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, February 28, 2010

The Tragic Disappearing Act

Javaid sees a frightening calamity ahead in Kashmir if forests keep disappearing

(Professor Javaid Iqbal Bhat, 31, was born in Anantnag. He completed his Bachelor's degree from the Amar Singh College, Srinagar, and his M.A. and M. Phil. from the Centre for English Studies in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He was nominated for the President of India Gold Medal for the highest Final Grade Point Average (FGPA) in the Masters Programme, and got Distinction for his M. Phil. dissertation on Salman Rushdie's "Shalimar the Clown." He currently teaches as a permanent faculty in the Post Graduate Department of English at the South Campus of the University of Kashmir.)

Forests: Where Have They Gone?

There are other ways in which the villagers and other people living in close proximity to the forests are compelled to become their enemies. This takes place in terms of the availability of the timber for the construction purposes. For example if there is a household “X” which needs to construct a new home, there is a whole set of boring and cumbersome procedures that has to be gone through before the wood reaches anywhere close to the site of construction; writing applications, a slew of signatures, spending days on end in persuading the officers and paying handsome bribes to them. After a long delay what is received a minimal so as to make you feel foolish for waiting too long and doing so much. It is nothing but a covert promotion of the menace of loot and smuggling under the darkness of night. The people are compelled to approach the local smuggler for the needed amount and quality of construction wood

Thus giving him a fair degree of moral and economic legitimacy. Instead of updating and rationalizing the entire structure of acquisition and distribution of timber, it feels happy in sitting on the outmoded ways and practices, unaware of the implications of this cold and inhuman behaviour. The irony is that the likes of Forest Protection Groups (FPG) are created to bring to end the illegal felling of the forest trees while as nothing is being done to make the timber easily accessible and as per the legitimate demands from the government depots. The problem-do I need to say this-is that the micro picture and the ground condition almost always remains vague or hidden from the minds of the policymakers. There is another equally disturbing dimension. The policymakers and the law enforcement agencies are not though the only accused. On their part the huge thirst of the consumers is becoming unmanageable. The modest desire of a roof over the head is giving way to an unlimited craze for spacious bungalows. Where four rooms could have sufficed for a family a dozen are prepared. How is nature going to meet these rash demands of the human beings? The greed and competitive showbiz is taking a heavy toll on the calm of our soul and mind, not to mention the devastating impact on our natural resources. Basically the idea of need has become subservient to the idea of Show. Everything should give “Show” to become acceptable. Even then the state machinery can never be absolved of her responsibility as it has the power, if not the will, to bring about the change through effective laws and their even more effective execution.

Whenever the elections are round the corner there are no prizes for guessing what verbiage is let loose to catch the imagination of the gullible. Autonomy, Article 370, free and fair, pointless rumpus over the ubiquitous corruption, dynasticism, trifurcation and all that stuff which has become the leitmotif of our state ever since it became the chess board of sub- continent. Once more on these occasions our green-gold, metaphorically speaking, is made to remain content with a passing reference. Blaming others for all the crimes and misdemeanours committed has its source in the established strain of our blood, and the chief ministers and the ministers are no exception especially when they know which side the bread is buttered. “These contractors,” grumbled the Golf-Disco aficionado of our polity, a few years back in the Assembly, “of that time who exploited the forests are the rich men now and our government worked hard to save forests from destruction.” Environmental protection in our state is circumscribed to cosy confines of the cities. Beyond that the law and its implementing instruments have gone to seed. While the axe wielding Shylocks of our society is having a field day, the administration is snoring in blissful indifference. Officers are posing before the camera with a water pot, ostensibly busy in watering, what seems to be a reluctantly standing Chinar saplings; forest minister sermonizing a drowsy group of officials around him on the virtues of afforestation and the CM quakes in rage against deforestation on the innocent sensibilities of a common man.

Not long back the Bush Fire engulfed a chunk of the Australian territory. A pall of despair fell over the country and a national emergency was declared to tide over, what they saw, as a crisis. Here in our valley, to hell with the environment and the forests, city parks and the gold clubs must remain prim and proper to the sensual gratification of some of our idle city elite and the foot loose and fancy higher social and political circles. So often have we heard about the “ambitious, integrated, forest projects for the rehabilitation of degraded (read razed to the ground) forests involving an expense of over Rs. 2000 crore.” It had in one of the previous regimes. These are big dreams wrought to impress the ordinary people to silence. Recall the fate of more than 60 crore rupees which had been sanctioned for the Dal Lake and take these ambitions and big projects as gut busting jokes. The ruling dispensations have changed, however, these promises and proposals have remained the same; only the colour and the manner of their presentation have witnessed difference. Where the gorgeous sum allocated in these schemes and projects goes is never concealed from the people. It is only that they cannot find time and space to push the black sheep behind the bars for good or till they make up for the public loss. The thing is that for concrete action with ramifications in favour of social stability and satisfaction the less said the better. More or less it s a clean slate.

Of late the State Forest Minister Mian Altaf has, in response to a question in the Assembly, emphasized the steps taken to stop the encroachments on the forest land. He also turned the attention towards what he termed as the ‘New Forest Policy’ as per which timber would be supplied as per the needs of the consumers. Frankly we have heard it and seen it before. Mere soundbytes. An efficient, result oriented policy formulated for the protection of the forests must contain, inter alia, the following ingredients to arrest the criminality denuding the forest land:-

* An effective afforestation drive to recover the land lost to the evil forces
* Generous allocation of funds but not without a strict vigil on the utilization to pre-empt the defalcation and embezzlement
* Equipping the forest guards
* Establishing the supremacy of law
* Emphasis on the protection of environment in educational curriculum
* Promotion of the socio-economic justice as bedrock on which all the above can be fruitfully made to see the light of the day.

A pipe dream perhaps! But one thing is definite. The continuing negligence is sure to lodge a time bomb in the heart of our existence. It is time to defuse it before it explodes. This is not to be done for our sake but also for the safety and security of the coming generations. When they will see their surroundings devoid of the life sustaining resources what would they do? They will walk all the way to our graves, not with the flowers and prayers but with, God forbid, a mouthful of curses.

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