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, February 11, 2011

Corruption, Corruption, Corruption

Iqbal and Fida provide their perspectives on the thriving corruption industry, follwed by an editorial in the Rising Kashmir

(Mr. Iqbal Ahmad Peerzada, 40, was born in Parigam village in Kulgam district. He graduated from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Peerzada looks after his family farm business, including tending to horticulture and orchard gardens. He enjoys writing on social and political issues of the day.

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

Waging a War Against Corruption

Well, the word ‘Corruption’ is quite dynamic in its nature and has numerous shades and impressions. It is quite obvious that the word, as such, would draw numerous conclusions when executed in various dimensions. Better governance, which would be free from all malpractices, nepotism, unnecessary hassles and corruption is one to qualify to be called as ‘welfare government’. The matter of the fact, however, is that we don’t come close to matching the requirements and have drowned, with heads down, into the sea of corruption.

The real story is that Jammu and Kashmir stands on the 2nd position in the list of most corrupt states of India. The state is deeply aghast with such a reality but chooses, ironically, to create excuses to go on without a ting of moral or social guilt. It is here that we often ascribe corruption and all other evils to the turbulence that is continuing here since past three decades.

Looking at the spread of its roots which have gone down into our social systems and administrative as well as governance behavior, one can not hold a particular regime as sole responsible for this. The changing regimes have been extempore when it came to waging a war against corruption, but the practice has remained limited to lisping alone and no hanges have taken place on the ground.

The current government like all the previous regimes seemed firm and stiff against Corruption and, from the very beginning, had made a commitment to provide a clean administration which would be free from the cultures of Corruption, malpractices and nepotism. Once again the claims remained limited to claims alone and on the ground corruption ruled the roost and dictated terms.

In Jammu and Kashmir several politicians, ministers and many bureaucrats are facing serious charges of misappropriation and embezzlement of funds. It has the dubious distinction of having many politicians and bureaucrats against whom cases of corruption are registered in the State Accountability Commission. State’s Vigilance Organization and Crime Branch have more than 700 corruption cases registered against politician’s bureaucrats and other government officers.

Jammu Kashmir has RTI Act but till today the Government has failed to appoint chief information commissioner and members for the State Information Commission which could have been assigned the responsibility of overseeing and safeguarding the implementation of the RTI Act. Now, as the government has appointed its commissioner, let us wait and watch how freely the commission functions.

State Accountability Commission was set up in Jammu and Kashmir after legislation in this regard was passed by the state assembly in the year 2002. But this commissions functioning was below par and had no bigger impressions. The government was utterly unsuccessful in implementing the RTI Act in its letter and spirit and the pros and cons of such a failure are visible in almost all the administrative units of the state machinery.

The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah seems promising and has, once and again, shown some presence when it came to dealing with situations that erupted in the state during his tenure so far.

Addressing a State-level conference of vigilance officers in Jammu recently, Omar again repeated his commitment and said, "Today, we are number two (in the list of most corrupt states of the country)...In this battle to stop corruption, we are equally responsible”. He also lamented the leniency shown by the officials against corruption and nepotism.

The chief minister was very honest when he said "Although the responsibility lays with me... the buck stops here... the buck of responsibility. So be it. The buck stops with me, but it starts with you (officials),"

On the efforts of State Vigilance Organization to check corruption, he said, "It is an area of continuing concern for me and also a cause of lot of personal dissatisfaction. We have not done as much as we should have."

He further said "It is not good enough to trap somebody taking Rs 5000 when we cannot trap somebody taking bribes in lakhs. This is pretty much the story today," he regretted.

Moreover, in his address, the chief Minister almost spoke what he has already said in the same conference held last year. But on the ground its impact was not so effective and is again not so effect now.

Majority of the people, held the present state government responsible for misgoverned and human rights violations which they say were the main reasons behind worsening of the Kashmir situation. They accuse NC government of miss-governance. They allege NC for providing space to separatist politics. They believe that the miss-governance has been the root cause of the previous year crises. There are opinions that the government and its political and administrative institution are completely absent from the ground.

Good governance is not possible without accountability and transparency in the system. The Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah should lay a foundation stone of transparency before building his credibility. If this young chief Minister can assure people for their basic and fundamental rights of living, it could be a fundamental change in the status quo.

The Monster of Corruption

Making resolutions is human. Every person has a desire to excel and hope to be successful in life and wishing good for mankind can be the noblest of all wishes. Leaders and rulers are unique in many ways, but they too have every right to ‘wish’ and make resolutions. However, graciousness demands that their wishes should always espouse progress for their followers and subjects. Their wishes should not carry any agenda of ill will, malice and in no way should be egotistical. In present political scenario of squeezed space for values, no political system can stand chipping and fragmentation of its political constituency at any cost. Though, a fair level of unnoticed enthusiasm and dynamism, sometimes make even most selfish politicians and leaders to come out of the hard shell of insensitivity and make them wish and hope beyond boundaries of political egotism.

Omar Abdullah is young, articulate; with a political legacy of great significance and above all he is Chief Minister of this troubled state located on the cross roads of regional and political variance. Like all of us he has many desires, wishes and hopes to fulfill his dreams, and obviously his wish list like any reasonable human being keeps on changing and updating with turn of events. Particularly, for last two years his priorities, wishes and hopes are much more different than what would have been his earlier aspirations. He has a political carrier to keep in shape against all odds; a state to be looked after well under the most pressing situations; and his people to be provided with just and genuine administration in an atmosphere of considerable levels of corruption and nepotism. So, his wishes have to be and are in conformity with his responsibility and prevailing situation within the state. His latest wish list is dominated by his two new-year resolutions for the year 2011 and the resolutions are – ‘Not to allow violence to engulf Kashmir again in summer of 2011’ and ‘to nab ‘big fish’ involved in corruption’. If I could hear him properly, he had drawn a deadline for accomplishing his resolution regarding corruption–Midnight 31st December 2011. Mr. Abdullah made his cherished wishes (resolutions) public while addressing a function of rural development department at Jammu.

Avoiding violence of any kind cannot be achieved merely by making a resolution; instead it requires a multi pronged strategy of considerate administrative reforms, justice and equality in every aspect of governance. It is constitutional obligation and moral duty of head of the government to create conducive atmosphere of peace and amity, so that violence is kept out of this beautiful valley. Last three years situation of turmoil has put many imprints on administrative setup of the state, both adverse and introspective. Three seasons of confusion is a pretty long experience for any inefficient and indolent administration. For present system of governance which claims to be improved on many fronts, containing any likely exploding violence should be an effortless task. But, it seems the present dispensation has not learned its lessons well from earlier confrontations of last three summers. Compassion towards common people seems to be a far cry and justice appears eluding almost every area of governance.

No one can challenge the intentions and a fair degree of straight forwardness of Mr. Omar Abdullah, emanating not necessarily from his political lineage and affiliation, but out of his enthusiastic and energetic persona. His resolution and wishes can be genuine but his system seems failing him. His instruments of governance are plagued with hypocrisy, and sycophancy. His inability to move freely (because of security constraints) and contact his people personally makes the situation much worse for him. Genuine public and basic problems faced by them don’t subsist and exist in trendy posh localities of Gupkaar, Rajbagh or many other places of significance but reality can be trailed in lanes and by-lanes of demonize localities of city and other far flung area of the valley. A mere visit by Mr. Abdullah in disguise (strictly in cover) to any public place like bus stands and government hospitals within the state will give him the first hand feel of actual state of affairs, enabling him to establish factual standing of gap between facts and the situation of fabricated myths regarding governance. People are to be owned not alienated, and provided with best possible amenities within the existing means and resources. No magic wand can keep the violence at bay but surely addressing people’s sufferings and their genuine demands will help in restoring peace and tranquility.

As for Omar Abdullah’s second wish of dealing corruption and nepotism with iron hand, goes, many political dispensations in this state earlier made long, but never lasting statements, under the influence of political euphoria. Even towering leaders like Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah failed to tame the monster of corruption and nepotism remained unchecked. Others, who were politically least consolidated and had many strings of political conspiracies and frills of treachery attached to their governance made corruption to flourish as an industry and nepotism to grow for their political survival. If it won’t amount to exaggeration, their main instrument of governance was corruption and nepotism. Governments in recent past tried their best to jump on the bandwagon of anti-corruption but failed miserably as their own political arrangement were severely plagued with virus of corruption. Inability to contain ugly elements of dishonesty and many other political compulsions made them ‘eat the humble pie’ in the darkness of ambiguity. Corruption has engulfed not only the organization of governance and administration but the whole society of ours is corrupt in one way or the other. We were number two in corruption a couple of years back; may be by now we may have graduated to number one position and overtaken Bihar in this notoriety.

Mr. Abdullah! It is a herculean task, not only to be wished, desired and made part of New Year resolutions, but demands a huge political will beyond your own personal dedication and resolve. Your New Year resolution to nab ‘big fish’ of corruption by the year end is a huge personal political investment in present contemporary political industry attributed with deceit and pretense. How far you will able to take your political system and administrative structure with you on this sacred mission, only time will tell?

Hopelessness is a sin. If both these resolutions are made in good faith and with good intentions, then we all as a nation should stand with Omar Abdullah and wish him luck for success and fulfillment of his treasured wishes. Aameen.

Corruption Cancer (Editorial)

Corruption is commonplace in our state and the lack of transparency in the administration has meant that the menace has assumed monstrous proportions. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also stressed on the need for adopting transparency in the administration for weeding out corruption from the state during his address at the 10th Departmental Vigilance Officers (DVOs) Conference at Jammu a few days back.

Omar pulled up the officials for “sitting with their eyes, ears and mouths shut to the corruption and nepotism around them”. He also expressed concern about the “sharks of corruption” being let off. It is indeed not good enough to trap somebody taking Rs 5000 when somebody taking in lakhs is let scot free. The influential persons, who are caught taking bribe, enjoy virtual immunity. If the government is serious in tackling corruption, it has to ensure that no culprit, howsoever influential, is spared. During his speech the other day, Omar also talked about the need to appoint full time departmental vigilance officer for all such departments which are prone to corruption. The vigilance officers can keep a constant eye on the ground. It can serve as a starting point to check the corrupt practices in the administration. The failure of successive governments to tackle rampant corruption has meant that it has become institutionalized in many respects. It has almost become a requisite for getting a piece of work done in government offices. There is a sort of inertia that has crept into the offices where nothing moves till there are some illegal gratifications to be made. According to a Transparency International survey, the nations who are relatively corruption-free like New Zealand, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland, their clean image reflects political stability, long-established conflict of interest regulations and solid functioning public institutions. These are the very factors which Kashmir has been unfortunately lacking very badly. The daily struggle of people with corruption tells upon the public confidence in the administration. The successive governments have been making tall claims about good governance, but it is impossible to think of good or clean governance if corruption remains rampant. Omar has the opportunity to reform the administrative system so that the corrupt elements are isolated. By acting tough against corrupt officials, he can set a deterrent for others. The chief minister also has the opportunity at hand to rid J&K of the ‘second most corrupt state’ tag. While people too cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility to discourage bribery, the buck starts and stops at the government. True, corruption cannot be eradicated through magic wand overnight, but it can be substantially minimized by adopting transparency in the administration.

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