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.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Are Some Kashmiri Parents Dumping Their Drug Addict Wards at the Psychiatric Hospital?

Musavir has an on-the-spot report from a place that the society would rather not talk about

(Mr. Musavirr Wani, 28, was born in Srinagar and attened the Burn Hall School. He graduated from the Meerut University and joined the Kashmir Times as a reporter. Loves driving his car and surfing internet to seek out workshops and fellowships so that he can travel and present the true picture of Kashmir.)

'We are normal, not insane'

Srinagar: Quite contrary to general perception, inmates at valley's lone psychiatric diseases hospital consider themselves "normal".

"What are you looking for? I am not a patient. They are there," says a female inmate while pointing towards others in one of the wards of Valley's lone psychiatric diseases hospital in Srinagar.

As this correspondent was jotting down details, Shazia Akhter (name changed), yet another inmate, came rushing down and said, "I too can write" while entering her name on writing pad.

There are 21 female inmates in hospital from different districts including Srinagar, Baramulla, Pulwama and Budgam. Zoona (name changed), another inmate, just roams around. She has been here for last two decades.

"They fight over trivial issues. At times they turn violent and injections are used to pacify them. Whenever they see their dear one or any other relative they lose their temper," said Khateeja, a maid in hospital.

She admits that families of inmates show a "cold-shoulder response" and do not visit them frequently. "There are 5-6 cases who can be send back, but their families are not willing to accept them," said Khateeja adding "they consider them a burden."

Shafeeqa from Qamarwari is orphan. Being well-aware of the fact, she said, "I have no one at home".

Situation in male wards is no different. Hilal Ahmad (name changed), an inmate while introducing himself said, "I have studied in Hanfia College, no in women's college, no in University. My identity card is with them (pointing towards hospital management)."

When asked how he landed in the psychiatric hospital Hilal averred, "I am here because I was a drug-addict. Now I have given-up and I take medicines regularly."

As he was speaking, Asif (name changed), another inmate came inside, "There is alcodine and nicotine in drugs and Kashmiri chai (tea). This is very harmful for health."

"Kal main azad hojaunga" (tomorrow I will be a free bird)" Asif said, "My parents brought me here."

Asked why, he replied, "Kya pata (I do not know) adding "I do what my parents ask me to do and would go home tomorrow and continue my studies. I miss my parents and friends".

Next to Asif stands another inmate who cried, "They do not allow me home, I want to go. My younger brother brought me here."

Ninety male inmates from various districts of valley are in four wards of hospital.

"Serious patients are put in separate ward and when they turn furious they are kept in different cells. More inmates are from rural areas," said an official of hospital adding, "They mostly fight over cigarettes. Sometimes patients turn out of control and injections are used to bring them relief."

Citing an example, he added "Few days back, we took a patient home (in hospital vehicle), next day, family brought him back" adding "basically, their families fail to provide them medicines (at home) that are given them free of cost, here."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Quality of Education Must be Improved

Riyaz says the education system is unable to produce results because key core targets are not being pursued

(Mr. Riyaz Ahmad Qureshi, 34, was born in Kandi village in the Karnah tehsil, generally known as Tangdhar (Kupwara District). He was educated in a private school in Srinagar until the 10th grade and completed his 12th grade from the Government Higher Secondary School in his native town. He completed his B.E. degree in Electrical Engineering from the Regional Engineering College in Srinagar (now called the National Institute of Technology) with an advanced diploma in computers. He is employed by the University of Kashmir as an Assistant Engineer. In his leisure time, Mr. Qureshi reads books on education and science, and enjoys driving on open roads.)

Missing the Target

The educational institutions of our state do not satisfactorily perform the function of promoting the desirable attitude in the students. Promoting the right kind of attitude should have been the primary objective of our educational system, but unfortunately this core value is missing. At the most what they do is to achieve large-scale literacy only. The results are visible in the form of the production of a huge crowd of students with no prospects of a better future, and bearing the brunt of the inadequacies in our education system.

As we all know that education is supposed to deal with the sharpening of and developing faculty of intellect and exploiting the same for purposeful and productive application. Education is meant for tangible human welfare and social development inclusive of the individuals participating in educational processes. It may be borne in mind that the objectives of education are reflective of social structure and social demands and these are always varying and dynamic.

As such these objectives can be; Universal, General, and Specific. The Universal objectives must aim at developing humanistic behaviour; the General objective must aim at developing nationalistic character, and Specific objective should take care of the immediate social requirements.

With reference to our State it is a bitter truth that the realization of the Universal objectives is rarely manifested in the students as instead of humanistic behaviour one can easily find the predominance self-centeredness in most of the cases. The realization of General objectives is seen to be badly diluted for the obvious reasons that our State's political future is uncertain and unsettled. The realization of the Specific objectives is also not much rewarding as the educational institutions are unable to furnish socially-relevant courses of required degree and quantum.

At the primary, secondary and higher secondary levels, the courses do not reflect any thing localized as the academic programmes of NCERT are under implementation and the J & K State Board of School Education has no role in this regard and it only conducts the various examinations round. This state of affairs seems to be sociologically and psychologically irrelevant and it has telling effects on the psyche of the students who feel badly uncomfortable in social scheme of things and thus suffers from utter dissatisfaction.

At the level of higher education the situation is, of course, not that bad but keeping in view the present day requirements and necessities of the complex social structure and global advancement the educational system and the courses offered are not much attractive and quality based; reason being that most of the higher education institutions are deficient in infrastructure, library and laboratory facilities and wanting in prescribed teacher-student ratio.

In almost all the higher level institutions there has been, for quite some time, a tradition of ad-hocism leading to stagnation in academic matters. These institutions are mostly sanctioned and opened for political reasons rather than on technical grounds. These are often lodged in temporary sheds in rural areas, which reflects the apathy of the government on one hand and negligence and irresponsible behaviour of the front line social and political workers. This situation has also led to huge enrolment pressure on established colleges mostly situated in the cities and towns which have already been subjected to the problem of over-crowding because of large scale spread of population. And if the situation is not tackled carefully these established institutions are bound to lose their glory and reputation.

The condition of the institutions running PG courses is also deplorable as their intake capacity is not keeping pace with the demand. Further the laboratory, library and other essential services are also far behind the prescribed norms.

The situation is worse in respect of the educational institutions in the private sector as in no way these suffice even the basic and minimum facilities in respect of infrastructure and qualified staff. These institutions manage their entitlement through false representations and recommendations through their management committees. Generally there is a big gap between their notified and real pay structure and the recruited staff cannot express its grievances for fear of being expelled by the respective management bodies of such institutions. This is more true about private sector institutions in the rural areas where periodical inspections cannot be effectively conducted.

The question is how this sad state of affairs can end. The answer is simple. This problem can be overcome only when the whole society including the people at the helm of affairs shuns materialistic approach and exhibit true human character in the form of cultured, dignified and selfless behaviour; thus allowing the values to prevail.

This is not impossible though difficult it may be. Collective and sincere efforts on part of the members of our society can bring the derailed system on track. It is only when everyone contributes in a constructive way that a peaceful, prosperous and progressive society can take shape.

Kashmiri School Children Lead the Way

Kavita describes the Global Warming campaign promoted by school children in the valley

(Dr. Kavita Suri was born in Jammu and did her primary schooling there. She received two Bachelor's degrees from the University of Jammu, one in Science from the the Government Women's College, and the other in Education from the Government College of Education. She completed Master's degrees in Education, followed by English (both from the University of Jammu), and in Masss Communication from Guru Jambeshwar University in Hisar. She finished her doctorate degree from the Department of Education of the University of Jammu. In between she also pursued diploma courses in creative writing, business management, journalism and distance education from the Indira Gandhi National Open University. She started his journalism career with the Daily Excelsior, and over the years worked at various print media newspapers like the Kashmir Times, The Tribune, and more recently, at the Statesman. She is currently the assistant director of the Centre for Adult and Continuing Education and Extension at the University of Jammu. She has written a book, entitled, "Impact of Violence on Girls' Education in Kashmir", as well as contributed articles to changing political landscapes and gender inequalities in Jammu and Kashmir. She has received the British Chevening Print Journalists'fellowship, Charkha-Sanjoy Ghose media fellowship, and the U.S. State Department International Visitors Exchange fellowship. She has made numerous presentations, conducted multiple workshops, and is affiliated with numerous social organizations.)

Global Warming: ‘We Do Care,’ say Kashmir’s Children

Birjees John, 17, a student of class 12th at the Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Soura, Srinagar, last week spent a full day at the Sri Pratap College, Srinagar learning and discussing about the issues of global warming and climate change.

A young girl who is also her class representative at her school, was took excited to be part of the Eni Children’s Education workshop on “Petroleum Geology, Global Warming and Energy Efficiency Campaign” organized by the University of Jammu in collaboration with Maghreb Petroleum Research Group, University College London, Directorate of School Education, J&K and S.P. College Srinagar, Kashmir. Over 200 children drawn from various schools of almost all the districts of Kupwara, Baramulla, Anantnag, Pulwama, Budgam, Ganderbal etc of Kashmir valley participated in this workshop focused to provide essential basic education in Geosciences to the school children of Kashmir valley.

“What makes me sad is the fact that our natural resources are depleting in Kashmir valley. We are having water shortage which we never had in the past in the region which is full of water bodies, springs and rivers; our water bodies like Dal Lake and Nageen Lake are getting polluting and we are largely responsible for that,” said Birjees John who like other over 200 children participated in this workshop, first of its kind in Kashmir valley, organized to sensitize the children of Kashmir valley about the issues like energy conservation, global warming and climate change.The entire workshop was received enthusiastically by these students and accompanying teachers.

As there is a limited awareness among the school children on such themes, the most important component of the lecture series and exercises in this workshop for valley children was to make them aware about the critical global issues of the current energy crisis, depleting fossil fuel resources, alternative energy resources, energy efficiency and global warming.

Burhaan Hamid, another young student who is studying in class 11th in Burn Hall School attended the workshop along with his class mates Ahmed Mustaq and Rameez Riyaz. Having already participated in campaigns like “Save Dal” initiated by some social organizations and their respective schools, these young students feel very strongly about the issues which touch their everyday lives.

“What makes us ponder is the fact winters are getting shorter and shorter in Kashmir valley, the Kashmiris who used to wear Pheran (a long robe made of woolen cloth to protect from cold) round the year discard it for half of the year and so is the case with Kangris (fire pots) which we used to keep with us,” rues Rameez Riyaz adding global warming is a cause of concern for hundreds of them living in Kashmir valley.

Most of the children who participated in the workshop felt that all of them needed to do something to save their planet earth, their Kashmir so that they do not face the problems like melting of the glaciers, lesser rains, increased temperature in future.

Never before any such an initiative has been taken in Kashmir Valley. It was first programme of its kind to address these issues with the new generation in Kashmir valley. The workshop, going by the active participation of over 200 Kashmiri children made a visible impact on the lives and perception of the children involved.

The University of Jammu, in collaboration with Eni, one of the sixth largest oil companies in the world, has already organized five Eni Children’s Education Program aimed at educating students at Jammu, Kargil, Leh,Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. This education programmes organized at Jammu, Kargil and Leh in Jammu and Kashmir and Jodhpur in Rajasthan and now again at Srinagar have been a resounding success.

“There is a need to make the students and youth of the country aware about the issues of global warming, climate change and energy conservation. These burning issues are no longer any hypothesis but real issues of public debate,” said Professor Varun Sahni, Vice Chancellor, University of Jammu who himself is an internationally acclaimed defense analyst.

Kashmir, he added, is already witnessing impact of global warming; the glaciers in the region are melting and the temperature is also rising. There is a very little snowfall in the valley since past few years due to global warming and the attempt was to sensitize the future generation on issues of public importance.

Prof Sahni believes that it is not only important for the students and youth of Kashmir to understand the challenges and issues in our planetary ecosystems but it was equally important for them to spread out this message among their friends, students, brothers, sisters and the whole society.

Dr. Jonathan Craig, Vice-President, Regional Studies and Exploration Opportunities Selection, E&P Division, Eni S.p.A. Milan spoke to the children regarding petroleum geology which was followed by simple exercises for the students. Another practical session included a lecture by Dr Jonathan Craig on global warming followed by the more exercises for the students.

“Be under no illusion, global warming is probably the greatest threat to humanity in our five million year history on this planet and it will be the poorest people in the world who will suffer,” he informed the students adding planet Earth is warming faster than at any other time in the past 1000 years and there is little doubt that human activity is largely to blame. There has been a 0.6 degree C rise in global temperature and a 20 cm rise in sea level during the 20th century. The thickness of the sea ice over the Artic Ocean has reduced by 40 %. Mountain glaciers are melting at the faster rate ever recorded. There has been a 40% increase in storm activity in the North Atlantic region over the last 50 years and global floods and droughts have become more frequent, particularly in areas such as India.

“In 2007, the Intergovernmental panel on climate change IPCC predicted that global temperatures will rise by up to a further 5.8 degree C by 2100. Even if greenhouse gas and aerosol concentrations in the atmosphere were fixed at today’s levels, temperatures would continue to rise by between 0.25 and 0.75 degree Celsius by the end of the Century,” said Dr. Craig.

“We at the University of Jammu are doing a tremendous job in making the children, our future generation, aware about the issues and challenges in the field of energy conservation and global warming which are extremely important. It is equally important to understand in terms of basic and earth science as we are located in High Himalayas which is a very fragile area and undertaking earth science is the most important thing for the students,” said Professor G. M. Bhat, University of Jammu, Principal Convenor, EEC.

The participating Kashmiri school children also made poster presentations on the theme of Global Warming, Energy Efficiency and Climate Change. Later prizes were distributed among the students. First prize of ENi Milan went to Shahida Ashraf, student of class 11 at GGHS Verinag, second prize of University College London was awarded to Hina Ashraf, GHSS Kothibagh, third prize went to Salma and Ishrat of GGHS Kulgam. Consolation prizes were given to Jehangir, GBHS Telbal, Sabia Abdullah, GGHSS Nishat, Shiekh Zaffar, GBHS Laar, Ganderbal, Shauket Ali Khan of Kulgam High School, Umer Hussian Khan of Aram, Bandipore, Nilofer Tabassum of Budgam and Ms Nusrat of Pahalgam School. The experts of the event were Mr. R.L.Kashkari and Dr. B.K.Raina, both former directors of Geological Survey of India, Dr. B.L.Dhar, Forest Research Institute, Dehradun.

Dr. Bindra Thusu of Maghreb Petroleum Research Group at University College London was also present at the workshop. Technical support and practical training was provided by a Jammu University team of scholars including Dr. Yudhbir Singh, Mr. Naveen Hakhoo, Ms Sumita Koul and Mr. Vinay Sharma.

International Collaboration on Energy Research Awareness in J&K

The University of Kashmir joins with institutes in U.K., U.S.A., and Italy to create a new consortium

Energy Research & Training Consortium Being set up

Gulmarg: Universities of Kashmir and Jammu have agreed to collaborate and work together to set up "Energy Research & Training Consortium for Jammu and Kashmir" for conducting scientific research in the field of energy sector.

The main objective of this collaboration is to establish collaborative links among the two universities with support from the University College London, University of Durham, UK, University of Utah, USA, Italian International Energy Development Corporation (ENI), Italy, Getenergy, UK and various other national institutes.

A consensus to this effect was reached on the 3rd Day of the Workshop on "Energy Challenges: A case for Energy Research Institute", in a meeting of the Core Group comprising of members from the two Universities and the Collaborating organizations held at Gulmarg. It was decided at the Core Group Meeting to take forward the mission under the name "Energy Research & Training Consortium for Jammu and Kashmir". The Core Group meeting was attended by Professor Riyaz Punjabi, Vice Chancellor, Kashmir University, Professor Varun Sahni, Vice Chancellor, University of Jammu, Dr. Haseeb Drabu, Chairman J&K Bank, Dr. Jonathan Craig, ENI, Italy, Dr. Richard Davies, University of Durham, Dr. Peter Mckenzie Smith from Get energy, Dr. Joe Moore from the Utah University, USA, Prof. Juergen Thurow and Prof Bindra Thusu from University College London, Dr Shakil A Romshoo , KU, Prof. G. M. Bhat, JU, other top officials of both the Universities including Registrars and Dean Academic Affairs of KU and JU and other senior professors.

This strategic and important decision to set up of the "Energy Research & Training Consortium (ERTC) for Jammu and Kashmir", besides other things, would ultimately pave way for the establishment of the Energy Research Institute in the state in the years to come, thus promoting and enabling teaching/training, consultancy and research in the field of Energy resource assessment, Energy Planning and conservation, alternate energy resources, environmental concerns etc. This Energy Institute, first of its kind in India, would be developed on the pattern of Energy Research Institute developed at University of Utah, USA, Durham University, UK and UCL, UK. Under this initiative, which is being seen as a major achievement for the state of Jammu and Kashmir, both the prestigious and leading universities of the state are going for a major collaborative work, the partners will work towards sector wise resource assessment, building the capacity of the state power development agencies, generate the accurate and credible data for formulating energy policy in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

This Consortium will have two coordinators, one from each University, who would coordinate with international collaborators. While Dr Shakil A Romshoo would be the coordinator from Kashmir University Professor G. M. Bhat will be the coordinator from Jammu University,. Besides, it was decided that there would be ten core group members that would include geologists, life scientists, organic chemists, physicists, anthropologists, economists, hydrologists etc.

The establishment of the "Energy Research & Training Consortium for J&K" is a first step towards setting up of the full-fledged Energy Institute in J&K and would among other things, go for an independent assessment of the resources on which one can rely on; it would help to generate data that is extremely useful for the researchers, government, policy makers and would provide a realistic and holistic view of the Energy Scenario in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. There would also be exchanges of academic staff and students from the two University to the Collaborating Universities abroad for the purpose of promoting research and capacity building under appropriate bilateral agreements. joint conferences, seminars and symposia on topics of mutual interest would be organized by the KU, JU with support from the Collaborating institutes.

Vice Chancellor Kashmir University Prof Riyaz Punjabi termed the development as unique and significant and said that he is trying to set some benchmarks in the University to ensure that the Scientific outputs are used for the environmental friendly socio-economic development of the state . Saying that innovation is his objective , Prof Punjabi felt that despite tremendous energy potential in the state, the scenario is very grim as no concerted efforts have been made by the state to harness and optimally utilize the energy potential for laying strong economic foundation for the industrial growth of the state. Prof Punjbai hoped that the "Energy Research & Training Consortium for J&K" shall give boast to research related to the environment friendly exploitation of all form of energy resources in the state.

Professor Varun Sahni, Vice Chancellor, University of Jammu, while underscoring the need to collect data for further research and impart teaching, suggested the introduction of a short-term course on energy through distance education mode in both the universities. "As the distance education modes of both the universities are very strong, I think the introduction of a short 3-5 month course on energy would help in a big way in capacity building of the people interested in the theme," said Prof Sahni adding such Consortium will have a huge multiplier effect.

Dr Jonathan Craig, Italy, while lauding the idea mooted by Prof Sahni to start a short term course on energy, said that developing a strategy for research, assessment and training was an important part of their deliberations during the 3-Day International Workshop. He said as they have to train the researchers for future, it was a good idea to start such a course. The Consortium in the days to come, could play the role of an independent authority for information to the Investors., felt Dr Craig.

Earlier, Dr Haseeb A Drabu Chairman J&K Bank on behalf of his organization offered to fund one chair for the upcoming institute. While spelling out the framework of action for the consortium, he said that Consortium could provide valuable information to the policy makers, investors, energy administrators and the general public on various aspects of the Energy and could serve as the First Guide, if the Consortium comes up with guidebooks on various aspects of the Energy. He said publishing an energy hand book, a practitioner’s guide and investors resource book should be the first priority of the Consortium .

"To generate and disseminate research and independent and holistic information and opinion on energy issues for enabling policy and investment decision for sustainable development of energy sector in J&K state " reads the mission statement of the Energy Research & Training Consortium for J&K and was unanimously agreed upon by the core group after hectic deliberations.

The Universities from UK and USA offered Collaborations to the Universities of Kashmir and Jammu. MOU was also signed between the University of Durham and the University of Kashmir at the Core Group meeting. Both the Vice-Chancellors were invited to send a delegation to visit the Energy Research Institutes being run at the University of Utah, USA, University of Durham, UK and The University College London, UK.

(Kashmir Observer)

Improving Kashmir's Horticulture and Agriculture

For a state that mostly survives on agrarian economy, the miniscule attention given to farming is sad. Two reports draw new attention to the problem

Innovative techniques will give boost to Horticulture in Valley

Srinagar: Minister for Health, Horticulture and Floriculture, Sham Lal Sharma has called for introducing innovative techniques to develop improved varieties of fruits to give boost to the horticulture sector in the Valley. He stressed for covering new areas under horticulture cultivation and make optimum use of horticulture potential in the state.

This was stated by the Minister during a review meeting of horticulture and floriculture departments held here today under his chairmanship.

Principal Secretary, Agriculture Production, Horticulture and Floriculture, Ms. Sonali Kumar, Director Horticulture, Kashmir, M. S. Qasba, Director Horticulture (P&M), A. R. Kuchay, Director Floriculture, Kashmir, Dr. G. S. Naqash, Director Command Area Development, Kashmir, Dr. G. H. Shah, Chief Horticulture Officers and District Horticulture Officers were present in the meeting.

In order to remove various bottlenecks coming in the way of improving this vital sector, the Minister stressed upon the officers to adopt a viable approach and put dedicated efforts coupled with effective planning to increase the productivity. He asked for ensuring quality control to compete in the global market for which strict Para-meters are required to be observed.

Sharma said that horticulture is the mainstay of the State’s economy and government is committed to upgrade the existing infrastructure, which include setting up of modern fruit mandis with necessary backup of cold storages, transport and other facilities. He said that for the facilities of fruit growers a number of measures have already been initiated.

The Minister also directed for upgrading the nurseries at the district level to produce quality plants for the farmers. He asked the Director Horticulture, Kashmir and CHOs to pay frequent field visits and personally see the problems at the operational level for quick disposal. He asked all the district officers to submit their future requirements and action plans to the Administrative Department for necessary action.

Underlying the need for giving boost to floriculture, the Minister said that this sector has great potential in the Valley and stressed for developing latest varieties of flowers which have great demand in the domestic and international markets. He said that large quantity of flowers is being imported in the State from various parts of the world to meet the local requirements.

He asked the Director Floriculture to utilize idle space in the major gardens/parks in Srinagar city with fruits, ornamental and medicinal plants to give aesthetic look to these parks. He further asked him to utilize his experience gained during his China visit in the floriculture field at the operational level.

Earlier, the Director Horticulture, Kashmir gave a power point presentation of the achievements registered by the department. He informed the meeting that during the year 2008-09, the Valley produced 15.25 lakh MTs of fruit which includes 13.87 MT fresh fruit and 1.38 MTs of dry fruit. He further said that 3140 MTs of apricots were produced in Leh and 5002 MTs in Kargil during the same period. He said that more than 5 lakh families are directly or indirectly involved with the horticulture sector and more than 30 lakh farmers are engaged in the trade.

He said that some new areas have been brought under horticulture cultivation during the same period with more than 10 lakh plants of different fruit varieties were distributed from departmental/private nurseries to the farmers on subsidized rates besides, 1000 persons trained in fruit and vegetable preservation. He said Rs. 3.50 crores have been spent under Technology Mission Programme and Rs. 6.83 crore spent under Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan during the last fiscal in Kashmir division.

Principal Secretary, Agriculture Production and Floriculture and Director Floriculture, Kashmir shared their experience gained during their visit to China in the field of horticulture and floriculture. They informed that the experience gained would be utilized in the State as per the conditions in the State.

(Etalaat News Service)

Food Grain Production: Why projects executed by Irrigation department failed to increase the food grain production

The production of food grains has shown a decline from last two years. Interestingly, the production has remained static from last 25 years which is a cause of worry for an ordinary man as well as for an expert. The report needs a careful attention given the fact that rice forms the staple food of Kashmir.

However, the situation becomes even more surprising when compared to Jammu region, where wheat production has shown a healthy growth of 8 percent during the previous years. According to official data the State produces 15 lakh metric tones of food grains annually with 10.86 MT produced in Jammu and 4.81 MT produced in the Valley.

The State is already deficient in food grains and imports food grains worth around Rs 1400 crore annually. As already mentioned the food grain production in the State has remained almost static for past 25 years and continuously swings between 13- 15 lakh metric tones. What is more disturbing is the fact that despite heavy investment having been made in irrigation which reached Rs 570 crore during the 10th plan period there has been no corresponding increase in food grain production within the Valley. The net irrigated area in the State reached 3.04 lakh hectares in 1981 from 2.61 lakh hectares in 1951. But huge lacunae can be deciphered by an ordinary person when one looks at the increase in net irrigated area during the last 29 years which is paltry by any standard at 3.09 lakh hectares. Now this needs deep digging and reasons have to be explored for the abysmal performance in irrigation infrastructure utilization. Has the irrigation infrastructure been created which does not have practical utility? Have the irrigation projects been executed without proper planning with no heed being paid to its effective utilization? Where has the money gone? These are some serious question which demand answers from everybody concerned.

Government needs to take tough stance as it makes out a perfect case of system failure. Even the major medium irrigation projects taken under the accelerated irrigation benefit program have not yielded the desired benefits. The Ministry of Irrigation and Flood Control, time and again, boasts of implementing various irrigation schemes which cover minor irrigation projects including gravity canals, lift stations, small storage tanks, replacement of worn out pumps, procurement and renovation of new drought pumps, construction and deepening of wells and tanks, besides restoration and modernizing of sick tanks. Even desilting and renovation of Khuls has been done on a mass scale, but again no tangible improvement in food grain production. Despite having the most precious resource – water- available in abundance, the State cannot meet its food grain needs. At least for policy planners and politicians, this means something is fundamentally wrong.

(Editorial in Rising Kashmir)

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Genius of Ghulam Ali Bhat

Basharat comments on an unsung hero named Majboor

(Mr. Syed Basharat, 29, was born in Kreeri, Baramulla, and did his schooling in Kreeri, and later in Uri and Sopore. He graduated from the Degree College in Baramulla and completed his Master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the Kashmir University in 2005. He has been a reporter for Kashmir Images, a Srinagar based daily, London based website Gaashonline.Com, and a Srinagar based journal, Globe. Currently, he is working as a special correspondent with Jammu based daily newspaper, The Kashmir Times.)

A tribute to Majboor

The inevitable was fast approaching. With every passing day, even the distant hope, that some of his relatives, friends and fans have had, of Ghulam Ali Majboor's recovery from the dreaded disease cancer, faded into eternity. Too obvious was it, that within days, if not hours, he would not be among us. All regular visitors to his house at Hanji Gund Wathoora in district Budgam prayed for the renowned humorist in their hearts, but were hesitant to even discuss his condition with others- as if they had already submitted to the divine will.

Born on December 17, 1952, Ghulam Ali Bhat pen name Majboor had a multifaceted personality. Besides being a teacher in department of education, he had carved a niche in prose, poetry, play writing, theatre, acting, and above all his hallmark satire, pun and comedy. Majboor was son of a legendary theatre actor during Maharaja's and Ghulam Moahmmad Bhakshi's ear. Majboor founded National Bhand Pather. One rarely saw him disturbed or agitated; in fact, he would manage to make others smile even during the most testing of times.

However, this was only one side of the picture. Majboor's close associate and colleague Talha Jehangir remembers him as an excellent team player, a legendary dramatist, theatre director and a script writer. "He remained positive even in the most adverse of situations. When we started our career in radio Kashmir in early 1980's, with the Programme Zafraan Zaar Late Lassa Koul was the station director. We continued with this programme without any break upto 2004. It was broadcasted thrice in a month and then it became a weekly programme on satire," Jehangir said.

It was only after Jehangir was transferred mysteriously, Majboor left the programme in protest. Later the programme came to a standstill for a long time. What pinches Jehangir a renowned stage director and broadcaster, is that Majboor's potential was not recognized during his lifetime. "He was not recognised during his life. To me he passed away as an unsung hero," Jehangir observed.

Most of the stage artists who know Majboor complain that his work for radio Kashmir went unnoticed and was not recognised as per its worth. Coupled with his gracious nature, pleasant behaviour, team spirit and creativity made Majboor a popular figure among dramatist and stage actors of Kashmir.

Valley being a conflict torn land, the main casualty of this decades old trouble is the culture of Kashmir. Majboor was a renowned artist of Bhand Pather, the celebrated and one of the oldest folk theatre forms in the subcontinent. He headed the National Bhand Theatre which he got affiliated with the Sangeet Natak Academy since 1989. Folk theatre survived these testing times and the credit goes to Majboor, believes a cross section of artists in Kashmir. He was the icon of folk theatre. After the renowned folk artist Mohammad Subhan Bhagat, it was Majboor who worked for the survival and sustenance of Kashmir's traditional heritage. He wrote for 40 years for Radio, television, and stage thus serving both Urdu and Kashmiri language, said Jehangir.

He also served the cultural wing of the education department after which he was deputed to the state's academy of art culture and languages as an artist. His essays have been published by the cultural academy in its monthly number Sheeraza. He was columnist for Sangarmal a Kashmiri weekly and Urdu weekly Khabr-o-Nazar.

Remembering his creativity, Jehangir says that Majboor had introduced many effects in stage drama for which he would be remembered for time to come. A senior journalist and Majboor's friend says that the sad demise of the renowned dramatist created a cultural vacuum in Kashmir. "He will be remembered for his sense of humour, witticism and creativity in the annals of Kashmir's cultural history," said the journalist.

In the artistic and intellectual class, Majboor would be remembered for his anti establishment scripts which were aired by a government run platform. "He would criticise the government policies in a different way. Majboor would make people smile, while he was fighting for his own life," the journalist added.

Ending Kashmir's Malaise

Shakeel-ur-Rehman hopes that the Right to Information (RTI) Act would bring good governance to the State

(Syed Shakeel-ul-Rehman, 32, was born in Qazipora, Tangmarg. He did his schooling at the Government Middle School in Katipora and at the Government Higher Secondary School in Chandilora, both in the Tangmarg Tehsil. He graduated in Social Work from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), being the first Kashmiri student to graduate with that major. He subsequently did his post graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication from the same University. He has taken specialized courses in computer hardware and software technology. He worked as a columnist and correspondent for the Greater Kashmir daily newspaper until 2005 and is currently the Opinion Editor of the Kashmir Images daily newspaper. He also anchors Doordharshan Kendra Srinagar's live phone-in show called, "Hello DD" since April 2005. Mr. Shakeel-ur-Rehman holds the distinction of having interviewed prominent personalities in all major fields and walks of life, probably more than any other Kashmiri journalist.)

Kashmir’s Malaise

Like the rest of the world, in Kashmir also there is an emphasis on good governance these days. One of the important characteristics of good governance is open governance. An open government is one which does not hide anything from the governed.

Open government in fact strengthens the link between the state and the citizens. For an open system of government people’s participation is a must. Without it no government can be described as ‘open’. People’s participation can be effective and meaningful only when they are allowed access to information about the government’s day to day activities affecting the important aspects of public life.

Participation in government by the people is regarded as an important aspect of democracy and people cannot participate unless they have information as to what the government is doing and how it is doing. A democratic state, being answerable to the people, the people are entitled to know what policies and programmes are being followed by the government. Another important factor justifying the openness in government activities is that almost all democratic countries adopt the concept of welfare state where the state undertakes a large number of activities that affect the social and economic interests and personal life of the individual.

It is extremely important, therefore, that these powers are exercised for public good and not for the good of those who are in power. It is a common saying that power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. Hence there is an inherent danger that the extensive powers vested in the executive may be used by office holders not for the public good but for their own selfish goal. And this is what is happening in Kashmir. The system has failed to such an extent that people hardly trust those in power. This is what has made it important that the people in this sensitive state should have the right to access to as much information about governmental operations as possible.

In the last few decades, freedom of information has been recognized as an internationally protected human right and societies across the world are moving away from opaque and secretive administrative systems to open and transparent one’s. Recognising the importance of freedom of information at individual, organizational, national and international levels, even the United Nations Organization has declared ‘freedom of information’ as a fundamental human right. Although the rest of the world including India has embraced the concept, the Jammu and Kashmir state, which enjoys the dubious distinction of being the second most corrupt state in the whole of India after the notorious Bihar, seems to be out of sync with this progressive concept.

The fact that it has failed to set up an independent Information Commission despite passing its own Right to Information Act earlier this year, highlights this starkly. It is because of this that in Kashmir despite the RTI Act and its provisions the problems regarding seeking information still remain the same. In order to make governance meaningful and effective the state administration will have to change its mindset. That is the only way to end Kashmir’s malaise.

Blame Salt for Cutting Lives Short

In Kashmir salt from one region evokes special sentiments, but even that salt is every bit a problem as the rest

30 per cent people in Kashmir suffer from hypertension, experts blame high salt intake

Srinagar: According to an expert survey, thirty per cent of the people are suffering from hypertension and turmoil is not the only factor. Infact, they blame high salt intake more for high blood pressure et el.

“At present 25 to 30 per cent people in the valley are suffering from hypertension as the salt consumption has risen to 12 grams a day. The salt intake has to be brought down to almost half, so that the number of people suffering from hypertension may be brought down to a lower level,” said Dr Nisar Ahmad during a day-long function organized at Tral in Pulwama district.

The function was organized to educate the people about the ill effects of hypertension on the World Hypertension Day organized by Ikhlas Welfare Society Kashmir at Khangund Tral.

The participating experts urged the people to reduce salt intake by half which would save approximately 2.5 million people a year who otherwise die of strokes, heart attacks and chronic kidney diseases worldwide.

The experts informed that the World Health Organization (WHO) and several countries around the world currently recommend reducing salt intake to six grams a day which is equivalent to one teaspoon.

Success by Hook or Crook

Those were not just "good old days" but compare today's photographs with the past and see how ugly it has become

The idea of Kashmir

Nadia Shah

It is so unfortunate that young people are a part of my generation, and the ones who came and will come after us don’t have even time to indulge in a sweet feeling of nostalgia about what Kashmir used to be as reported to us by our elders. We have not seen it with our own eyes; we did not get a chance to see it. Kashmir is not only a physical or a geographical space; it is also a very beautiful idea cherished by people throughout the world, meaning that even a person who has never visited Kashmir can, in his imagination, derive pleasure from the idea of Kashmir.

Not only this, the same person would wish to visit this place provided he is given a chance for the same. The pictures, feelings and emotions that come to ones mind with the pronouncement of the word ‘Kashmir’, however, do not correspond to the present day picture of Kashmir. It is true that those do correspond to Kashmir of our elders but not to ours. The irony is that we—the new generation of Kashmir—do not have a primary or first hand source with which we could compare our condition and get overwhelmed with a sense of loss, repentance and waste. Again it is true that change is the law of nature and change takes place everywhere but Kashmir has not changed for good.

Kashmir might have achieved progress and increase in the level of development in certain sectors of the society, like education sector, private sector and few more but I believe that none is flawless; every sector of Kashmir is plagued with this or that loophole. What we call progressive decadence characterizes the present condition of Kashmir. If we now zoom on Kashmiris, they have also changed.

No doubt, the economic condition of an average Kashmiri might have improved but as far as morals and emotional health is concerned, that has worsened. The question as to what has happened to us haunts us as we are all aware of it but none amongst us is brave enough to face it. Here Eliot’s line from The Waste Land comes to mind which says- “After such knowledge, what forgiveness”. One way or the other we are evading it; trying to look as cheerful as anything but what we call a normal healthy condition has skipped from our lives. We might proclaim ourselves as the denizens of “modern” Kashmir but the cost at which this “modernity” has been achieved is very huge. We have involved ourselves in reckless competition and mad rat race for money and power; forgetting morals and basic humanity we have got converted into Mammon-worshippers.

Today the key word for each one of us is success”. Nobody wants to live an average life. Success is a blessing but the means we employ to achieve it have demeaned the very idea of success. Blindly we are following the Machiavellian dictum of “ends justifying the means”. Further we have become emotionally bankrupt and spiritually barren resulting in alienation and estrangement. Voluntarily we have turned ourselves into introverts; we prevent ourselves from showing concern and love for others fearing that the other person would take it as an attack on his privacy.

Concern nowadays is being interpreted as a threat to ones freedom. Individualism has become the norm. Our relationships have lost meaning and value. Disjointedness has set in the families and in such a kind of situation one would not even dare to expect an organic bond between the relatives. Get-togethers and marriage ceremonies have become formal, boring days and for some a wastage of a day or two. It seems anxiety is ruling rampant at personal level which is an outcome of the homage that we thoughtlessly pay to materialism. Further, when it comes to assessing our leaders and representatives, one is forced into silence and bewilderment because we don’t know who our leaders are. Those who claim to be our leaders don’t even know the meaning of leadership; they are just busy pinpointing each others errors and shortcomings and in the process degrading themselves in the eyes of ordinary people.

There is no dearth of intellectuals who deserve to be leaders but they are not being provided with opportunities and congenial atmosphere. In the absence of proper leadership and direction, anarchy has set in. In addition to the people, Kashmir consists of the element of nature and various natural resources. Have we spared these? Is it the same as it was before we were born? It has also changed and in this case also change has occurred in a negative aspect. Our tourist resorts have got converted into most polluted and corrupted areas. They have lost their charm to a very large extent. Even the air at these places has lost its purity and in fact people could be seen wearing masks at places like Pahalgam and the Mughal gardens at Srinagar. Is it not an irony?

Gone are the days when a trip to these gardens would refresh our minds and revitalize our whole body. What about our water bodies? Are they safe and sound? NO!! We selfish people have not spared those as well. We have transformed Dal into dull lake and the shrinkage in Jehlum is a very well known fact. Our Manasbal and Wullar lakes are being absurdly “decorated” with colorful polythene bags, plastic bottles and other things. We are not able to tolerate the natural beauty and clarity of these water bodies. Our forest resources are fast vanishing, such is the degree of desire for possessing or rather owning more and more land.

Hence, neither the human resources nor the natural resources are intact and healthy in Kashmir, and these two elements constitute the idea of Kashmir. Both are diseased and the idea therefore too is a diseased and a fake one. It is a fake because the real picture of Kashmir as known to us is the opposite to the idea of Kashmir as cherished by the people other than Kashmiris. Word Kashmir is loosing its positive connotations but I can still see a ray of hope, that is, if the whole of Kashmir is taken as a house and Kashmiris as its inhabitants, then my advice to the rest of my family members would be, “world knows us for our beauty, warmth and simplicity but now we have degraded ourselves hence are in trouble because we are inflicted with serious ailments. Although a trouble but it just we who know about it yet, others just suspect it. Beware, world should not get confirmed in their suspicions. It is high time we reform ourselves; we trace right paths and directions. Today just our family members know about the rottenness that has engulfed our hearts but when rest of the members of the world-society will come to know about it, problem would become big. Let us all then shoulder this responsibility of rebuilding ourselves and rebuilding Kashmir. Fate has chosen us for this task; let us not turn our faces”.

Shakespeare has an apt comment on the scenario that we are the denizens of
The time is out of joint; O’ cursed spite,
That I was ever born to set it right -Hamlet

(Greater Kashmir)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Tragedy Waiting to Happen

Musavirr highlights an issue that is routinely ignored for now but is certainly going to be a major issue of concern some day

(Mr. Musavirr Wani, 28, was born in Srinagar and attened the Burn Hall School. He graduated from the Meerut University and joined the Kashmir Times as a reporter. Loves driving his car and surfing internet to seek out workshops and fellowships so that he can travel and present the true picture of Kashmir.)

Mis-management of bio-medical wastes in hospitals

Mismanagement of biomedical wastes in and around the hospitals in Kashmir valley continues to add to the pollution levels thereby creating problems for both the patients in the hospitals and people at large.

Officials at the helm of administration in these hospitals say that lack of enough funds and non-availability of related infrastructure is a major cause of the mess vis-…-vis the waste management in the hospitals here.

The lack of coordination between various government departments and the concerned wings within the health-care institutions is said to be a cause for non- implementation of rules regarding bio-medical waste management.

"The management of bio-medical waste management is a least priority in Srinagar hospitals. Personnel from areas such as housekeeping, laundry, kitchen and others with the institution should be involved in the waste management," said a hospital employee who pleaded anonymity.

Sources in most of the hospitals said that facilities such as incinirators and STPs available with the government hospitals, more than often fail to serve their purpose due to lack of fuel and proper management.

Attendants of patients also share the blame in the sense that more than the required number of attendants often accompany every patient which far-exceeds the capacity limits consequently the production of waste gets enhanced.

"Doctors can play a vital role by educating para-medical staff and others about the importance of handling bio-medical and other wastes in a scientific manner," say the experts.

The Pollution Control Board (PCB) has already announced a list of recommendations for the improvement of waste management system like the one recommending segregation of bio-medical waste from other wastes. As per the PCB recommendations, the segregation should be done in the containers at the point of generation prior to its storage, treatment and disposal. The containers shall be labeled.

PCB further recommends that destruction of needles and syringes at source should not be kept stored beyond a period of 48 hours. The municipal body of the area shall pick up and transport segregated non-infectious waste generated in hospital and from the nursing homes, the PCB further says. It also recommends that separate vehicles with conspicuous-labeling need to be engaged for waste transportation. And before final disposal, infectious waste must be subjected to treatment with either heat or chemicals.

Asinine Politics of Opportunism

An Editorial in the Daily Kashmir Images laments on destructive behavior of separatists

Hartal politics

With the Parliamentary elections over and north Kashmir recording very good poll percentage in comparison to south and central parts of the Valley, the question that needs to be answered is whether the poll boycott call given by two factions of Hurriyat and other separatist leaders has helped poor Kashmiris in any form. Answer is a simple no. Election is a democratic process wherein people are given a chance to elect representatives who they want to run the affairs of the state. They choose people for administrative purposes. Things can’t happen in a vacuum and therefore governments are needed to make things move. If those who run the government have peoples’ mandate, they are more accountable and have to deliver. In the lack of elected governments, the people have no access to the rulers and thus their voices go unheard.

Those who advocate boycott of polls are linking the broader Kashmir issue with the poll process. Respecting their perceptions, one needs to ask them – in 1989 only two per cent voters voted in Valley. So was Kashmir issue resolved? And in 2008 elections, the poll percentage was above 50 per cent – did that change the status of Kashmir issue? The answer is simple no.

Linking broader Kashmir issue with polls is not going to help anyone. These elections this time were held for forming government at New Delhi. Whether a few million Kashmiris would have voted or stayed away, the government would still be formed. Those who reject elections and want people to stay away from the process need to be asked that have ever their boycott call forced the Election Commission to stop conducting elections? No, it will not and therefore the only thing that happens in the wake of low turn out is that unwanted people get elected and the general masses suffer.

We can’t stop our kids from going to school till Kashmir issue is resolved. We need health care, pure drinking water, good roads, power projects, employment avenues and all these can’t wait till resolution of the issue. Elections are for electing a group of people who people believe can deliver better than others.

Anyway, the elections are over so the boycott debate too must end now. Valley has seen too much of hartals during the election period. People have suffered too much. The economy of this place is already in a shambles and the unending hartals and protest calls are finishing whatever little of it is left. The frequent strikes have ruined the academic calendar. Agreed that separatists have every right to pursue their political agenda but politics is a game of strategies and you can’t keep trying a method of agitation endlessly knowing that the method helps neither your cause nor the common people.

Now that elections are over, the separatist leadership should stop calling hartals and agitations. The post Friday prayer agitations always turn violent and scores get injured besides economic loses to the people living in those areas. Therefore the separatist leadership needs to stop calling for these protests and allow normality to return to Kashmir. Kashmiris are looking ahead to a good tourist season, let separatist not shatter their dreams by calling strikes and protests.

Now that the election hoopla is over, can we get back to Governance issues?

State Accountability Commission (SAC) needs a new life

Headless SAC fails to perform: 250 cases pending but no sitting

Jammu/Srinagar: State Accountability Commission's much purported "Ehtisab" drive has stagnated since state government has failed to nominate its Chairperson from among the available legal luminaries of the state. The figure of pending cases has touched 250 i.e. 179 in Jammu and 71 in Kashmir. Working of commission is presently being looked after by Justice (retd) Muzaffar Jan, a member of the commission. The sole member of the commission, Justice Muzaffar Jan is also retiring in the month of April. Inapt failure of the state government in finding fitting replacements for its first chairperson Late Justice R.P.Sethi and thereafter, of its adhoc chairperson Justice Girdhari Lal Raina has affected credibility of the commission.

It is intriguing to note that the post of chairperson continues to be vacant for more than two years now after late Justice R P Sethi, a Supreme Court judge retired from the post in May 2006. According to the Jammu and Kashmir Accountability Commission Act 2002, the vacancy occurring in the institution of the commission should be filled in as soon as possible.

Raina retired in June 2008. The state Accountability Commission Act 2002 requires presence of the Chairpersons for holding court proceedings in cases which are brought before it. After Justice Raina's retirement in June 2008, court proceedings have almost come to a complete halt leading to increase in the pendency of the cases.

SAC records bear testimony to the fact that around 1931 complaints have been lodged with the commission since August 2005 to February 2009, out of which commission recommended 20 cases to the government for prosecution. 11 of these cases in which involvement of high profile dignitaries surfaced have been stayed by the state high court.

Out of 1931 complaints, commission dismissed around 1160 on account of errors in the complainant's application. The legal justification used for these dismissed complaints is "dismissed in default." 265 other complaints were dismissed on merit and 191 were disposed off as settled by the commission. 250 cases which have been instituted and where inquires are yet to be ordered, are pending for disposal.

It is noteworthy to mention here that the commission has miserably failed to fulfill its commitment of penalising the "most influential persons" i.e. ministers and powerful bureaucrats. Minister for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution, while describing influential but corrupt Babus and Mantris of the state administration in the legislative council during the recently concluded budget session said, "Yeh log court se stay manage kar lete hain."

Going by the figures of pending cases, absence of Chairperson belittles the importance of the commission. After the resignation of Justice Sethi, Justice Raina who until then was a member of the commission was immediately appointed the 'acting chairperson' of the commission amid much resentment from various quarters by the then Governor Lt Gen (Retd) S K Sinha on May 15, 2006.

Record of the commission bears testimony to the fact that Justice Raina was given the charge despite being ineligible for this coveted post. It has been reliably learnt that a panel was earlier formed during the Governor's rule last year in which some names were recommended for the appointment of the chairperson which were later submitted to the governor but it didn't yield any results.

With no hearing having taken place for such a long period, common people, litigants and lawyers blamed government for not doing anything to make it functional. "The government should have filled the long-pending post of the chairperson to guarantee the effective functioning of the commission. But unfortunately the government doesn't seem to be serious about it despite the growing disappointment among the people regarding the institution," said a litigant on the condition of anonymity.

Sources maintain that the people have also stopped turning to the Commission for filing their complaints deeming it as a "defunct body" and the number of complaints received by it has also come down in the past few months from 40 to 45 complaints per month to less than 20 a month. Amusingly the role of its sole member has also been reduced to giving fresh dates for the cases.

"People have naturally started considering it futile to file any complaint looking at the zero output by the Commission because of it being headless for such a long time. Why should a patient turn to a doctor when he knows there would be no remedy? Similarly merely registering the reports of the people without contesting their cases also amounts to breach of their trust," a legal expert opined.

(Kashmir Times)

Paradox of Unequality

Mubashir touches on everything except an affirmation program for religious minorities in Kashmir

Reservation: Paradox of Equality

Mubashir Ahmad, Lawyer

It is true that poorer and underprivileged sections of the society need to be safeguarded through law. The sections of the population that have been scheduled under various names, depicting their social and economic condition, must be provided with chances to participate in the governance of the country and the access to resources. All the principles of justice and fare play demand that if someone is disadvantageously placed he needs to be helped so that his disadvantage does not become a hurdle in his economic and social mobility.

The structure of democracy rests on the concept of equality before law. Treating unequal equally is the negation of the principle of equality, which finds place as a Fundamental right available to a citizen in almost every democracy.

Although social equity and justice demand equal treatment to all individuals, but In order to bridge gap between different sections of the community and furnish equal opportunities of employment with an aim to achieve social justice, the policy of reservation is viewed at as positive or a protective discrimination. But how far the reservation, the constitutional privilege given to the under privileged classes, serves the purpose.

Indeed the state of Jammu and Kashmir is governed by its own Constitution but the part 3rd of Indian Constitution, enshrining the Fundamental Rights, is verbatim applicable to this State. Article 15(4) and 29(2) of the Constitution allows the State to make special provisions for the advancement of any Socially and Educationally backward classes of the citizens or for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Backward status to any class has been defined by the Supreme Court of India in a number of cases, which led to emergence of several propositions:

a) Backwardness envisaged by Article 15 (4) of Indian constitution is both social and educational.
b) Poverty alone cannot test backwardness. It should be comparable though not exactly similar to scheduled castes and tribes.
c) Caste cannot be the sole or dominant factor; poverty, occupation, place of habitation all contribute to backwardness and such factors cannot be ignored.

While according the backward status to any class the above cited propositions are to be seen together and not in isolation. But the ground practice is altogether different. Reservation in our society proves as a convenient way to undermine merit. As the equality is applied outside its domain, without following strictly the rules and regulations, the reservations give birth to political corruption.

Earlier in 1992 in “Indra Sawney v/s Union of India” Mandal I case. The nine Judge bench of the Supreme Court of India upheld 27% of reservation for OBCs and had clearly held exclusion of socially advanced (creamy layer) of the OBCs as mandatory. While reiterating the same view, the Supreme Court in “ Ashoka Kumar Thakur v/s Union of India 2008 Mandal II case directed the government to issue a notification excluding creamy layer from OBC beneficiaries.

Despite internal Constitutional checks, fraud is Committed on the constitution through many ways:
• Voluntary mobility into the categories; usually by acquisition of the land in the rural/ backward areas for securing the backward status.
• Manipulating income certificates, in order to escape the creamy layer test. This kind of fraud is often committed by the grade I government employees.
• Wrong inclusion of certain areas in OBC category, motivated by political considerations.

Recent inclusion of many areas in the ambit of reservation castes makes a doubtful reading. At the same time it makes relevant the observation made by Justice Arijit Pasayat in Mandal II case Paragraph 43, “is it that backwardness has increased instead of decreasing? If the answer is Yes, as contended by the respondents (union of India) then one is sure to raise eyebrows as to the effectiveness of providing reservation or quota.”

Reservation was a temporary measure to uplift the backward classes and bring them at par with other sections. But political class had vested interests in continuing with the OBC reservation. More so, the Article 15(4) of the Constitution is not a provision which is exclusive in character, so that in looking after the advancement of those classes, the state would be justified in ignoring altogether the advancement of the rest of the society.

In order to say no to this seemingly protective discrimination which proves only discriminatory in the spirit, the state government has many measures available to check this onslaught on meritocracy.
• Firstly the benefit of the reservation must be made contingent on the veracity and genuineness of the certificates produced in support of being the member of any under privileged class entitled to reservation.
• Before according the reserved category certificate to a candidate a one week notice must be given to the people through newspapers having wide circulation, seeking the objections if any.
• There must be a separate committee staffed with the honest officials, in every district to deal with this responsible job.
• There must be the strict rules for the subordinate revenue officials giving them no room and latitude to commit the fraud by manipulating the revenue records.
• The whole record must be thrown open to public scrutiny, which is the first step towards the transparency and objective behind the right to Information Act.

Although this practice will be time consuming yet it is need for the purpose of justice. Having said all this, it is obligatory on the state to protect the rights of the citizens. The administration must not wait for public motions/ complaints but should act suo motu as it does while according the benefit on the expense of the meritocracy.

(Rising Kashmir)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Moving Towards Oblivion

Shakeel-ur-Rehman is not the first, and will certainly not be the last, to raise a red flag regarding deteriorating ecology of Kashmir. But do people care?

(Syed Shakeel-ul-Rehman, 32, was born in Qazipora, Tangmarg. He did his schooling at the Government Middle School in Katipora and at the Government Higher Secondary School in Chandilora, both in the Tangmarg Tehsil. He graduated in Social Work from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), being the first Kashmiri student to graduate with that major. He subsequently did his post graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication from the same University. He has taken specialized courses in computer hardware and software technology. He worked as a columnist and correspondent for the Greater Kashmir daily newspaper until 2005 and is currently the Opinion Editor of the Kashmir Images daily newspaper. He also anchors Doordharshan Kendra Srinagar's live phone-in show called, "Hello DD" since April 2005. Mr. Shakeel-ur-Rehman holds the distinction of having interviewed prominent personalities in all major fields and walks of life, probably more than any other Kashmiri journalist.)

Alarming Situation

Kashmir’s delicate environment is under threat. And if the trend continues at the present pace the valley will face a difficult situation in the times ahead.

The frequent findings of the Pollution Control Board and other such organizations should come as a wake-up call not just to government but to all civil society groups and ordinary people in the region. Most of these reports have warned the administration of the enormous challenges they face on four fronts—fresh water scarcity, increasing desertification, deteriorating air quality and rising noise pollution.

These findings have even emphasized that these threats will only intensify in years to come because of global warming or climate change. It is a fact that we are not doing enough to deal with the disastrous effects of rapid economic development and reckless exploitation of natural resources witnessed in the region after the onset of violence in Kashmir. Take Dal Lake for instance. The water body, which is famous the world over for its clean water, is no more as clean as it used to be. Many maladies plague the lake right now.

Due to reckless inflow of unwanted matter, Dal is slowly approaching a stage from where it would be difficult to retrieve it. This is truly alarming and must be treated with the seriousness it deserves. Admittedly, ecological degradation is taking its toll in this state. Hillsides and forest are being turned into jungles of concrete. Air, water and noise pollution has become the order of the day. If ecological balance is to be maintained, we will have to take some measures. To begin with, awareness of afforestation must be inculcated among the masses.

It should be inculcated in the school curriculum and widely publicized so that people keep away from distorting the existing ecological balance. Additionally, smoke emitting from fast moving vehicles, industrial effluents flowing freely into drains and rivers, loud honking of horns or any other form of noise pollution must be curbed forthwith through specific laws. Strict laws must be framed for despoiling natural surroundings especially in the hills by unscrupulous land grabbers and property developers out to make a quick buck at the cost of environment and ecology.

These are some measures that must be taken for checking the rising levels of environmental degradation in the state. Although immediate measures will help us in the short run, for long term benefits the Kashmir state as a whole will have to put environment at the top of its priorities. In a region where natural resources like water, animal and plant life are already scarce and environment awareness is shockingly limited, we cannot afford to be reckless with what precious little we have got.

It is time for the state administration to come up with clear and effective strategies to tackle the immediate challenges they face, such as growing desertification, depleting clean water and our reckless abuse of resources. Environment agencies and bodies must be given necessary mandate and powers to fight their battle more effectively. And this is a battle they cannot fight on their own. We are in this together.

A Forgotten Badshahi Type Monument

Iqbal describes a small but a glorious architectural piece of late Mughal period that is in utter neglect at the left bank of river Jhelum at Shah Mohalla, Safa Kadal

(Mr. Iqbal Ahmad, 48, was born in Parigam Chek, Kulgam. He is a graduate with Diploma in Numastics, Archaeology and Heritage. He is an archaeologist, writer, and a cultural historian. Mr. Iqbal Ahmad has published 12 reference books on Kashmir archaeology and heritage.)

Kashmir's Forgotten Assets

We have already lost several archaeological sites and monuments while there are many such sites which are at the verge of extinction and if concrete steps are not taken up at the earliest there is every fear that we may lose many more historic and heritage sites of Kashmir in the immediate future.

For years together the local media has been highlighting the plight of Kashmir monuments and archaeological sites but perhaps there is no one who could listen and take cognizance of these reports otherwise the condition of our built heritage would not have been what it is today.

In fact, the extinction of the heritage still goes on without any check. People have also been crying for restoration of their decaying monuments but no one pays any heed. The masterpieces, which have been pushed into the oblivion, bear an architectural and historical significance and stand live evidences of the Kashmir's glorious cultural and architectural history.

There is an urgent need to identify such places and bring them under the aegis of the concerned monuments preservation authority so that a master plan could be formulated for their restoration. Out of countless forgotten monuments Badshahi type baked-brick work is a masterpiece. It is the shrine of Sheikh Ibrahim (RA) popularly known as Thagh Baba (RA) Sahib. A small but a glorious architectural piece of late Mughal period is seen in utter neglect at the left bank of river Jhelum at Shah Mohalla, Safa Kadal.

The single chambered shrine, basically a mausoleum, which as per local belief houses the mortal remains of the saint and his other disciples. Internally the mausoleum has eight graves in two rows of four. These are covered over by a magnificent set of black tombstones, which represent a high degree of craftsmanship. The pattern on which the tomb stones are laid here is very exciting. The joints, which existed between the actual grave and the tomb, stone arc quite visible to the extent that a thread passes easily through these joints.

Legend has it that two men holding the two extreme ends of a piece of thread, while inserting it from one end of the gap that existed between the actual grave and its tomb stone, would take it to the other end without any obstruction. Many devotees of the shrine have experienced it. "I have practiced this wonder several times with my friend Mushtaq Ahmad," says Bashir Ahmad, a local devotee. Several other locals claim the same and say that each time the inserted thread passes through the gap from one end to other end easily. One wonders on what rests, the weight of these large tombs stones.

It is quite strange and curious to believe but it is a reality. The tombstones on these graves are imposed by a wonderful mechanism, which seems to be unbelievable. "This well advanced and well-ornamented set of tombstones is not seen anywhere else," believe experts. This type is a bit relevant to the tombstones of Mughal mausoleums of Delhi, Agra and Lahore. The other five graves seen in the row belong to the saint's disciples. These graves also bear wonderful gravestones, of terra-cotta type rarely seen anywhere else. "We have heard of terra-cotta tiles, figures and pottery but to hear about a terra-cotta tomb stones is quite amazing," says an archaeologist.

The saints grave is marked by its high and nicely ornamented grave stone. The graves inside the chamber are imposed on a terrace, the border of which also bears ornamentation’s in floral designs. The square chambered shrine itself is imposed on a nicely formed terrace. The chamber of the mausoleum is formed of highly polished baked Badshahi bricks. The external walls have been given such a glazing finish that even joints are not visible.

The chamber has also some arched ventilators, two on each corner. The entrance to the chamber as usual, is from the southern side. Presently the structure is roofed unskillfully and it looks as if no set pattern has been followed while restoring its roof. Originally, the shrine had a doomed type roof which, of late, has crumbled externally but internally its traces are quite visible and seem to be waiting for the fall of the chamber.

As per the local legend the shrine has been constructed by Aurangzeb Alamgir who is also believed to have raised a stone tomb on the grave of Akhun Mullah Tayub (RA), situated only few yards away from this shrine. The genius Mughal emperor is said to have constructed about 500 Khanqahs, Mosques and Hamams in Kashmir. The king had a great regard for sufis and saints.

The Akhund Mulla Tayub (RA) and Sheikh Ibrahim (RA) were the celebrated saints of their time. Mulla Tayub (RA), who served the spiritual guide for Sheikh Ibrahim, himself was a disciple of Abul Fukra Baba Naseeb-ud-din Gani (RA) of Bijbehara.
Historian Hassan traces his origin of being a Sayyied as:

Ai Ki Purse Zi Vasil-e-Syed Ma Sheikh-ul-Din Hadi Inam Bigo

Hassan in his Asarul Khayr has recorded a curious incident of the Pir and his mureed. He states that once Mulla Tayub (RA) was telling one of his disciples that he would be attending on him in another mosque after the Asar prayers. Sheikh, who was also present in a corner, heard it and went to that mosque before his Pir- In the mosque he secretly covered himself under a mat. The Mulla entered the mosque and started his spiritual practice to his attending mureeds. However the pir felt some internal disruption (Batani Khalil).

He searched the mosque and found the Sheikh under the cover of the mat. He told him, oh Thagh you have robbed me of my spirituality. He then titled him as Thagh. The legend accounts that since then the Sheikh assumed this title and is still recognized by it. Later he is said to have followed Islami shariah strictly and used to offer five-time-prayers. When he left for heavenly abode he was laid to rest at this place and the mausoleum was built over his grave.

Although the shrine is a small one, it represents the grace of brick-and-stone work. Unfortunately, at present, the shrine has turned into a neglected monument. The government as well as the people of the locality too have turned indifferent to it. The carelessness has encouraged boundless encroachments from all its sides, which has been causing an alarm to the structure. Its walls are broken redlime plaster vanished and ornamentation's collapsed. The raising dome has externally fallen to ground.

The structure bearing rare monument features requires proper restoration and conservation. The agencies looking after the cultural wealth of the state should come forward and prepare a master plan to restore the shrine and bring it under their own preservation aegis. Otherwise we may lose one more glorious monument of Mughal period.

Interesting Study of Social Trends

Unfortunately, the news is not good

Kashmir on brink of social precipice

Zulfikar Majid/ Gowhar Bhat (Greater Kashmir)

Srinagar: Acute poverty, unemployment, dowry, modern education and the about two decades of conflict are some of the major reasons for late marriages in Kashmir with a nasty fallout on its socio-economic fabric. The trend has had devastating consequences like psychiatric problems, suicides, drug addiction, pre and extra marital affairs, sex scandals and a spurt in divorces, reveals a recent research.

“The decrease in population at family level, mental depression, increase in suicide rate, encouragement to immoral activities and pre-marital sex are some of the consequences of late marriages which we found during the survey,” the principal investigator of the empirical survey, noted sociologist associated with University of Kashmir, Prof. Bashir Ahmad Dabla, told Greater Kashmir.

“The socio-economic and politico-educational developments in Kashmir had radical changing impact on the practices, rituals, values and norms of marriage especially related directly to late marriage. Also, political developments in last 20-years of militancy had further changing impact on the traditional pattern of late marriages,” the research titled “Emergence of Late Marriages in Kashmir” revealed.

The other factors responsible for late marriages, according to the research, are illiteracy, modernization impact, health abnormality, customs, traditions, caste considerations, search for proper match, irreligious attitudes, preference for an employed women with permanent job, love affairs, illegal sex relations and huge marriage expenditure.

The late marriages have had devastating consequences on the society. “Decrease in population, psychiatric problems, increase in suicidal rate, immoral activities and pre-marital sex relations are the major long term and short term consequences of the trend,” the study reveals. Some of the minor consequences of the trend include abnormal child birth, lack of child care, increase in crime, frustration among youth, and disturbed social and family life, it reveals.

The survey was conducted by a team of 30 students led by Prof Dabla of the University’s Sociology department from June to October 2007 in all the districts of the Valley. A total of 1500 respondents belonging to varied social categories were interviewed. Of them, 52 per cent were males and 48 per cent females. It shows that the average age of marriage for males in Kashmir is 31.53 years while as for women it s 27.83 years.

An overwhelming 88 per cent of the respondents were of the opinion that the conflict situation contributed to the emergence of late marriage trend. However, 12 per cent of the respondents opined that the conflict was not directly responsible for it.
On dowry as one of the chief reasons for delayed marriages, 92 per cent respondents said that it had created numerous problems for individuals and families. The other major reason for the trend is unemployment. Over 90 per cent of the respondents were of the opinion that rampant unemployment had created the situation which seems to be getting out of control by the day.

The other alarming aspect, the survey reveals, is the emergence of pre-marital sex in an otherwise conservative Kashmiri society. “There is an inverse relationship between late marriages and the practices of pre-marital and extra marital relations among the youth. More than 64 per cent respondents revealed that late marriages caused and effected the pre-marital relations among the youngsters,” it says.
Out of 1,500 respondents, 768 said that since sex was a biological need, they wanted to satisfy themselves through any means. At least 182 respondents said that sex control wasn’t possible as it was at its peak at younger age. Another 219 respondents revealed that late marriages had led to extra-marital relationships, especially among the elder and married members of the society.

On how to overcome the problem, 29.93 per cent respondents said that there must be complete ban on dowry, 18.40 per cent said parents must arrange marriage of their children at an early age, 17.66 per cent said adherence to the tenets of religion was the remedy while 13 per cent said that government should create employment opportunities for the youth.

“This is leading the society to a disaster, as people are exercising abnormal ways of sex. Pre marital sex and immoral practices have shown an upward trend and it is increasing,” warns Prof Dabla, adding, social practices, would make marriages possible at an early age. “The initiative has to come from the society.”

Prof Dabla said the demographic composition of the Valley was getting affected due to late marriages. “Sociologically, it affects the most active group in terms of roles, as they become less contributing,” he added.

The Original Kashmiri Bravado

Zahid takes you on a journey of enchantment that only old-timers can recall with relish

(Mr. Zahid G. Mohammad, 60, was born and raised in Srinagar. He earned his Master's degree in English literature from the Kashmir University and has completed a course in Mass Communication from Indian Institute of Mass Communication. He is a writer and a journalist who has written for many newspapers, including the Statesman, the Sunday, and the Kashmir Times. He currently works for the Greater Kashmir.)

"Full Tonga"

The roads then were better than they are today. Down the memory lane- more than forty five years back- the roads in my part of city were not muddy; yes they were not potholed and bumpy. They did not puncture the rhythm of the melodious songs and hymns of the toiling carters pulling their tumbrel and carts filled to capacity with stones, bricks and other loads on these roads.

Those days no trucks or auto load carriers plied on our roads- it was the carts that carried all kinds of loads inside the city. The building material stones, bricks, lime and timber would arrive in big barges to the nearest Ghat on the Jhelum or the Mar Canal wherefrom it would be loaded in men driven carts to different parts of the city. The roads then were silent but tidy- watered and swept in the wee hours. The silence on the roads was broken only by the plaintive folk songs and hymns of the cart pullers- some like traditional Kashmiri marriage songs (wanwun) were born on the spur of the moment and some had been passed from generation to generation without being written by any one. Then I did not understand these songs that cascaded with our woeful tales of the plight and cruelty suffered by the people at the hands of desperadoes.

I remember in our childhood only very few cars passed through our road. I and my peers remembered number plates of most of the cars that passed through roads in our part of city. The number plates read J&K…then there were hardly any cars with four digit numbers. The number of cars in entire state those days might not have crossed few a thousands.

In our locality only two neo-rich families, who were closer to the then power centre owned cars and many other old rich families owned a single horse driven chariot called Tonga .

Oh! it has been a distinctive phenomenon of our society in all uncertain political situations it has thrown up a neo-rich class of people. The departure of feudal aristocracy saw a new class of people fattening on the uncertain situation and shortage of essentials like salt and tea after the closer of the Jhelum valley Road. Many have-nots who could hardly afford two time meals emerged as a class replacing the old aristocracy. The mid-fifties saw yet another class of people thriving upon political concessions and emerging as a neo-rich class of people that in our childhood had earned the nickname- Guga- mid seventies were not different than fifties and sixties. There are many stories of rags to riches not to be counted as success stories but as that of exploitation in nineties - the phase that will be remembered in our history as period of blood, tears and sacrifices. The nineties have also thrown up a neo-rich class not only urban areas where they have built massive castles on the foundation of bones but in the rural areas also where this class has added to its estates.

True, very few of the neo-rich in our childhood owned cars but they could be spotted from a distance for the demeanor and the dress-more particularly the style of keeping astrakhan (Karakuli) caps on their heads- a bit sliding towards the right eye sometimes touching the eyebrows described in local parlance as- aaji-mange. They would also be recognized by the Tonga owned or hired by them. They often hired new Tongas driven by tall and stout horses. Scenes of some these neo-riches sitting on the back seat of the Tonga carrying airs as if whole world was under their feet flash before my eyes as if it happened just yesterday. One of the popular terms for hiring a Tonga was “full-tonga”- meaning allowing no other passenger sit on the Tonga but paying for all.

I remember on occasions I carried as good airs as those of the neo-rich in my part of city. This feeling would come to me whenever my father hired a full-tonga for me for sending me to home from his office. My father’s office was in Basant Bagh- from his office to Naid Kadal two annas (one eight of a rupee) was the fare per passenger which was later raised to four annas. I remember it cost two rupees for full tonga from my father’s office to our home. My father for my safe journey would often take a note of the number of the Tonga- then Tonga’s also had their numbers painted on the two sides. There were two main Tonga stands (Adda) near my father’s office- one was near the Budshah Chowk and another on the Red Cross Road. I loved watching the horses with their blinkers removed grazing grass or eating rice husk and drinking water out of a pond made of chiseled lime stones in these addas before boarding the Tonga.

I remember the happiest moment for us during summers used to be the Sunday evenings- when all children in our family dressed tastefully to their best would be waiting for Jamal Gurou - the Tongawala for taking us to Chasmashahi in the evening.

The preparations for evening trip started at noon with my mother and aunt engaging themselves for cooking evening meals to be enjoyed in the salubrious and a captivating moonlit evening by the sides of sonorous brook in the Chasmashahi garden. The food containers the rice dagachas and meat dechawaris, would be packed in willow baskets by four- those days there were no hot cases for carrying hot food to picnic spots. No sooner Jamal Gurou arrived outside our home- the food packs would be carried by children and kept in the front side of the Tonga. The elder children would sit in the front along with my uncle and the younger ones in the back seat with my mother and aunt. The journey towards Chasmashahi started by five but it was often punctuated at the Nehru Park was popularly was known as “the point”- sometimes we ferried in the boats to the Island and sometimes we just strolled in the nearby park. I remember going uphill the Chasmashahi road on the Tonga was great pleasure- many times as we reached near the garden the speed of the horse would slowdown and children were often asked to get down from the Tonga and walk up to the stairs leading to the garden. No sooner the food items were removed from the Tonga Jamal would unbridle the horse and put some grass before him.

The Chasmashahi garden would be dotted with families having food under moon light- those were great day of fun.

A Special Bond Unlike Any Other

Rafiya speaks from her heart

Miss you Mom: Mothers day passed, but your memories remain

Rafiya Munshi

Some days back while managing books my shivering hands got hold of some notes written years back for me by my mother. I felt myself quite close to life, as these were the verses of care she left for me to ease my body and soul when she was not at home. Every time I read them my jerky movements and uncontrolled body collapses to the ground and makes me crawl like a child to find a darker place. No extreme art in the world is yet so defined and obvious in displaying the unutterable emotions felt on your loss and lifelong absence from the world around my Mom.

While experimenting with some words today, I can feel an unbearable pain and a blow to the fluidity of my ideas in such a manner that this piece can not justify even the slightest impulse of the emotional tide racing in my veins. Today, I have no valuable information to give nor a logical or reasoned philosophy to impart but only the few emotions of my own heart and may be of all those like me to share. Trust me; this attempt in itself is a daring one as there are no universal scales which could measure the need of a mother for a girl. Since her absence even the smallest of the trouble use to turn bulkier. She had the magic of turning the miseries in to comforts and hatred in to intimacies. She was a network connecting me to all and a binding force for all strained relations.

In every trail of narrating the extreme dearth of her presence at several occasions of my life, it became impossible for me to correct my style and selection of words. It is also true that many kind souls tried to laugh, cry and sympathize with me by turns but just with the twinkling of an eye I got attached to the harsh reality. And many times it also became difficult to manage my internal conflict and be in my best behaviors. Now I could hardly see those faces around me which cried loud enough the day u left my Mom.

I agree that all the brilliances of my wit and the depths of my sensibility if present is only because of you my Mom. And all the slips of my immaturity and doubtful tastes got developed only after you left me. Your absence has always afflicted my heart and my manner in such a way that sometimes suspicions arouse, instead of humor farce develops and instead of showing sentiments I turn sentimental, thus making the tenderness of my heart doubtful.

As to be compassionate is quite natural for a mother so it does not seem worth mentioning here that how kindly and uniformly you used to help me during my disturbed times. Rather my thoughts stand still while sensing that how perfectly and sensibly I was blanketed in your protection against the all natural sharpnesses of the world around. Every time, when I had to make the difficult choices your absence becomes quite inimical to my very existence and even in the excellent frames of my mind I start making the bargains among the choices. I often end up quite discontent and not at harmony with my heart and its feelings.

Since you left me I could not find a single face to gaze on for the understanding of the all that is unspoken, such an auricle which could feel the suffering out of my enjoyments, such a deep vision which could see the unshown and such a reliable thought which could never betray. Now as I am left with your thoughts only, they have a right over my whole heart-to divide them will be to lessen them, to expose them will be to risk them and where there is risk there may be loss which is unaffordable for me. It is only your thought that fills my heart with trust and confidence. Whenever my way becomes too rough for my feet and too steep for my strength, I could feel you around making my path velvety soft and my soul strengthened and refreshed. But sometimes I could also see your injured spirit waving her head and turning off silent at the times of my utmost miseries and dishonors. In all the painted scenes of my life I will always miss your presence and will ask myself that why I was chosen by nature to mourn for you while I was just gaining maturity. At the end I deeply apologise for sensitizing the most delicate emotions of all the tender hearts of my kind - I will miss you always my Mom.

Grounding the Tourist Mania

Ashraf discusses the on going debate in the valley between preserving natural beauty and creating artificial beauty to look natural

(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.)

The Great Tulip Failure!

If one keenly ponders, Kashmir is a bundle of tragedies and quite a few of these are the result of sycophancy which seems somehow to be ingrained in our genes. It may be something in the air also which forces people to run way from the stark reality and lose their selves in utopian dreams. We neither have the courage to call a spade a spade nor have the heart to take it, if someone does so. We always choose the path of least resistance and like the typical yes men say the “boss is always right!” A couple of years back the then Chief Minister took fancy to the Tulips growing in the Floriculture seed farm at Siraj-i- Bagh. He ordered conversion of the farm into a Tulip Garden. Unfortunately, probably no one seems to have had the moral courage to explain to him that it would be a better proposition to utilize the funds to give a tremendous boost to cut flower project which had been stagnating for last of couple of decades than developing a show piece garden for recreation lasting just couple of weeks. Present day Kashmir is in need of a visionary ruler who could redeem it as the famous King Zain-ul-Abidin (Budshah) did it few centuries back. For past few years due to our ill luck, we are being ruled by the likes of the Mughal King Jahangir, a lover of romance and entertainment or the famous King Mohammad Shah Tughlaq, the initiator of the most senseless projects such as the striking of leather coins and the shifting of the capital of India from Delhi to Daulatabad.

The problem with Kashmiris is their susceptibility in developing manias of all varieties and types. For past some time we are having the “Tourism Mania”. In the field of environment, every project is being seen in terms of a tourist attraction under the mistaken belief of Tourism being the back bone of Kashmir’s economy. It has been repeatedly pointed out by the top economists that Tourism is not the back bone of Kashmir’s economy. It comes only after Agriculture, Horticulture, and Handicrafts. In real terms it does not constitute more than 10% of the State’s GDP. This is more so in the present uncertain situation. There can be no two opinions that tourism is a peace time activity. People do not seek recreation and leisure in conflict zones.

Even though we have to keep the tourism flag flying in spite of unprecedented challenges to keep Kashmir in circulation as a wonderful tourist destination of the future, yet this cannot be done at the cost of other more reliable and productive economic activities. If Floriculture is to be developed it will not be for tourists only. It is to be developed as a very viable commercial proposition which has immense scope including massive export potential. Cut flower market in the world exceeds $ 5 Billion. If Dal needs to be saved, it is not for tourists but because it is the very throbbing heart of Kashmir. If lush green forests are to be saved from ruthless cutting by timber smugglers, it is not for the pleasure of tourists only but for the very survival of this place as a human habitation. We need to understand that basic tourist attractions of Kashmir are not the gardens, parks, and other man made recreational facilities but the wild and unspoilt beauty of nature. We need to preserve this natural beauty rather than destroy it by artificial make up. The typical example of this destruction of nature is the amusement park on the banks of Lidder in Pahalgam. More than four crores have been spent in last two years in creating what can be termed as the largest Tulip farm in Asia. By all definitions it is not a Garden but an oversized farm. There is absolutely no shade in the entire park. Unfortunately, the shade giving fruit trees of Central Asian origin which existed in the garden have been cut to provide more space for Tulips. This particular flower has a life of hardly a couple of weeks and spending such a huge amount and using the entire available land meant for growing flower seeds of different types just for a fancy Tulip Show is not really worth it.

This year the supposed to be Asia’s largest Tulip garden was a flop show. The Tulips did not bloom properly and also did not last long. In spite of much hype and holding of a Festival, the Garden did not have the impact it was intended to have in attracting tourists in large numbers. Interestingly more tourists went to Pampore to see naturally growing Tulips in the wild. Kashmir, which is known as the “Land of Tulips” (Sarzameen-e-Lala Gul), has three types of Tulips growing on their own in the wild! In case we are interested in beautifying nature, it would be worthwhile to plant Lupines on hill slopes around Srinagar and other tourist resorts. Gulmarg has plenty of these growing in the wild. The other suggestion can be planting of Japanese ornamental (fruitless) cherry trees in various open spaces. Washington’s main attraction in spring is the “Cherry Blossoms”. Japanese in large numbers come to see these as they believe they are the only ones to have the “Cherry Blossoms”!

We had planned to beat Holland in Tulips. However, it is not the Tulip farms which can make us surpass Holland but our entrepreneurship in producing and marketing these and other cut flowers. Kashmir can easily grow and market cut flowers like Gladiolus, Lillium, Gerbera, Alestromeria, Carnations, and Roses of all varieties. We have the added advantage of having the most appropriate season for growing flowers when the rest of the places in our neighbourhood are experiencing scorching heat. The recent opening of an International air route to a potential market area is an added advantage. Holland had once really suffered a Tulip-o-Mania and it was a real craze among all local people to go in for Tulip cultivation. One could see Tulips everywhere. However, it was not for a fancy show or short lived recreational event but for the development of Floriculture as a viable economic alternative. They have made their country a leader in cut flower production and export. Why can’t we do the same thing in Kashmir? The Floriculture employees have done a commendable job. They have put in lot of efforts in creating such a huge Tulip Garden claimed to be Asia’s largest. If motivated and rightly patronised, they can do equally good job in promoting Commercial Floriculture. The fantastic views of lines upon lines of multi-coloured Tulips did excite people all over. This would have been an excellent occasion to make people in general aware about the extensive possibilities of Commercial Floriculture. The project has been in the pipeline for a long time and if given the right directions, and incentives, it could bloom like the horticulture sector. First requirement is the right people in right jobs with total sincerity and dedication. There are two main parts of the project. One concerns the production of cut flowers and the other is marketing of the same. Production can be in the open or in green houses. Kashmir has the advantage of producing cut flowers round the year, both in the open and in green houses. Production on a mass scale requires a comprehensive extension programme. Potential growers need to be identified, trained, and provided germ plasm (flower seeds). Then follows the post-harvest technology for collection, transportation, and marketing of the crops in the pre-identified potential markets. This facility is totally missing in Kashmir at present. Even now there are over 300 growers but they are totally handicapped on account of post-harvest facilities. In fact, recently some outside agencies have contacted these growers and offered seeds and other facilities on buy back arrangements. It is possible to entrust the entire project of collection, transportation, and marketing to a single resourceful private agency on a turnkey basis. If such a thing materialises and takes away the worry of marketing, there will be tremendous rise in production which can generate sizeable employment for the local youth.

The recent opening of a direct air link to Middle East has thrown open a vast market for Kashmir’s Floriculture and other similar products. At the moment these people import such things all the way from Europe. Kashmir can supply the same items of a better quality at cheaper rates and in a shorter period of time. To tap this potential the authorities at the highest level need to directly intervene and ensure implementation of requisite measures. It is hoped that the present rulers who appear to be more rational, realistic, and practical will seize the opportunity to remind us once again of Budshah and not of Jahangir and Tughlaq!