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 27, 2009

Highlighting the Misfortune of Living in Doldrums

Two recent Editorials in Srinagar based broadsheets put the misery in perspective

Mess all Over (Kashmir Images)

‘Conflict is development in reverse’. However, in Kashmir Valley, more than the political conflict, it is the incompetence of various governmental agencies that has not only halted the development process here but even reversed it. Worsening the matters further is the unfortunate lack of accountability that has become a characteristic feature of the state’s governance. Be it individual incompetence of the officials manning various developmental agencies or the collective inefficiency of various departments, it is hard to find even a single example wherein the government might have fixed responsibility on people for the mess they have created in the state.

Take the premier developmental agencies meant for executing and overseeing various public engineering works. Be it the Roads and Bridges (R&B) or the Urban Engineering and Environment Department (UEED) or the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) or the Power Development Department (PDD) or the Public Health Engineering (PHE) or the Jammu and Kashmir Projects Construction Corporation (JKPCC) or for that matter the new monster called the Economic Reconstruction Agency (ERA), all these agencies are in absolute mess. And so are the works undertaken by them, and consequently the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Now a glaring example of the mess created by these agencies is the pitiable plight of the Dr. Ali Jan Road. Right from Eidgah to Soura, this road, named after Kashmir’s noted physician is in complete shambles and it has been so for over two years now. Today the condition of this road is so miserable that it is difficult to walk on it not to speak of the problems faced by the vehicles that have to ply on this road.

For the past couple of years, this road has been under the sickle of authorities, sometimes for laying of water pipes and at other times for construction of drains. Ironically the works that should have been completed in few months time have dragged on for years and even today are nowhere near completion. Understandably, a huge chunk of population of the Valley is suffering owing to this road’s uncomfortable situation. With lethargic engineering wings of the government having provided a pretext for a vast majority of common people including the heavy rush of people visiting premier health institution SKIMS situated at one end of this road, to stop using it, some greedy land-grabbers too have started filling in the Khushalsar and Anchar lakes converting portions of these water-bodies into solid land masses. And again LAWDA is nowhere to check this plunder.

With a new government in place, the new Chief Minister will certainly do public some real good if he directs his attention towards the corrupt engineering wings of the government. The miserable condition of the Dr. Ali Jan Road provides a vital starting point for creating a culture of holding public servants responsible their lethargy and inefficiency. Given the complicity of various engineering wings in defacing and disfiguring of the Dr. Ali Jan Road, it will be really worthwhile to find out how and why the works that should be completed in months are dragged on for years – who are the people benefited by this lethargy and how it helps promote land-grab of lakes and lagoons. Otherwise, it’s better that the government renames Dr. Ali Jan Road. Naming a road after Dr. Ali Jan is no homage to this great soul if we are not able to give this road semblance of what a road is like. We have no right to insult the great son of soil Dr. Ali Jan.

Up in Smoke And Dust (Kashmir Observer)

Seasons used to come to Kashmir with their own unique delights, filling even the busy city of Srinagar with their particular charms. But now, common blights blur the lines between nature’s changing colours, turning life into an unbroken procession of ordeals most of which could have been avoided with a more sensible approach to civic issues.

The dominant feature in Srinagar these days, if it is not rain-submerged roads, is dust-laden air assailing pedestrians and passengers on the streets when the weather switches to the dry mode. What should have been the refreshing breath of spring is a choking, stinging experience thanks largely to the various government agencies supposed to be keeping the city in a decent state of repair.

Rains, not exactly unheard of in spring, turn into a major civic catastrophe as roads get instantly submerged and flooded, with a total breakdown of the already decrepit drainage system. Apart from the city’s showpiece, the Residency Road, hardly any other road has storm drains to handle run off water, and even the facility in this fashionable mall is defunct due to silt and clogging. So, sights of pedestrians wading through ankle-deep water, and vehicles marooned in tyre-deep bilge, are common even in the relatively better maintained city center after anything heavier than a drizzle. What happens to outlying areas is best described by photographs appearing regularly in the press depicting vast expanses of accumulated water where shiny stretches of tarmac were supposed to be. What is hidden by rains is laid bare by dry weather as waters recede to reveal deeply eroded and potholed roads badly in need of repair. Any hopes of relief when the downpour ceases are literally dashed to the ground by the clouds of dust that hang in the air like a pall after being kicked off by incessant traffic. If this is expected on bad roads, streets in comparatively better condition respond no differently, as they rarely ever get the attentions of a broom to sweep away the dust, and possess no drainage that could have carried the dirt away. The result is that most of Srinagar streets remain engulfed in billowing dust that makes nonsense of the government’s efforts to check emission levels of vehicles, which, in any case, is little more than a token gesture.

Far from being the temperate, refreshing and soothing abode that Srinagar used to be in spring, the advent of the tourist season, it today presents a grimy clime where the air, already difficult to inhale in the streets, becomes intolerable with a slight rise in mercury. As spring yields way to summer with its blistering heat, the situation is only bound to become worse as there is no sign of the government gearing up to undertake badly needed repairs on roads, repair and complete the city drainage, or give teeth to the municipality to discharge its expected duties. The only sign of the administration’s life is the annual coat of paint to the edges of sidewalks, an exercise and honour reserved for the return of the durbar from Jammu.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, or so the saying goes. The benefits of the plethora of government departments and agencies charged solely with the duty to maintain roads and drainage, monitor construction, or in general, develop the city to respectable standards, are there for all to see. Given the condition of the city, it would be hard to convince an outsider that there is department upon government department, guzzling money like water, supposed to be active in Srinagar’s upkeep.

The situation was a God-send for the present government to prove its sense of civic responsibility by cracking the whip on this array of erring agencies, but it apparently has yet to get over the daze of newly-acquired power.

No comments: