making these while in power.

Though 100 days are not enough to dissect the performance of any ruling alliance, it is time enough to foresee what is in store for the people for the next six years. Even before Omar Abdullah could settle down, he had to grapple with the huge challenge on security front with the killing of three innocent people at Bomai and Khaigam. By ordering a time-bound enquiry that indicted security forces, Omar has practically demonstrated government’s resolve to punish those found violating human rights.

By this time in office, Omar must have realised the virtues of good governance. Even if the State posses all qualities of becoming a model state, poor governance, wholesale populism, bureaucratic indolence and corruption can push any state into a deep morass from which it becomes very difficult for any State to emerge. I think Omar will do himself and the State a whole lot of good by making a positive intervention in these areas so that he is able to give practical shape to agenda of “effective delivery mechanism’.

To begin with, the government seems to have got its developmental priorities right. Omar is emulating “roads-bring-wealth” mantra of a similar state like Himachal Pradesh. He is keen to see Mughal Road becoming operational as well improving road connectivity across all three regions of the State so that his agenda of social sector development is spread equitably. The government has made a good beginning to activate grassroots institutions in education and health sectors by targeting flagship programmes so that tangible gains are made in literacy rate, life expectancy, immunisation and infant mortality. Mind you, these social sector indices matter in far-flung regions of the State and the government seems aware of that.

At various fora, Chief Minister has more than once talked about a barrage of issues like creating employment opportunities in tune with the high turnover of educated youth in the State, outlined significance of tourism sector as a key driver of service industry and private investment in micro, small and medium enterprises to script its success.

More than once, Omar has stressed the need to upgrade technical skills of our youth so that their employability in the private sector is enhanced. Along with CII, the government has announced a Joint National Task Force for which CII will invest Rs. 1 crore for entrepreneurial development in J&K. Opening of 18 new polytechnics in the uncovered districts of the State is another pointer in this direction.

The Chief Minister has eyed the education sector for a major revamp. Aware of the need to develop educational infrastructure in peripheral areas of the State, the government announced setting up of 11 new colleges in educationally-backward areas of the State. Showing that the government connects with his people, Omar also announced special funding for setting up of career counseling centres and magazine referral sections at all the 79 colleges across the State to help students prepare better for competitive examinations.

In the health sector, the government has been even more proactive. Right in his first review meeting on health sector, the Chief Minister asked the authorities to prepare a new Drug Policy. He also asked the authorities to complete under-execution projects so that they could be put to operational use. Realizing the need to upgrade health facilities in remote and inaccessible areas, the Chief Minister has discussed various proposals with Central government for laying new infrastructure in the State that includes two 400-bedded maternity hospitals and 17 trauma centres at accident-prone locations. He has also come down harsh on menace of absenteeism in the health sector.

The Chief Minister is aware about State’s potential in tourism and industrial sectors. While tourism has been dovetailed with cultural heritage of the State to reach out to new visitors, the Chief Minister’s experience as a Union Minister of Commerce and Industry will hold the State’s industrial sector in good stead. The Chief Minister has rightly identified the industrial sector as being the answer to our unemployment crisis, adding that the small and medium enterprises sector has the potential to absorb thousands of our skilled youth.

Omar Abdullah has also short-listed power sector as the key area for economic development. He has already taken up the issue of extension of Power Reforms Grants, a special dispensation, with the Central government for another six years so that the government realises the plan to add 3,500 MWs of hydro power, high power voltage transmission line and specific blue print for reduction of losses. He is pursuing with the Centre for taking up Baghliar II Power Project, as promised by Prime Minister while commissioning Baghliar I in October last year. He has also called upon NHPC to expedite its projects in J&K at the earliest so that State generates its full potential in the power sector.

In disaster management, the Chief Minister has been right on mark. Within 30 minutes of the caving in of the Assar road, in Doda, the Chief Minister was right on the spot, personally monitoring relief operations. After a series of unfortunate road accidents in the same district, the Chief Minister has called for creation of a Central Corpus Fund for providing urgent relief as well as replacing old buses with new ones of the National Highway.

Lastly, the Chief Minister has sent a terse message across to his administration to work with accountability and transparency. After the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission, the Chief Minister has said he expects his employees to work with more zeal and dedication so that Jammu and Kashmir also counts itself among the model states of the country.

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