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.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Preserving Autonomous Character of the J&K Cultural Academy

Bukhari sahib provides his take on the internal turmoil in the JKAACL. Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

(Syed Rafiuddin Bukhari, 72, was born in Kreri in Baramulla District. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Kashmir Media Group that publishes the English daily, Rising Kashmir, and soon-to-be launched Urdu daily, Bulund Kashmir. He had his early education in Sopore, Beerwah and then in Srinagar where from he got his post-graduate degree in English from the University of Jammu and Kashmir, and took up job as a teacher in higher education department. He taught English in various colleges in Kashmir took voluntary retirement in 1995 as Professor. Even though not a professional journalist by training, he has been extremely successful in the field, launching SANGARMAL, the first ever multi-coloured Kashmiri newspaper from Srinagar which is now in its fourth year. Later in 2008, he created the Kashmir Media Group. His interests are reading and writing and building value based institutions.)

Omar-Jora ‘War’ is Ruining Cultural Academy

Affairs of Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL) have come to a knot for past few months. The reason: power tussle between Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Minister for Tourism and Culture Nawang Rigzin Jora. The stand-off between the two important functionaries of the government has put almost everything to halt as far as cultural and literary activities are concerned.

Nevertheless, the officials of the Academy are making its presence felt purely on “udhaar”. Even as the real intent of the Minister is not known but the buzz in the corridors of power is that he wants the “full control” of the Academy, which is otherwise an autonomous body governed by its own constitution. The Minister, sources say wants to run this institution like a Consumer Affairs department.

The “tussle” has adversely affected the cultural scenario as the money promised to Academy under the annual plan is yet to be released. The cultural and literary organisations, financially supported by the Academy have been waiting for the grant even as the financial year is about to end in next three months. Subsidies on books and assistance to writers and organisations given to them on the basis of indigenous circumstances have also been stopped. Efforts from the cultural activists to impress upon chief minister and his Minister have yielded positive result. Noted writer and Member of Legislative Council Mohammad Yusuf Taing recently wrote to chief minister drawing his attention towards this sad state of affairs and urged him to get the Academy out of the quagmire.

Academy’s sordid tale is the result of “black mail” politics that has overshadowed the governance in this state after the coalition governments came into power in 2002. To extract maximum benefits from the government, the “weaker” coalition partner has become stronger and has been exploiting the bigger partner for the support to run the government. Otherwise there seems to be no reason why Academy should become a bone of contention when its constitution is clear about its functioning.

After the Department of Culture was created a few years ago, the notion is that JKAACL also comes under its “full jurisdiction”. The Minister is reported to be eying for the post of “Vice President” of the Academy to enjoy the “powers” which he perhaps believes are solely exercised by the chief minister by virtue of being its President.

But going by the facts on which the autonomous character of this Academy exists, whatever is perceived in the Ministry of Tourism and Culture has no chances to match with what the Constitution of the State has given to it. Established in 1958 by then Prime Minister Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad, the Academy has the distinction of being one among only two institutions whose autonomous character has been guaranteed by the State Constitution. University of Kashmir being the other one.

By virtue of the Constitution of Academy, its autonomy is well defined and cannot be interfered with. In accordance with SRO 340 dated August 14, 1963, the Academy’s own constitution came into being with amendments in May 1973. It is clearly mentioned that 39-member general council will be the all-powerful body of the Academy, which will have powers to take all decisions including the financial ones. General Body takes decisions on the advice of Central Committee which has members drawn from government as well as the non-governmental organisations. The President of the Academy has all the powers to implement the decisions through the Secretary or any other office bearer. Defining the powers of Secretary the Constitution says “All orders, instruments, contracts and assurance for and on behalf of the Academy shall be executed and signed by the Secretary or such other officers as may be specially empowered in that behalf by the President; and such execution and signature shall be deemed to be the proper authentication or execution of such order, instruments, contract or assurance, as the case may be”.

Here the Constitution explicitly makes it clear that except the General Council, the President and Secretary there is no authority, which can infringe upon the autonomy of the Academy. However, the way the Cultural Ministry is stopping the Academy from it’s functioning by choking the finances tantamount to violation of the constitution that makes a politician a minister. The minister can neither be the vice president nor can he exercise the financial powers. The Article 7 of Academy’s constitution states “The Vice - President shall be elected by the General Council of the Academy preferably from among its non-official members”. This has been done to ward off the political influence, which the chief minister would be wielding as its President. In past the noted Dogri writer Nilambhar Dev Sharma had been elected by the General Council, which has the powers to do so.

During past two years the Academy has been doing a remarkable work in promoting and preserving the composite culture of the state. It has come out with scores of special numbers of Sheeraza, in various languages thus adding to the rich repository of our cultural heritage. But by becoming the victim of politics its road to progress will be cut short and onus will lie on those who want use its existence for satisfying their ego.

Since Art and Culture is much away from the politics and has its own significance and role in the society to play, such institutions should not become the tools for exhibiting the political supremacy. This is time to ensure maximum autonomy for such institutions. This self-generated power tussle should end to allow Academy to function as per the constitution. In his capacity as President of the Academy, the chief minister should act as per constitution and relieve it of the “financial subjugation”.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Awards Racket

Ajaz explores the "cash-n-carry" business of giving out public awards

(Mr. Ajaz ul Haque, 40, was born in Srinagar. He completed his school and college education in South Kashmir. He is presently on the faculty as Producer in the University of Kashmir Educational Multimedia Research Centre (EMRC), and a columnist for the Greater Kashmir. In leisure time he enjoys reading.

The Award Market

To bag an award is an honour, but to buy an award is a disgrace indescribable. One can only desire to be in the hall of greats though a few amongst us actually make it. We do have people within us with some remarkable achievements to feel proud of. For this they have been haloed and deservedly so. But the way some awards are being literally sold is embarrassing. But sadly, it means no embarrassment for those who buy them, it puts others to shame.

Many times over, this issue has been written about. A clique of people in New Delhi or elsewhere fool their clients by sending them a form which they have to fill up against a stipulated sum. This `good news' that you are the man or woman of the year or decade or millennium (depending on the money they charge) can reach any one ranging from a cook to a minister. You choose your area of `specialization' in which you contribution is `outstanding', attach the bank draft and post it back. There comes the `certificate of excellence' acknowledging your contribution towards the `welfare of humankind'. They manage to invite some celebrities and call you to the function where you are to be awarded for the `exemplary service' you have rendered towards the society. This all is an intelligently staged drama to make a joke out of you and to cheat you of your hard-earned money. The painful part of the story is that to taste a fifteen minute fame, which by any means, is fake, you offer yourself to be made a fool of.

That is how awards are manufactured and award winners are won over. They market film and sports stars to hook you. And quite surprisingly, it's not a common semi-literate man who is tempted. Even academics, activists, lawyers and now ministers are getting trapped. Not trapped infact they offer themselves and call it their `honor' to be the part of that fun. All that to fake a fame. In doing so they don't mind how cheap can it get. As long as they receive an `award' there is nothing wrong in doing what they make you do.

This is happening for many years now. Earlier anyone could have been duped for the reality was not known, now the rotten truth about this award-peddling business is out. But we keep celebrating our cheaply bought `stardom'. Our shamelessness knows no limits. First, we know the truth behind these so called awards. Second, we pay for the cheap publicity to be made through media. We expect admiration from our `fans'. The impression that is thrown around is different. A credulous reader thinks as if there is a jury that adjudicates the winners. When he sees ministers receiving the award, he goes on to count the nominees who might have missed the mark as if the panel had a tough task to declare the winner. Little do they know that a dishwasher is as eligible a candidate as the minister himself or herself.

Power Mess or Another Victimhood Syndrome?

Ashraf presents a local perspective on power shortage in Kashmir. If you think that is interesting, wait until you hear the former J&K Power Commissioner (2 opposing views)

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 67, 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 Française 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.)

POINT: Kashmir’s Power Mess!

For last few decades, power woes are very much a part of the Kashmiri life in winter. It is not only our misfortune but is also a disgrace for the ruling elite which have been in political power all these years. There is hardly any one who has not heard politicians of all hues and shades claim from the pulpits the hydro-power generation capacity of our rivers. The estimates vary from 20,000 to 25,000 megawatts.

Unfortunately, all these rivers have been mortgaged to Pakistan by the Indian government. Kashmir’s so called political leaders have either signed on the dotted line or in some cases have not been taken on board at all! Well, the loss of our rights on these rivers through Indus Water Treaty is not the only basis for the mess even though it is one of the major factors. The entire process of power development in the state has been lopsided from the very start. Initially, before 1947 we had only the Mohura Power House which used to supply power. It continued for quite some time. Those days one was not used to cooking or heating with the help of electric gadgets. A light bulb was the most precious possession. After 1947, the demand for power increased and the state went in for newer projects. We got P S Gill as our power commissioner who worked out a detailed plan for development of various projects. Two projects, one at Ganderbal and the other near Baramulla, the Lower Jhelum came up. Gill was totally attuned to run of the river projects and did not consider any storage based project. We also got bogged down by the Indus Water Treaty which had tied our hands behind the back. The result was a perennial race between the demand and supply. We have still not been able to bridge the gap between demand and supply especially during winter. This is because the freezing temperatures decrease the flow of water in our rivers and the power houses operate at a very low generation capacity. Sometimes the projects generating over 100 megawatts in summer get reduced to less than 10 in winter. Subsequently, some projects with storage had been built with the approval of Pakistani side. The obtaining of the approval was a tedious job. The case went to arbitrators for adjudication. These storage projects include Salal and Baghliar. NHPC (National Hydroelectric Power Corporation) entered the picture. Baghliar is the only storage project in the state side. The other projects of NHPC are the Uri and Dulhasti. The problem with these projects is that these add to the woes by virtually robbing the state of whatever resource was left after Indus Water Treaty. The state gets only 12% royalty from these projects. Rest of the power generated within the state itself has to be bought by the state at exorbitant rates for the use of the state subjects! The main plea given for this unfair treatment is that the money for these projects has been invested by the Central Government. Here, it may be mentioned that the very same Central Government is exercising double standards. The state government tried to put up some mega projects but the Central Government refused to give counter guarantee for foreign investors! The hydroelectric power itself could be the main source of income for the state provided we are allowed to generate global investments and then sell the generated power to rest of the country. Recently, the state government has set up another corporation for tapping the potential of Chenab valley. Again it will be a shared project between the centre and the state. The only consolation is that the share of the state has been increased. The projects will have a gestation period of five years or so. In any case, the present scenario is that we will continue to be caught in the race of demand and supply for next few years. It is so pathetic and tragic that in spite of such massive resources we are in a pitiable condition in regard to power situation in winter. What would have been life in Kashmir if we had the possibility of tapping all these resources and give abundant electric power to the inhabitants of this unfortunate and troubled valley? It would definitely have been much better. Smooth and clean with a wonderful environment. In fact, our main economic resource would have been the earnings from hydroelectric power. In the present situation it may appear as a utopian dream but a dream which could be made possible some day?

Now coming back to the present crisis, it is not only the lack of generation within Kashmir or the import from outside which is the main culprit. Basically it is the system which is thoroughly corrupt. We want power but do not want pay for it. It is often given out that we have over 50% transmission or distribution losses. This is not true. These losses only amount to no more than 10% or so. 40% loss or even more is due to pilferage. Dishonesty at all levels. Corruption has seeped into our blood. One would not have expected any pilferage in the metered areas but unfortunately it may be as much as in non-metered areas if not more! Strangely, it is the linemen supposed to check pilferage who are showing consumers how to bypass the meters. They are alleged to charge 100 rupees per month from these pilfers. Some consumers have a separate service line which they hook onto the mains bypassing the meter after dark. The linemen know this and keep their mouths shut against a monthly “fee”. In the beginning there was appreciable checking and surveillance in the metered areas. The pilferage was greatly reduced and the metered areas had assured supply through the essential feeders. In fact, once a superintending engineer of the power department itself was caught in a night raid and fined. Not now. There is now a live and let live policy. The linemen guilty of small pilferage can’t be stopped by senior officers whose bigger pilferage is known to them! So there is the live and let live attitude which has tremendously increased the loss due to pilferage. There is only one solution to stop it.

Stringent punishment for both the pilfers and the facilitators. If the government can use PSA against timber smugglers, why not against the power thieves? They too are causing equal damage to the system. One wonders why the protagonists for “Azadi” are not thinking about “Azadi” from the artificially created power famine in the most resourceful area for the hydroelectric power generation. May be they prefer the abstract version which is easy to sell without anybody understanding or questioning its parameters! In any case, the “Power Scenario” in Kashmir is in a total mess without any proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. We are destined to contend with dark nights for a long time to come!

COUNTERPOINT: Come Out of Victimhood Syndrome

B R Singh (Former Power Commissioner, J&K)

This is in response to the article ‘Kashmir’s power mess’ by M Ashraf on December 26. I would like to point out that I have read many articles on power scenario in the last twenty years. I also met an activist recently in Delhi who intends to move to the court against the NHPC-PDC tie up. I regret that Kashmiris are unable to look at the problem rationally.

You will notice that the Dogras don’t complain much about the power issue although it is Jammu that has more potential for generating power than Kashmir, without the Indus waters Kashmir's potential would not have exceeded 1700 MW. That means if J&K had exploited all of what is available, there would be no shortage. In 1947, the total capacity was 7 MW in Kashmir and of Jammu it was 1/2 MW.

Today the state government have capacity of 200 MW in Kashmir and about 480MW in Jammu. In addition, the GoI owns 480MW in Kashmir and 850-900 MW in Jammu. Of this about 200 MW is J&K's share. Besides, the state of J&K has a share in central projects outside the state. I think it is now about 400 MW; I am not sure about the latest figure. So, against 7 MW in 1947, J&K has now the capacity of about 1400 MW however it comes down drastically in winters. 500 MW transmission capacity into the valley had been built already and the 440 KV line will double that.

The problem is that people don't want to pay for the power they consume. Hydel power costs an average of Rs 3.50 per unit of energy these days. The state is losing about Rs 2000 crores in supplying power. I have opposed handing over projects to the NHPC and even retrieved

Baglihar and Sawalkote from them, but the problem is deeper. Why are they handed over in the first place? Kashmiris need to ponder over this question rather than blaming others.

The IWT was signed with the consent of the J&K government. Do you know that when the Bhakra Beas system was planned as a consequence of the IWT, J&K was asked what share it wanted out of the 3000 MW planned and they asked for only 10 MW.

The narrative of being treated unfairly is true only if you accept that J&K collaborated in the unfair treatment. It was well within the government's ability to say that they should be compensated proportionately for the losses the state would undergo as a result of the treaty. Why has Sawalkote failed to take off? Why could Baglihar be constructed in record time despite all those allegations? What are the problems that prevent J&K from executing its own projects? Think over these issues instead of taking recourse to the unending narrative of victimhood.

The real problem is elsewhere. Also, what the IWT has taken away cannot be restored till Pakistan can be persuaded to renegotiate the treaty. There are hidden issues that some one like you should make the public aware of, if you put Kashmir first.

The Hall of Shame

An editorial in the Greater Kashmir discusses the depths to which the society has sunk

Fake Drugs

It is just the tip of an iceberg. A seven day old baby died in G.B. Pant Children Hospital because of negligence of medicos. The reports suggested that he was injected an expired medicine. A report in this newspaper about wrong medication of the child in the hospital did prompt instituting of an inquiry by the government. The death of infant in the children hospital is not the first of its kind. Such deaths are nothing unusual in most of the government hospitals. And majority of these go unreported.

It is not only the government hospitals that are in a shamble, the situation in some of the private nursing homes for lack of supervision by the government is no different. Many private hospitals and nursing homes have been charging exorbitantly from the patients without providing proper health care. These hospitals and nursing homes have become money minting machines for the owners and state salaried doctors working part time in these hospitals. These people for lack of effective control by the state health department have been fattening at the expense of patients. It would be worth reiterating that India is the largest counterfeit and spurious drug manufacturing country in the world. It produces spurious drugs worth Rs.15000 Crore.

The statistics made available by the international organization like WHO indicate that thirty five percent of the world’s spurious drugs are produced in India. A report by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has not been different. And Kashmir is largest consumer of these substandard medicine. Such medicine are sold in full gaze of health department and within the knowledge of many medicos. Some druggists have been complaining that most of the spurious drugs are dispensed by doctors from unlicensed shops within their clinics or inside the nursing homes. It is not a top secret that these companies have been paying heavily to doctors in the shape of gifts and trips outside the state and country. It is within the knowledge of authorities within the state that most of the fake drug manufacturing companies are based in Punjab, Haryana and U.P and Jammu and Kashmir for lack of an effective drug control and proximity to these states has been consumer of major portions of drugs and medicines manufactured in these states. The state health department is in know that about seventy therapeutic categories covering medication to treat diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, multivitamins preparations and other common ailments are spurious.

If a proper study is done about the impact of spurious medicine on the people of the state the results would be alarming and disturbing. It is also no secret that largest buyer of substandard medicines is the state health department. It is in the knowledge of the state vigilance organizations that the purchases of medicine, drugs, herbs and other materials for government run hospitals and health centers both allopathic and Indian System of medicines is done quickly towards the end of the financial year with malicious designs. Many times without adopting laid down procedures and formalities. The state vigilance commission did conduct raids in the past but failed to bring the culprits to the book. If vigilance organization had played an effective role perhaps the life of the infant who died in children hospital would have been saved. It has been for lack of effective supervision, monitoring and direction and coordination amongst various organizations connected with the health of common people that the health department is suffering.

There is an elaborate an organization armed to teeth with powers for preventing marketing, distributing and dispensing of fake drugs, but it has been sleeping on this grave issue. There is a need to be accountable. Here is a case in point that cries for justice. For what sin, after all, an infant had to die.

Good Governance Begins With Conscientious Citizenry

Arjimand explores the relationship between governance and a society in conflict and comes up with a provocative conclusion

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 34, was born in Srinagar. He is a columnist/writer and a development professional who matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University and has a diploma in journalism as well. He is an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany and has worked with UNESCO, Oxfam and ActionAid International in some seven countries in Asia and Africa. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit.)

Governance-Conflict Debate

Kashmir’s ongoing governance-conflict debate is akin to the classical chicken and egg story.

So what lies at the root of our messy situation? A governance deficit? The basic unresolved political question? None, or both?

We have the ruling National Conference (NC) on the one hand which hates the term ‘bad governance’ every time it is mentioned. NC’s point is that it is not the bad governance but the basic political question of Kashmir that is at the heart of our problems. Many others, on the other hand, feel the contrary.

An objective analysis of this matter makes one thing amply clear: truth lies somewhere in the middle. Our messy situation is as a result of both – the lingering political turmoil which goes beyond governance, and abysmal governance in itself.

And let us accept this reality with grace, without feeling annoyed. Facts are facts.
Let there be no qualms about this: governance is a basic function of the political environment in a political system. And if there is a problem in the very political system, it will correspondingly impact the quality of governance. A political system where democratic principles are not supreme, to expect governance to be just, accountable and transparent would be foolhardy.

If there are factors and forces that undermine democratic functioning through extra democratic means then the system will automatically malfunction. Power will flow from myriad directions, and, eventually, flow in myriad directions too. That has been one of the basic problems with Kashmir.

But this is not the whole story.

A lot of mess in our governance is self made as well. It comes from our collective disdain to discipline, penchant for thriving chaos and a terribly high tolerance to incompetence. But let us also recognize that some of the attitudes that govern these are a by-product of the political uncertainty itself – where basic survival reigns supreme. Where tomorrow remains uncertain, and rules seldom apply.

Let us accept the fact that the reason we are not able to complete a single development project in time these days is that our governance has touched an abysmal low.

A few days back I had an interesting discussion with an official of the Economic Reconstruction Agency (ERA) and a contractor, responsible for executing the Rs 41.64 crore Rawalpora-Tengpora drainage project.

While talking about the delay in the execution of the project with the two gentlemen, the contractor put all the blame on our ‘work culture.’ He is partly true. We cannot single out a single person or institution for all our troubles.

I think the Asian Development Bank (ADB)-funded projects in our state – implemented by ERA - offer a classic case study for us to understand our governance issues.

One of the premises of the loan was that it was meant for ‘post conflict reconstruction.’ And when we say ‘post conflict’ it automatically goes to assume that there is a semblance of stability in the environment where it is supposed to be implemented. But that is where we have erred.

In my personal experience in developing active conflict and post-conflict category reconstruction and development project proposals in several countries, not factoring in risk factors in the project design itself proves a serious mistake.

Now let us see where we stand. The actual implementation on ADB projects began in May 2005. Although 31 Dec 2009 was supposed to be its completion time, the deadline is already extended to 30 June 2011.

It is almost certain that it will not be able to finish the projects by that deadline. As per latest figures made available by ADB, by 30 November 2010, only 65 per cent of the financial disbursements have actually been made. That means we are supposed to spend the rest 45 per cent in the next six months.

The point is that while conceptualizing a project of such a mammoth magnitude, it is critical to identify the sources of risks and contingency plans to overcome those. We cannot pretend all is well with us and then err frequently. A logical framework matrix must list all foreseeable disruptions and identify the systems and the means to overcome these.

Political disturbances are normally cited as main impediments in our project implementation. It is true that a deterioration of security climate results in the flight of non local workers from our projects. But why can’t we factor in this risk factor in our log frame and have contingency plans built in our projects?

If work culture is the problem, there are varied instruments to overcome that. One could, for example, have across-the-board performance appraisal systems and contract conditions – covering consultants, contractors, laborers, engineers, etc. - which minimize the risks and provide for replacements. And conflict and political uncertainty have nothing to do with those. Such instruments are made use of even in the worse conflict situations than ours.

The recent evaluation report by the ADB, prepared by its urban economist Hiroyuki Ikemoto and Project Implementation Officer (PIO) Saugata Dasgupta, clearly point to such deficiencies.

But then some plain accountability and commitment issues also crop up.

The reason we have a single ECG machine serving an entire emergency department at the state’s ‘premier’ medical institute – SKIMS – cannot have anything to do with political uncertainty. Can a political uncertainty prevent such an institute to have a couple of reserve ECG machines? Can political uncertainty inhibit us from deploying 2-3 mobile ECG machines in the emergency observation ward of SKIMS, from where even the most critical patients have to be ‘transported’ to the ECG room to do a cardiograph?

Let us take another example. On Fridays most of the emergency unit personnel take long breaks to attend Muslim prayers in our hospitals. Does our political uncertainty hinder us from having a system wherein non Muslim personnel could be put on duty at that time?

The reason I mentioned these two examples is that I have seen precious lives being lost just for these two small issues.

Then let us take our collective disdain for traffic rules and disrespect for traffic cops.

Most of us tend not to obey traffic rules because we don’t see those who make and are supposed to uphold laws following these. We don’t respect the traffic cop because he asks us for a lift back home every evening. Political uncertainty doesn’t inhibit our traffic department in deploying a few pick-and-drop cabs for these poor cops, even as the officers have cavalcades at their own disposal.

In a nutshell, let us all accept some blame and confess that we can do better in spite of our limitations. We owe our children a better future.

Recalling Campus Politics Before the Gun Culture

Zahid arrived on the campus of the University of Kashmir in 1972 and got his taste of Kashmiri politics

(Mr. Zahid G. Mohammad, 62, was born and raised in Srinagar. He earned his Master's degree in English literature from the Kashmir University and has completed a course in Mass Communication from Indian Institute of Mass Communication. He is a writer and a journalist who has written for many newspapers, including the Statesman, the Sunday, and the Kashmir Times. He currently works for the Greater Kashmir.)

So Much Happened, But No One Was Arrested

Campus days are beautiful, full of life and romance. They are seductive when it comes to my alma mater. I don’t know who has selected campus site for Kashmir University – whosoever it has been, could be an esthete.

I have not seen such a beautiful campus- ‘with its masculine and feminine’ beauty. On the very first day I fell in love with it. It was really love at first sight. This has not been an ephemeral affair, forty years after I am still in love with it- whenever I feel fatigued and start thinking ‘ripeness’ in literal sense having set in, I visit the campus. The visit is always metamorphous, on entering the gates I immediately returned to my teenybopper days. Winding my journey through the lanes of nostalgia every scene of my days at the campus pops up like icons on the screen of my computer- and at every click takes me into yet another world.

I had joined this campus at the fall of 1972. It was October, season of ‘mellow fruitfulness.’ The campus on all its sides had apple gardens- with every bough drooping with apples as rubicund as the cheeks of a village damsel after a fresh icy water splash on her face. The ambience was so gorgeous and stunning that on many occasions, it unlocked imagination of a prosaic person like me and waxed me lyrical. I don’t know how it affected the sensibilities of my poet friends- there were those day many poets and poetaster in the campus. The number of poetasters was countless.

Many would be seen parodying on the stairs leading to the arts block building. Names of some poet friends still live in my memory: Shafi Shouq, Rafiq Raz, Syed Fazlullah Dilgeer, Syed Zeeshan Fazil and Rashid Afaq. Many like me turned poetic on the spur of the moment, as it always happens at such an age in the University.

These poets and some little known short story writers added some spice to otherwise dull educational atmosphere of the campus by organizing cultural and literary functions. These people met under an organization Koshur Cultural Forum. Many teachers that included Dr. Sayyid Muhammad Syeed presently General Secretary Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) largest Muslim Organization of USA, Prof. Saif-U-Din- Soz, then Joint Registrar in the University, Abdul Aziz, Dean Students Welfare, Prof. Rehman Rahi, Dr. Margoob Banihali teachers in Persian Department and Bushan Lal Koul teacher in Hindi Department supported the activities.

Koshur Cultural Forum those days was an oasis in the desert of highly politicized campus. The campus those days was not as apolitical as it has been now for past few years. During early seventies the number of students’ organization supporting demand for plebiscite had mushroomed but membership of most of these organizations never crossed beyond that of its office bearers. Mostly they looked at Mirza Muhammad Afzal Beg as their patron. Some of these student organizations had very funny names- and they mostly earned a butt of ridicule from Late Khawaja Sanaullah Bhat editor of Daily Aftab in his satirical column ‘Khazar Suchata Hai Wular Ki Kinayari).

Many student leaders after their release from jails had taken admission in various courses. Most of them were in the law and political science departments - most of them later made top slots in the government. The student leaders on the campus were overwhelmingly antiestablishment and had the capability of sparking student agitations on trifles. In fact these were the fading days of the student politics in the state- major student organizations had gone into oblivion to die even without a whimper.

But despite these declining trends in students politics campus scene had made some congress ministers in Syed Mir Qasim government restless. With a view to build their own constituency in the university campus and other educational institutions these ministers wooed some students. A unit of National Students Union (NSUI) under state government patronage was established and some of its members were allotted land in prime location for setting up their commercial concerns. This was first major and organized effort of introducing political corruption in educational institutions.

The anger against the ministers politicizing the University was brewing up. This anger found an ugly manifestation in middle of 1973. The occasion was transfer of Governor Mr. Baghwan Sahi from the State. University had organized a farewell party for him as chancellor. It was perhaps the first and the last farewell party of the university during my days in the campus when students had been invited. A group of students mainly those associated with the NSUI were engaged by the University as volunteers. Majority of the students in this group belonged to Mathematics and Physics Departments of the University. And some students from the adjacent Regional Engineering College who also avowedly supported the minister were also engaged as volunteers.

I vividly remember the scene of governor’s visit. Majority of the students both boys and girl sat quietly on the well laid out tables under royal state canopies erected on the lawns near the administrative block. The student volunteers professing allegiance to the ministers were conspicuous for the movements inside the tent. Their presence irked many students near the dice irked many students.

Those days’ three tier cordons were not put in place around the University on the visit of any VVIP. He would not be accompanied by a battery of bureaucrats or huge contingents of police and paramilitary troops. Only one or two members’ of personal staff would accompany the top man. The Governor arrived and was greeted by ministers, vice chancellor and other university functionaries. No moment the Vice Chancellor started reading welcome address one boy flung a saucer in the air and it hit the minister. After this there was a pandemonium. I don’t remember if governor presented his address or not but the scenes of violence inside the campus are still fresh in my memory. The student supporters of the minister were attacked by mobs of the students and some of them bled profusely. Names of most of the boys who were prominent in spoiling the farewell function have etherized from my mind but some names that still live in the hinterland of my mind are Sheikh Manzoor Ahmed, Iftikhar Ahmed, Abdul Rashid Wani, Ghulam Mustafa, Sheikh Mustafa Nazir Ahmed Mir, Ghulam Jeelani Ashia, Abdul Hamid Bhat and Wali Mohammad, Sara Tikoo and

The beauty of this ugly incident that had triggered lot of violence on the lawns of the University campus was that not a single student was arrested, no case was registered against any of the students… that was the then governance.

Are Stone Pelters Heroes?

First an animated exchange between two opposing camps, followed by a report on the police investigation into stone pelting (3 related stories)

VIEWPOINT: The Moral Dilemma - Are Stone Pelters “The Real Heroes”?

Junaid Azim Mattu (Founding President of the World Kashmiri Students Association)

A lecturer at Gandhi College in Kashmir recently asked his students to answer a rather controversial and politically charged question in an exam paper – “Are stone-pelters the real heroes?”. I wrote an article condemning such blatant, conscious and deliberate politicization of academy and curricula in general and exam papers in particular, as warranted by this incident. Since then, the article has generated a heated debate and evoked sentiments on both sides of the line. A lot of people have personally attacked me for my views – in the most obnoxious ways there could be. But, what’s heartening is that a greater number of young men and women – students mostly – some of whom took this exam, have communicated their endorsement. I have also spoken to some of these students to gauge their views on this. I now, follow up that article with an attempt to answer Mr. Bhat’s misplaced question, in fourteen hundred words, placing myself in that exam hall.

In the year 2000, on the Lebanese-Israeli border, Edward Said – a Palestinian-American literary theorist, activist and founding figure in the study of Post-colonialism and Orientalism – was pictured allegedly throwing a stone at an abandoned Israeli guard station. Activists were quick to see this as the moral legalization of stone throwing as a romanticized expression of dissent, in Palestine and other conflict torn regions of the world. The David vs. Goliath metaphoric romanticism was hastily invoked from the arid Gaza strip to eventually the old inner city of Srinagar to reinforce an apparent justification for teenagers to pelt their suffocation and suppression away – one stone at a time – expressing their unwillingness to be coerced into submission.

Days after, the famous Edward Said picture was published in newspapers and magazines around the Middle East, academics and theorists the world over started debating on the moral and political repercussions of Said’s action. Said’s scheduled lectures and talks at some renowned universities were cancelled, as the world now perceived Said as a passive combatant. Impetuous praise poured in from Palestinian organizations, activists and even bandwagon anarchists from other parts of the world. Said’s little stone toss was soon immortalized in postcolonial revolutionary history as a cornerstone in the evolution of stone throwing as a form of symbolic resistance. Today the tragedy is that Kashmiris know Edward Said the stone-thrower and not Edward Said the founder of Orientalism. And in that tragedy, lies my argument.

We have conveniently forgotten the bitter fact that Edward Said came back to categorically state - that his picture was taken out of context and all he was guilty of doing was indulging with his young son in a stone-throwing competition. But much to Mr. Said’s anger and disappointment, he had become an unwilling poster-boy for the educated and virtual sympathizers of stone throwing – people who never knew what Edward Said stood for all his life. His daughter would later disclose that Mr. Said died with this shock in his heart, five years later. Edward Said in an interview about this incident, also spoke of this concept of “healthy anarchy” in stating why stones where thrown at Fatma Gate, a crossing at the Lebanese-Israeli border. Edward Said’s overt references to stone throwing were in the context of symbolism, not active combat against military/paramilitary forces. But who will tell this to the ideological pillars of stone-throwing in Kashmir, who ironically call Edward Said their hero?

I don’t know if stone-pelters are heroes or not but I certainly know this – stone pelting at it’s moral best is a symbolic expression of dissent not a form of combat and battle, as Edward Said would have said. I don’t think any political dividends can merit having an entire generation out on our roads with stones in their hands, battling troops in military gear, when they should be in schools – studying, growing and expanding the horizons of their minds. The Kashmir issue is multi-layered, too complex to be settled through a four month long annual war of bricks and stones. No quantity of stones can make an army flee, no number of self-imposed economic sanctions can make a State sacrifice it’s ultimate strategic interests. Is this question - are stone-pelters the “real heroes” - a derivative of the bigger, vague notion that self-destructive anarchy is the “real struggle”? That by closing our shops and offices we can make New Delhi scurry to the table? And, for a moment let’s hypothetically assume that Delhi does come to the table – are we willing to talk? Does our leadership have the freedom to take an autonomous call on that decision? Can our leadership bypass Pakistan’s apparent reluctance here and engage with Delhi in an integrative negotiation? Then how are anarchists, the “real heroes”? What is the happy ending they have in sight? In which castle does this Mario’s princess lie?

As a student who came to answer questions on literature, grammar and comprehension – predictably out of the text that was assigned to us – I’m emotionally unsettled to answer this question but will try my best to not mince any words. I’m a young Kashmiri boy who has witnessed blood and gore as the sixth and seventh elements of life. My life has been as much of a testament to political suppression as anyone else’s – having been born into this never-ending turmoil, a stranger to the very semblance of normality. I have grown up with more questions in my mind than answers I could seek. Now, I’m asked to answer another such question – one I have sought an answer for within my own teething, crawling conscience for months.

I have a moral dilemma with stone pelting. My friends mock me, call me a pacifist – a coward who would rather write about suppression than confront it – with a stone in his hand. My character comes into question. How could a Kashmiri condemn stone pelting as a medium of dissent, they say! In condemning stone pelting, I apparently become this monstrous “pseudo-intellectual” who won't put his money where his mouth is – a person whose prattle about Kashmir outweighs the stones that he pelts. The guilt is shoved down my throat repeatedly. In this anarchy, I’ve begun to see fascism – bloody fascism – in how moral codes are set, in how my choice is arbitrarily judged, in how one man and his disciple impose sanctions on their allegedly own nation and in the manner in which diktats are enforced under the presumption that Kashmir is one big political monolith – all I see is fascism in the guise of anarchy.

Tufail Mattoo, a young boy of seventeen, the first fatality in the recent summer agitation was not a stone-pelter. He fell to a paramilitary tear-gas shell while he was on his way for his tutorial class, a bag slung across his unassuming shoulders. Do I then presume that Tufail Mattoo is not a “real hero”? Zahid Farooq, another young boy, fell to the unprovoked bullets of a BSF jawan while he was playing an innocent game of cricket with his friends. Zahid Farooq wasn’t a stone pelter either. Would I assume that Zahid was not a “real hero”? Fancy Jan, a young hardworking girl fell to a stray bullet while she stood at the window of her house in Batmaloo. Fancy was not a stone pelter. A young eight year old boy was crushed to death during another such agitation this summer. I wouldn’t think that an eight-year-old kid could be a stone-pelter. So do all these losses amount to nothing beyond collateral sacrifices the “real heroes” are willing to make to both validate and sanctify their prolonged dream of an unhealthy, aimless and perpetual state of anarchy? I went to most city hospitals this summer with my dad, and found out – to my utter surprise – that most of those injured and dead were not stone pelters. Are they then not the “real heroes”?

I’m still not sure how throwing a stone at my neighbor’s car can possibly avenge for actions of the paramilitary forces. I’m still not sure if blocking roads that lead to specialized healthcare institutes is any less cruel and dictatorial than the atrocities we condemn. I’ve never pelted a stone in my life and never will. I want to grow up and have the moral high-ground to condemn fascism and senseless violence. I might be a traitor in the eyes of those who are out with masks and stones but I shall not be a coward. No, Sir – stone pelters are not the “real heroes”.

COUNTERPOINT: The Anarchy of Moral High Ground

Hilal Ahmad (Journalist)

Junaid Mattu has donned the mantle of a student writing his exam and answered a very important question: `are stone throwers real heroes'? He has chosen to answer `no'. In fact, he has gone a step further and termed them anarchists. Since the answer has appeared in a prestigious newspaper, every reader of the article automatically becomes his examiner. I give him a zero. Not because I have been a professed stone thrower in my school days and hence prejudiced but because Junaid misjudges the question as rhetorical, presuming that asking are stone throwers real heroes amounts to declaring them as real heroes. While the reality is students can trash the proposition, as he himself has done so passionately. But he is not willing to grant this luxury to thousands of students who could have as passionately answered this question in whatever manner they liked. But as we read through the article, it becomes clear that the rant is aimed at a “man and his disciple.”

He ran a promo of the article before its publication on his Facebook page by picking up and posting a fragment. Never before have I seen a writer capable of packing so much bile with vanity. He pre-empts criticism, even its possible degrees, and angrily dismisses it even before it is coming. Psychiatrists might construe it as a sign of incipient megalomania. I am reminded of a young man who, when he returned home after completing a PhD in philosophy from an American university, was offered two boiled eggs on a platter by his peasant father. The young philosopher, tired and famished due to travel, looked intently at the eggs and then addressed his father.

“Do you know there are six eggs on the plate,” he said. “But I see only two,” the father replied. “Dad, this is philosophy. At this moment there are two eggs in your consciousness, two in mine and two on the plate,” the young philosopher said.

The dad picked up two eggs from the plate and devoured them. “Son, you can have the remaining four,” the dad said and hastened toward the farm for more pressing, practical jobs than counting imaginary eggs.

Our political philosopher from Bishop Cotton and Michigan University too has arrived. But instead of imaginary eggs he is seeing apparitions of a handful of anarchists, more specifically a “man and his disciple”, imposing “sanctions on their allegedly own nation.” Here is the whole purpose of the article: to criticize the “man and his disciple”. It now becomes clear where it is coming from, because the “man and his disciple” were not in studios of Indian channels but, like the peasant, hurrying toward the field when the nation erupted. In the heat of the angry diatribe, Junaid has overlooked the fact that the “man” was criticized for asking people on the streets to restrain from burning government properties.

Junaid complains that “guilt is shoved down my throat repeatedly”, but forgets he might be doing the same, shoveling guilt into the bruised psyches of millions. One doesn’t begrudge him his own swift evolution from Omar Abdullah-Kodak-moment aspiring politician to one desirous of gaining moral high ground “to condemn fascism and violence”. But it seems clear that one thing he had missed out from his nuanced reading of Edward Said is that all fascists were moralists. The second most written about philosopher in the history after Aristotle, Martin Heidegger, was a card carrying Nazi.

Are stone throwers real heroes? Are the innocent bystanders who were killed real heroes? No. Both are victims in this resistance where even our moralist, I presume at my own risk, has no second opinion about who the oppressor is. Our political philosopher tells us Kashmir is not a political monolith that “a man and his disciple” can impose fascism upon the rest, but he conveniently imposes his perfunctory understanding of Edward Said’s stone throwing act. He thinks the boys in the lanes of old city borrowed the concept of stone throwing from the Palestinian theorist’s action, while the fact is Kashmiris have been throwing stones since the times of Mughals. Men who stormed the Dogra Maharaja’s jail in 1931 threw stones, when Said was not even an embryo in his mother’s womb. It is saddening to know how frustrating it might be for Junaid to be the only one who knows Edward Said the founder of a discipline in humanities while “Kashmiris know Edward Said the stone thrower and not Edward Said the founder of Orientalism”.

Junaid writes no amount of stone throwing can make an army flee. True. But it will remind the army that they are an unwelcome army of oppression. Once you forget to remind them of this fact, you lose an essential part of what you are. At the same time he forgets that Kashmiris have been trying the other ways, too. Sheikh Abdullah tried peaceful, mass movement for 23 years. He also fought an election, trumpeted to the “fairest of all” on anti-India plank in 1977. Mufti Sayeed tried elections recently to realize his vision through an elected assembly. Sajjad Lone through an innovative document, Yaseen Malik by giving up arms and collecting signatures of 1.5 million people, the only exercise of its kind in the recent history, I presume. Junaid himself tried to push for a solution to problems of Kashmiri Pandits by holding sit-ins at Pratap Park.

Kashmiris tried gun too (Now, please don’t say they were prompted to do so by the gun-hugging, romantic visage of Che Guevera). While boys out on Sopore streets were throwing stones, you were telling Indian newsmen to “look for reasons behind this rage” and connecting to the world through your facebook page. Bad memory can be a nasty thing.

Did you talk to all the 1800 men who have bullet injuries above the waist? Did they tell you anything apart from that they were not stone throwers? What exactly did they tell you? That some demon has possessed them and they wanted to destroy all that is left of Kashmir? Or did they tell you that they too want a normal life that is not possible in a military control. As a journalist, who has lived all his life in Kashmir without a break in a Guwahati college or an American university, I also visited hospitals and talked to them. A boy from Sopore who had lost an eye as a bystander and never thrown a pebble in his life was itching to become a stone thrower now. Did any of these anarchists kill a CRPF trooper they cornered on streets? I don’t think anarchists care much about killing. Besides, your facts are wrong. Most of those who were killed were either stone throwers or demonstrators.

Stones might not make an army flee but it will tire them. But no one can realize Junaid’s impossible dream of flourishing in a colony or “expand their horizons” as a collective nation, unless expanding horizons means securing a job within the existing power structures by pandering to the rulers. Show me which people flourished as a subjugated people in a nation of their own. I don’t count the words of my article like Junaid. But I hope they occupy less of GK’s precious column space than his rant aimed at domesticating ‘anarchists and fascists’. But if I were to answer Noor Mohammad Bhat’s question, I would have replied: Sir, please don’t undermine the sacrifices of those young boys by asking this question and subjecting them to them to the public scrutiny of morally confused.”

GROUND REALITY: Government Employee-Militant Nexus Fueled Unrest

DIG Muneer Khan: Stone pelters getting Rs 400 each for Friday stir

Baramulla: Police claimed that there was a nexus between some government employees, Hurriyat (G) cadres and militants in North Kashmir’s apple township to foment stone pelting in Sopore.

It said the maximum chunk of money for stone pelting is raised from the Fruit Mandi Sopore and Bandsaw mills.

“Police has unearthed a module comprising some government employees and Hurriyat (G) cadres, who in close liaison with militants are fomenting stone pelting in Sopore,” DIG North Kashmir Range, Muneer Ahmad Khan said during a press conference.

He said the nexus was exposed after police arrested a person namely Firdous Ahmad Sheikh alias Firbal of Jalal Sahib, Sopore. “During questioning he revealed the nexus between militants particularly Qalimullah of Harkat ul Mujahideen and Abdullah Uni of Lashkar-e-Toiba, Hurriyat (G) cadres, some Government employees and the stone pelters. Subsequently numerous arrests were made on his revelation,” he said.
“Ashraf Malik of Batapora (employee of Education Department) is currently in police custody while an employee of Food and Supplies Department Bashir Ahmad Tali of Chankhan, Sopore is absconding. We have launched a manhunt to track him and others involved in fomenting stone pelting in Sopore,” DIG said.

This is for the first time that police has claimed that some government employees are involved in fomenting trouble and stone pelting.

“The militants of Lashkar not only sponsor the stone pelting but also participate physically in the stone pelting in the township,” Khan said.

He claimed that Rs 400 is being paid to youth on every Friday for stone pelting. “We arrested Abdul Lateef Lone, Imam of Jamia Masjid Amargarh Sopore and during questioning he revealed that Rs 400 is being paid to youth on Friday for stone pelting. The money is being raised by Hurriyat (G) cadres from Fruit Mandi Sopore and Bandsaw mills by coercion,” DIG said.

He also claimed that the militants were being supported by the women Over Ground Workers (OGWs) in the town. “We have identified 20 women OGWs and arrested, Raja Begum of model town Sopore after an army official was killed in an encounter at her house earlier this month. She was working as OGW. Another woman is absconding,” he said.

He said the women OGWs provide logistical support to the militants and help them transfer weapons from one place to another.

Giving details of anti militancy operations in Sopore, Khan said 26 militants were killed and 12 others including a foreigner arrested this year.

“Around 40 rifles and other kind of ammunition were recovered from the possession of militants and during search operations,” he said.

He said they have reports that about 15-20 militants are present in Sopore. “Efforts are on to flush them out,” he said.

Terming North Kashmir particularly Sopore town as the doorstep for any militant to operate in valley, Khan said if militants successfully infiltrate anywhere from LoC in north Kashmir, their first entry point is Sopore.

“Two militants namely Qayoom Bajad and Munshi Khan were arrested and during interrogation they confessed that they were managing the safe passage to militants from Sopore to Rajouri,” he said.

He, however, denied presence of Chechen militants in the township. “I have neither saw Chechen militant nor have reports of their presence in Sopore,” he added.

(Asem Mohiuddin, Rising Kashmir)

Jammu Region's Cultural Diversity

Rekha provides a report of a seminar held recently in Jammu Tawi

(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.)

‘Jammu: Past, Present and Future’

In the situation in which every serious debate about Jammu has ‘Kashmir’ as its reference point and ends up being debated in the binary context of Jammu versus Kashmir, an interesting seminar was organised on 11th December 2010, in the Amar Mahal Mueseum and Library (AMML). The focus of the seminar remained inward and Jammu was debated without much reference to its political divergence vis-a-vis Kashmir. As the title of the Seminar 'Jammu: Past, Present and Future' reflected the theme, important issues related to the region were debated in intense manner, however, without being chauvinistic. There was lot of critical introspection about the way Jammu was in the past; the direction that it is taking in the present and; the future that everyone envisages about it. With focus on 'education', 'environment' and 'society and culture' - the three major themes and sessions - the intellectuals, academicians, social activists, artists, media persons and students from the region were engaged. While educational concerns and environmental challenges were specifically debated in the concerned sessions, the 'society and culture' remained the concurrent matter of debate throughout the day. The way it was emphasised by speaker after speaker, the seminar ended up being a reiteration of Jammu's rich tradition of plurality, its inclusive culture and its character of accommodation and tolerance. Its high point being the multi-religious society with Hindus and Muslims living side by side in its villages and towns.

Mixed society is the way of in Jammu region. Shared and common spaces are therefore taken for granted and not spoken about. In the context of increasing intolerance between the communities at the global level, this fact of life was acknowledged as the starting point of the discussion. The religious co-existence as the way of life in Jammu was appreciated as the base of society on which any kind of superstructure - be it economic, political, educational, ecological, social or cultural - had to be established. This was also seen as the most crucial social and cultural resource for the sustenance and progress of the region.

However, it is not only the religious diversity that marks the plurality of the region. Frequent references therefore were made to the linguistic, cultural and social mosaic of the region. While celebrating the linguistic plurality of the region, concern was shown to the lack of the official patronage and policy, especially in the context of recognition of some of these languages as the official languages and their formal introduction in school curricula. The need for popular initiative and intervention in the direction of preservation of languages and dialects was also recognised. In this context, the role of the middle class was also critically assessed and its abdication of the use of local languages was lamented.

What came to focus in the discussion not only of language but also other matters, was the rich folk traditions of the region - be it the music or literature or history. Due emphasis was placed on recapturing the folk as the most important source for writing the history of Jammu as well as for understanding the fundamentals of society. Also emphasised were the folk heroes with whom people identify and who represent the mass rather than elite-ways of life.

But more than anything else, reference was made again and again to the fundamentals of the society based on positive inter-community relations, tradition of accommodation and secular ethos of the region. The challenge to this tradition coming from the forces of modernisation as well as politicisation was debated – more specifically the impact of the divisive politics on these traditions was discussed. However, in the light of the fundamentals of the regional society and the compulsions of the mixed society, it was generally felt that there is a need to have a positive approach towards the future of the region. Despite all the challenges, the region has the potential of overcoming the divisive forces. It was highlighted that multiplicity of identities, their fluidity and overlapping nature help people overcome the boundaries of narrow identities and also make them bond with each other despite the religious or community divide.

Kashmir's Land Mafia: Cause and Effect

To see the land mafia at work, just take a trip to Pahalgam - two related articles

Tame the Land Mafia

With the onset of arms uprising the entire administration in Jammu and Kashmir got paralyzed and government machinery was rendered lifeless. Those at the helm took full advantage of unaccountability and began grabbing and selling the state assets, particularly government land, through a well-established network or mafia. Lakhs of kanals of state land were occupied, which resultantly also added to the sky-rocketing of prices of real estate in the state, particularly in the Kashmir Valley. Over the years the land-mafia have spread their tentacles in the entire state. No wonder that state has the distinction of having witnessed an unprecedented increase in the real estate prices, even during the last couple of decades of political turmoil and related violence here, which is in quite contradiction to the ‘established fact’ that real estate prices witness steep downfall in the conflict region. According to a research on Mid-East, house prices have continuously fallen for the simple reason that buyers do not buy for the fear of violence. But in Jammu and Kashmir, the situation has practically been other way round.

There is a dire need to tame the land-mafia by retrieving the public properties from their clutches. The conduct of these rogue elements is doubtlessly more serious than ordinary and petty criminals. These rogue elements have been posing themselves as white-collared persons and have found safe havens in political parties or have even forayed into the Fourth Estate to shield themselves while gulping and guzzling public property. Now that the government is contemplating a bill to save arable agricultural land from being misused for non-agricultural ventures, it is time when it should also wage a war against those who have preyed upon the state land. Thousands of kanals of state land including the agricultural tracts, the ‘kahcharais’ (local grazing grounds in the countryside) and particularly the forest land have been illegally occupied. While some influential people have managed to affect mutation of the revenue records to “legally” transfer this property to themselves and their kin, others are just holding on to these properties by sheer misuse of law of the land or through other means.

The land-grabbers, supported by people at the helm until now, have become powerful and dangerous. Former Chief Minister is on record to have confessed that the land mafia and other occupants have grabbed 13 lakh kanals of state land costing billions of rupees and that for the state government it is a gigantic task to retrieve it back. No doubt that the elements responsible for this loot and scoot have established strong networks and have managed to intrude into political, social, commercial and media circles in order to hide their original identities, which can make the task even tougher for the government, however, nothing should stop the government from taking action against anybody, howsoever powerful he/she may be. Once the job is done, the government, besides identifying such elements and retrieving the state property should come up with a broad-based policy in order to check such happenings in future. The challenge ahead is certainly very daunting, however, given a political will to weed out the unscrupulous, it doesn’t take much to go against the unruly. And the political dividends of such an initiative at the popular level are certainly worth the only risk it has -- of annoying a powerful political constituency of land-grabbers who besides in politics are also active in other spheres of public activity in the state. (Kashmir Images Editorial)

Unabated Constructions Pose Threat to Pahalgam Ecology

Khalid Gul (Greater Kashmir)

Pahalgam: Despite the Supreme Court ruling clearly prohibiting any construction in wildlife sanctuaries, people with strong political connections and “big babus” are carrying out constructions in prohibited areas of this famed tourist resort in south Kashmir.

“From last many years many influential people and bureaucrats have encroached upon the forest and wildlife land in Pahalgam, not only ravaging the fragile ecology of this tourist resort but also causing the disturbance to the natural habitat of the wildlife,” sources told Greater Kashmir.

They said the construction of hotels and huts are galore in the C-16 Zone of Mammal wildlife sanctuary, put under permissible zone in the Master plan of 2006 to “benefit the cohorts of top bureaucrats and politicians.”

“These highly influential people in connivance with the officials of wildlife and Forest department plunder the natural wealth by resorting to ruthless chopping of trees and using the same timber for construction of illegal structures. Thus creating ecological imbalance and disturbing the habitat of wild animals,” sources added.

They said that many people have also constructed tin sheds and dumped construction material there. “Similar constructions have come up in D-1, D-2,D-3 and D-4 zones of Khilan upto the Langnaie bridge. Though, in the Master plan the construction should be 150 feet away from the Lidder river but it violates it too, thus polluting it,” said an official.

In the Aru wild life zone locals allege that hundreds of Kanal of land have been encroached upon by many influential people with the “tacit support” of Wildlife, Revenue and PDA officials.

"At Aru you will see many big patches of land in the wildlife zone having been encroached upon by many influential people. While as the Wildlife and PDA officials watch as mute spectators, said locals.

“Many officials of PDA, Forest, Wildlife and Revenue departments, who have been posted there at some point of time have themselves encroached upon the land at Mammal, Aru and Langanbal and have raised concrete structures,” sources said.

“There are as many as 600 Gujjar families living in the wild life protected sanctuaries of Aru and Overa. These families occupy nearly 426 square kilometers. This area cannot be vacated till these families are provided some alternative location,” a top wild official told Greater Kashmir.

He said that as per the directions of the Supreme Court and the state wildlife protection act this tribal community can neither sell nor lease out the land, provided to them for shelter purposes.“ Even if the government intends to construct a road there it has to seek the consent from Supreme Court at the instance of National Wild Life Advisory Board,” he added.

The official however, said that many influential people have succeeded in acquiring these ‘Gujjar Kothas’ and have constructed huts and hotels there.

He also accused police and officials of Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) of supporting some influential people to undergo construction in the wildlife zone. .

When contacted Regional Warden, Wildlife Kashmir, Javaid Ahmed said, “Mammal zone was earlier a hutment area but after it was declared a sanctuary a status quo was maintained. However, the demarcation process is on and where ever we find violations we act against them.”

Good and Bad News About State Artisans

The state government may succeed in denting the market for fake Kashmiri shawls. But what about the plight of talented artisans living on Rs. 100 a day in a society where 12th grade children of big shots are driving around in imported luxury cars? Two related stories

Govt Launches RFIT Brand Code for Handicrafts

Jammu: In stern measures to stop the sale of fake Kashmiri shawls the world over, the Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to use radio frequency identification tag (RFIT) to protect the state's handicraft.

“World famous Kashmiri shawls will be tagged through RFIT which will be a great step forward to protect Kashmiri handicrafts across the globe.

This will stop sale of fake Kashmiri shawls and other handicraft items,” a senior official of Handicrafts Department told a wire news agency.

Besides this, a testing laboratory is also coming up for world famous Pashmina shawls at a cost of Rs 4.44 crores, he said, adding that it will be establish in Nowshera area of Srinagar.

The Industries Ministry has been receiving frequent complaints not only from various parts of the country but also from across the world about sale of fake Kashmiri Pashmina shawls and other handicraft items in the market.

The state government has been successful in getting geographical indicator registration under Geographical Indicators of Area Act of India for world famous Kashmiri handicrafts items like Kashmiri Pashmina, Kani and Sozni shawls in order to provide protection to the Kashmiri handicrafts.

Applications seeking GI registration have been submitted for other handicrafts items like Papier Mache and Kashmiri Walnut wood items, he said, adding documentation has been completed for preparing an application for Khatambandh (wood carvings).

“Once GI registration is received for all these handicraft products, it will help to build up "brand Kashmir" in handicrafts in the state,” he said.

Handicrafts items fetch a good foreign exchange revenue to the Jammu and Kashmir and over five lakh persons are engaged in handicrafts and handloom sectors the state.

Jammu and Kashmir had exported handicraft items worth over Rs 500 crores in 2009-10, exported items worth Rs 705.50 crores in 2008-09 and worth Rs 1,200 crores in 2007-08.

Due to global recession which was triggered as a result of economic meltdown and selling of fake products, handicraft sector has been affected resulting in a decline in income through export of handicrafts during past three years.

“Apart from above measures, the state government is making all out efforts to check the sale of fake handicraft items, including Pashmina shawls and carpets,” he said.

For this purpose, the handicraft department is deputing quality control Inspectors and Supervisors to various places where the department conducts craft bazar, exhibitions, expose within and outside the state to monitor the quality of handicraft goods.

In order to promote handicrafts and handlooms, the government is running 653 training centres, including 553 in handicrafts sector and 100 in handloom sector, which trains around 7,000 artisans every year.

Plight of Artisans

The best reflection of a society comes through its art. It allows a person to understand a society beyond words. Kashmir for centuries has been associated with rich art and culture but for decades has been arrested in a steep decline of this legacy. The artists associated with handicrafts, literature and folk are poorest of the communities of this society.

Most of the paper machie, shawl and carpet weavers still earn less than Rs 100 a day for their tedious 14-hour labor. The artists associated with the folk have almost become non-existent and if found, their condition of living is dismal. Writers, poets, actors and painters are completely dependent on government agencies for appreciation and grants. There is no support and admiration for art from common masses. Knowledge of arts is a basic and necessary foundation to gauge the progressive thinking of any society. Unfortunately, Kashmiri people lack this practice. There are several reasons for this, but the fundamental one is the lack of awareness and a broad government support. There are few organizations in Kashmir who are trying their best to revive the literally culture of the State, but their scope and powers are limited.

The State has to work on many fronts to revive arts in Kashmir. First and foremost should be safeguarding the future of artists by creating schemes and welfare programs which will help them sustain a dignified living. Government has to take steps in addressing the discrimination artists face through vendors and primary buyers. All forms of arts have to be brought under corporate segment, which will bring artists under labor protection acts and will discourage bigotry. There has to be more auction houses to allow artists conduct private sales, sell works that they own and make vendor guarantees as has been done in many countries of Europe. For making Kashmiris buy local art government need to build incentive schemes for collectors and buyers, offering tax advantages making purchase tax deductible and making work of art to offset income tax. Such steps will greatly benefit both lower and high end markets and will boost the sales of works. There has to be massive education programs helping artist community along with interest free loans and other financial schemes. Government has to institutionalize basic Kashmiri crafts and arts. They have to stop limiting the efforts only to certain groups and allow a massive education drive informing people about the importance of art and its essence in a society.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Panchayat Elections

Arjimand says that rejecting or delaying the elections is both unwise and unjust

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 34, was born in Srinagar. He is a columnist/writer and a development professional who matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University and has a diploma in journalism as well. He is an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany and has worked with UNESCO, Oxfam and ActionAid International in some seven countries in Asia and Africa. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit.)

Question of Panchayats

Compulsive cynicism is always bad. And compulsive aversion to everything is even worse. As the talk of Panchayat elections gains momentum in the state, there is a flurry of political activity. At this point of time this activity looks largely negative.

At one end of the ideological spectrum is the Geelani-led Hurriyat that sees any such electoral exercise a political blasphemy. At the other end are parties like National Conference (NC), PDP and Congress, whose some leaders seem to be in a double mind.

Across this political divide, it seems not many want these elections to happen now. Some just don’t want Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) to come up in J&K at all.

When it comes to Geelani, his analysis of the Panchayati Raj doesn’t seem to be well informed. Those in NC, PDP and Congress who are averse to PRIs have their own reasons to do so.

Whatever the reasons, any opposition to or delay in holding Panchayat elections are not going to do any good to the well being of the common masses in this state. This compulsive opposition will only fuel our political and governance chaos. It will fuel our great suffering.

Geelani would do well to understand the end result of this exercise. To say that Panchayati Raj and its elections are going to dilute the basic political question of J&K would be naïve. No electoral exercise of the past 63 years has diluted Kashmiri people’s resolve to ensure their political justice. No electoral exercise has questioned its disputed status in a legal sense.
To understand the insecurities of some of the members of NC, Congress and PDP is important too.

When PRIs start functioning, the enormous powers that our centralized political and administrative systems enjoy today will go to the people. Power will devolve from the Civil Secretariat, from Deputy Commissioners’ offices and MLAs to the people at the village level.

In this process, people at the village level will have a say in planning and spending money for their development purposes. They will be in a position to question and self evaluate.

Our state’s governance – particularly that of Kashmir region – is in a mess. One of the reasons for that, apart from the political ones – is that our administrative institutions suffer from an acute supply-demand mismatch. There is malfunctioning of higher-level governance structures because the lower level structures are under-used. The reason these are under-used is that lack of accountability and ownership renders service delivery ineffective.

Take, for example, Kashmir’s advanced medical care institutions like SKIMS. The reason it gets patients who could even be treated at Primary Health Centres or District Hospitals is that these institutions do not work properly due to accountability reasons. Same is the case with areas like education, welfare, etc.

At the core of the indecision among some of the leaders of NC, PDP and Congress lies perhaps the issue of the 73rd Amendment to the Indian constitution that gave good powers to Panchayats.

A ‘coordination meeting’ between the ruling coalition partners - NC and Congress – on Thursday took the prospects of Panchayat elections two steps backward. Apart from postponing the proposed elections by at least two months, the partners also took the decision of jointly studying the utility of the 73rd Amendment to our state. And there lies the problem.

It is now more than clear that the kind of Panchayati Raj J&K has today by virtue of the Panchayati Raj Act 1989 is more or less cosmetic. This act does not actually empower Panchayats to take decisions that really matter. In this case, the Block and DC offices continue to play the ‘king’s role.’

Looking at the merits of the 73rd Amendment, J&K must adopt most of its provisions to make devolution of powers really possible here. It should also bring primary healthcare in its ambit.

There is another positive spin off of Panchayats in our case. Currently people at the grassroots level have no legal safeguard to report, question and reverse human rights violations at the hands of various security agencies. There is a good possibility that functional Panchayats would engage with the higher structures of police, paramilitary and army powers for safeguarding people’s human rights. Such an empowerment of people at the grassroots level would be a great thing to happen.

Now that the coalition partners have set to ‘study’ the 73rd amendment, it is important that they do another side task. Despite the application of this Amendment many states continue to deny financial and administrative powers to Panchayats as enshrined under the same. We must not follow that model.

Another important learning relates to the role of the Block and District-level tiers under the Panchayti Raj system. According to the Approach Paper to the Tenth Five Year Plan, excessive controls through Block and District-level tiers on the village-level institutions have been found counter-productive. It has already proposed abolishing these two tiers.

There has been another critical learning. It has been generally observed that a lack of manpower and capacity to do works planned by Panchayats limits their capacity to deliver positive results. J&K’s PRIs must have a mechanism that allows for full time or part-time staff to support their functioning, including documentation. There also must be a good provision for capacity building.
On the issue of reservation, J&K needs to be little more cautious. It must take care not to create a reservation system that ends up creating greater polarization rather than binding communities together.

New Delhi also needs to understand that without meaningful decentralization, governance will continue to remain in a mess in Kashmir. And when governance remains in a mess the prospects of finding an amicable solution to Kashmir’s political question would remain dim.

While working with grassroots institutions in several countries in Asia and Africa, my personal experience is that a decentralized governance system is the best thing to happen to a country. China is one such good example. It is today much more decentralized than most of the developing and middle-income countries, particularly on the spending side. More than half of all expenditure in China takes place at the sub-provincial level.

That is one reason why we need to be optimists about this plan of decentralization.

On Coaching

After a recent tragedy, Mehmood reflects on the practice of coaching, and wonders if better education in tradional schools would in fact reduce the nearly 100% demand for coaching these days

(Mr. Mehmood-ur-Rashid, 37, was born in Srinagar. He graduated from the Amar Singh College, Srinagar. He has been active in journalism for over ten years, and currently works at the Greater Kashmir, having worked in the past at the Rising Kashmir as the Features Editor. The columnist is presently the GK Magazine Editor.)

How Can our Education be so Cheaply Murdered!

Coaching, as we all know in Kashmir, has remained a matter of debate; from social gossiping to some serious writing. This talk accentuates when coaching appears as a context to something unpleasant or unfortunate. The public opprobrium assails every limb of this creature that appears to them no less than a monster. But practically in spite of all the anger and contempt towards the business of coaching we keep sending our children to tutors and coaching centers. What does that signify! This, that after having lost a youth little over a week ago packs of students would keep the Airport Road crowded and the spoilt brats would continue to behave as a hazard. It means that coaching is an evil, yet essential. It means that our anger is momentary and whipped by some unwanted event. Beyond this we have lost the appetite to subject the institution of coaching to any meaningful investigation.

This week we have seen people talk about coaching after an NIT student died when his car was hit by a teenager, in all likelihood a student of some tutor or a coaching centre situated on the Airport Road. We have also seen in this week that an association of people affiliated to the business of coaching did good amount of public relations exercise. All this accrued from the tragic event. In a rush of things people can decry for banning the whole affair called coaching. As a response to it coaching institutions can gather and lay down some guidelines and underline the role that such institutions are playing in preparing students for various exams. This all is understandable. And this all is transitory. The primary question that needs asking is the system of education in Kashmir. The proliferation of coaching institutes and the enormous growth of tutors across the valley is fundamentally not to be seen as an emergence of a service industry, but as attenuation of a value called education.

The purpose of raising this question is entirely positive and unmistakable. It doesn’t even tangentially meet the acerbic talk of banning the practice of tuition, or closing down the coaching institutions. It even stays at a good distance from all the talk of morality that is often raised in this context. However, by implication it touches upon the range of subjects that include coaching, education, morality and ethics.

Just a quick look into how tuition and coaching became infectious in our Valley and then the question that need be asked. Though the emphasis and impact of this discussion on coaching lies in detail, but the limitation of space dictatorially comes in the way; so just the allusions.

Not that long ago our schools and colleges would suffice as providers of education and the stations where students would prepare for different exams. The increased differentiation of life and the expansion of professions were bound to make an impact on this. But it didn’t happen this way. It had a different trajectory. It grew at the cost of education. In the beginning the reason for going to a tutor was individual attention and making up for the loss of school time due to some reason. Afterwards children were sent to tutors during winters only to help students in getting the winter vacation work done. 10th grade became an area of special attention. Parents wanted their children to go through the syllabus during the winters so that for the rest of the year they can revise it. Once Matriculation exams were conducted by the State Board students would have good time till the declaration of results. This break would also coincide with the winter vacations. So it gave a fillip to the business of tuition. Now students would go to tutors in groups to cover the entire syllabus during the winter cum result break. Here college teachers contributed to the growth of tuition considerably. College teachers were presumed to be more competent than their Hr Secondary equivalents. The initial reasons that justified the practice of tuition were lost all in the way. Now it became a logic in itself. Everyone had to go for it because everyone would go for it.

Then came CET, the test conducted for professional courses, Medicine and Engineering. Class room study and tuition classes were though to be inadequate for cracking the CET. So there was a need for coaching. Since in the beginning of 1990, everything shook from the foundations, education too could not resist the tremors. Students from the valley moved out to avail coaching from different private institutes outside. Towards the middle of 1990s, coaching centers came up in the Valley to tap the business that this whole affair of coaching offered.

And now it is coaching and tuition all over. It is a huge market and that is how it is being viewed at. From the business point of view there is nothing wrong in providing a service and tagging a price to it, but what has it done to our education system is the question that needs asking.

If a college teacher does tuition in the working hours what example of professional ethics he is setting before his students. If he is doing it in the morning or in the evening, he is wasting the time that is meant for studies. Unless a college teacher upgrades his knowledge and skill, he doesn't deserve to teach. And how is this to be explained. In our classrooms the number of students is now less than the crowd that is present in the tuition rooms. The arrangements of seating is far better in schools than in these tuition rooms. After all there is a limit to madness. And if all is done in those dingy rooms what use the school and college buildings are to be put.

Leave aside all, the most important phase of a student's life is the period of graduation. In a hope to get through CET he wastes this time in the tuition classes and coaching hours. How can our education be so cheaply murdered!

Since it is about the system of education and unless a systemic change is made, no half-hearted initiative can deliver. To cut a long discussion short, unless school and college education is revived and students really make the most of the hours they spend in schools and college no change can be a change. One way of making a beginning is to think about conducting the CET differently. Either the students should enroll in the college or else prepare for this exam. Or even there is a point in the suggestion that 11th and 12th exams should be clubbed to get the students for professional courses. Again the schools that can offer education to students in a way so that they need neither tuition nor coaching should be given a significant incentive. If that happens we can set an example that can be emulated by even those who are right now into the business of coaching.

Power Politics

Tanveer says in the battle for hydro-electric power, Pakistan has ignored environmental impacts

(Mr. Tanveer Ahmad, 38, was born in Gurutta, Tehsil Sensa, in the Kotli district of Azad Kashmir. He received his school education in Luton, Bedfordshire, U.K., and completed his college education from Dunstable College and the Thames Valley University, where he received his B.A. Honors in Economics. He has done various professional courses relating to financial markets and IT. Mr. Ahmad's commentary appears in the Rising Kashmir. His personal interest are diverse covering sports, reading, music, travel, adventure and food.)

Neelam or Kishenganga?

The binary system of one interest pitted against the other is played out between India and Pakistan on many fronts. Exchanging gunfire across the LOC is not quite passé yet but the war of attrition is now played out through a race to build hydro projects in the region. The net result in any event is huge human and ecological cost to Kashmir.

What started in Pakistani Administered Kashmir as the 969 MW (Mega Watts) Neelam-Jhelum Hydro Project in January 2008 was 'countered' by the 330 MW Kishenganga Hydro Project in January 2009, a mere 70 kilometres upstream in Indian Administered Kashmir. The former with the assistance of American, Chinese and Norwegian firms whilst the latter is being built in conjunction with a British firm. Despite the Indus Basin Water Treaty of 1960 (without Kashmiri consultation - K.H. Khursheed was apparently sacked from the AJK presidency for his defiance) not permitting both projects to operate simultaneously, Kishenganga is set for completion in 2016 and Neelam-Jhelum in 2017.

Both projects were conceived more than twenty years ago (Neelam-Jhelum as early as 1982) and though ecological concerns are apparent with Kishenganga's proposed 103 metre reservoir submerging some parts of the Gurez Valley, the emphasis of this piece is to highlight some of the concerns of the AJK population and in particular the inhabitants of Muzaffarabad district. One would be eager to read something covering the same topic from the other side of the divide.

It should be made clear that Pakistan started this $2.16 Billion project without fulfilling basic environmental obligations required for such development projects. Neither did it consult the public of PaK or make any written agreement with the PaK Government. The project's Chief Executive is a retired General, Zubair, more attuned to firing bullets than presiding over a hydro-electric project. An environmental law enacted in 2000 has proved to be somewhat of a (belated) saviour for the people of PaK, as an NOC from AJK's EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is required by law before the commencement of any infrastructure project in this territory, except that three years of work have been carried out before a public hearing to assess people's reservations has been conducted. The public hearing which took place this past Monday was requested by the EPA upon public demand last year.

It should be no surprise that the venue was packed with members of the public and lasted for over six hours. Each and every participant expressed serious reservations about the project and the panel of four Pakistanis (the General, an environmental analyst and two members of WAPDA- Pakistan's federal electricity board) was utterly inadequate in their attempt to appease the public. Even the South African Consultant (representing the American firm MWH) who they brought along to presumably give a colour of authenticity was evidently bemused at what he witnessed. His assertion that Rs 25 billion would be pumped into the AJK economy as a result of the project did little to allay people's concerns. The history of Mangla and the unfulfilled promises made by Pakistan in the 1960's is still fresh in people's minds. They understand that Pakistan is seriously deficient in meeting it's energy demands and that this project would be directly connected with Rawat or Gakhar Grid station (in Pakistan) through a 500KV double circuit transmission line. Free or subsidised electricity and zero load-shedding promised in the wake of Mangla Hydro Project looks to be repeated, albeit with some variations.

Persistent requests by the Pakistani panel to "trust us" ringed hollow, sounded clichéd and were bereft of rationale. They were startled somewhat by the level of awareness espoused by the public of PaK and the Kala Bagh Dam fiasco was cited as an example of Pakistan shifting its burden to a disputed territory, where it knew it had a pliant power structure ready to oblige it at any cost. What they under-estimated was the assertiveness of the public.

Pakistan's impression that the working models of old would suffice in pushing through their objectives have been repeatedly dashed in this age of communication technology, not just by Monday's public hearing but even by the reservations held out by the EPA. For example, when WAPDA initially submitted an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report in February 2009, it was found to be prepared in 1996. Its revised report presented in July 2010 still left much to be addressed in terms of combating environmental hazards of the project.

At the public hearing, some members of the public staged a walk-out in disgust at the panel's inability to answer their questions. The general employed both 'carrot and stick' in his attempt to calm the situation down. He employed sweet language by waxing lyrical about the number of years he had spent in PaK and privately warned a Project affectee to, "Remember who the Sardar is, never take a panga with the Sardar." The Sardar, of course, is referring to the Government of Pakistan.

It should be abundantly clear at this stage that Pakistan has embarked on this project using a procedure which is not only inherently flawed but back to front. For example, the sequence if one were to employ universal and civilised norms would have been to first consult the public, obtain their approval via debate in the AJK Assembly, fulfill all criteria related to protection of the environment (incidentally, our most prized asset in Kashmir), subsequently obtain an NOC from the EPA and finally address social, economic and political concerns by guaranteeing benefit to the local population in the shape of employment, skills and technology transfer.

In an effort to understand what drives such disasters, the war of attrition played out between India and Pakistan in Kashmir must be focused on and conscientious civil efforts must be devised by the public of Kashmir to immunise us from this conflict. Whether the Neelam-Jhelum Hydro Project will attain fruition is still far from certain.

Is it a matter of sacrificing our ecology and natural habitats for Pakistan's energy needs? or is it a matter of 'national interest' (viz. Pakistan's) where the Neelam-Jhelum project will give Pakistan some leverage in the Indus Basin arbitration process and forestall India's alleged attempts to divert the upstream river flow for it's own needs?

During the forum, this writer made it clear that the panel had provided an inadequate response to people's questions. The question of legality of Pakistan's activity was also raised. Where members of the public couched their criticism of the project by a feigned allegiance to Pakistan, one has always had the privilege of saying what he feels, unconstrained by any associated interest. In an attempt to define 'national interest', which was the underlying current of the Pakistani panel's response, nothing was forthcoming.

In response, yours truly requested the panel to ask major stakeholders in the Pakistani power structure (be they the military, bureaucracy, politicians or anyone else who stood responsible for Pakistan's decisions) to come to Muzaffarabad imminently and face questions from the AJK public in a similar hearing. Our region needs to move forward with a clear definition of our national interest and the direction that we need to take.