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.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The "Other" Twin Monsters

Fida comments on why Srinagar has turned hellishly unbearable and how to save it before it is too late

(Mr. Fida Iqbal, 47, was born in Sopore. He attended the D.A.V. School in Nayadyaar, Rainawari, and the Government Higher Secondary School in Sopore. He obtained his Bachelor's degree in Agriculture/Floriculture and Landscaping from Chowdhry Chottu Ram College at Muzaffarabad Nagar in Uttar Pradesh. Mr. Iqbal works with the Jammu & Kashmir Tourism Department as a landscape architect. He enjoys kitchen gardening, reading writing, and is very a passionate and dedicated golf player.)

Garbage Management and Traffic Chaos

A few days back one of my learned friends, a budding bureaucrat, asked a very straight question. What are two grave issues faced by the people of Kashmir (Srinagar to be precise) at present? Within a second I replied, it is garbage management and restoration of Dal. My well-informed friend corrected me and said at present garbage and traffic chaos are two major issues faced by people of this valley. He was right, as in our daily routine and survival traffic confusion is much more a pressing problem than Dal.

Recent survey conducted by union urban development ministry has placed Srinagar as the fourth dirtiest city of the country. After attainment of distinction on corruption front last year, this newly achieved peculiarity robes Srinagar of its status of once being a much cleaner summer retreats. At the moment Srinagar, because of its filth has been practically hijacked by dogs that are controlling every nook and corner of the city particularly from dusk to dawn. Every street, crossing and road is full of stinking filth and dirt; drains are either chocked or over-flowing in almost every part of the city. More or less every civic facility and amenity is in shambles. Reasons for this mess are very well known; negligence and selfish behaviour of city dwellers and total failure of civic authorities.

In Kashmir there is no proper and scientific garbage collection, segregation and disposal (involving both recycling and dumping) system in place. Instead, age old system of collecting, carrying filth and dumping it some where in an open area on the outskirts is being adapted in the name of garbage management. Earlier this practice could do away with the garbage as major part of our waste was bio-degradable and it would merge with mother earth without any adverse effect on soil and water, but presently the waste generated is of many sorts and can not be disposed off without proper scientific segregation. In contemporary world managing waste, particularly garbage is a vast science and involves much of scientific efforts and knowledge.

We as society in Kashmir are yet in a transitory phase of learning and our approach in dealing with our waste is the biggest victim of this transition. We changed and acclimatised to almost every new trend on international level in every field of life but our domestic garbage disposal manners have shown no signs of improvement. We clean and clear our establishments of filth but place it just outside our house on the wayside. Our negligence regarding waste disposal makes the job tougher for the civic authorities. Municipal authorities can not be absolved of being negligent in making people aware of proper handling of garbage at domestic or commercial level.

At present good chunk of our garbage finds its way into our waterways, water bodies and cultivable land. Non degradable waste being more than fifty percent of our garbage not only contaminates but also chocks the water resources and the cultivable land, making them both contaminated and barren. In the absence of proper garbage management, Srinagar Municipal Council has turned into not anything beyond official carrier of rubbish from congested areas of city to its outskirts. This unscientific attitude of SMC headed by well paid executives and assisted by learned technocrats makes it a laughing stock. This official garbage carrier (SMC) has to avoid sluggish attitude and come out of political pressures; learn to serve people like other modern civic bodies within the country and outside, which render excellent services in the fields ranging from waste management to health care, education and many other sectors related to common-man’s dignified and dirt-free survival.

The present traffic chaos reminds me of early seventies of last century, when traffic control lights were installed in Srinagar city on experimental basis. These lights turned dysfunctional within months of their installation because the number of vehicles plying on Srinagar roads was very low and working mechanism of these lights could not get synchronised with the rate of movement of traffic on the roads. Ultimately these lights died their own death.

During the last two decades the Indian auto sector developed manifolds and Kashmir became one of the prominent places to showcase this exponential growth of Indian auto sector. Out of more than hundred thousand vehicles in Kashmir majority is that of small and medium cars and other light motor vehicles. During peak hours of morning and evening rush these vehicles move at a snail’s pace-almost bumper to bumper. Srinagar is the only major urban habitation in Kashmir which is focal point of all administrative, commercial and all other activities, thus ever road of movement leads to this place and at the end of the day major part of the vehicular traffic converges at Srinagar. This traffic jumble chokes not only the roads of this over stretched city but suffocates its inhabitants by inducing vast amount of toxic residual gases and pollutants into the atmosphere. Last two decades of trouble and turmoil has put more pressure on this city as sizeable chunk of countryside population has migrated here for varying reasons. All this had added a sea of vehicles into this city making its management more difficult for the authorities. At every crossing there is traffic jam and commuters have to spent hours to reach their destinations earlier covered in minutes. What are the reasons of this traffic mess? Obviously, increase in number of vehicles and shrinking roads is one of the most prominent factors but, yes, there are some other reasons as well, which are possibly within the command of common man and the law enforcing authorities. People’s cooperation, unflinching discipline and proper and unbiased law enforcement can help in resolving traffic confusion considerably.

On the roads traffic can be managed reasonably by the sensible behaviour of drivers, responsible manners of commuters and pedestrians and ultimately the judicious and effective management and enforcement by traffic department. Unfortunately, both, public as drivers, commuters and pedestrians and the law enforcing agencies like traffic police and regional transport authority are not behaving and working responsibly and dutifully.

Rash driving, over speeding, wrong parking, riskily overtaking and road rage are common on roads of Kashmir. At occasions even sensible citizens get indulged in this madness. Valley’s roads are experiencing bloody accidents due to gross negligence of errant and inexperienced drivers leading to death of many people on daily basis. It seems that people of this comparatively calm and cool place have lost their patience and drivers of this place have turned much impatient. At every road, crossing or in a traffic jam every one tries to overtake the other at any cost bothering least about his safety and the life of others. This aggressive and impatient mindset makes the traffic disorder more severe and confusing for the traffic managers. Present deterrents of fine for traffic violations have become irrelevant and now it seems authorities have to think of more severe and serious measures like cancellation of licenses and permits and imprisonment so that arrogant traffic violators can be tamed effectively. It is an established fact that a good number of drivers on the valley roads are either without valid driving licenses or have fake ones. This situation demands stringent laws and a much competent authority to issue and monitor driving licenses. Every traffic violation and related crimes should be categorized and punitive measures suggested depending on the severity of the violation. Road rage is a grave and fatal crime committed almost on every valley road but very less of this criminal act is reported or treated as cognisable.

Traffic regulating authorities-mainly the traffic police force is not a holy cow. No one can deny the fact, that this force in blue is under-staffed and lacks man and machine miserably. Their credibility has eroded manifolds over the period of time. Many reasons other than the dearth of men and equipments contribute to their declining reliability and yes, alleged corruption is one of them. The other major cause of confusion and chaos on part of traffic cops is dereliction of duty by resorting to selective action against the erring drivers. Normally our cops in blue have got two set of rules, one for the common man and other one for influential and VIPs. This selective treatment in the first instance is undemocratic and against law and on the other hand weakens the faith of common- man in law and its judicious implementation. Unless this VIP syndrome is off from our traffic management system, nothing substantial can be achieved on this front.

Both these problems of filth and traffic mess are in the first instance directly related to the unruly behaviour of citizens and then gets further complicated by the inefficiency, VIP syndrome and other influenced administrative lapses on behalf of traffic managers. The only way-out is we as society has to contribute and put in our best of efforts and discipline and authorities have to deal every one sincerely, equally and impartially.

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