Introduction to Blog

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

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

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

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

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

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Valley of Death

When both the Greater Kashmir and the Rising Kashmir print editorials on unsafe driving and road conditions in J&K on the same day, it is time to take notice; but when data shows that traffic fatalities nearly equal the toll due to militancy, it is time to do something about it. Two field reports followed by two editorials

Over 5,000 Killed in Road Accidents in J&K in the Last 5 Yrs

Srinagar: More than 900 people were killed in road accidents in Jammu and Kashmir in the past year, taking the number of deaths caused by vehicular mishaps over the last five years close to the staggering 5,000 mark, which is higher than the number of persons killed in militancy in the corresponding period.

The number of people killed in road accidents in 2010 is comparatively lower than 2009 when 1,109 people lost their lives in accidents.

In 2008, the number of fatalities was 950, the same as in 2007. Nearly 1,000 persons were killed in 2006 in road mishaps across the state.

Senior officials said the number of people killed in road accidents over the years is much more than those killed in militancy-related incidents, as 3,183 persons including civilians, militants and security force personnel were killed in the five-year period from 2006-10.

In Srinagar city, around 400 people have died in accidents on streets and roads since 2006, the lowest accident-vehicle ratio for a district in the entire state.

Officials have blamed increase in the number of private vehicles and reckless driving by poorly-trained drivers as a major cause of accidents in the cities.

According to figures of 2009, the total number of vehicles in the state were 6,68,445.

Border districts which have poor road infrastructure and mountainous terrain have witnessed more accidents, which have caused many deaths over the years.

As part of its campaign for greater awareness about road safety, Jammu and Kashmir Traffic department is organising 22nd Road Safety Week this week.

Over 7,000 People Killed in J&K Violence in the Last 10 Years

A total of 7,031 civilians and security force personnel have lost their lives due to violence in Jammu and Kashmir in the last 10 years.

"4,812 civilians and 2,219 security force personnel have lost their lives since 2001 to August 2010 in Jammu and Kashmir," the Home Ministry said in reply to a Right to Information (RTI) query.

Many areas of J-K have witnessed several incidents of violence in terms of stone pelting, violent protests, encounters with armed terrorists and terror attacks in the recent past resulting in death of and injuries to civilians and securitymen.

"Law and order is a state subject and measures are taken by the Jammu and Kashmir government to maintain peace and public order," the Home Ministry said.

Exercising his Right to Information, Ashwini Shrivastava had asked the Ministry to give details of casualties due to stone pelting and terror or infiltration attempts by the terrorists since 2001 to till date.

The Ministry declined to share reports citing Section 8 (a) of the RTI Act which bars disclosure (of information) which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.

Fix the Traffic - Latest figures should wake up the Govt
(Editorial in the Rising Kashmir)

The government has long been thinking of reorganising the traffic wing of J&K Police. The figures that cropped up as part of yearend reportage should prompt the authorities to translate those much-debated ideas into productive action. While we hear of a new J&K Police Act being formulated, reorganising its traffic wing is all the more crucial to the smooth functioning of the administration.

State’s law minister while speakingto the inaugural of the road safety week on Saturday said 895 persons died of different road mishaps.Meanwhile the fresh statistics tells us that five thousand people lost their lives to various road accidents in just five years. This means more people have died in road mishaps than the militancy for which we have over one-lakh strong Police force and close to five lakh armed forces deployed throughout the year. A year before NC-Congress coalition assumed power, 950 people died in 5313 road mishaps across the state. Most of these accidents take place in the poorly managed roads in Chenab and Pirpanjal regions.

One would expect from the Omar Abdullah-led government at least a preventive mechanism if not a new policy to check road accidents. But in 2009 the number of deaths rose to the staggering 1100. Newspapers across the country ran banner headlines telling the world at as against 500 militancy incidents J&K has witnessed 5000 road accidents. Shockingly, only 72 people had died due to militant violence while as against 1100 passengers who died during accidents throughout 2009. It may be recalled that Rajouri-Poonch People’s Welfare Forum had filed public interest litigation in High Court to seek judicial help in order to wake up the authorities. The court in an open-ended disposal had asked the government to do the needful. The said forum had proposed a “joint management committee” that would prepare a comprehensive report on how to fix the accident issue at least in Rajouri-Poonch districts. The government later constituted a committee to study the causes of road accidents but there is no progress on the issue. At a time when the government is planning to introduce inter-district air travel and has sought central assistance for the project, the dismal condition of roads and a chronically corrupt system in traffic and transport departments should attract serious attention. The overblown focus on terrorism and huge money that is spent in the name of countering terror, one may ask why the government is losing the main war against killer roads.

Moreover, the government rather than embarking madly ambitious projects such as setting up of Urban Metro Transport Authority should focus on the basic mandate of protecting the lives. The officers who head the traffic wing should also come out of the traditional ‘glamour policing’. While holding seminars and public events helps build a speck of awareness, enforcing laws without any possibility corruption is the real test of the traffic wing.

Srinagar: Chaotic Roads
(Editorial in the Greater Kashmir)

How do you describe a normal day on the roads of Srinagar - traffic moving at a snail’s pace, squeezed road space because of the vendors occupying it, honking horns by frustrated drivers, and no space for the poor pedestrian to move about – this is the story of roads in Srinagar. Such chaotic scenes are absent only the day there is a strike call. This is what we are now facing from past many years. Despite having a full fledged department in the shape of traffic police the chaos seems to have conquered the city roads completely. Is it the inability of the concerned department or simply the enormity of the problem, the common man is nevertheless facing it every day. May be there are contributions from both sides. The problem has grown to unmanageable proportions and the concerned department has many inadequacies and loopholes in its functioning. The traffic cops lack adequate training and many among them seem to act like unwilling persons on duty and thus encourage the offenders and violators of traffic rules at the expense of the poor public. On Saturday during the launch of the traffic week celebrations many things came to fore and one could feel the seriousness of the problem confronting the city dwellers. There are the pampered children of the Neo-rich who are armed with illegally procured driving licenses and costly cars, who neither value life nor have any respect for values and rules; they simply seem to be conducting a blitzkrieg while driving a car. In their urge to impress others on the road they drive the ill gotten cars of their parents in most reckless manner and the results are there to be seen by everybody. Aatif Muddabir, the NIT student would not have lost his life had the rule of law been in force.

Apart from this crazy breed of drivers there is another class of rash and negligent drivers called security forces. They have least regard for the rules and the traffic law enforcing agency. They drive as if roads have been laid out only for them. They do so without any fear from any quarter. The recent hit and run case reportedly involving a CRPF vehicle near Barzalla Bridge in which a 39 year old man Javaid Ahmad Malik was killed is a case in point. The police are yet to solve the murder case regardless of the fact that another vehicle which formed part of the group of vehicles was caught after hitting a car and costs of damage recovered from its driver. To exacerbate the problem for the ordinary souls moving on the roads there is yet another class of drivers. These are the transporters who have achieved notoriety for breaking the laws. This could be very well substantiated by the recent transport strike. For a break from general shut downs our transporters resorted to a strike on December 27th to press for their demands. That day we had a relief from traffic congestion and from the irritatingly slow moving traffic. Their role in adding to the woes of pedestrians can be watched on roads like Maisuma, Red Cross Road, Barber Shah Road, Shaheed Gunj, Zaina Kadal, and other roads leading to the interiors of the city. The traffic department and the Regional Transport Officer are yet to work out alternative routes for public transport to ease the pressure on heavily congested roads. And there is nobody to discipline the shopkeepers in these areas who also add to the woes by placing their merchandise on the already narrow roads. During the past more than two decades no government in the state has done anything substantial to improve the condition of roads. The traffic problems are acute as well as of chronic nature and need to be attended to with short and long term measures to give a respite to the city dwellers.

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