Introduction to KashmirForum.org 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.
www.kashmirforum.org

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Environmental Hirakiri

Sad and Damning Allegation (SDA): Ashraf describes the challenge

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 66, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Fran├žaise in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)


SDA: Srinagar ‘Defiling’ Authority!

Sometime back a local English daily carried a letter from a resident of Jawahar Nagar addressed to the chief minister about the mushrooming of commercial complexes in the residential colony. Being myself a resident of the same colony I would like to endorse the views expressed by the person complaining about the defiling of the only well planned residential colony in the city. It was a colony planned for government officials who were given plots against nominal payment. Ours was probably the first or the second house built by my father in the colony in 1960. Those days the area was totally wild and green. The planners had envisaged properly laid out roads, parks, and all other essential areas to make it a model colony. The housing colony did come up as a model colony with wide roads and parks. However, during militancy after the departure of pandits who formed a sizeable portion of the residents, the colony went haywire. The migrant houses were purchased by outsiders who played hell with the original norms of the basically residential colony. Jawahar Nagar of today has umpteen woes ranging from commercialisation ending the privacy of families, hordes of stray dogs, open garbage dumps, withered parks, and so on. These can be described in a separate article.

At present the most important question is how shopping complexes and huge commercial buildings are coming up in the residential areas? This phenomenon is not unique to Jawahar Nagar only. It is a disease which has spread fast throughout the city. The other good colony which has also suffered extensively is Karan Nagar. The main culprit for defiling Srinagar has been the organisation called the Srinagar Development Authority constituted to oversee the planned development of the city. They are supposed to be the custodians of the Srinagar Master Plan. The Srinagar Master Plan was prepared by the Jammu & Kashmir Town Planning Organisation in 1971 after putting in lot of efforts. In fact, they had also received inputs from Joseph Allen Stein, a town planner of International repute who had been engaged by the Government for preparing the Master Plan of Dal Lake and a number of Tourist Resorts. After the Master Plan was approved by the Government, it became a legal document which has the force and the sanctity of law. The Town Planning Organisation also prepared various building bye laws, and all other detailed construction norms. SDA had the role of not only monitoring the implementation of the Master Plan but to ensure adherence to various stipulations concerning land use, building bye laws prescribing height, type, lay back etc for all constructions both residential and commercial. The first and foremost stipulation is about the land use. It has been clearly laid out as to which areas are residential and which areas are commercial. The basic land use cannot be changed at all. It is not legally possible to have commercial buildings in areas marked in the Master Plan as residential areas. However, this stipulation has been mercilessly breached everywhere under the very nose of the officers of the authority. The power to change land use rests only with the state cabinet. While as there has been extensive violation of this norm for shopping complexes, some non-resident Kashmiri doctors have been knocking at every door of the government for last three years to get permission for a super speciality hospital and the same is being denied to them!

It is often stated that the building permissions are issued by the Municipal Corporation (Municipal Committee of earlier times). However, SDA is very much part of the Building Permission Committee and their prior clearance is a mandatory requirement as regards the land use in the Master Plan. No doubt, the Municipal Corporation is epitome of corruption right from top to bottom but the SDA is no less notorious in this regard. The worst is the politicisation of all these organisations. Political interference and corruption have turned these organisations into instruments for destroying and defiling the historic city of Srinagar. Primarily, the responsibility is of the politicians. Honesty like water flows from a higher level to lower level. During the time of late G.M.Sadiq, some of his relatives tried to obtain permission for constructing a hotel on the Boulevard. When the Chief Minister came to know about this, he virtually ordered the arrest of his own son! That is the political will which makes all the difference. These days, the reverse is happening. Not only the concerned officers and officials close their eyes but even the top most political authority very conveniently follows the three monkeys with closed eyes, ears, and mouth! Any violation of the norms of the Master Plan is not a day’s affair. The complexes already constructed or under construction have taken months and in some cases years to complete. All these violations taking place in broad daylight become invisible to the enforcing authorities against a stipulated ‘Price’. We are masters in framing laws and regulations. Some of the best legislations are on the statute books. Unfortunately, leave aside implementation, we on the contrary show the loopholes and provide means to violators for a consideration. One fails to understand why Kashmiris have become so greedy, materialistic, and callous in regard to their own living environment? The main reason is that the entire edifice of Kashmir administration built since 1947 is on the basic premise of corruption. Both material and moral corruption. Honest and upright people have no place in it.

Technically, one of the main reasons for these violations is the deviation of enforcing authorities from their primary roles of monitoring and enforcement. SDA is supposed to act as the custodian of the Master Plan but on the contrary, the Authority is busy in constructing shopping complexes of its own which should have been normally left to the private sector. Similarly, the Municipal Corporation instead of Keeping Srinagar neat and clean, is indulging in mushroom construction of shopping complexes irrespective of the location. They have virtually choked the lungs of the city! Government has failed to assist the Corporation in taking over the role of the Public Health Guardians of the City dwellers. The hordes of rabid dogs, numerous open dumps of garbage, dozens of manholes without covers, open drains and what not. Still they are busy in constructing shops, rows upon rows at the cost of their primary duty. No doubt, the city has abnormally outgrown the capability of the original committee supposed to look after a couple of hundred thousand inhabitants, yet they have not gone on the right track by motivating the rulers to enhance their set up for increased population and requisite resources. Mushroom construction of shops and complexes at the cost of the green lungs of the city is not the right way of generating resources. The latest flap in this line is the so called beautification of Lal Chowk. There are many other considerations than the “Beautification” for this project! Unless the two organisation change their way of working and revert back to their primary role, the city of Srinagar is doomed! Till such a thing happens, the citizens may have to take measures on their own in safe guarding the sanctity of their residential areas and preventing further defilement of the city by enforcing the land use and other norms, if necessary through Public Interest Litigation. Let our legal luminaries come forward to do the same!

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