Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Pinnacle of Sufi Architecture

Iqbal makes a compelling case for preserving indigenous architecture of Kashmiri shrines

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

Preserving the Wooden Pyramids of Kashmir

The shrines of Kashmir of Sufis, Reshis and saints in Kashmir are called Astanas. Most of these Astanas are found in rural or in secluded areas because of peaceful surroundings. While referring to the ancient architecture, the earliest architectural evidences of Kashmir are the remains of Buddhist monasteries and tile pavements. During Hindu period massive temples were built with finished limestone and stone columns, while the early Muslim period was marked by Muslim architecture consisting of quadrangular mosques.

Apart from these architectural monuments, the Kashmir possessed a unique architecture; it is known as Reshi architecture. It is indigenous and couldn’t be found beyond Valley of Kashmir. It is uniform in design and style and is found in the shrines of the Sufi saints which were built in the memory of these reshis and peers. This architecture is characterised by blocks which are square in design. The chambers constructed are of bricks and mortar and sometimes of logs laid across each other, the spaces between logs has been filled with brick work, chambers are square with a Cenotaph (char) of latticework in its centre. The entrance to the chamber is usually from the south. Bays of the chamber are decorated with fine types of Jali Screens of wood, the interior of the chamber is covered with papier mache paintings or in few places with lime Plaster, the columns around the central chamber are elaborately carved. The low pyramidal roof projecting over the whole super structure is built in several tiers with size diminishing in each successive tier.
The roof is usually surmounted by a rising steeple the final of which is moulded; the shape of these moulded structures is like umbrella and covered with metal object. However, these tombs have lost their traditional glory and are in need of renovation. At few shrines the brick bark roofs have been replaced by metal sheeted roofs.

Kashmir is a living museum for these Sufi shrines. In every village there is a Sufi shrine or a sacred relic. These are glorious monuments which are no less impressive than the pyramids of Egypt. These wonderful shrines are still to be explored. However most of these shrines are neglected and aren’t conserved. Due to the unfavourable conditions that prevailing in the valley from the last 20 years, these shrines are in miserable conditions, while few are gutted in fire. These included the major shrine of Nundreshi at Charar-e-Sharief which was destroyed in a major fire incident. Unfortunately the whole structure was completely lost. In another incident, the famous Khanqah-e-Faizpana at Tral was also burnt down. One more shrine was destroyed at Pandulin, Ashmuqa. However there are few Sufi shrines which are in good state and symbolise the Sufi architecture. People of Kashmir hold these saints and these shrines in high esteem and as a mark of respect continuously visit these shrines. The people across the Valley celebrate the urs, the devotees in huge numbers visited these shrines and pay their obeisance and respect.

As already mentioned that these places are no less attractive than the great pyramids of Egypt but unfortunately most of these sites are unprotected and lie in shambles. These shrines which are mostly wooden if not protected can easily fell pray to any mishap including fire. At few other places these shrines have been heavily encroached upon and no spaces have been left for the devotees.

These wooden pyramids of Kashmir need to be preserved on modern scientific lines and brought under the purview of heritage tourism. The cultural and tourism departments should come forward and conserve these shrines, besides providing the basic tourist infrastructure.

Challenges to Saffron Cultivation and Industry in Kashmir

Rashid's investigative reports are an eye opener. His multiple reports are followed at the end by an Editorial in the Rising Kashmir

(Mr. Rashid Paul, 40, was born at Ompora, near Budgam. He has a master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. He was with the Daily Excelsior before joining the Rising Kashmir as a senior correspondent. He follows business and economy, conflict, environment and power beats. He is also a documentary film maker.)

Govt Clueless on Saffron Production

Srinagar: Belying the official data that Kashmir only produced 8 metric tones (MT) of saffron in 2008, experts here say some 20 MT of the cash crop worth Rs 400 crores was produced during the same period.

Dr F A Nahvi, prominent saffronologist from SK University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (K) told Rising Kashmir that government figures about saffron are misleading. “We produce more than the official figure of 8 MT as nearly 7000 to 8000 hectares (ha) are currently under saffron cultivation in Kashmir and the yield per ha averages around 2.5 kilograms,” said Nahvi.

The over all production as per Nahvi’s assumption is 20 MT which in value terms means that Kashmir produces saffron worth Rs 400 crores annually.

The official numbers suggest that saffron production in Kashmir increased by 500 kilograms and reached 8.5 MT in 2009. The crop is cultivated on an area of 3265 hectares.

Nahvi’s premise is that Iran for the sake of monopolizing international saffron trade exaggerates the figures. “The country claims to have augmented its saffron production from 150 MT in 2006 to 250 MT in 2008,” says Nehvi, which according to Nahvi is not possible.

Large swathes of plateau land in Patttan, Chrar, Nagam, and Pulwama have come under saffron cultivation in Kashmir. Production is definitely higher than the official figure, he said.

Industry payers who trade in the cash crop too agree with experts.
Farooq Amin of Kanwal Spices citing statistics from Spice Board of India (SBI) in some way substantiates Nahvi. Farooq, also a member of SBI said 5.5 MT of saffron worth Rs 110 crores was exported by India in 2008-2009. Surely we produce a good quantity although the crop is facing official apathy.

Shakil Ahmed, spokesman of the Kashmir Saffron Growers and Dealers Association however says the production is not beyond 12 MT.

Showkat, another saffron dealer said the annual turnover of the golden spice is not more than Rs 250 to Rs 300 crores. “Our saffron has a wide domestic market and only a small quantity is exported. But the industry needs immediate attention,” he adds.

Lack of Irrigation Facility Fails Kashmir Saffron Yield

Srinagar: Although Kashmir places India among top three Saffron producers in international market; the cash crop is bereft of any official policy, proper irrigation facility and commodity risk protection.

The conflict ridden area produced adequate quantity of saffron during 2008-2009 leading to reduced saffron imports; 1.20 metric tones (MT) by India during the year. The country indeed exported 5.5 MT of world’s costliest spice during the period. However, few believe that water shortage, considered as a major obstacle will be tackled in foreseeable future as the entire cultivable area is rain fed.

The whole saffron land area (3265 ha official and 8000 ha unofficial) is rain fed and not even a single bore well has been arranged by the government during the past 63 years.

The yield is stagnant at 2.5 kilogram /ha which is even below the yield of war ravaged Afghanistan. It produces only 800 kilograms of saffron but with a yield of 6 kilograms/ha, according to Afghan official websites.

“Spain, one of the major saffron exporters provides sprinkle irrigation to its farmers and has a yield of 8 to 10 kgs /ha. The country has the best cultivation and post harvest practices in the world,” says saffron expert Dr F A Nahvi.

Iran, the major exporter of saffron has a yield of 4.5 kgs /ha, he added.

The government should take initiatives but farmers on their part need to take saffron cultivation seriously and adopt scientific procedures as recommended by experts, he suggested.

“Our crops are at the mercy of rain. We approached the government for a loan on sprinkle irrigation facility. But they turned their backs on us”, said Akil Ahmed a saffron grower from Pulwama.

Altaf Aijaz Andrabi, a senior official at the Agriculture department said Rs 1.06 crore has been earmarked for digging bore wells to provide spray irrigation to the fields in the first phase of Rashtriya Kisan Vikas Yojna. Certain beneficiaries have been identified for this year and the scheme will continue in the year ahead, he said.

Iranian Saffron Makes Inroads Into Kashmir Spice

Srinagar: In absence of proper quality control, branding and packaging, Iranian saffron is making heavy inroads into Indian markets as Kashmir product.

Since saffron produced in Iran is cheaper than its Kashmir grown species, many unscrupulous traders sell the product under Kashmir brand. One kilogram of Iranian saffron is sold at Rs one lakh in Indian market while Kashmir saffron fetches a price of more than Rs 1.30 lakh. Many local traders having fixed clientele across India import thousands of Iranian saffron by different means and blend it with Kashmiri saffron. The mixed condiment is then sold after making 30,000 bucks per kilogram.

“The practice is going on for years and turnover of the spurious trade runs in crores,” said Farooq Amin of Kanwal Spices, one of the leading spice manufacturers in the State. The illegal trade is going unabated in absence of quality control and certification from the government, he added.

‘Iranian saffron, which is inferior in colour, aroma, flavor and oil content, is smuggled in to India in large quantities and purchased by some unprincipled traders who trade it after mixing it with the Kashmiri product,” said Noor ud din Bhat of the Kashmir Kesar Mart, an export house of various Kashmiri products.

Bhat said saffron from other countries like Spain is properly graded, packed and branded. The illicit trade will continue until we increase our production substantially and lay modern pack houses with quality control laboratories.

Iqbal Khandey, Commissioner Agriculture production said, “I am not aware of any illegal mixing. I will study the matter. On quality control lab and monitoring mechanism he said I will consult my subordinate officials.

Meanwhile private players are getting ready to improve saffron packaging through partnerships with various organizations.

Farooq said that his company will set up a unit for packaging in collaboration with Spice Board of India. The Rs 3 crore project will have quality control lab that will guarantee real Kashmiri saffron in imaginative packs. It will be a cooperative venture with some 100 farmers, Farooq adds.

Growers Demand Listing of Saffron on MCX, NCDEX

Srinagar: With no effort being made to get Saffron listed in Indian commodity exchanges, the Rs 300 crore plus domestic industry faces an uncertain future. The uncomfortable fluctuation in prices tells on the livelihood of more than 16000 farm families that are directly dependent on the spice crop.

“We pleaded the state government for listing Kashmir saffron in commodities exchange of India but no effort has been made so far,” said Shakil Ahmed, spokesman of Kashmir Saffron Growers and Dealers Association. Shakil says that the crop generates an annual turnover of Rs 200 to 300 crore.

He said the growers are exploited by intermediaries and hardly get enough in return for their produce. Saffron farming is considered to be labour intensive. “Many farmers gave up the cultivation and shifted to other agricultural activates as returns are very discouraging,” Shakil said.

Shakil said that the government should help in formation of Farmers Federation for Saffron that will trade on the commodity exchanges on behalf of the saffron farmers.

The minister for agriculture Ghulam Hassan Mir said the government has not approached either the Multi Commodity Exchange of India (MCX) or National Commodities Exchange (NCEDX), which carry commodity exchange trade in India. However, we are striving for declaring Saffron as a national product so that it is sold under brand Kashmir. “I will study the subject and see how our farmers can be benefited through this system of trade,” Mir said.

According to unofficial data some 16000 farm families are associated with

Saffron cultivation in Kashmir and although the special commodity fetched a price of Rs 2.50 to 3 lakhs per Kilogram in 2008-2009, farmers moaned that they sold their harvest to traders at throwaway prices.

The future trading through commodities exchange can ensure due returns to farmers and remove their economic deprivation. Many commodities and derivative products in India are traded through MCX, NCDEX and other exchanges.

A farmer raising saffron can sell a future contract of his produce at a market determined price. The trading protects the farmer from price drops and the buyer from price rises. Producers sell directly to the exchange, which assures instant and guaranteed payment.

Saffron Adulteration (Editorial Comment)

Besides the issue of contamination, the saffron industry in Kashmir has a host of concerns to confront with

Past week saffron growers of Kashmir staged a series of protests against the inefficiency of government to take action against those who are included in fake saffron dealings and manufacture. Prior to this police claimed that 90 kgs of fake saffron along with raw material of 250 kgs of corn fiber and dyes (used for making fake saffron) were confiscated. This is not an event in isolation rather the prized commodity has been in the news for many years now.

The questions that demand immediate answers from the stake holders include reasons for the downfall of the saffron and what can be done to bring the commodity back on track within the short span of time. The saffron industry of Kashmir faces disparity on more than one count as official data and experts put forth varying figures. Take the case of industry size that official figures does not exceed Rs 160 crore while experts put the industry annual turnover anywhere between Rs 300- 400 crore. This calls for a 'bottom up approach' to arrive at the actual size of the saffron trade so that requisite steps may be taken. Next comes the question of yield, which a novice can see has remained stagnant for more than a decade now and looking at yield/hectare of different saffron producing regions, Kashmir has the distinction of being at the bottom of the ladder. The yield per hectare is less than one fourth that of Spain, one of the largest producers of saffron in the world where the crop gives 10kgs /hectare. Even the war ravaged Afghanistan that is devoid of basic infrastructure and agri-institutes claims of giving a yield of 6 kgs /hectare. Experts opine that one of the basic reasons for such low yield is the lack of irrigation facilities as almost all 3265 hectares that produce saffron is rain fed. On the face of it one fails to understand the reasons for not making available irrigation facilities to growers. Earmarking a meager amount during current year under the Centre sponsored scheme - Rashtriya Kisan Vikas Youjna will not suffice the purpose. The total saffron production also shows variation between the government and experts as official data reveals that Kashmir produces around 8 MT of the crop annually which again according to experts stands nowhere to the mark of 20MT. Even if the saffron industry is very small compared to other commodities that are produced in India but more than 16000 families are dependent on the crop for their livelihood. A uniform view among all the stakeholders puts factors like lack of irrigation facilities, non existing standardization norms, poor packaging and no marketing support as the prime reasons that have landed the commodity in the present mess. When Planning Commission of India can moot an idea of forming a Farmers Federation for Pulses to protect farmers from price fluctuations and external factors, what holds New Delhi back to initiate steps of similar nature for commodities that are grown in Kashmir including saffron. Government needs to make a focused approach to solve the 'productivity paradox' as it has been one of the limiting factors confronting by Kashmiri agriculture. Let the government concentrate on areas which are already producing the saffron for ages rather than experiment at new places. Creation of Saffron Board can be a good step to begin with.

Can the "Afghan Wave" Reach Kashmir?

Riyaz thinks so, and his logic is heavy on an interpretation of history which by no means is universally accepted by all constituents of Kashmir

(Mr. Riyaz Masroor, 38, was born and raised in Srinagar. He is a Srinagar based journalist who writes in English, Urdu and kashmiri. Besides working in the local press, his articles have appeared on BBC Radio online, Himal Southasia and the Journal of International Federation of Journalists.)

Kashmir via Kabul

What does London Conference on Afghanistan, beginning January 28, mean to us? This crucial question requires an elaborate answer.

Kashmir shares an interesting relationship with Afghanistan. Not just because Afghans ruled the ‘paradise on earth’ for 67 years but because peace in Kashmir is inversely proportional to war in Afghanistan.

In 1979, when Russia’s Red Army forayed into rugged, war-torn Kabul, Kashmir was basking in a newly-bought peace under Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. The decade of Soviet occupation in Afghanistan was marked, in Kashmir, by relatively poised regimes except for a brief trouble under G M Shah, who had toppled Farooq Abdullah’s government in 1984. Back then Pakistan’s official media would gloat over the Afghan Jihad but people responded not beyond listening to radio dispatches from Peshawar or Kandahar.

But that was soon to end. Russia’s exit plan was conceived little later than mid eighties. Before that plan could be executed Kashmir saw the resurrection of separatist movement. A large coalition of separatist groups, Muslim United Front, ran for state elections in 1987. The poll was brazenly rigged to prevent MUF, purported to comprise anti-National Conference vote bank, from assuming power.
Most of the modern historians unwittingly believe that the electoral fraud of 1987 has actually rooted the cult of violence in Kashmir. That may be a reason but not the reason. It was very well known that Pakistan had been bankrolling Afghan Jihad and in the event of Soviet retreat the forces of violence were being unleashed across the subcontinent, partly due to the compulsion such operations incur and partly to keep Indian army bogged down in Kashmir. Had there been no rigging in 1987, Russia-made AK 47 rifle would still make its debut in Kashmir; because the Afghan front had now cooled down. The poll debacle only hastened the process and provided a readymade excuse to the supporters of the armed uprising.

However, it would be foolhardy to dismiss the violent explosion of 1989 as entirely a ‘proxy war’. Pakistan, no doubt, supplied the guns but India’s long running apathy toward local emotions had been so acute that it induced a ‘will to die’ in the otherwise docile, easygoing Kashmiris. Proxy wars can be easily defeated if the population is free from any sense of deprivation, occupation or discrimination– let’s call it the 3D crisis.

If Kashmir had started limping back to normalcy in the early years of past decade, it was not only due to 9/11 strike on US. Neither was it because India had woken up to the need to accommodate the Kashmiri concerns about deprivation, dispossession and discrimination, yes the 3D crisis. The nine-eleven had, in fact, triggered a new war in Afghanistan, this time America sticking in the quicksand.

It is interesting to note how Afghanistan and Kashmir share a strange war-peace relationship. As NATO, with the help of Pakistan army, began their share of Afghan mission in 2001, Kashmir started showing signs of calm. Much like the 1979-89 decade the 2000-2009 witnessed lull in Kashmir violence and among other things a sudden reemergence of pro-India politics.

The reason why the Afghanistan conference that began in London on January 28, will have direct bearing on Kashmir is that it has been organised to legitimize the fresh call for engaging Taliban and sharing Afghanistan’s political and economic power with them. The call is simultaneously coming from Islamabad, Kabul and Washington. No wonder why J&K’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has given out a matching call urging militants for negotiations.

The crucial London summit should, therefore, not be mistaken as yet another conference on counter terrorism. It rather represents America’s radical switchover vis-à-vis its latest war. General McChrystal, US Army’s Afghanistan Chief, has made no bones about the need to negotiate peace with Taliban. Even an average analyst would see this statement as a stark admission of ‘defeat’. Remember, four-star general of a superpower army does not speak in air; the opinion that war in Afghanistan is increasingly becoming unwinnable has been sinking within the military discourse of Pentagon and its allies for past few years. If you cannot secure the palace of your loyal president in Kabul even as you fight the insurgents with full might for nine years, you better switch to plan B. Obama is already on way to implementing this plan B, which includes ‘re-empowering’ Taliban in lieu of peace ( or may be a graceful exit).

As the pattern since 1979 goes Kashmir needs to prepare for a fresh bout of disturbance. A new ruling coalition largely dominated by Taliban would not just represent America’s ‘tactical surrender’, it would embolden Pakistan. Pakistan army, as a host of news reports suggest, has all along been involved in Afghanistan insurgency by proxy. Now, if America is taking Pakistan on board and offering political power to Taliban, it only signifies Pakistan army’s second ‘victory’ since it connived with US to defeat the former superpower USSR in the same Afghanistan. Moreover, if Obama-Karzai-Zardari trio has its way in forging a pro-Taliban regime in Kabul, the forces that were running the show there, may be tasked to reorient themselves. China’s troubled Xinxiang won’t make a choice owing to Beijing’s solid ties with Islamabad and the late ‘patch up’ with US. So, will it be Mission Kashmir II?

It is difficult to say with certainty that the ‘Afghan wave’ would be finally made to spill over to Kashmir. But the major policy transition in US and Kabul makes it appear all too likely. India may be alive to the military challenges such a scenario could throw up but the question is has it been able to eliminate the ‘will to die’ from within the Kashmiri population.

If the incidents that occurred in past few weeks are any indicator, the 3D crisis seem running deeper than it was in 1989. Earlier we didn’t see people staging demonstrations during gunfights. Is it really hard to discern why Kashmiris would opt for violence if yet another anarchic moment came their way?

Kashmiris have never fought a war of choice. In all these 421 years of 3D crisis, they have always fought wars of survival. New Delhi cannot bring saints and monks together to curse Afghanistan that never-ending war inflict the country so that Kashmir remains peaceful. Afghanistan’s peace has always entailed war in Kashmir only because the ground here has all along remained fertile. Now, if India wants to eliminate the reasons for Kashmiris to revolt again, it should not wait for formal US withdrawal from Afghanistan. A word of caution: All the guile has been used up since 1947. Rallying Kashmiris around a mirage would be difficult now. Something real, yes real, need be done before the ‘Afghan wave’ touches our shores.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Right to Information (RTI) is an Essential Tool to Ensure Good Governance

Muzaffar, Faisal and Paul, the "three musketeers" trying to keep everyone honest in Kashmir, discuss the status of the RTI Act in Kashmir and concerns regarding its implementation in a transparent and fair manner

(Dr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat, 34, was born in Wathoora village in the Budgam district and matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial High School in 1993. He completed his Bachelor's degree in Dental Surgery from from the Karnatka University in 2000. He has a private dental practice in Chandoora and is a social activist dedicated to educating public on the Right To Information (RTI) legislation. He is the Convener of the J&K RTI Movement and associated with the Commonwealth Human Rights Intitiative (CHRI) office in New Delhi.

Dr. Shah Faisal, 26, was born in Sogam village of District Kupwara. He studied at his village schools until the 10th grade and then transferred to the Tyndale Biscoe School Srinagar. Through an open merit system, he was selected for a seat in the medical college and finished his medical degree (MBBS) from the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Soura, Srinagar. His hobbies are reading literature (English, Urdu, Persian and Kashmiri), writing articles and plays, peace activism, and is currently involved in grass-roots advocacy for implentation of the Right to Information (RTI) in J&K state. He is also preparing for the civil services examinations.

Mr. Paul La Porte, 25, was born in Tacoma, Washington State. He attended the Bellarmine Preparatory High School in Tacoma, and went to the University of Chicago for his college education. He is presently a MD-PhD student at the university. His Ph.D. thesis is in cancer biology with a focus on arsenical cancers in Bangladesh. He lived in J&K for a year in 2003-2004 and takes special interest in the Right to Information as a mechanism for justice. In his leisure time, he enjoys photography.)

Implementing RTI Act

The J&K RTI Act of 2009 was gazetted 9 months ago on 20 March 2009. Since that time, the Government has been inching towards its implementation. On 1 October, the retired and widely respected J&K-cadre IAS officer Wajahat Habibullah was selected as the State’s first Chief Information Commissioner by a committee comprising of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, Law Minister Ali Muhammad Sagar, and Leader of the Opposition Mehbooba Mufti. Habibullah subsequently resigned from his present posting in Delhi as the Central Chief Information Commissioner on 19 October, and Governor NN Vohra officially appointed him as the State’s first Chief Information Commissioner on 22 October. Habibullah’s mission would be to establish the J&K State Information Commission, which will be responsible for overseeing and enforcing implementation of the Right to Information Act in the State. The IAS officer Gazanfar Hussain has been appointed the first Secretary of the Commission, which shall permanently reside at the Old Assembly complex in Srinagar and possibly the PSC complex in Jammu.

However, Mr. Habibullah has been unable to assume his own office as Chief of the Information Commission for the past 9 weeks due to delays in selecting his replacement in Delhi. On the advice of the Union Law Ministry, Mr. Habibullah will not leave his current office until his replacement has been chosen. The Selection Committee that appoints his successor is comprised of (1) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, (2) the Law Minister Veerappa Moily, and (3) the (then) Leader of the Opposition LK Advani. Media reports and inside sources report that the committee was not able to agree on Mr. Habibullah’s replacement, principally because the Government was proposing ex-bureaucrats whereas Mr. Advani insisted on non-bureaucrat candidates such as ex-IPS officer Kiran Bedi or the RTI expert Shekhar Singh. Reliable sources have suggested to us that Mr. Habibullah’s replacement will be finalized by the Selection Committee with the new LOP Sushma Swaraj in coming days.

Although Mr. Habibullah will be the key figure in implementing the J&K RTI Act of 2009, citizens of J&K should pay particular attention to the identity of Habibullah’s replacement as the Central Chief Information Commissioner. The Central Chief IC is responsible for permitting or rejecting RTI applications in cases of human rights violations to (otherwise) exempt Central security agencies such as the BSF, CRPF, ITBP, and IB under the Section 24(1) of the Central RTI Act, 2005. Unfortunately, very few residents of J&K are aware of Section 24(1). In fact, we are reportedly the only persons from J&K to have invoked this provision to date.

With respect to the J&K RTI Act 2009, implementation has been hodge-podge, and almost every government body in J&K has fallen behind schedule with respect to the deadlines specified in the Act. Every Public Authority in Jammu & Kashmir must appoint Public Information Officers (PIOs), who are responsible for receiving and processing RTI applications (S. 5(1) of the Act). The Public Authorities may appoint only one or several PIOs, but there must be at least one “nodal” PIO not junior in rank to an Under Secretary, (S. 3(i) of the Rules). The Public Authorities must also appoint Assistant PIOs (APIOs) at the sub-divisional and sub-district level wherever it has offices (Section 5(2) of the Act). The APIOs primary function is to receive and forward applications to the PIOs. The Act specifies that the PIOs and APIOs should be designated with 100 days of enactment of the Act—a deadline that passed on 28 June. The Departments were in fact reminded of this deadline in a Circular No. 25-GAD-2009 issued on 5 June. The Public Authorities must also appoint Appellate Authorities (AA), as described in Sections 7(3)(b), 7(8) of the Act and Sections 2(h) of the Rules. The AA must be any officer senior to the nodal PIO who reviews (1) “First Appeals” and (2) complaints concerning RTI in that Public Authority (S. 8 of the Rules).

There are 33 Administrative Departments in the State Government, and a total of 31 Departments have appointed PIOs to date. However, the Elections and Estates Departments have not appointed any PIOs, a full 175 days after the appointment deadline passed! Several Departments have offices in districts outside of Jammu & Srinagar, and accordingly they must appoint local APIOs to receive applications from rural residents. Several service-oriented Departments such as CAPD, Forestry, Finance and PWD have appointed the necessary APIOs. On the other hand, other departments with offices throughout the rural areas of the state such as Health, PHE, Agriculture, Husbandry, and Social Welfare have not appointed district-level APIOs. None of the Departments have specified their Appellate Authorities, an oversight that we think is due to the ambiguities in the Act. Fortunately, Sections 2(h) and 8 of the Rules make clear that the Appellate Authorities must be specified.

Autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies are treated as Public Authorities independent from their mother departments under the provisions of the RTI Act. For example, the J&K Police is controlled by the Home Department, which has recently appointed its own PIO. Nonetheless, the J&K Police is considered a separate “Public Authority” and must therefore appoint its own PIOs, APIOs, and AA. Unfortunately, amongst the autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies only the SVO, the JKPSC, IMPA, the SSB, IREP, JKEDA, the JKSCS&T have appointed their own PIOs. Many other autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies financed or controlled by the government have not appoint PIOs, APIOs, or AAs. These law-breakers include the J&K Bank, SIDCO, SICOP, ERA, SFC, WDC, Gujjar and Bakerwal Board, the Special Tribunal, to name a few. The status of the J&K Police is unclear, and in a recent call to the DGP’s office it became apparent that they weren’t even tracking their implementation of the RTI Act.

The Right to Information also applies to Constitutional bodies, including the Raj Bhawan, the Legislative Assembly, the Legislative Council and the High Court (S. 2(f) of the Act). After a reminder letter sent by us on 17 December, the Governor appointed the Raj Bhawan’s AA and PIO on 19 December. The Legislative Assembly, the Legislative Council, and the High Court have not appointed any PIOs, APIOs, or AAs, though it has been reported that the High Court will do so in coming weeks. Again, 175 days after the appointment deadline, it is surprising that these pillars of democracy have failed to implement the Right to Information Act to any degree.

The JKRTI Act also includes a “suo moto” disclosure provision in Section 4. Among other things, this provision mandates the publication of an “information booklet” containing basic details about the Public Authority. To date, the only Public Authority to publish this booklet has been the J&K Police, which has posted the booklet on its website. No other Public Authority in J&K that has fulfilled this provision.

Finally, there is a general need for transparency and record-keeping in implementing the J&K RTI Act. This is stipulated in Section 22 of the Act and Section 36 of the Rules. The J&K State Vigilance Organisation has laudably established a special, frequently-updated page on its website detailing the status of RTI applications and their outcomes. The J&K SVO is the only organisation in J&K to establish such a page. The other Public Authorities of the state are well-advised to follow the SVO’s example so that they are fully in compliance with the provisions of the Act & the Rules.

Drug Abuse and Women

Jehangir highlights the price of anxiety among the section of the community most affected by political violence and societal changes in Kashmir

(Mr. Jehangir Rashid Malik, 37, was born in Srinagar, and did his primary schooling at the Green Land Educational Institute in Hawal, Srinagar. He studies at the Sri Partap Higher Secondary School for classes XI and XII, and completed his Bachelor's degree through distance mode from the University of Kashmir. He subsequently graduated from the Media Education Research Centre (MERC) of the University of Kashmir with a Master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. As a journalist, he is associated with the Civil Society, a New Delhi magazine, and is the Editor of Kashmir Plus, a news and feature based portal of Srinagar. He began his career in journalism as a correspondent with the Kashmir Times, and later worked at the Daily Etalaat (English) and as a news editor with the Daily Khidmat (English). He has been awarded the Sanjoy Ghose Humanitarian Award for story writing by the Charkha Development Network, New Delhi, and has received fellowships from the Action Aid India, the Centre for Science and Environment, and the National Foundation for India, all based in New Delhi. In his leisure time, Mr. Malik likes watching cricket and listening to radio programs especially old melodies sung by legends, Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar Ganguly.)

Drug Abuse and Women in Kashmir

Drug addiction drives a female to a desperate situation and at times she would not hesitate in beating her husband and at some other times she would brave all odds while trying to fetch an ordinary bottle of cough suppressant. All this has been noticed in female drug addicts who visit drug de-addiction centres in the city, but the problem is that these centres are not many.

Acquiring treatment at one of the city-based de-addiction centres, Bilkis [name changed], a middle-aged woman and mother of three children observes complete silence and straightway declines to answer any query related to addiction, when approached. She is all mum and a person would believe that she has nothing to do with an extraordinary phenomenon like drug addiction.

“I simply want to share that I have come here for treatment and nothing more nothing less. Don’t ask questions to me and just provide me the treatment,” says Bilkis.

A counsellor at the de-addiction centre says that Bilkis often enters into verbal brawl with her husband on one or other pretext ‘and often beat him.’

Bilkis has been consuming substances (drugs) like tranquilizers (sleeping pills) and corex (cough syrup) for last six years. Recently, she has started visiting the de-addiction centre.

“She consumes three bottles of corex every day. She has certain psychological problem and has developed gynaecological infection as well. I have asked her and her husband to go for certain clinical tests, but it is very difficult to handle such patients. Because of the

social stigma attached to drug addiction they don’t come up openly with facts,” says the doctor in-charge at the centre.

The doctor said that when she approached him, she was first hesitant to come out with details. “Later she told me that there are six more ladies in her locality who face the same problem and they too want to consult the doctor,” says the doctor.

The doctor added that he is sure that there will be more than six ladies “and I encouraged her to come forward with all of them and that all the conversation would be kept confidential.”

Referring to another example the doctor said that an unusual case came to him for treatment.

A young woman from Khrew-Pampore, some 20 kilometres from city centre, approached him. “She consumed petrol like water and was accustomed to it for several months,” says the doctor.

The doctor added that during three-month-long-strike in 2008 this woman took petrol out of tanks of three vehicles that they have at home and drank it.

“Because of this her marriage that was scheduled within couple of months, broke away and she was very upset,” said the doctor.

“Better counselling can play an indispensable role in treating such patients. At our de-addiction centre, counselling is offered and those patients who show no sign of improvement are asked to visit the centre and if required they are admitted.”

With search operations, crackdowns, firing incidents and grenade blasts being a regular feature here, women-folk are all the time worried about safety and security of their dear ones. Drugs in form of cough syrups and other sedatives is last resort for many to come out of mental tension that hogs them all the time.

“Females are more sensitive and they are most harried lot in the situation Kashmir is going through over last 19 years. In order to get out of mental block they visit medical shops in vicinity where chemist prescribe medicines to them which gives them temporary relief and they get used to them,” says Dr. Ghulam Nabi Wani, founder HNSS De-addiction Centre, Khanyar.

In the past Kashmiri women more so living in rural areas used to take nicotine by puffing Hukka and also by having poppy seeds. This continued till armed uprising started here. Following this there was a change in pattern of addiction as far as females are concerned.

Dr. Wani says that due to threat to life females were up against a torrid time and most of the times they were seen depressed over entire scheme of things. He believes that females are emotionally very brittle and can break down even at simple adverse situation, not to talk of a tough situation which arises after losing a near or dear one.

(The article is a part of series of articles to be published in connection with the fellowship offered to the writer by National Foundation for India (NFI), New Delhi on the topic, ‘Drug addiction among females in Kashmir valley’.)

The Best of Both Worlds: Politicians Get Higher Salaries, Local Citizens Need Not Care

While the State CM and ministers will draw higher salaries than Union Ministers and MP's, the reassuring thought is that State salaries are mostly paid from the Indian Treasury by Indian taxpayers. So who cares - Right?

Rich Durbar

Ishfaq Mir (Rising Kashmir)

New Package Old Package
CM Rs 70000 40,300
Minister Rs 65000 40,300
MLA/MLC Rs 60000 40,300
Pension MLA/MLC: Rs 17500 12,500

Jammu: Much to their delight, the ministers and legislators are set to get an average salary hike of at least Rs 25,000 a month, with effect from September 2009, amounting to an increase of 62.5 per cent over the previous salaries.

Jammu and Kashmir will thus become the first State to have the salaries of Chief Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State, MLAs and MLCs higher than Union Ministers and Members of Parliament.

Likewise, there is also reason for the pensioners to cheer up: a hike of Rs 5000 (40 per cent) is also on anvil.

The new salary package will put an extra burden of Rs three crore a month on the State exchequer.

The development comes at a time when over 4.5 lakh employees are on warpath, seeking benefits of the Sixth Pay Commission, even as the Government claims it was running short of funds to pay employees' arrears.

Official sources told Rising Kashmir that the salary hike is certain and the legislators will get the benefits from September 2009. “It is 100 per cent certain,” they said.

A proposal to increase the pension of former legislators, pending before the State Legislature and that would exceed the pension drawn by a former MP, is also on cards. The MLAs and MLCs stand to gain 40 per cent in their pension.

Presently the MLAs and MLCs are drawing a pension of Rs 12,500 and, after the hike, it will be Rs 18,000 - equalling the salary of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members.
The monthly salary of MLAs and MLCs in the State is presently at par with that of the Chief Minister and Ministers (both Cabinet and MoS rank) at Rs 40,300. Till 2007, the salary of legislators was Rs 12,000, which was hiked twice in a six-month period: initially upto Rs 20,000 and then Rs 40,300.

Now, the raised salaries will be Rs 60,000 for MLAs and MLCs, Rs 65,000 for ministers and Rs 70,000 for the Chief Minister. This will be higher than any State of India and even more than a Union Minister, who draws a salary of Rs 35,000 per month, while an MoS gets Rs 32,000.

In view of the security considerations, majority of State legislators enjoy the services of allotted government vehicles and escorts, besides accommodation in both Jammu and Srinagar.

Kashmiri Work Ethic Continues to Take its Toll

Lack of professionalism, so abundant in Kashmir, creates another Shopian situation at the Lal Ded (LD) Hospital

Woman dies of ‘medical negligence’ at LD hospital

Srinagar: In the wake of yet another case of alleged medical negligence which killed a woman at Srinagar’s Lal Ded Hospital, Speaker, Legislative Assembly has ordered an inquiry into the incident.

According to reports, a pregnant woman Rehana Akhter, wife of Nazir Ahmed Reshi of Sumbal Sonawari was brought to Lal Ded Hospital yesterday evening where she delivered a girl child after being operated upon by the doctors.

However, immediately after her surgery, she complained of severe abdominal pain. However, her relatives allege that doctors in the hospital were too careless to attend to her even though she was writing in pain.

Later the patient was operated upon once again but even this didn’t help and today morning poor Rehana died a very painful death, which evoked massive protests against the doctors and other hospital staff from her relatives who were also joined by the attendants of other patients.

The protestors placed the body of the deceased women on the main road and sat on a ‘dharna’ (sit-in) demanding action against the negligent doctors. They were also joined by passersby.

While the protests were going on, Speaker Legislative Assembly Mohammad Akbar Lone visited the Lal Ded Hospital Srinagar straightway from airport after he was informed about the woman’s death, who hailed from his constituency, Sumbal, Sonawari.

The Speaker gave a patient hearing to both doctors as well as the relatives of the deceased woman.

The Speaker called Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar and Principal, Government Medical College, Srinagar on the spot and directed Deputy Commissioner to appoint an inquiry committee headed by Additional District Development Commissioner (ADDC), Srinagar with HOD Medicine, HOD Surgery and HOD Gynecology as its members to find out cause of death of deceased and to get report completed within 10 days.

Later, Lone had negotiations with agitated relatives of the deceased and pacified them by announcing appointment of inquiry committee and assured them that the guilty will be punished.

Read about the Shopian Tragedy:

Seminar on Domestic Violence at the University of Kashmir

It was all about shallow speeches and blame game. Politicians blamed the Police and the Police blamed the society. But one stark fact stands out: 99% of such cases go unreported in the State

KU hosts seminar on ‘Domestic Violence against Women’

Ishfaq Ahmad Shah (Kashmir Images)

Srinagar: Scant knowledge of the subject, blame game, absence of victims’ account, poor time management was what marred the inaugural day of two-day seminar on ‘Domestic Violence against Women’ here on January 22.

The seminar organised by the Department of Students Welfare (DSW) and Women’s Studies Centre (WSC) in collaboration with J&K police began at varsity’s Ibn-Khaldun auditorium with several speeches in which speakers focused more on creating awareness about the problem without actually deliberating on how to bring about that awareness.

Social Welfare Minister and chief guest on the occasion Sakina Itoo while laying blame on police for ignoring reports of domestic violence said that police is not doing enough in this regard.

“Many women have come to me with their woes. All of them were ignored by police. The cops hadn’t registered their reports on domestic violence,” she said.
“I am not saying police isn’t working, but the work is not up to the mark,” the minister said.

Itoo also revealed that she had many times in the past asked several district police SSP’s to forward list of FIRs lodged by widows of militants “but in this regard too, the response was poor.”

Talking to media outside the auditorium, Itoo underlined the need of implementation of act in the State that protects women against domestic violence.

Earlier officials of police present in the seminar expressed their helplessness regarding the issue. They instead shifted blame on media and entire society for increase in the number of women victims of domestic violence.

“The department can’t do anything. Domestic violence against women is a social problem and society as a whole has to stop it,” Inspector General of Police (Armed) Dilbag Singh said.

Refuting Itoo’s claims, he said that 99% of such cases in the State aren’t reported while 12.5 per cent increase in domestic violence against women since 2006 have been registered.

DIG Central Kashmir, H K Lohia also came up for the defence of police saying that police is doing its job effectively. “We are doing our job but there must be fear of law within the society which makes efforts effective. There is loopholes present in every system here,” Lohia said.

He also blamed media for not playing its role sincerely in this regard.
Earlier stressing on the need of having victims’ account in the agenda, the social welfare minister said the function would have been “much better” if women victims would have been offered chance to speak.

Interestingly the moderator of the seminar announced that victims would be speaking at the function, however, the list of speakers distributed by organisers include officials of police KU and some academicians and lawyers.

The speakers stressed on the implementation of laws without going much into the process of its implementation and the present status.

Scheduled for 11:30 am, the event started at 12:30 pm which saw delay in Friday prayers while many among audience missed the entire prayers.
U VC Prof Punjabi also spoke at the event. He advocated the need of creating awareness among masses about the affects of the domestic violence on women.

Presiding officer, Motor Accident Claim Tribunal, Kaneez Fatima, HoD Sociology and Social Work KU, Aneesa Shafi, Registrar KU S Fayaz Ahmad, Nilofar Khan of DSW, WSC also made speeches on the issue.

Resurrecting a Colonial Garden

Resident’s Garden to bloom again

New attraction includes Kehwa Khana, fountains, benches

Srinagar: The State Floricultural Department is aggressively revamping the ‘Resident’s Garden’ now Emporium Garden at New Zero Bridge established by Britishers some 100 years back.

The 1.82 crore rupees project, according to officials of department, is aimed at renovating some of the garden structures besides securing safety of a wide range of rare and vibrant plants.

“There are many plant varieties that are unique. Even some varieties are foreign which are present in this garden,” Director Floriculture, G Sarwar Naqash told Rising Kashmir.

Spread at 10 acres, the garden established in 1905 was a part of the then British Resident’s dwelling when it was laid first. And the plant species in the garden were introduced by Britishers from time which saw many plantings succeeding in getting acclimatized to the weather and soil.

Naqash said, “The purpose is not only to maintain the old plants here but to propagate them further." The official said that the department intends to plant exclusive varieties within the 10-acre-garden to make it unique and different from the routine gardens present here.

“It is an ambitious overhaul. We also intend to repair some of the heritage gates and adjoining structures that lead to this garden. We also aim to set up a mini museum where a Kahwa Khana would always serve the visitors,” he added.

Apart from attracting non-local tourists the garden is expected to draw locals as well who could come upon several never-seen-before foreign plants.

The varieties include Ginkgo Biloba—a Chinese plant variety, Laurus Nobilis (Tej Pata)—that only grows in plains, species of Taxodium besides various other foreign plant varieties.

Two new fountains with lighting and a podium will also come up as a new feature in the garden.

(Rising Kashmir)

Bangladeshis, not Kashmiris, are Finding Dignity in Capitalism

Can Kashmiris shake their "babu mentality" to go after entrepreneurship wherever it exists? Today it is garbage, tomorrow it may be something else

Unrelenting Bangladeshis Outdo SMC

Srinagar: While Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) lacks waste segregation facility and dumps garbage at its lone landfill site at Achen, it is Bangladeshi migrants who are reaping the benefit.

The industrious migrants not only rid city of tons of waste, much before SMC workers, in the morning, but they also stop usable items ruin that would otherwise end up at the landfill site.

“We always whine that there are no jobs. But see how they make money without any investment,” says a scrap dealer Mushtaq Ahmad, who receives most of the scrap collected by Bangladeshi rag pickers.

These migrants live near Noorjehan Bridge, locally Cement Kadal, and are earning through waste collection from various dumping site within the city.

Equipped with a cycle rickshaw, the migrants could be seen groping in heaps of garbage for cardboard sheets and boxes, transparent polythene sheets, plastic pet bottles, tin cans, glass bottles, iron scraps and nails, besides other things that are recyclable.

Ahmad says, “The Bangladeshis are highly industrious. In different localities, they work endlessly from early morning till late nights to collect waste.”
The segregation process is never a one-man-job. Rather the migrants involve entire family in the job.

“It is actually a family effort. We work on the collected material and segregate it later before we sell it to the scrap dealers in the city,” says a Bangladeshi worker Najmul (name changed on request).

He says that the entire family from children to women takes part in the process of collection and segregation.

“My wife, however, makes candies which she sells to the children in the community,” he says.

Najmul refused to divulge details on how he along with others landed up in the valley; however, he said Bangladeshis are everywhere in Kashmir and India.

“We have been frequenting various cities across India where we are engaged in low wage works that includes waste segregation and final recycling, but since no one segregates garbage here in the valley, the chances of collecting scrap is more,” he says.

Over the years, several families have settled here in the city and are enjoying waste collection throughout Kashmir.

(Rising Kashmir)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bringing Civility in a Metropolis With no Traffic Lights

Tajamul wonders when our public will mature as a society and show patience and discipline

(Tajamul Hussain, 53, was born in Srinagar. He went to the Government Higher Secondary School in Nawakadal, Srinagar, and the S.P. College, Srinagar. He attended the College of Engineering, Andhra University, Waltair, the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), New Delhi, and the Forest Research Institute. He is a freelance writer.)

Waiting in the Queue

You can be standing in front of a door of an ATM machine. Someone will brazenly walk right in front of you as the previous person exits the vestibule. He (or she) will pretend not to see you…until you stop him! The fellow may express his sorrow or try to be on your head, within the vestibule flouting the privacy required for operating your bank account. He may even cajole you into operating your transaction and suggesting the amount of cash you should draw. Tell this fellow to refrain, and he will simply be with his hackles up to dismiss it with scorn.

Standing in a queue requires patience, discipline and self respect and respect for others. It calls for a strong belief in the existence of good and fair play. The turmoil that a person goes through, while standing in a ‘qyamat say qyamat tak’ long queue, is unmatched. When you see your life going at a glacial speed and to know, that even after hours of patient waiting, you are still not the first in line, all hell wants to break loose. But then the sanity prevails amidst all the pushing and shoving, or else one may lose the privileged spot that he occupies and may be sent back to square one.

Life is a cruel thing for everyone in the queue and the willingness to get over with it is what gives people the strength to stand in it for hours while the discomfort, one is facing rises with every minute. This is more so when one is made to stand in a queue (the analogue of what in the automotive world constitutes "bumper to bumper" traffic) without any ‘personal space’ that has evolved over the ages to keep at bay transgressors that are always looking for breaks in the queue.

Every one amongst us has had to go through the ordeal of standing in the queue at some point of time or the other. It may be an everyday story once people in India wake up in the morning and are off to catch a bus to college or office…. but it is definitely not so in our beautiful valley. When people there get into the bus, to buy a ticket, they are again waiting in queue…we Kashmiris would always be found jostling against each other to be the first in the bus. Indians on an average spend 12% of their lives in the queues. This however does not include the time that takes in commuting before they reach the tail end of the queue. The world records in the queue whether the longest, the fastest, the most patient queue, all belong to India.

Queuing is such a national trait that the Indian athletes are invariably found in the queue to finish. Whether it is the union cabinet standing in a queue to send off or to welcome the president or Prime Minister the queue is every where. The 3.2 kms long queue in Delhi to collect MTNL bills a decade and a half ago is a record in itself. The fastest moving queue in India was recorded at a movie theatre showing the film ‘Hot Nights’ in Hissar, Haryana. It took a mere 5 minutes and 40 seconds for 581 people, all men, to buy tickets and enter the hall.

The extreme hatred for standing-in-the-queue is some thing unique with us Kashmiris. Perhaps because of the grasping propensity to profit by the industry of some one else without we ourselves producing anything (exactly what the bird of prey does when it swoops down upon the toiling king fisher and takes from it by force the fish it has wrested from the waves by the exercise of his strength and talents) perversion of economy has gone deep into our DNA. As the strong belief in the existence of good and fair play is simply lacking in us, a typical Kashmiri can not think of wasting time in a queue. During college days one of our friends dared to buy a cinema ticket. In the maddening rush as the unruly cine goers jostled each other, the hapless fellow somehow managed to elbow his way through the crowd to push his hand into the ticket counter. The ticket seller seated behind the grill handed over the ticket to him. As he pulled himself out of the crowd after a great struggle, to his astonishment the sleeve of his shirt covering his right arm, was torn asunder to leave no trace thereof. Imagine the plight of the poor fellow!

The rare exception of standing in the queue nevertheless was the claustrophobic one forced upon the 3rd class cine goers in our childhood in the famous ‘iron cage’ of the Palladium cinema (now in a dilapidated condition) right in the centre of Lal Chowk, Srinagar. No sooner did the ticket vendor open the window to sell tickets than a dozen or so of mustachioed hooligans (with lot of muscle) suddenly appear from some where to leap across heads in the cage to worm their way atop tens of the queued heads in the cage to the ‘counter’ to walk away with a wad of tickets to be later sold in ‘black’ to the same disgruntled lot that was imprisoned for several hours in the narrow cage. It was not many minutes before, much to the disappointment of the people waiting in the queue; the shutter at the ticket counter would suddenly and unexpectedly close down.

Multiple queues follow the Murphy’s Law, “Whatever queue you join, no matter how short it looks, will always take the longest for you to get served” and thus, it is safer to stay put in one’s queue rather than go around looking for a quicker way to get to your goal. Bala laws that Dr. Kuabakoonam Balasubramanium of the University of Quebec devised are stated as under;

1. The length of the queue is inversely proportion to the time you have to stand in the one.
2. You discover you are in wrong queue only when you reach the counter.
3. You always reach the counter at lunch tome or closing time.
4. When you reach the counter in time the tickets are over.
5. When you do get the tickets they are the wrong ones and therefore; a) you have to go to the tail end of the queue to get them changed or b). You have to go to the refund counter where 1 and 2 apply
6. When there are no obstacles, the queue moves quickly and when you buy the right ticket the teller has no change. 7. The teller always has his say.
8. The other queue always moves faster.
9. When you switch to the other queue the original queue gathers momentum.
10. When you are finally the second person in the queue the guy in front of you develops a complicated problem which takes half an hour to sort out.
11. When others jump the queue no one says anything. When you jump the queue hoots and jeers follow.
12. Every one in the queue will want to borrow your pen; when you want a pen no one will have one.
13 You are always caught napping when they open an extra counter.
Keep this in view and see you will have a disciplined life.

Wither Jehlum?

An editorial in the Kashmir Images laments about a dying river

Save Jehlum

What has happened to the beautification project concerning the River Jehlum, the life-line of Kashmir Valley. With prolonged dry spell having pushed the water level in the river to an all-time low, the pathetic plight of the river is just there for everybody to see. If the amount of filth and garbage that has accumulated in its bed over the years is taken as an indicator, then it goes without saying that it has been turned into a huge sever with the sewerage of entire city somehow finding its way into this river.

Historical accounts of Kashmir are replete with the mention of this river as for its importance in the socio-economic profile of the place and its people is concerned. For instance, the Srinagar city and other major towns thrive on the banks of this river to comprise a unique human geography here. The importance of Jehlum to the Valley’s physical geography too has been very profound. No wonder that this river finds a place of pride in history as well as the Kashmir’s folklore, sometimes as Jehlum while at other places as ‘Vyeth’ or ‘Vitasta’. Masjids, shrines and temples on its banks only add to the reverence this river has attracted from the local population since times immemorial.

However, today the situation is quite different as the river is no longer what it has been or what it should have been. Instead, both the people as well as the governmental agencies have, owing to their criminal carelessness, relegated this river to a massive drain to accommodate all kinds of filth and dirt. Not only does the sewerage from Srinagar city as well as other towns empty into this river; major portion of garbage too is dumped into it. As if this was not enough, the people who erected new shopping malls and other commercial complexes in place of the old decrepit residential houses in parts of city along it banks also used the river bosom as a landfill site to dump old construction material in it. And the irony has been that all this happened and is happening even today not only under the nose of, but also with the active connivance of the civic authorities.

Complicating the problems for the already ailing river has been the accumulation of silt in its bed. While until 1986, dredging the river to take out sand and silt was a regular feature from Khadanyar onwards in Baramulla district, the practice was stopped for some unknown reasons. Even though there existed a full-fledged Flood Mechanical Division in Baramulla for the purpose, but both the men and machinery of the said division has been lying idle since. What sounds really intriguing is the fact that the dredging of river, despite being a self-financing venture in the sense that the sand and silt taken out not only met the cost of dredging but also earned some profits for the government, was stopped all of a sudden.

Couple of years back, state government embarked on a massive project to beautify Jehlum and actually did some cosmetic activities here and there by giving facelift to a portion of its banks between Zero bridge and Second (Budshah) bridge. Afterwards nothing was heard or seen of the so-called beautification project. Was it shelved with the change in state’s ruling dispensation? Whatever the reason, the miserable condition of the river that is visible now with this major river having almost dried up, is calling for some action. Saving this river system is not only important for the ecosystem of the Valley but also for its cultural legacy. Without Jehlum Kashmir will no longer be Kashmir.

Disturbing Trends from Kashmir and Jammu

Strangely, these trends have a common source - Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKAUST) Srinagar and Jammu campuses

SKUAST-K: Snow-starved Kashmir may Turn Into Desert

Arif Bashir (Kashmir Images)

Srinagar: In what is certainly an expression of frustration and desperation, people in Kashmir are now wondering if Valley is all set to turn into a desert as snowfall continues to evade the Valley. Even when there are no similarities between Kashmir and a desert,

the lack of snowfall in the Valley is forcing people here to look down south-west for metaphors to describe the “climactic disaster’ they feel is unfolding on the Valley.

The intolerable dry spell in Kashmir, with mountains as well as plains dying to kiss the white bride of winter - snow, the Valley seems loosing its climate to various influences and disturbances across the globe.

Global warming or no global warming - drastic climatic change is certainly evident in this part of the world as the Valley continues to long for snow even in the middle of the winter season while fluctuating temperatures only exacerbate the scares of a disastrous year ahead.

The dry spell during this time of the year when entire Valley should ideally have been covered under heaps of snow is certainly very scary for it is the snow that lends Kashmir its majestic charm; without it brooks and streams will stop roaring, ponds and springs will fry up and plight of already dying rivers and lakes will only worsen and their march towards sure death will be catalyzed.

If the weather continues to be like this, its impact on the agriculture and horticulture as well as all other farming activities can only be imagined!

While the lack of snow is haunting all and sundry throughout the Valley, people associated with tourism trade, particularly at Gulmarg, are facing the brunt of changed weather conditions as this world-famous ski resort has already witnessed 60 percent downfall in the business this winter.

Talking to ‘Kashmir Images’ many hoteliers at Gulmarg expressed their fears about economic setbacks this year saying that almost 60 percent bookings this year stand cancelled while the meager number of tourists present in Gulmarg too feel depressed and plan to move out as the ski slopes offer nothing but disappointment with fast receding snow cover.

“The Ski slopes at Gulmarg have been exposed at various places and as of now it is neither advisable nor preferred to ski down the slopes. We are planning to move out soon,” Henry, a skier from New Zealand lamented.

“It is depressing that there has not been much snow this season even after half of the season is already over. It means great loss. We at Gulmarg pray for snow,” said manager of a local hotel at Gulmarg.

But the miseries do not end here alone as the repercussions of this unusual climate change, as seen by climate experts and agriculturalists, are sure to show epidemic signs in the season ahead.

B A Khanday, professor and head of the Department of Agronomy, Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST) fears a massive reduction in crop yields this year while adding that mustard crop would be the worst hit.

Talking to ‘Kashmir Images’ Prof Khanday said that the changed weather conditions were suicidal for some of the crops including mustard, oats, peas, etc, while the phenomena would leave drastic impact on the overall yield including fruit production.

“While early sown crops and late sown crops including mustard were already facing the brunt of the changed weather conditions, the summer crops too might be impacted badly,” Kanday said adding that the summer would see water scarcity which again threatens not only the crops but the fruit yield as well.

SKUAST-J: Farmers Trained on Paper; Scam Exposed


Jammu: In a perfect example of “Sab Gol Maal Hai,” the higher rung officials of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology Jammu (SKUAST-J) siphoned off varsity’s funds by conducting “fictitious” training camps for farmers and showing “fictitious” expenditure spent on these camps.

Contrastingly, Governor N N Vohra, who is also the University Chancellor, had called upon agriculture scientists to take the available research output to the doorsteps of the farmers and regularly monitor its impact on the ground during his visit to University campus on September 7, 2009.

If the 78-page document formulated by the members of teaching and non-teaching wings is to be believed, Dr R K Sharma, Registrar SKUAST-J in his capacity as Principal Investigator of two ICAR projects had “misappropriated” and “embezzled” funds through “fraudulent means” by reflecting demonstration camps for farmers only on papers.

The document revealed that the progress report (physical and financial) and final report submitted by Dr R K Sharma on April 15, 2009 and October 10, 2009 showed a large variation particularly in the financial report and alleged the accounts were fabricated.

Making a sensational disclosure, the document alleged, “As per the final report submitted by Dr Sharma, one of the training conducted in the ‘Project 3.5’ on December 23, 2006 at Shahjadpur where 52 farmers participated but the photographs shown in the report pertains to the turnings of HTMM project number 1.14 organised by Dr Ravi Kher on December 23, 2006 with the participation of only 20 farmers.”

The document suggested that the said training camp organised by Dr Ravi Kher has already published in the annual report (2006-07), adding “It had been generally observed that mostly the training dates were deliberately shown on Saturdays and Sundays just to overshadow misdeeds in the project work.”

“This observation is being supported while going through the final report which indicates that on January 6, 2007 (Saturday) a training camp was organised at Kathua but the TA/DA claims showed that he was at Reasi. He had conducted training camp at Pouni in district Reasi on January 7, 2007 (Sunday). Interestingly, no training camp was reported in the final report on such date,” the document maintained.

Another interesting aspect to training camps was that majority of the employees of the varsity were aware that on January 6, 2007 the then Vice Chancellor, Dr Nagendra Sharma was admitted to the Government Medical College & Hospital Jammu and subsequently was airlifted to Delhi on January 7, 2007 and Dr R K Sharma was very much present in the hospital on that day, revealed the document.

Furthermore, the report submitted by Dr R K Sharma on March 6, 2009 regarding review meeting to Nodal Officer HTMM-1 project, Dr Nazeer Ahmed showed that total number of training camps conducted during 2008-09 up to February 2009 were 15 whereas the number of camps in final report were 20.

The document said, “Dr N A Sudhan’s communication number AUJ/DR/09-10/F-146/03 dated April 1, 2009 to Dr B Mishra, Vice Chancellor SKUAST-J established that Dr R K Sharma, in his capacity as Principal Investigator of two externally funded projects misappropriated and embezzled public money through fraudulent means.”

It has been alleged, “Time and again, Dr Sudhan reminded the Vice Chancellor that he has not taken any action against Dr Sharma for conducting financial irregularities. “Though the Director Research also forwarded a letter to Governor N N Vohra and other members of Board of Management SKUAST-J apprising them that the Vice Chancellor has not taken any action against the Registrar for financial irregularities, yet it yielded no results,” the document maintained.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Climate Change is a Serious Concern on Both Sides of the LOC

Zafar discusses the impact of climate change in Azad Kashmir

(Mr. Zafar Iqbal, 32, was born in village Tarar, Rawalakot, in the Poonch district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. He did his early schooling in a private school, matriculating through examinations conducted by the Mirpur Educational Board, and completed his higher secondary education from the Government Degree College in Rawalakot. He received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (Rawalakot campus), and his M.A. in Mass Communication from the Punjab University in Pakistan. He received international scholarships to attend the International Summer School at the University of Oslo in 2005 receiving a Graduate Diploma in Media Studies, and the Nottingham Trent University, U.K., in 2006-2008 receiving M.A. in Media & Globalization. Mr. Iqbal has been a journalist working in the print and TV media since 1999 and is very active in human rights, earthquake relief and rehabilitation especially involving women and children, and inter-faith harmony. He is the Founder and Executive Director of the Press for Peace (PFP) and the Founder-President of the Environmental Journalists Forum, both based in Muzaffarabad. Mr. Iqbal has been invited to numerous national and international seminars and workshops related to human development.)

Climate Change Hits Natural Paradise of Kashmir

The tangible impacts of climate change are now witnessed even in those areas of South Asian region which are considered as habitat of ecosystem due to the abundance of natural resources. Like other areas of world, the weather pattern in Kashmir has changed so much so that people are experiencing in chilly and dry winter without rains and snowfall.

People paid special prayers for rain after a spell of dry and harsh weather conditions prevailing in the region since many months. People in Pakistan part of Kashmir on Wednesday offered Namaz e Istaska in small and big towns and remote areas. Prime Minster of Pakistani Azad Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Haider has appealed people to offer particular prayers for the end of harshly dry weather. Hundreds of residents, including the Prime Minister and his cabinet members of government of Pakistani controlled Kashmir, offered Namaz e Istakska in an open ground in the capital city, Muzaffarabad.

In Islam Namaz e Istaska (Pray for rain) is a special kind of prayer which is performed in the time of drought, in order to seek relief from God, so that God may send rain. Similar rituals were paid in other cities where parched citizens pray for rain and snowfall.

In various towns and cities in Pakistan and its administrated Kashmir arid weather has affected badly local population because of water scarcity in the region as most of the water sources have dried up and people are struggling to access for drinking water. Women have to walk for miles to bring water as all springs, streams, wells and other natural water sources have dried up where as water level in rivers, mini rivers and lakes are also shrinking.

In Azad Jammu and Kashmir most of the population rely for natural water sources, including rivers, springs and wells. According to World Bank More than 60 percent of the population still has no direct access to water supply. A 1998 census shows that only 34.58 percent of the rural population has access to piped water supply (house connection) while more than 65 percent fetch water from communal sources.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Azad Kashmir Government under a project worth Rs. 493 million are jointly working to restore rural water supply system and improve the sanitation in the region.

The majority of water supply and sanitation systems in AJK (both rural and urban) were badly damaged by October 8, 2005 earthquakes. According to the Governments of AJK, a total of 1641 water supply schemes and sanitation system, were damaged and need to be rehabilitated or reconstructed.

The dry weather has also affected areas which are famous for torrentional rains and snowfall in winter, howevever, this year wave of dry weather is not finished even after beginning of one month of winter. The intensity of the dryness has even been witnessed on high mountainous areas which used to be covered with many feet high snow in the beginning of autumn in the past.

Most of the cities and towns and remote hilly areas are experiencing dry spell of weather. Rawalakot is tourist resort and have a beautiful lake in Banjosa, which during the recent years have attracted a large number of visitors form Pakistani cities like Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi etc. Especially a large influx of visitors has been observed in the Rwalakot in summer and winter seasons after the military operation in Swat and other areas in Northern Pakistan which used to be tourist resorts in the past. The peaks of Lass Danna, Toli Peer, and Ganga Choti in Bagh District which are located at more than 7000-8000 feet over the altitude are still waiting for snowfall.

Kashmiri Woman Wins a National Entrepreneurship Award

Afsana writes about an outstanding women entrepreneur from the valley

(Ms. Afsana Rasheed, 29, was born and raised in Srinagar and attended the Minto Circle High School. She graduated from the Government College for Women with a Bachelor's degree in science, and completed her post-graduation degree from the University of Kashmir, obtaining her Master's Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. She has received numerous world-wide recognition and awards for covering economic depravation and gender sensitive issues in Kashmiri journals, which include Sanjoy Ghose Humanitarian Award, Bhorukha Trust Media Award 2007, and the 2006-07 UNFPA-Ladli Media Award. Her work on "Impact of conflict on subsistence livelihood of marginalised communities in Kashmir and Alternatives", was recognized by Action Aid India in 2005-06. She has travelled abroad attending a workshop on "conflict Reporting" by Thomson Foundation, Cardiff, UK, and a seminar for women in conflict areas by IKV Pax Christi, Netherlands. In February 2008, she compiled a book, "Waiting for Justice: Widows and Half-widows.")

"Kashmiri florist gets Stree Shakti Award"

Srinagar: Nusrat Jahan Ara, a Kashmiri florist, is among eight women entrepreneurs who have been recently conferred with the TATA TiE Stree Shakti Award by the Tata Group and the TiE Mumbai chapter.

This award is given to outstanding women entrepreneurs across the MSME (micro, small and medium enterprise). These awards are given to recognise the growing aspiring role of Indian women in business and comprise a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh, each.

“It is great to receive the award. It is encouraging for entrepreneurship. I joined the field that was new, but my family supported me throughout. Without their support I may not have succeeded in getting this position,” said Nusrat.

Nusrat (petals agritech) received the award under the small enterprise category at a function in Mumbai recently. Her work was highly appreciated. Thirtyfour-year-old Nusrat is regarded as the founder of cut flower industry in the state. She entered cut flower business in 2000 with literally no financial support. Now, she is recognised as the most successful women entrepreneur in the Valley.

With her determination, she has established herself as a successful businesswoman with the annual turnover of her business unit touching Rs 2 crore. She now owns the state franchise of the country’s largest chain of fresh flower stores ‘Petals n Ferns’.

“As a Pan India initiative, the programme aims at connecting women entrepreneurs from different socio-economic strata and celebrate inspiring women entrepreneurs in the country,” believe the organisers.

A graduate in computer applications, Nusrat comes from Dadoora in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. She broke all odds and went on to set out an example. She started a business that was unheard in Kashmir. “I wanted to start a business that was new. Cut flower was the best option”.

The Grassroot Entrepreurship Monitor (GEM), commissioned and conducted by Indian consulting group, identified the needs of women entrepreneurs across three segments that is, aspiring, grassroots and mid rung across the country.

According to a press release, the conference is part of a larger platform. “The Tata TIE Stree Shakti seeks to reflect the growing role of women in Indian entrepreneurial eco-system and enabling aspiring businesswomen to realise their dream of running own enterprise successfully through educational programmes”.

A Kashmiri Entrepreneur at the top of his Profession

Ali Mohammad Shows resilience that is rapidly vanishing in a state where increasing number of migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are exercising free enterprise while native Kashmiris seek government jobs and fruits of corruption

Selling Masala at ‘battlefield’ Lal Chowk

M. Hyderi (Greater Kashmir)

Gunshots and explosions rent the air. But Masala Wala, Ali Muhammad Akhoon remains unmoved as he rolls his Dal delicacy on Lawasa, a local bread. As for his customers, they too don’t miss to get spicy Chutney spread on the roll.

This is the scene at Lal Chowk, just a few hundred yards away from where fierce encounter is going on at the other side of the Ghanta Ghar. Smoke is seen billowing out from the encounter site amid intermittent gunshots and explosions. Akhoon and his customers watch the fight, live.

Scores of people eager to get a live glimpse of the encounter rush to Lal Chowk even though vehicular traffic movement has been restricted. Such avid watchers get more closer to the encounter site. The only barrier between them and the line of fire is the Ghanta Ghar where police has laid concertina wires.

The moment the crowd swells to around a thousand, cops swing to action and disperse them. As the cops chase away the crowd, many shout pro-Islam and pro-freedom slogans. But then they regroup and this cycle continues.

As for the Masala Wala, he avoids the melee moving a few steps back.

“But then I can’t avoid to remain away from my potential clients, the crowd,” says Akhoon while sitting with his basket near junction connecting Lal Chowk with Abi Guzar.

“This is an advantageous position where I have a chance to make sales and escape.”

Akhoon, a resident of Shalimar has been selling Masala at Lal Chowk for the past nearly a decade earning around rupees 150, a day.

But today’s incident could mean no business.

“I couldn’t go home empty handed as I have to feed my family,” says the Masala Wala who father’s young kids, and a wife.

“I am the only bread earner for my family so I have to make earnings even if it means risking my life,” he adds while serving a Masala roll. But then he recalls that in the beginning years of turmoil firing meant that people would stay away from the site for days together.

“If there would be a firing at Lal Chowk, one would avoid coming here for around a week.”

Meanwhile, there’s another spell of sloganeering and spectators being chased away only to regroup.

“Hey walk calmly or you will spoil my Masala,” he cautions them.

Meanwhile, prominent activist and poet Zarief Ahmed Zarief arrives on the Residency Road.

Looking at the crowd, Zarief turns nostalgic of a 1965 episode during India-Pakistan war when warplanes flew over Kashmir and he was an employee with Radio Kashmir, Srinagar.

“We were sitting in the office when suddenly someone on hearing the sounds of warplanes said ‘Pakistan’s Cyber jets have arrived’. We at once rushed out and climbed Jhelum bund to see the planes bombing,” he recalls.

“Except a few Kashmiri Muslims everyone including troops would take shelter in underground bunkers but we wouldn’t mind to move in the opposite direction to see the Cyber jets.”

A few yards ahead of Zarief, the Masala Wala was doing business. And his clients came fast. “On routine days I finish my basket by around 4:30 but today I have exhausted the stock an hour earlier,” he says while leaving the site amid intermittent gunshots and explosions.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Reconciling Polemics of Self Righteousness With an Absolutely Corrupt Culture

Basim wonders how "Chai" and "Pani" became a way of life in Kashmir

(Mr. Basim Amin Bazaz, 27, was born in Srinagar. He attended the Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School and completed an engineering degree in Electronics and Communications from the National Institute of Technology (NIT) Srinagar. He has worked at BQE Software and Satyam Computer Services as a software developer. He is currently employed by the Jammu and Kashmir Power Development Department as a Junior Engineer. In his leisure time Basim loves to write and design websites. He is also passionate about cricket and table tennis.)


When Jammu and Kashmir featured in the list of most corrupt states this year, it was twice in succession that the state had managed to hold on to its number two spot. While it spells abysmal trouble for the state, I say we have done wonderfully well – for a moment it seemed that we would be crowned the undisputed champions.

Our society today has taken corruption shamelessly into its stride. Unfortunately it is no longer seen as disgraceful. It no longer invokes any trouble. What begs to be seen as shameful is met with reverence and awe. Bribes have become the only logic that works. What efforts and patience and pleading cannot do, bribes do in a jiffy. There was a time when the dishonest needed to hide their faces and did their business under the table. Today, however, it is the honest who need tables to hide under. Wealth, notwithstanding the source, is the true yard-stick of reputation; wealthy, however putrid, the true bearers of the torch. It seems that most people have lost their sense of reason; perhaps their conscience too. Regardless of what is right, we do what our neighbours do. We have become zombies who are hypnotised by an infernal potion called corruption and barely have discretion of our own.

Sometimes I think we suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder. One moment we are, “I the most honest and the wisest,” and the next moment we become, “Who cares? Let me take home some quick bucks.” We talk big– oh yes – we love to talk big. We talk morals and righteousness all the time, but what do we do? Soon after we finish talking, we do filth that even devils will be ashamed of. We cry all the hoarse about corruption one moment and the next moment we are found demanding bribes. So much so that if I am writing this piece right now, censuring corruption so harshly, I may well be the most corrupt person around!

A friend of mine needed to get an electric meter of his tested. When he approached the person who usually did the testing – a government servant who is duly paid for his work – the person had been taken over by his alter-ego (Remember he was a quintessential MPD friend). The other personality hidden inside him had come to the fore. It was busy castigating imaginary characters for their moral shortcomings. “Dishonest scumbags, how do they manage to sleep at night?” For a moment it seemed that indeed he was the only honest person alive on earth. My friend, pestered from his past experiences of having to pay extra money for his meter testing, could not believe his luck for he thought he had run into an honest man after all. However, as soon as he put forth the meter, the tester stood up. The honest alter-ego had suddenly fallen asleep and the other one had risen.

“What is this?” he fumed with anger. He looked angry (just as we look when we are asked to work). “Do you want me to test this meter?” His face turning red with blood. “Where is my Chai?” he demanded. “But ...But just now you proscribed bribes as a poison that is eating Kashmir,” asked my friend, full of surprise. “Oh forget that. This is no bribe. This is how things work here. After all I have a family to support as well.

Not too long ago, a young man at the Karan Nagar petrol pump asked me to pay him rupees ten extra for every hundred rupees of petrol he filled in my car. I was stunned. Not because it was Eid and even the people who I had never met were asking for ‘Eidiaan’, but because he was not asking, he was not pleading either; he was demanding, he was threatening. He even went to the lengths of saying that it was his right and that I should do better than denying him his bread and butter. Although the nature of his act does not strictly come under the ambit of corruption, it goes to show how shamelessly demanding we have become. Not only do people ask for ‘Chai’ and ‘pani’ without any shame whatsoever, they do it with an air of confidence about themselves.

Chai , ironically never means a Chai only but ‘kantis’ and ‘kababas’ and ‘naans’ and ‘goshtabas’. Lamaji from Leh learnt it the hard way. When his clerk asked him for a Chai, Lamaji agreed outright. “Very well,” said Lamaji, “let’s go to a restraunt.” Little did poor Lamaji know that the clerk had been asking for a paper-Chai and not the liquid-Chai. The clerk however could not be fooled. For that matter, they never can be. Lamaji ordered Chai for himself. The clerk knew better; he ordered something better for himself. When the clerk was served his food; Lamaji understood – in the cruel world of bread and butter a Chai is not just a stutter.

Speaking of Lamaji, I still remember when he was lured to Srinagar. He had been promised a speedy follow up of his promotion case. Little did he know that less than a month into his arrival he would have bribed the official with almost everything he had brought with himself. Little did he know that even the clothes he had put on would come in the line of fire. A little over two months pass, Lamaji returns to Leh; with no promotion of course, but with no luggage and clothes either.

When a place gets soaked in corruption in a manner we have, its effects are bound to get reflected through many ways. And how have we been affected? When I visited a bakery shop sometime ago, they sold cakes at the rate of twenty four rupees. The next time, after a space of one night, they thought it right to sell them at thirty rupees apiece. In downtown they sell oranges at fifty rupees a dozen. At Soura bus stop, the same oranges, notwithstanding the quality, are sold at sixty rupees per dozen. However a more clever vendor at Ellahibagh takes pride in selling the same wilted ones at nothing less than ninety rupees a dozen! One morning your coffee and your snacks consume one note. The other morning they consume two more. I am sure there does exist a regulatory body somewhere which shoulders the responsibility of stopping prices from getting blown out of proportion. I am sure they get paid handsomely as well. They were just round the corner when our ‘Kandar-folk’ tried to hammer their share of nails into our inflation Chained coffin. So where have our regulatory bodies disappeared overnight, when the most basic amenities are sold at the rates of gold and silver? Beyond a smidgen of doubt it is ‘Chai-pani’ only that has conspired to keep them at bay. Indeed one note is enough to kill our conscience a hundred times over.

This undue shooting up of prices is just one single issue out of a huge load of miseries. When our brothers working in whatever capacity get corrupted it tells on the public in hundreds of ways. So much so that most of our current miseries, in one way or another, have their roots hidden deep inside the very soil of corruption. There is no doubt that corruption has taken hold of our state by the scruff of its neck. As suggested by our standings for the last two years it is evident that we have not been able to peg the ease with which we make foul money. The kind of apparent inaction towards this rampant corruption makes the matter all the more mysterious. Mysterious indeed is the fact that what demands action on a war footing basis seems to be silently, and at times obtusely, met with inexplicable indifference.
Certainly, being corrupt by no means adds any feathers to our cap. Why then is it not met with the response it demands? What are we waiting for? When was the last time you heard someone actively waging a war against it? When was the last time you witnessed an honest official being adulated? When was the last time you came across a guileful beast being booked for his infractions? As far as I remember, never in the last hundred years!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Jammu Civil Society Addresses the Justice Saghir Report

Balraj Puri and Rekha Chowdhary debate a "Jammu Perspective" on the Report by Justice Saghir on the State-Center relations

(Mr. Balraj Puri, 80, was born in Jammu city and attended the Ranbir High School and the Prince of Wales College in Jammu. He is a journalist, human rights activist and a writer who has been an eye witness to the turbulent history of the State. He has written 5 books, including the historical "5000 years of Kashmir" in 1997. He is the Convenor of the J&K State branch of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), and the Director of the Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, based in Jammu.

Prof. Rekha Chowdhary, 55, was born in Jammu and has been a university teacher for the past 30 years. She is currently the Professor of Political Science, University of Jammu. During her distinguished teaching career, she was the visiting Fellow under a Ford Foundation grant at the Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford, in 1992-1993; winner of the Commonwealth Award availed at the University of Oxford, 1997-1998; and the Fulbright Fellow availed at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at the Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, in 2005.)

Balraj Puri: Justice Saghir’s Report leads to regional polarization

Predictably the reaction to Justice Saghir Ahmad’s recently released report has been on divergent lines. Senior BJP leader and its representative on the Group, Arun Jaitely called the report “a fraud.” He reiterated the party’s opposition to autonomy for the state and demanded abrogation of Article 370. Other Jammu based parties like Panthers Party and Jammu State Morcha equally ridiculed the report. Panthers called hartal in protest. The Bar Association of Jammu also called a strike on another day. Kashmiri Pandit migrants in Jammu and refugees from Pak and West Pakistan, too, have expressed their disappointment.

Ladakh’s Union Territory Front leaders has decided “to oppose the report tooth and nail.” Separatist parties of Kashmir region did not attach any importance to the report as it did not propose any thing that could contribute to the solution of the Kashmir problem. The PDP’s President Mahbooba Mufti called the report a good beginning but “with no specifics and substance”. Its chief spokesman Nayeem Akhtar added, there was no concrete suggestions in the report for the solution of the Kashmir problem, mere restoration of some autonomy to the state was no solution of Kashmir problem.” The ruling coalition partner National Conference welcomed the report though it fell short of its demand for restoration of 1953 status of the state.

On the whole, reaction in the valley is either lukewarm or indifferent while in Jammu and Ladakh regions it is hostile.

Obviously there was no member in the Working Group who could take an objective view of the aspirations of the three regions and reconcile them. Nor Justice Saghir consulted any person well versed with the ground realities of the state.

Executive powers of the Centre Vs autonomous federal institutions.

Take the question of Centre-State relations, the entire debate over it has been viewed as Kashmiri nationalism versus Indian Nationalism. But what is in the interest of people of Kashmir? If, for instance, Supreme Court’s jurisdiction had extended to the state in 1953, Sheikh Abdullah could not be dismissed and detained under any law then enforce. Similarly financial integration of the state sustains its economy. Similarly if jurisdiction of Lok Adalat Act, Police Reforms, National Human Rights Commission and National Women’s Commission does not extent to the state, whose loss it is? As long as the state had its own Election Commission, the elections were known to be rigged. The fairness of elections now under Union Election Commission has been universally acclaimed.

In the post Nehru era, drastic erosion of the autonomy of the state did take place. But while demanding restoration of autonomy, a distinction has to be drawn between executive powers of the centre and federal autonomous institutions like Judiciary, Election Commission and Auditor and Comptroller General which check undue encroachment of the Central executive in the affairs of the state.

Whatever be merits and demerits of Article 370, it has nothing to do with problems of Jammu and Ladakh. Moreover if the BJP led government when in power could not abrogate it and its law minister told Parliament that it had no power to abrogate, how the party does expects any other government to do it.

When Justice Saghir Ahmad quotes official figures to prove that there has been no discrimination in development expenditure with any region or district, he must have known that nothing ensures faster and fair development than empowerment of the people at every level, who through their elected representatives should determine their needs and decide their priorities. Allocation of funds should be based on an objective and equitable formula, keeping in view needs and level of development of a region or a district rather than arbitrarily determined by ruling party on subjective and political considerations. Moreover, regional identity is no less important. If it is weakened, religion based identities would emerge which would undermine the secular basis of the state and its unity. In particular the unique 5000 year old Kashmiri civilization would suffer.

Restore Ladakh’s Regional Identity

Justice Ahmad is all appreciation for development of Ladakh. But he ignores the fact that ever since Ladakh’s regional identity was broken into Leh and Kargil districts—with 52% Buddhist and 48% Muslim population-- communal tensions have emerged for the first time there. First priority for Ladakh should be its recognition as a region within the constitution of the state like Jammu and Kashmir which should restore its secular identity and give it some administrative autonomy like other two regions. The present powers of the Autonomous Council separately for Leh and Kargil are no more than enjoyed by Zila Parishads in many other parts of the country.

A federal decentralized set up alone can ensure emotional and political unity of the state. Regional autonomy is the logical extension of the autonomy of the state as Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah had announced at a joint press conference on July 24, 1952 and was the basis on which the Praja Parishad, Jammu affiliate of the Jana Sangh, withdrew its agitation for abrogation of Article 370 in 1953. The State People’s Convention convened by Sheikh Abdullah and attended by the entire political spectrum of the Valley adopted a five tier internal constitution in 1968 which provided for regional autonomy and devolution of political power to the districts, blocks and panchayats. In this context Justice Ahmad’s recommendation for adoption of 73rd and 74th amendment of Indian Constitution on Panchayati Raj is quite relevant.

As far refugees from Pak administered Kashmir and West Pakistan are concerned, in brief they should be treated as refugees in Punjab and West Bengal were treated after 1947. The problem of Kashmiri Pandits migrants in Jammu cannot be resolved by monetary sops or security zones in Kashmir. Conditions should be created to make them feel as integral part of Kashmiri identity. The Kashmiri Muslims should also realize that their identity is incomplete without them.

The recommendation on separate Kashmiri and Dogri Channels of the Doordarshan instead of single Kashir channel should be accepted with a minor amendment that is Jammu channel should also provide for Gojri and Pahari programmes, the two equally important ethnic communities of the Jammu region, other than Dogras.

There is certainly need for a thorough and frank debate on all the issues raised by the fifth Working Groups by all sections which should generate some light also instead of mere heat that it has as done so far. The separatists should also not dismiss of the report particularly which deals with the internal problems of the state. For why should people wait for the resolution of the problems of governance till they get Azadi. After all Sheikh Abdullah presented a blue print called Naya Kashmir in 1944 while fighting for Azadi from Dogra rule and convened People’s Convention which adopted internal constitution of the state in 1968 when he was leading a movement for plebiscite.

Rekha Chowdhary: Autonomy Issue - Need for a debate

As has been stated by Balraj Puri in his article (Justice Saghir’s Report Leads to Regional Polarisation, Rising Kashmir, 11th January, 2010), there is a need for a thorough and frank debate on all issues raised by the fifth Working Committee Report. However, of all the issues which have been included in the Report, the most important issue that needs to be debated is that of ‘Autonomy’. Despite all the heat and dust raised by the issue from time to time, this remains the least debated one.

Till now the ‘Autonomy’ as an issue has aroused emotions and sentiments – both in favour or against, but never has there been reasoned debate around it! In the absence of the reasoned debate, the issue remains misunderstood and misrepresented. Last time when the debate could have taken place on the issue, but was ducked, was in 1999 when the State Autonomy Committee Report and the Autonomy Resolutions were rejected by the Government of India, even without debate. In the absence of a debate, only two kinds of absolutist responses are generated – those in favour and those opposed to it.

The reluctance to debate the issue of autonomy is a common phenomenon both for those who oppose autonomy as well as those who favour it. And that is the reason that we stand where we were - in 1999, or should we say in 1952? For 1952 was the time when the emotions were generated for the first time in this state around the issue of Autonomy and a major agitation against Article 370 had taken place in Jammu under the slogan of ‘ek vidhan, ek pradhan and ek nishan’. The agitation had been organised by the Praja Parishad in Jammu and supported by Jana Sangh and the RSS.

It is not only the opponents of Autonomy who have remained static in terms of time and have continued to take the position which was taken as early as in 1952, the supporters of autonomy have also remained static and that is the reason that their position remains defined by history and their demand remains going back to the pre-1953 position. This position is seen as a pristine one, more or less, a non-negotiable position.

The first point which is important for opening the debate on autonomy is the need to go beyond the history. Both for the opponents as well as supporters of autonomy, it may be pertinent to mention that whatever may be the experience and relevance of history, the demands of the contemporary period are quite different from those of the past. Hence, there is need to locate the issues in the present period. This is more so, because the concepts of Federalism, Autonomy, Nation and State – which remain central to the discourse on Autonomy, have undergone substantial change during last six decades. For instance, during the early fifties, when the discourse of Autonomy was opposed by the likes of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and other leaders of Jana Sangh and RSS, both the concept of ‘Nation’ as well ‘Federalism’ were perceived in a different manner as compared to the way these are perceived now. The emergence of Indian nation following a bloody partition had generated a political psyche of the ‘fear of fragmentation’ and hence the nation-building project was based upon the concept of ‘unity with uniformities’. Any kind of asymmetry or difference was suspect since it was seen as a potential tool of India’s further division. Mindless of the logic that Autonomy and asymmetrical federalism as built in the Article 370 of the Indian constitution, was actually the most potent bridge between this state and rest of India, the Jana Sangh had taken the logic of opposing it as a symbol of lack of integrity of the state of J&K with India.

Six decades, later, it is a different project of Nation-building and Federalism. It is a confident nation of India which does not fear fragmentation. Despite the situation of conflict in J&K and North-East, the fear of division of the India does not exist at all. The earlier emphasis on ‘unity and uniformity’ therefore is no more to be seen. The present day values of nationalism rather than unity and uniformity have been substituted by the principles of ‘diversity and plurality’. The perceived fragility of the Nation-state of India had given birth to the concept of centralised federalism. There was a consensus at the time of the making of Constitution of India that the Centre needed to be empowered and made much stronger than the states. Centralisation therefore was the positive value of that time. Over the period, the emphasis of federalism has been changing from centralisation to decentralisation. Decentralisation is now seen as the positive value in India.

Autonomy did not fit in the centralised model of federalism. But it certainly fits in the post-70s India, which not only favours political decentralisation like the one introduced by the 73rd and 74th amendments but also the financial autonomy which the state and non-state actors enjoy in the post 90s liberalised economy. Special Economic Zone is an instance of autonomy being enjoyed by the corporate sector. In fact, it is in the economic context that one can see as to how radically the concept of ‘state-sovereignty’ is changed. While the Article 370 which laid the base of asymmetrical federalism has been opposed by the Hindu Right on the ground that it compromises the sovereignty of the State, in present day India, there is lot of sovereignty enjoyed by the states like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat. These states have the sovereign power to enter into financial arrangements directly with the global institutions and other sovereign states of the world. Opposing autonomy on the ground that it compromises sovereignty therefore does not fit into the present day logic.

The way the opposition to the autonomy logic does not have relevance for the present day’s logic, similarly, the strict adherence to a particular historical period, like that of pre-1953 position does not stand the test of contemporary period. In terms of democratic institutionalisation, there have been lots of developments in the last few decades. One of the most important developments is in terms of the strength and autonomy of the certain institutions of Union of India. These institutions have not only become the pillars of democracy checking the abuse of power by the executive, but also have acquired pro-people character. Some of these institutions have been the result of the struggles that have taken place at the grass roots levels. One can for instance refer to the success of the Right to information movement and its institutionalisation at the national level. There is similarly the empowerment and autonomy of the Election Commission of India. Over the period, the Supreme Court of India has also been playing an effective role in protecting the rights of people. The pro-people character of these institutions has certainly gone hand in hand with their relative autonomy from the state. In contrast to this, there is a scenario in the state, where in the name of the State’s autonomy; the benefit of some of these institutions has been kept away from the people.

The opposition to the concept of autonomy does not have relevance for the present day’s logic, similarly, the strict adherence to a particular historical period, like that of pre-1953 position does not stand the test of contemporary period. In terms of democratic institutionalisation, there have been lots of developments in the last few decades. One of the most important developments is in term of the strength and autonomy of the certain institutions of Union of India. These institutions have not only become the pillars of democracy checking the abuse of power by the executive, but also have acquired pro-people character.

Some of these institutions have been the result of the struggles that have taken place at the grass roots levels. One can for instance refer to the success of the Right to information movement and its institutionalisation at the national level. Similarly there is the empowerment and autonomy of the Election Commission of India. Over the period, the Supreme Court of India has also been playing an effective role in protecting the rights of people. The pro-people character of these institutions has certainly gone hand in hand with their relative autonomy from the state. In contrast to this, there is a scenario in the state, where in the name of the State’s autonomy; the benefit of some of these institutions has been kept away from the people.

It is no wonder that while the whole of India is covered by the National Commission of Women and the National Human Rights Commission, the people of the state are kept out of it. The Right to Information could not reach the people of this state till very recently and the state’s women have been kept away from the benefit of 33% reservation and empowerment as Panches and Sarpanches. The issue of Autonomy, in the light of these institutions and processes needs to be seen from a fresh angle. In a situation where the National Commission of Women has not been replicated by the State Commission of Women, in terms of its authority and power and where its operation is still restrained (for more than seven years, the commission remains headless) one can argue that autonomy may not always work in favour of people, even if it is extended to the state. The political class does not necessarily think in terms of empowering the people and is more interested in perpetuating its own interests. In fact, when it comes to the empowerment and autonomy of the people, the political class irrespective of the difference in ideological position may take the same position. For instance, the empowerment of Panchayat Raj institutions is almost a non-issue even when it means greater proximity of people to the decision making centres. Similarly, there is not much demand for empowering the State Commission of Women or reducing the term of State Legislative Assembly from six to five years. One needs to be reminded of the fact that the term of the J&K Legislative Assembly was extended from normal five to six years during the period of emergency in India. While it served the interest of the serving political elite which was assuming authoritarian character, there was reassertion of democratic principles and the term of the Assemblies and Lok Sabha was reversed to five years. In J&K no political party thought to make it an issue. While daggers are drawn on the issue of ‘Autonomy of the State’, issues related to autonomy and power of people do not, at any point of time, assume emotive character.

The discourse of Autonomy, therefore, needs to be shifted from its pro-elite mode to pro-people mode. Once, it is seen from the perspective of ‘people’ then it becomes imperative to make use of any institution or process that empowers people.

The context of autonomy as it stands at present, makes for a very legal/historical understanding of the concept and therefore places the institutions like the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Central Information Commission (CIC), National Commission for Women (NCW), and National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) etc. in contradiction to the context of autonomy of the State. All these institutions are aimed at empowering the people. These institutions are, constituted by the Government of India, but are not controlled by the Government. On the contrary these are autonomous bodies. Extension of jurisdiction of any of these bodies to the citizens of J&K would not have hampered their autonomy but would have, on the contrary, enabled them. However, in the name of ‘autonomy of the state’, the benefit of these institutions has been either fully or partially denied to the people of the state. The argument that the state has its own ‘autonomous’ institutions at par with most of these Central institutions, does not hold mainly due to the fact that most of these are hampered by their very structures and are certainly less effective than the bodies operating at the national level.

It needs to be debated whether the extension of these kinds of institutions really hampers the autonomy of the state, or on the contrary, the denial of the benefits of these institutions to the people of the state, hampers the empowerment and autonomy of people of the state.

While debating autonomy, the spirit of autonomy needs to be understood. Though it is a concept that emanates from the federal structure and aims to empower the State as a political unit vis-à-vis the Union government, its empowerment does not take place at the cost of empowerment of people. This also has been the basis of the concept of Autonomy in J&K. One needs to remember that the negotiation of autonomy by Sheikh Abdullah in 1950s was linked with the need to protect the pro-people radical land reform legislations in J&K.

It is in the same spirit of linking the concept of Autonomy with the pro-people politics, institutions and processes, that the concept should be renegotiated.