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, March 18, 2011

Paying the Price

What happens to a society that is obsessed with politics and hardly invests in human development? Salman finds the price of indifference

(Mr. Salman Nizami, 25, was born in Banihal tehsil of District Ramban. He completed his graduate degree in mass communication and journalism, and joined journalism in 2004. He began his professional life at The OUTLOOK magazine as a columnist, and then started writing for Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Times, Times of India, The Hindu, Asian Age, Statesman, Rising Kashmir , JK Reporter. Mr. Nizami later joined SAHARA television in New Delhi as Desk Editor, and rose to the position of Group Editor of The Rastriya Sahara. He is currently working as a Editor-in-Chief of The Revolution newspaper published from Jammu and Kashmir, Sahara television as Desk Editor and Resident Editor of MID-DAY covering Upper North India including J&K. He is also active with UNICEF India and the Hungary World (NGO) as Media advisor. In that role, he has travelled widely investigating on new developments in the media industry, taking a special interest in child problems including labour, marriage, poverty, education, etc. He is one of the first journalists to research and write extensively about the child growth in Jammu and Kashmir.)

The Opium Use

Under a black-colored pheran that flows from the neck down over his body, Musaif sat cross-legged, spinning the wheel of a sewing machine and methodically stitching a seam into a flowing stream of white cloth. The 16 -year-old son of a farmer was working to burn off a consuming and deadly habit that is blooming across Kashmir specially in villages munhviji kakapura, lalhar, chursu, littar, vuchi, sangam of Awantipora, and Pulwama district in Southern Kashmir. India is one of the world's largest producers of legal opium for medicinal purposes and poppies are grown legally throughout the country, including in Kashmir. Southern Kashmir, an area where illegal poppy fields are common, has seen a high number of rebels since 1989. Until a few days ago, Musaif who like many Kashmiris uses only one name, slipped opium in his tea, at a tea stall twice a day to combat depression. "It was," Musaif said, "more important than food.

"According to the J&K Drug De- addiction centre office Srinagar, Kashmir now produces about 30 percent of the Indian opium. The money typically benefits local warlords, and corrupt government officials. The J&K DDA statistics also indicate the amount of opium cultivated here has increased every year since 1989, during the Kashmir conflict.

It's now estimated that among 4 million of Kashmiris, 80,000 people are addicted to narcotics, yet there are only few treatment and rehabilitation facilities throughout the valley. Among those seeking help, "the number of addicted children coming to us requesting help is increasing every day," said Yasir Ahmed, who works with the DDA centre at Srinagar. While statistics suggest children remain a sliver of all addicts estimated at only about 2 percent, the center has become an important outlet for addicted persons specially children who have no access to psychiatrists, counselors or other drug treatment professionals. "We want to teach them a craft with the hope they'll respond positively and overcome their drug habits," said Muhammad Shafi, 36, a tailor who teaches at the center, sponsored by Jammu and Kashmir police. "I'm always telling them to look closely at what people are wearing in their neighborhoods because they can make those styles of clothes and earn money selling them."

There are currently 10 patients at the center, battling addictions. They learn sewing, embroidery and carpet making so they later can work by opening any outlet hopefully alleviate financial burdens. The center also provides job training to children who aren't addicted but want to learn skills that will help them work . In addition to the job training, the patients receive food and some other eatable products by depositing Rs.3000 admission fee.

Shahzad Ahmed 15 and one of the students in the jobs training classes, said any income from working will help his parents and six siblings. "It was my decision to come here because I wanted to learn how to make things I can sell," Shahzad said as he sat behind a sewing machine in a room on the ground floor of the center. A black Shawal with Kashmiri embroidery was swathed by him. "This is very good for my family's economy."

In a bright room in the center, where the heater is not working due to a power cut, two children sat near the furnace in the centre. Each was positioned behind black sewing machines, diligently cutting and stitching pieces of white cloth, uniforms for boys and girls in government-run schools.

Between their lessons, the children spoke about their addictions and what it was like to be severely judged for their transgressions because the standards for their behavior are far higher and less flexible than what others face in kashmir’s patriarchal society.

Dr. Muzaffar Khan, the head of the center, said consequences for children, women who become addicted to opium are far harsher and explained that "when these children use drugs, they feel isolated from society. They think other people around them don't value them."

Saleem, another student who also uses only one name, has sharp brown eyes and black hair under a phairan . The 16 year-old son of a cultivator also has a secret. "They still don't know," he said of his family's lack of awareness about her opium addiction. As an excuse to travel to the center, he has told his father he is seeking "to learn a craft so I could earn some money working by opening a shop."

Asked how he could afford to purchase opium about Rs 100 per gram here despite his family's economic woes, Saleem said without further explanation, "I found the money one way or another." Things sounded more desperate for another student named Ajaz Ahmed, he explained that he decided to fight his opium habit only after his father’s addiction nearly killed him earlier this year. Now with no means to feed his other four brothers, the 27-year-old mother of Aijaz is in the midst of a desperate struggle for the survival of her family. "My family already have many problems and I have to leave them home alone to come here," Ajaz said.

Though he said he takes personal responsibility for abuse of opium, he attributes part of the blame on J&K authorities for not curbing the bountiful accessibility of the drug on the streets. "It's no problem to find if you have the money because there are so many people selling it," Ajaz said of the opium trade in Kashmir . "The government should stop this. "It would be good if people couldn't find it so easily."

The Banana State

It takes courage to tell the way it is, and Arjimand does not shy away when confronted with sad reality. Indeed, he makes a solid case that charity begins at home

(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.)

Budget and Bananas

The pejorative - banana republic – for any society would sound disrespectful. But as a political science term you just can’t wish away what it describes - a politically unstable country, dependent upon limited agriculture, mainly bananas, and ruled by plutocracy. And, worse of all, dependent for almost everything on imports and outside aid.

The way J&K is planning its budgets sounds like short term populist accounting – as if tomorrow doesn’t exist. As if the responsibility for tomorrow wrests alone with those who will live tomorrow.

Beyond philosophical reflections, in practical terms what J&K state does is borrow money blindly irrespective of our repaying capacity, spend lavishly on public salaries and spend crazily to maintain political ‘order.’

Spare me for sounding too pessimistic, but doesn’t the substance of our budgets strengthen our sense of being a high degree banana republic?

As per the Budget 2010-11, we have generated our own tax revenues of Rs 3643 crore last year. The government’s target for this year is Rs 4,183 crore. So much so good.

But look at our interest payment of our accumulated loans alone – it is Rs 2251 crore for the current fiscal. Our power bill is Rs 2,324 crore during this year.

The Government would spend Rs 1174 crore on account of repayment of loans coming fiscal as against Rs 959 crore this year to the Government of India and other institutions.

And we have other liabilities as well – we will need Rs 2651 crore during the next financial year for pensions and retirement benefits. This year we have paid Rs 2031 crore.

Our Security Related Expenditure (SRE) is no small money - this year it is Rs 693 crore.

So where is the money to build infrastructure, finance social and welfare spending?

Almost 60 per cent of our roads are built or maintained by borrowed money, mainly from NABARD. If we need a hospital or even an ambulance, we need a government of India bailout package. From schools to drains, from tourist huts to police uniforms we are dependent on money from Delhi.

All this point to a serious political and economic dysfunction. What is alarming is that it is simply unsustainable because no political entity can afford to do this indefinitely without taking some drastic steps to set this dysfunction right.

Four things for that need to go – one is our political uncertainty, second is the curbs on our global business linkages, third is the embargo on international air connectivity and the fourth is the fruitless populism.

When the government statistics say that our Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) for the current year is likely to be Rs 47,709 crore, reflecting a growth of 10.35 per cent, I don’t think there is neither a need for jubilation nor concern. Our GSDP doesn’t convey anything significant. One reason being that most of the economic activities are propelled by public expenditure.

Public expenditure in theory would enhance the multiplier effect – create more money in the process. But the problem is that our balance of trade is so huge that the multiplier effect ends up creating more money outside the state than here. The money that is generated here is not able to enrich the public finances, courtesy populism and conflict management. So we are in a vicious circle which does us no good.

Revenue will come from greater economic activities outside the state expenditure. For that we need better roads (for which we have no or little money), we need other industrial infrastructure like industrial estates (for which the budget has no money). We also need a massive tourism-related infrastructure for which money never comes, and we have to instead manage with an infrastructure which is primitive by today’s global standards.

When it comes to revenue generation efforts in the 2010-11 Budget, they look aimless.

What the government has done for widening the tax net looks juvenile. Bringing in commercial construction, repairs and even alterations under service tax net looks unnecessary. That is not going to generate big money. Nor are services like TV and Radio program productions, architects, interior decorators, Chartered Accountants and advertising by providing hoardings going to generate significant money.

Over the last couple of decades the consumption pattern has significantly altered in our state. With rising purchasing power in our rural areas, consumption there has increased manifold. Quite naturally, like companies are targeting these emerging markets, we are supposed to shift our tax focus too there. From cars to fertilizers, from color TV to pesticides, from satellite TV to mobile phones; rural markets are the main consumers now.

VAT exemption on pesticides, insecticides, weedicides, milch animals, poultry feed, beehives and colonies doesn’t make economic sense. Similarly, GST exemption for Green Houses used in farms is not prudent. They generate good money.

As someone belonging to a family engaged in horticulture for decades I can say it with certainty that all segments of fruit, poultry and dairy producing communities can afford paying tax on these items. Even they can easily pass on the extra cost to the consumer who is a ready buyer for these products.

It is now common knowledge that except for a small segment of landless rural folks and jobless urban populace almost all segments of the population have the capacity to purchase food grains from the market. So exempting food grains from VAT doesn’t make much sense as well.

What is also strange is that rather than privatizing our loss making public sector enterprises like the J&K Handloom Development Corporation and the Government Woolen Mills we continue to waste money for their revival. Budgetary provisions for these take us nowhere.

What has gone almost completely unnoticed is what the finance minister said he will be doing this fiscal – allow ‘bulk consumers’ of power approach an outside supplier of electrical energy directly. This is bizarre. What it means is that having failed to properly distribute power in the state sector we are now going to allow ‘outside entities’ get into power distribution business. Where are we heading?

Another disturbing provision in the budget is the whopping Rs 1037 crore for Master Plan of Jammu city. It is not bad to earmark more money for that city which we love, but the question is how can Srinagar city – where from this government derives its electoral power – be ignored when its infrastructure is the worst in the whole state?

Sad questions but no ready answers.

Environmental Slumber

Zeenat laments about government's continuing indifference to pollution caused by brick kilns, cement factories and lime quarries

(Ms. Zeenat Zeeshan Fazil, 26, was born in Srinagar, Kashmir. She did her schooling from King George (Mumbai) and later Cambridge (New Delhi), and received her Masters degree in English Literature from the University of Kashmir in 2008. Presently, she is also pursuing her second Masters degree in Mass Communications through the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). In 1998, she began her career as a freelance journalist with leading national newspapers and simultaneously joined ‘Fazil Kashmiri Publications’ as Editor and Publisher, and is also an editor of the ‘Focus’. Ms. Fazil has written a book on Mass Media and Linguistics (2006), and ‘Falcons of Paradise'(2009), a reference book contains 100 Eminent Personalities of J&K starting from 14th century till date. After working for ‘Daily Etaalat’- a Srinagar based Newspaper in 2007-2008; she joined ‘Daily Kashmir Images’ as a Senior Correspondent by the end of 2008. She is also currently associated with ‘Charkha’, a foundation that highlights the developmental concerns of marginalized section of Kashmiri society particularly in rural areas and to draw out perspectives on women through their writings. Ms. Fazil is also associated with ‘Interchurch Peace Council Netherlands’ which is intensely involved in several conflict areas such as in Kashmir. In 2009, she joined the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA). She has received numerous awards for her meritorious contribution in the field of literature. Her interests are reading, writing, poetry, music, travel,and gender related topics.)

Black Carbon Threatens Kashmir Environment

While the world at large has woken up to the environmental concerns, Kashmir is yet to realize the importance and that is why very little is talked about the hazards that are challenging the eco equilibrium of the place. Vehicles plying the roads; brick kilns; cement factories or the lime quarries pump black carbon, formed through the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, and other harmful pollutants, freely into the air.

Produced through diesel combustion and biomass burning, black carbon is now being recognized as a major contributor to climate change by scientists. Earlier, it was overlooked.

Black carbon – the overlooked threat

The good news is that black carbon stays in the atmosphere for only a short time, in contrast to carbon dioxide, which has an atmospheric lifetime of more than a century. However, the bad news: it appears to be capable of causing rapid environmental damage in the short time it is present.

In regions like the Himalayas, black carbon is seen too risky as it makes the snow melt faster.

According to the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the presence of black carbon over highly reflective surfaces, such as snow and ice, or clouds, may cause a significant positive radiative forcing.

The IPCC also notes that emissions from biomass burning, which usually have a negative forcing, have a positive forcing over snow fields in areas such as the Himalayas.

In regions, like the Himalayas, the impact of black carbon on melting snow pack and glaciers may be equal to that of CO2. Warmer air resulting from the presence of black carbon in South and East Asia over the Himalayas contributes to a warming of approximately 0.6 °C.

An “analysis of temperature trends on the Tibetan side of the Himalayas” reveals warming in excess of 1 °C. Black Carbon (BC) record based on a shallow ice core drilled from the East Rongbuk glacier showed a dramatic increasing trend of BC concentrations in the ice stratigraphy since the 1990s, and simulated average radiative forcing caused by BC was nearly 2 W m?2 in 2002. This large warming trend is the proposed causal factor for the accelerating retreat of Himalayan glaciers, which threatens fresh water supplies and food security in China and India.

Given its tendency to cause instant damage, black carbon emissions in Kashmir obviously pose an additional danger to Kashmir's glaciers, says Dr. Javeed Iqbal Ahmad Bhat Associate Professor, Division of Environmental Sciences, SKUAST.

Car ownership is booming
Pollution from vehicles is emerging as the primary source of black carbon. Mohummad Yousuf, Statistical Officer, at Regional Transport authority, Kashmir says the number of vehicles registered in his office on 28 02.2011 stood at 294381 that include both commercial and non commercial ones.

Apart from private vehicles, thousands of diesel-fuelled vehicles, used by the Indian army and paramilitary forces, navigate the roads of Kashmir.

Illegal fuel openly sold
State Pollution control board says that more than 55 per cent of Kashmir's vehicles do not conform to pollution norms. "Adulterated fuel – kerosene mixed with diesel to make more profit – worsens the problem," says the pollution control board director, Syed Farooq Geelani. This illegal fuel is openly sold along the Jammu-Srinagar highway.

"The smoke density of more than 60 per cent of diesel-fuelled vehicles does not conform to the existing permissible level," said Geelani. "Surprisingly, one of our surveys has revealed that more than 80 per cent of these vehicles possess pollution-control certificates."

The certificates are issued by various outlets across Kashmir which are registered with the General Transport Department. The certificates from these outlets are usually unreliable since the issuers, according to officials of other government departments, accept money for providing fake certificates.

Vehicles are not the only culprits though; brick kilns are also among the major emitters of black carbon. A recent survey by the pollution control board found 374 kilns operative. Interesting to note that out of these 374, only 59 are run under proper government authorization. Similarly, there are 204 stone crushers, of which only 83 are authorised by the authorities.

Closure orders ignored
In Budgam there are some 260 brick kilns operational of which the Pollution Control Board has order4ed closure/suspension of 102. But the orders have never been implemented on the ground.

In Anantnag out of 64 brick kilns, 49 have been ordered to stop operation; in Pulwama, out of 58, closure orderes have been issued for 19; in Kulgam, 31 kilns were ordered to be closed out of 38.

However, the closure orders are being ignored and the brick kilns continue to operate. The authorities say that they are not issuing any new licenses. The people of the affected areas say such orders never lead to action. "Orders for closing the brick kilns were issued in the past as well, but were observed only in the breach," said Farooq Ahmed of Zewan, Pampore where most of the brick kilns exist.

Conservative estimates say that if an average kiln burns 15 tons of fuel a year, meaning together they all burn around 5,000 tons of fuel. What concerns the campaigners most is the fact that the lowest quality of coal is being burnt in these kilns, as well as rubber tyres to save costs.

Little government action
The preparation of the State of Environment Report (SOER), a compulsory survey aimed to assess damage to the Jammu and Kashmir’s environment, is suffering unnecessary delay as the concerned government departments have failed to submit inputs to the nodal agency regarding the environmental protection activities undertaken by them. The survey assumes significance in the backdrop of unchecked felling of trees, unplanned developmental activities and vandalization of other natural resources including water in Kashmir over the past two decades, which is considered to be among the main reason responsible for inconsistent climate change in the state.
There hasn't been any effective government response to the growing atmospheric pollution, and State of Environment Report (SOER’s) state coordinator, Abida Wahid Deva says, one of the main reasons for the delay was lack of awareness about the environment but “we are on it and hopefully it will be published soon.”

Kashmir may currently lack the technology to reduce black carbon emissions, but scientists say that reduction using existing technology is a relatively cheap and easy way to significantly restrict global warming.

One example of this would involve switching over to fuels such as compressed natural gas rather than diesel and petrol. Making public transport a more comfortable alternative to private cars could be another step. Terming the reduction of black carbon, a 'low-hanging fruit,' scientists say it should be plucked immediately to buy time when the world is driving fast toward a cliff in terms of climate change.

The New Animal Farm

A topical editorial in the Rising Kashmir describes how sudden postings and transfers that are tailored to suite the elite ruling lobby has enslaved the political system completely

Of Transfers and Reshuffles

What started as a noble mission in 90s has now turned as one of the worst forms of nepotism from State Government towards the chosen few. Deceit has no form and people who commit it have no character. As rightly said by George Orwell in famous political satire, Animal Farm, all animals are equal but some are more equal than others.

In the ongoing Assembly session the state government recently admitted that 161 doctors and paramedics posted in evening clinics created during the then Governor Jagmohan’s rule are still drawing salaries without doing any work. This is just the tip of the iceberg as transfer and posting mafia has plagued the administrative setup beyond repair. There is a well maintained rehabilitation policy to cater the relatives of elite politicians, bureaucrats, senior officers and other well connected and influential businessmen.

Pulp posting and transfers are tailored to suite this elite lobby which has enslaved the system completely in Rural Development, Social Welfare, Education and Health and all other major departments. This transfer mafia is actually a high end cashless corruption where give and take is not in form of money but the perks generated through such transfers help the blue-eyed class to create a stronger grip over power. Some time back in school education department its new director tried to quell this mess but had to eat the humble pie as pressure from different quarters crushed the resistance of change. This partiality for a particular class has affected the output of the departments which in turn affects the growth of the state and the society. There are valid candidates and officials who deserve to be on posts which are apt with their qualification and skills, but they never manage to have a hold on them just because some bureaucrat kith or kin wants to be placed there not because they are equally qualified, but it is nearer to there home or city. This cynical approach from the people who run the governing setup discourages the able and talented workers who want to help the society.

The top bracket of State administration has to lift themselves beyond this pity politics of reshuffles and transfers and instead clean up this muddle of unnecessary changes which will impart the much needed fresh air in the system and will allow it to breathe new air of creativity and energy.

Democracy or Oligarchy?

Junaid describes the fall-out from institutionalized family rule in Kashmir

(Mr. Junaid Azim Mattu, 25, was born in Srinagar. He partly completed his schooling at the Burn Hall School, Srinagar, and partly at the Bishop Cotton School, Shimla. He attended college in America and graduated with a degree in Business and Finance from the Eli Broad School of Business at Michigan State University. He is a consulting financial analyst and telecom-IT entrepreneur based in Srinagar. A seeded national varsity debater throughout his school and college career (his grandfather - Khwaja Ghulam Ahmed Ashai - was one of the founding fathers of the Muslim/National Conference), Mr. Mattu also played under-19 cricket at national level for J&K. He is a founder of the World Kashmiri Students Association (WKSA), a global youth association for Kashmiris based in Srinagar, Kashmir, working on social, economic and political issues through constructive and informed activism. WKSA, as of today has 1,700+ registered members in Kashmir. He is also a nominated alumnus of the Global Young Leaders Conference. In his leisure time, Junaid likes to engage in reading, gardening, watching movies and listening to music.)

New Delhi’s Gupkar Handicap

The harrowing traffic congestion in Srinagar quite often forces me to drive through Gupkar whenever I plan on visiting the Dal Lake side of the city. I remember, growing up in the turmoil, even looking towards the Gupkar conclave was tantamount to terrorism. Every now and then the barricades made way for white ambassador cars with blaring red lights and deafening sirens. This is around the same time when rumors were agog that drivers were driving around the empty cars with sirens, lights - the whole nine yards, to give an impression that the State actually had a government. As a young boy, Gupkar meant something else to me. Something more obnoxious and personally suffocating than a corrupt, nauseatingly nepotistic corridor of power and stifling bureaucracy. Gupkar to me was a symbol of absolute and unaccountable power more often than not used to create personal empires at the cost of ordinary Kashmiris – educated, uneducated, employed and unemployed alike. As a child, I hated Gupkar, the very sight of it.

I once had a dream I can still vividly recollect, about a sea of angry, ragged and beleaguered people running towards Gupkar - tattered zombies, past the barricade to discover that beyond all echelons and epitaphs of concentrated power lies a lush green, sun-facing hill - dotted with wild flowers, lilacs, brooks and sparrows. Then, I had relatives and family friends who lived in Gupkar – bureaucrats, an occasional minister or a family friend. I remember sitting on balconies with vistas of the Zabarwan range munching on spotless plump cherries and having glitzy dinners in the shadows of an absolutely wasteful and unproductive machinery of needlessness as cooks and waiters scampered around anxiously with spines bent at frighteningly unnatural angles. Bright halogen camp lights shone across the lawns as most of the city was plunged in the routine darkness of chronic power cuts. Gupkar seemed to be a different Kashmir, gestating, feeding and surviving in the withered and blood-sucked body of a bigger yet less visible Kashmir – a Kashmir where young sons and beloved husbands were untraced, where mothers tossed and turned on tear-soaked pillows and where orphans made way from hinterlands to city orphanages cramped in white cars, driving past the familiar sights of their childhood into an unknown realm of half-truths and smoldering emotions. That is the invisible face of Kashmir, masked behind a rhetorical ambiguity that puts in all possible efforts to prolong the status quo.

Kashmir admittedly is essentially a political dispute, between two States that refuse to give up their ostrich-neck stances. Militarization on the Indian side of the territory has resulted in horrendous and gross human rights abuses. Most Kashmiris have not reconciled with J&K’s controversial accession to the Indian union. India, however has unfortunately dubbed the sentiment of Kashmiri nationalism in the sole context of secession, which to even a Kashmiri of average intelligence is an impossible proposition. Yet, under all the froth of reactionary separatist politics and dictatorial arrogance of the mainstream, the more things have changed the more they remain the same. Governments have changed, political parties have sprung up right, left and center and both regional parties in the State have perennialized the presence of the Indian National Congress through successive coalitions. The element and perception of puppetry and helplessness has if anything, gained more weight. Red-tapism at the bureaucratic level is now competing for infamy with chicanery, regionalism and rampant corruption at the ministerial level. The slogan of change has been dampened. The spirit that a generational transition at the executive level initially inspired has been shredded into an irreconcilable confetti of dreams that were perhaps reconciliatory, at the greatest detriment to India.

The last two decades have seen the institutionalization of not democracy, but family caucuses in J&K; an either/or choice for the beleaguered people. Mufti’s PDP is as much a family caucus as the National Conference, the father-daughter duo the Supreme Authority in policy matters. This has also been the crowning institutionalization of Gupkar, literally and metaphorically – given that Mufti Sayeed moved into the vista-esque Fairview estate along the same stretch, image makeover included. The same Ex Home Minister of India who set Kashmir on fire, miscalculation after miscalculation – travesty after travesty, was in all probability deemed fit by some clueless retired IPS or IAS spy chief in Delhi to be the face of ‘reconciliation’. Such is the tragic lack of depth in Delhi’s understanding of Kashmir – what festers here summer after summer – a tinderbox waiting for a spark.

There is absolutely no difference between an outsourced business vertical and J&K when it comes to democracy, however impressive election turnouts might be. New Delhi operates a single-window line of communication and dictation with either of the two families, not with the Eighty-Six MLAs elected by the people. The demographic analysis of the present State Legislative Assembly exposes the hereditary syndrome in political transitions – in how numerous families have now rallied around either of the two main political families or how the youngest MLAs are children or grandchildren of past MLAs – or how politics of evolution and merit has been disincentivized – or how mandates are arbitrarily distributed at family dinners – of how democracy has become a more acceptable form of monarchy in J&K.

Hereditary or dynastic politics is a reality across India and not unique to J&K. The unique issue with family politics in J&K, however, is the fact that it’s used as an alternating tool to manage this political conflict. We can go back to either 1987 or the era of Jagmohan and a couple of elections that followed to realize how the strings of this show lie in Delhi. Congress has been in bed with both main political parties in the State – making it easier to justify a coalition with either in the future, depending on what’s politically expedient for Delhi.

The counter argument, sort of, is that Delhi doesn’t have any other alternative in J&K and for instance at this point in time, would rather have Omar Abdullah in the hot seat than Mehbooba Mufti. However understandable, it’s this precise approach of ‘options’ that breathes life into this conflict, keeps Kashmir smoldering. Twenty years of conflict, a hundred thousand dead, missing and maimed people and Kashmiris still have to choose between the same two alternatives, which have in their own ways, left deep dark scars on our political and social identity. As for Omar Abdullah - at a point of time, I did see significant hope of transcendence and reconciliation in him. I don’t doubt that his heart and mind is in the right place and he wants to see change and reconciliation in Kashmir, but the burden of his legacy is far too heavy and ominous to be invisible – a burden that will never allow a process to pave way for reconciliation as long as the family/party is in power – election turnouts regardless. A burden that has precipitated and eventually dictated the quality of his political team – of controversial, inept and fairly unpopular people he has had to surround himself with.

The Muftis have created a party around a father-daughter duo, surrounded by individual vote-banks, established leaders and politicians – a family caucus progressively dynastic and dictatorial – at times even more dictatorial than the other family caucus – and that is saying something! Their politics of victimhood is also in direct contradiction to their politics of opportunism and power, going to the extent of crying for power on the graves of young children. It was their forest minister who signed off the controversial Amarnath deal and lo and behold, they are the ones who played the victims – withdrawing from their coalition with the Congress. Pertinent is also the fact that Mufti Sayeed is the same Ex-Home Minister of India who has his hands drenched in blood till the elbows and beyond – Jagmohan, AFSPA, Gaw Kadal massacre etcetera etcetera.

To expect Kashmiris to change and reconcile with the same faces that have been integral parts of the ‘problem’, is contemptuous to the sufferings and sacrifices they have rendered in the past twenty years. It’s also stupid. Change has to be palatable. Change has to look different; it has to look like change, not just sound like change. As to the question of ‘alternatives’, India needs to rise above the pettiness of ‘controlling’ and ‘managing’ Kashmir – by allowing genuine democratic empowerment independent of any ‘alternatives’. From the few cordial private discussions I have had with some senior political leaders of both parties in the last fortnight – a genuine non-dynastic democratization of the sentiment has never been within closer reach. The onus now being on Delhi to rise to the occasion.

Delhi’s challenge now lies in finding not just resolution but acceptability in Kashmir; an acceptability that will continue to elude it till empowering democracy replaces nepotism, hereditary outsourcings and family politics. Kashmiris wont invest their confidence in a democracy that reeks of twenty years of bloodshed and gore, but will do so in a democracy that empowers them towards a resolution, a refreshing dignity and identity that they have hoped and yearned for till now. Outsourcing political management to one of the two family caucuses won’t bring Delhi any closer to resolution than it is now. If anything, it will push Kashmir yet deeper into an intractable hole of alienation, at the greatest detriment to New Delhi.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bridging the Divide on Creating New Jobs in the Valley

Jahangir suggests ways to make the Rangrajan Committee's Jobs Plan meaningful

(Mr. Jahangir Raina, 37,was born in Srinagar. He matriculated from the Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in Srinagar, and received "A" Levels from the Ealing Green High School. He graduated from the London School of Economics (LSE), and did his post-graduate studies in Operational Research at the Lancaster University, United Kingdom. Past experience includes work was a researcher in the British Telecom (BT) and an analyst for the Phillips Group. Mr. Raina is the founder-owner of iLocus in Kashmir, doing market research in emerging telecommunications technologies, and the Chairman of the Information and Communications Technology Association (ICTA) of J&K.)

Rangarajan Plan

Dr. Rangrajan’s Job Plan for J&K recommends a two-pronged strategy. While one prong deals with skills development the other deals with sectoral initiatives. In theory, strong skills lead to strong sectors. The assumption is correct. The intentions seem noble. However the vision is lacking. Unless we are able to set in a self-feeding and a self-sustaining virtuous cycle whereby ‘Skills’ acquired lead to a ‘Strong Sector’ which in turn invests in new and advanced ‘Skills’ – there is no way the private sector in Kashmir will generate sustainable employment. It is always a challenge to set in such virtuous cycles of growth: Hence the developmental incentives and government interventions such as the Rangrajan Committee.

The intervention that Rangrajan Committee proposes is that the skills be developed outside Kashmir, mostly in the Indian metros because that is where the successful corporate India is based. Therein lies the disconnect. Skills developed in corporate India cannot create jobs in Kashmir unless the youth undertaking the training are contractually bound to return. Clearly, majority of the proposed 1.5 Lakh youth who opt for a skill development program outside Kashmir will not be among the existing job creators and entrepreneurs in the valley. Majority of them are likely to be youth who are either out of work, or those not satisfied with the salaries they receive within the private sector in Kashmir. The question is whether the youth falling within that demographic profile and acquiring skills within corporate India will be motivated enough to return and serve within the private sector in Kashmir once the skills training is completed. This is an important factor to consider given the salary structures that exist in the private sector in Kashmir. The reality of our private sector is that while the skilled manpower is badly needed, we are unable to pay the requisite compensation that can compete to a certain extent with salaries prevalent in the Indian metros. It is for this reason that we have suffered a colossal brain drain over the years thus weakening our private sector even further.

It is also precisely for this reason that both the Chief Minister and Dr. Rangrajan have realised and admitted that this job plan is meant for job opportunities within India and shall serve as a means for integration of the youth with India.

One is tempted to conclude that the Job Plan has certain political connotations even if that was not the original intent. The Job Plan can easily be (mis)interpreted as a social re-engineering to displace the Kashmiri youth. Therefore the intervention chosen by the Rangrajan Committee needs to be re-assessed. Unless there is a causal link between skill development and creation of local jobs, these recommendations are only going to create problems.

The state government is over-employed. Jobs have to be created by the private sector. Brushing aside the politics of this Job Plan, its ultimate casualty will, ironically, be the local private sector, which the Plan actually seeks to strengthen. The private sector in Kashmir is largely sustained by youth aged 25 to 35 who are typically semi skilled. Surely they will opt for enhancement of their skills in the corporate world of India, which gives them a leg up in finding a suitable job outside. While at the individual level, there seems to be nothing wrong with that, from the perspective of our local private sector, this qualifies as a brain drain. A brain drain of 1.5 Lakh youth will shatter the local private sector.

An ideal skills development program would propose interventions that strengthen the local private sector instead, because it is that very segment which can create new jobs. Those are the types of interventions that will set in the virtuous cycle. We admire the willingness of Indian corporate sector to train our youth. But we should also bear in mind that most of them have a huge intake of fresh graduates each year. They bear the costs of training these graduates. Rangrajan Committee recommendations should not become an opportunity for the Indian corporates to get paid for investing in their own future employees. The Committee has proposed a spending of Rs. 757 crore for such trainings. It would be wise to spend a proportion of that expenditure on capacity building of the local private sector. The capacity building can be carried out by the same corporates in India who get paid in the process. That would amount to strengthening the existing structure, which will ultimately produce the requisite jobs. The Indian corporates have indicated the possibility of employing the youth they take up for skills development training. Instead of that, if the capacity building of local private sectors is accompanied by exploring outsourcing arrangements with them, jobs will automatically, and instantly, be created upon completion of capacity building. Apart from being compensated for this, the capacity building could also help the Indian corporates exploit the labour arbitrage that exists between Kashmir and the tier 1 cities in India.

The other intervention that could set our virtuous cycle of employment in motion, and something that may be implemented concurrently, is the reservation of business for local private sector in the state’s public sector projects. Throughout history, governments all over the world have pulled new public sector projects out of thin air just to create new jobs. That conventional wisdom, however, seems to be wasted on our economists. In each of the sub-sectors of our economy, there are pending government projects worth thousands of crores. The state government has shown preference to contract such work out to the larger private players in India. These projects need to be diverted and contracted out to the local private sector and the best way to do that is to have specific regulations and reservations in place.

If the state projects are contracted out increasingly to the local private sector, that will provide the latter the requisite exposure to self-develop their skills. Development and enhancement of skills will improve the qualification of private companies for participation in more government projects. The state government can get started on this intervention by studying the capability of the local private sector and plan the implementation of its infrastructure projects accordingly. The connection between government projects and job creation has to be established in earnest.

The reason why that connection, and connection in broader sense between skills and local job creation, has not been established by Rangrajan Committee is because the members of the committee did not go direct to the horse.

While the Committee interacted with the Associations and Forums representing various segments of the local private sector, it did not interact directly with the entrepreneurs and private businesses. The Job Plan by the Committee, as such, is based on secondary research, not primary research. Interestingly, except for Shakeel Qalandar, none of the Committee members have ever really created a job in Kashmir. The Committee needs to take input from people who have first hand experience creating jobs in Kashmir. For future, such Committees need to empanel entrepreneurs who have been in the thick of things, those who have learned how to survive in challenging conditions, those who have created jobs despite facing difficulties.

I would therefore suggest the Committee to consider putting the Job Plan report out for public consultation in the J&K. Let the current version be treated as the first cut rather than end up becoming ‘Yet-Another-Job-Plan’. Let the general public, businesses, academics and forums provide their feedback on the report. That will evolve recommendations which are consensus driven.

Ostrich Mentality

Javaid sees absolutely no change in India's policy towards Kashmir. In fact, the approach has not deviated from the day the State of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India. So are separatist politicians taking Kashmiris for a ride?

(Mr. Javaid Malik, 37, was born in Srinagar. He did his schooling from the Burn Hall High School, and completed his 11th and 12th grades from the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. After his graduation from the Madras University, he completed his Master's degree in Mass Communication from the Manipal University. Javaid has worked for various Srinagar based English language dailies since 2001. He joined the Greater Kashmir staff in 2005, and is now the Editor of the on-line edition.)

PM’s Hard Talk

The recent visit of the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to Jammu proved to be a damp squib for most Kashmiri leaders, including mainstream and separatist. Dr Singh had nothing new to offer.

Dr Singh during his one-day Jammu visit stuck to New Delhi’s traditional Kashmir policy. He asked separatists to come forward for talks but he was quick to add that Kashmir solution had to be found within the ambit of Indian constitution. Dr Singh did acknowledge that people of Kashmir had genuine “political grievances” which need to be addressed. He also condemned the arbitrary arrests. But there was no mention of aspirations of Kashmiris in his speech nor was there any mention of any possible Kashmir solution.

He did make a mention of India resuming a composite dialogue with Pakistan despite the neighbouring country not taking any action against perpetrators of Mumbai attacks.

Dr Singh announced a few financial packages but most were meant for Jammu and Ladakh divisions. There was no Kashmir specific economic package. He did not even offer any political package to Kashmiri leaders. Him ignoring Kashmir did disappoint many people. Some “wise men” were of the opinion that Dr Singh announcing Jammu and Ladakh specific measures in the winter capital indicates that trifurcation of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh is on cards.

Prime Minister’s statements and his posture indicated that New Delhi has done its homework on Kashmir and one thing is clear that dissent would not be tolerated. The voices which would try to preach dissent would be silenced and no one would be allowed to disturb “peace and tranquility.”

Prior to his Jammu visit the Prime Minister had made it amply clear that separatists would not be given any space. He had even stated that centre had kept its fingers crossed ahead of summers.

The year 2011 so far has not witnessed any major incident except the killing of the youth Manzoor Ahmed Magray, February this year, at Chogal Handwara in north Kashmir. Army had later stated that it was a case of “mistaken identity.” On the contrary the year 2010 had started on a bloody note with the killing of a teenager Wamiq Farooq, who was allegedly hit by a tearsmoke canister in old city. A few days after his killing, another teenage boy Zahid Farooq fell to the bullets of paramilitary BSF men near Nishat on city outskirts.

Many of us do ask what we got by observing shutdown for nearly 5-months in 2010? It seems 2011 has answered this question. If we look back, 2010 unrest was triggered due to unabated killings. People staging protests and striking work did build an immense pressure on the government. Forces so far have exercised restraint. Many people believe that had people not expressed resentment against the killings situation this year could have been worse.

It seems forces have been asked to exercise restraint. If that happens Dr Singh can easily tell the world that “All is Well” in Kashmir. Anyway these are early days and its better for all of us to keep our fingers crossed.

As the days are passing New Delhi’s Kashmir policy is becoming clearer. One thing is for sure that New Delhi is no mood to even compromise on single inch of Kashmir. The concessions offered by Delhi have to fall within the ambit of the constitution. The three interlocutors can only suggest a few measures like releasing political prisoners and dismantling a few bunkers. Apparently it seems that they (interlocutors) too cannot also go beyond it.

After putting all these points together one comes to a conclusion that there is no place for separatists in the political arena of Kashmir at this point of time. Only those leaders will have a say in coming days who would follow the “diktats” of Delhi and “behave properly.”

Dr Singh’s Jammu visit has made all these points very clear. His unrelenting attitude seems to prove a point that New Delhi’s stand on Kashmir has hardened after 2010 unrest. Instead of Delhi talking about giving some concessions it is talking about taking more stern measures to deal with the elements who talk about secession and the resolutions passed by United Nations in 1947. New Delhi seems to project Kashmir as a law and order problem rather than it being a political issue.

The first concern for New Delhi and the state government seems to ensure that peace prevails and there is no repetition of what happened in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The centre and state governments want this summer to pass off peacefully.

At this given point of time no one seems to be talking about troop reduction or reducing the number of paramilitary men. The only focus seems to be on coming summers. To ensure that summer of 2011 passes off peacefully no stone is being left unturned.

The separatist leaders during the past few months have been ensuring that their statements do appear prominently in newspapers so that they remain in news. The common perception after 2010 unrest was that the New Delhi would take some steps to fulfill a few demands of Kashmiri people, but nothing of that sort has happened. It seems 2010 unrest has made New Delhi more “stubborn” and “rigid.” None of its leaders want to talk about Kashmir resolution. They do talk about taking a few Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) but no one wants to talks about Kashmir solution.

The notion about 2010 unrest highlighting the Kashmir cause seems to be turning out to be an illusion. Had not that been the case then the Prime Minister would have definitely made some major political announcements vis-à-vis Kashmir.

It is interesting to note that within a span of a few months we have witnessed two extreme situations. When “Quit Kashmir Movement” was at its peak, separatists were projecting it as “Now or Never” for Kashmiris and Indian leaders, including the Prime Minister, were desperate to talk to anyone to diffuse the tension.

After the “Quit Kashmir Movement” faded away in October- November last year it made New Delhi complacent. The people who were desperate to talk to anyone just a few months before seem least interested to hold parleys with any section of the Kashmiri leaders today. They are projecting Kashmir as a beautiful tourist destination.

It is amazing to note that equations in the Kashmir Valley change very fast. We as Kashmiris are an unpredictable lot and go to any extent for proving our point.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s assertion on the floor of the House about New Delhi not fulfilling the political promises made to Kashmiris seems to have no takers in Delhi. Even Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh seems to have made up his mind on Kashmir. No one is in mood to fulfill either political promises or go for any reconciliation. The only agenda seems to ensure that this summer passes of peacefully and separatists don’t get any space. The common Kashmiri seems to be caught in a tug-off war, with influential and rich Kashmiris having sent their children outside Jammu and Kashmir to pursue their careers and studies.

Recognizing the Noble Gender

Roshan Ara says that women's empowerment will stay as a meaningless slogan so long as women continue to be defined by societal norms rather than individual merit

(Ms. Roshan Ara, 45, was born in Warihama, in Budgam district. She attended the Government High School Aripanthan, and the Government Higher Secondary School Beeru. She graduated from the Government Womens College (GWC) Srinagar, University of Kashmir, and the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi. Ms. Roshan Ara has degrees in B.Com, M.Com, M.A. Economics, B.Ed, M.Phil, Diploma in Women's Empowerment and Development, and Ph.D. work underway titled 'Managing Work and Family Roles: A Study of White Collar Working Women in Kashmir.' She is presently a Lecturer in Commerce, Department of School Education, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar. During leisure time she enjoys reading newspapers & journals, staying engaged on Women's Issues, and writing articles for newspapers & journals.)

Exploitative Gender Construction

“A bee is not honoured because she labours hard but because she labours for others,” says St. John Chryston. What about a woman who always works for others?

The future of the nation lies in hands of the women as they are architects of our future generations. Still consciously or unconsciously they are being kept away from all those activities that are expected to enhance their own personality and status in the society. Women on one hand have responded to others’ requirements positively but they are themselves continuously discriminated against, and this discrimination is legitimised by social structures based on religion, culture and politics.

Traditional models of division of labour, with the man in charge, have changed but not to a desired extent. Women’s contribution to agriculture whether it be subsistence agriculture or commercial agriculture when measured in terms of number of tasks performed and time spent is always greater than that of men. The extent of women’s contribution is aptly highlighted by a micro study conducted in Himalayas which found that on a one hectare farm, a pair of bullocks works for 1064 hours, a man for 1212 hours and a woman for 3485 hours in a year. The unorganized sector accounts for about ninety four percent of economically active women; their earnings are even lower. Women work in kitchen, rear children, care for elders, collect fuel and fodder, transport water from distant places, work in the fields , serve as domestic labour etc. If all of this work is taken into account, 88% of rural housewives and 66% of urban housewives can be considered as economically productive. This work is not visible and not recognised as productive for the simple reason that it does not bring in any revenue.

Women make up one third of the labour force. Women workers’ exploitation has been reported since historical times. Women used to be employed as wine servers and spies to get secrets of the drunkards. The census in India is collecting information on the basis of economically productive work and thus a huge chunk of house hold work performed by women is not considered productive. Women shoulder the burden of unpaid and unrecognised housework. The irony is that in 2001 census data 81.3% of all women workers belonged to occupational category of farmers, fisherwomen, loggers and weavers etc. Only 3.9% women were found as professionals and other white collar workers. Sales work related workers accounted for 1.4% respectively. It had come to the notice of Justice A.K Ganguly that many housewives in the census had been clubbed with prostitutes, prisoners and beggars under the economically non-productive category which is shocking news for the women folk.

The low qualification and low skill from the childhood hampers the prospects of women further. Women’s status also depends upon the intangible resources including self-confidence, self worth, information, knowledge and specific skills. A fair and just society only ensures that all individuals should acquire the basic levels of the resources and eliminate the discrimination. Women produce half of world’s food but receive only ten percent of it. As regards women’s unpaid work, it is necessary to have a closer look at the importance of work and its related rewards which are valued in terms of prestige, power and wealth and are determined by the position of the individual in the society. It is the state, society and culture which give women a second rate status - second citizen, second sex and weaker sex status etc. However, women in modern era have crossed all the barriers and ventured into man’s profession.

The statistical profile of women presents a picture of some success and few failures. Women’s contribution in economic development remains unrecognised and undervalued resulting in poor wages and poor working conditions with most of the work force unprotected by any legislation. Political participation of women in national and state level bodies of governance remains an unfulfilled dream. Since 1970s onwards, throughout the world, attention has been drawn towards women’s problems. Understandingly, women’s status cannot be studied within a single discipline and requires a multi-disciplinary approach because of the multiple roles performed by women.

Gender specific roles are socially constructed, inherited and perpetuated which are termed by some as the biological roles of women. Many schools of thought have made it mandatory that women have to perform these roles because of their social structure. Across a cross- section of households, women’s work participation rate is much lower than that of men. Among the poor peasants, artisans and weavers it has been found that there has been an increased uncertainty of women’s employment opportunities overtime. With the introduction of modern technology, avenues of new jobs have become inaccessible for women for their lack of skill and training. These technological changes have no longer been helpful to women but responsible for their displacement form work and lack of entitlement of income. The slogan for equal pay for equal work is yet not being implemented fully and women are continuously discriminated, exploited, paid less and made to work on the traditional tools and equipments and are biased against in any type of monitory incentive. Their working conditions are poor and they are denied the basic amenities at the work place. Women are treated as consumers only and not as producers as their place in the household makes them bound to perform their socially defined roles. Although women enter the labour market in large numbers but their lives and work are defined largely on the basis of division of work. This gendered division of labour makes a good deal of women’s work invisible. In all the societies, the kind of work women do, where, how and under which terms --all are determined to a great extent by the sexual division of labour existing in the society.

According to an estimate, male labourers work for 8.7 hours and a female labourer works for 11.3 hours. Out of these 11.3 hours only 5.7 hours are market work and 5.6 hours are non-market work. Accepted economic activities as per the System of National Accounting (SNA) are extended SNA and non-extended SNA. Household work is regarded as care activity and not as economic activity by the system of national accounting. SNA activities have further been classified into paid and unpaid activities according to which paid SNA activities are largely undertaken by men and women are put in the category of unpaid SNA activity. This unpaid SNA work consumes 51 percent of women’s time, while men contribute only 33 percent of time.

Women are now trying to get themselves trained for entrepreneurship and management. Many women in our society have been successful in running their own enterprises abut still the trend is not a healthy one. Entry into the field of business is not easy but an uphill task for the women of Kashmir. A comparison of the women entrepreneurs of Jammu, and Kashmir Division makes it clear that there are only 212 business units owned and managed by women in Kashmir as compared to 542 units in Jammu Division. Women entrepreneurs in Kashmir have to struggle a lot as they lack the availability of finance, marketing facilities and the social support. They are also overburdened with the performing of domestic activities which does not allow them to enjoy a plenty of time for commercial activities. The overall change has helped women positively but the women have to go a long way to break the glass ceiling.

The policies and practices of the governments regarding the welfare of women have on the whole not proved fruitful because their implementation mostly lies in the hands of men. It is the patriarchal structure of the society, the household and the family setup which is responsible for their poverty. Women’s access to ownership of resources is comparatively less than that enjoyed by their male counter parts. Even among those who own property, control of its use and dispensation vests more often with the male members of the family.

The cosmetic slogan of women empowerment only cannot heal the wounds of the women folk. The need of the hour is to nurse their wounds and a sincere effort to reach out to this invisible working population of the society.

The Lal Ded Hospital Experience

Ishfaq recalls a harrowing experience over a 15-day period

They call it HOSPITAL

Ishfaq Ahmad

I have just left a place where reason and health cannot remain unimpaired. I am sure I am in possession of my exact and circumstantial memory to compile this write-up, however. Lala-Ded hospital, almost everyone in Kashmir knows it inside out, perchance the major maternity hospital of the valley, approximately with 500 beds directly associated with the Govt. Medical College Srinagar. The hospital presents a spectacle comprising attendants, patients, doctors, midwives, security, and the cleaning staff - an inquisitive interest in everything which my eyes captured for fifteen days of my stay as an attendant. The hospital remains very much crowded during the days. A tide of population is seen rushing past the main door guarded by the security, but no worries, you can easily bribe them with cigarettes or simply a tenner will do, making a complete nonsense of hospital management. At dusk the throng diminishes momentarily. I had never before been in a similar situation where sea of human heads filled me on day to day basis. I was kind of a lost but my observations were in tact. I looked at every doctor with keen interest, their apparel, scent, gait, visage and their expression – it all varied from time to time. Their strolling in the corridors, humming and chatting with fellow docs seemed far awar from professional standards. But few of them were exceptional, only thinking about their duty. Making their way to the patients even if in that mob like atmosphere, but never showed signs of fatigue and impatience. Others, mainly the nurses, without any worthwhile degree in nursing, not even an associate’s degree; I mostly liked their watch-word ‘ I’ve only got one pair of hands’; the midwives executing their duty arrogantly and carelessly, they wouldn’t have even obeyed Soranus of Ephesus. And finally the store keepers (fashion victims), always restless in their movements wearing flushed faces, talking and gesticulating to each other as if feeling a burden on their shoulders.

There were undoubtedly other types of people, from all walks of life; businessmen, employees, teachers, men of leisure, but they did not greatly excite my attention, partly because their purpose of visiting the hospital paralleled mine. The most important section of the hospital is Labour Room, pathetic, filthy. It is extremely distressing that patients at times are denied a labour bed just because their maternity unit is full.

The smallest of the problems in the hospital is the scarcity of drinking water, in fact there is no drinking water at all. This is so problematic for the patients who come to the hospital along with their attendants. This problem reaches the peak especially during lunch and dinner times; as a result scores of attendants mostly of far flung corners of the valley depend on the hotels and tea stalls situated near the hospital. With the shortage of drinking water on one side, the hospital surroundings are dirty with so many stenches guarding it. It shows incredible waste and the violation of hospital norms that has been taking place in the hospital where mothers are getting this sort of sub-standard treatment despite Umar Abdullah’s tour of inspection on the very first day of his office as Chief Minister. Undoubtedly his unexpected crackdown has given some shine and sheen to the hospital corridors, some bed-linen, some attentiveness in the staff, and a very brief respite to the people.

Unfortunately, there is still suffering to be seen, wailing to be heard, hopelessness among patients, and corruption hovering; this is the present condition of the hospital, a hospital that has served people of the valley for years now.
Even if the hospital has performed such a crucial role in the lives of Kashmiri families, no one would risk the lives of unborn babies and their mothers in such an unhygienic atmosphere. After spending long ordeal at the hospital, the best of which was sharing the joy of parents on the arrival of their baby, at the same time, the sorrow of seeing babies born sick, malformed, and the cases of stillborn. It was very hard for the parents to believe that their baby may not live or may have long-term problems. There can certainly be lot of questions about the choice of hospitals, gynecologists, and midwifery but the decision is all yours. We all know that the patients are the most important people in any hospital regardless of status and stature.

I would like to conclude with a short message to dear members of the medical and administrative staff of Lal Ded; your work is based on the reverence for life from the moment of conception until death. Shower your love and care on every patient through your medical education and researches; you bear witness to the special dignity of the sick. It is also fitting to say that it’s only your care, support that strengthens the families who hope although against hope. May Allah bless you in your work.

If You Want Nationhood, You Better Preserve History

The editorial in the Greater Kashmir points to another reason why Kashmir is not ready yet. More than the government, it is indifferent public that should take most of the blame

Preserve for Posterity

The report that the Kashmir Repository, located inside the Archives Department’s dilapidated building at Old Secretariat, Srinagar is in a shambles. That the prized possession of the state, Kashmir’s archival material, is adorned by bird droppings and dust reflects our collective mindset. While the custodian of the important, unique, and rare documents and manuscripts, the state government, is indifferent and insensitive towards the issue of preservation heritage lying in its custody, those in academics, scholars of history, activists claiming to be involved in promotion of culture and others too appear to be unconcerned and grossly insensitive to this wastage of the part of our rich heritage. This is the reason that government could afford such a neglect. That is how they could give the prized cache of historical documents to the care of nonprofessionals who do not know as to what to do with it.

It is not that the department of archives has not the services of trained people available with it; unfortunately they appear to have been sidelined. Normal archival activities involve processing, organizing each accession following the principles of arrangement, then packing, labeling, and storing the records so that they are under physical control. Here the situation is one of total chaos; the custodians do not know what lies where and a visitor to these archives is appalled to see its miserable fate. Academics and even ordinary students of history, art and culture know that archival materials are the basis for organizational knowledge, legal evidence, historical research, as well as personal and collective memory. The most common terms in the English language that are used for archival materials include historical documents, archives, or records. It is often said that “People must know the past to understand the present and face the future”. But here it appears a sinister design in allowing the prized collection of these archival materials to go waste lest the people know their past.

There is more to the situation of these archives than meets the eye. There are people who have been accusing the state and central governments of removing some important documents from the archives in a sly manner. Curiously these accusations have never been contradicted and if an attempt was made to refute the charges it was done without any supporting evidence. While the world is busy in finding ways and means to preserve the heritage and has come up with materials like acid-free paper, buffered paper made from wood based pulp also called Conservation Grade Paper; museum-grade-cotton rag paper made from cotton pulp, also known as Archival Grade Paper; yet another form of "archival paper" is being made from recycled plastic in the form of Durabook and are using modern digital technology to preserve and conserve the archival materials including documents; here the custodians of our heritage appear wittingly and unwittingly turning a blind eye to the deterioration of these archives.

With this kind of indifferent and callous attitude the state government is not only doing injustice to the present generation but also to the coming generations. History will not forgive this lapse on the part of the state government. The least the state government can do to save the archives from becoming a moth-meal is to have the documents scanned and digitized for posterity so that it does not pass in to history as a reckless, indifferent, and insensitive government that allowed the heritage to go waste. It is strange that the government that claims to be democratic in nature stands nowhere when compared to the self-appointed Rajas, Maharajas, monarchs and other rulers of the past who are viewed as autocrats and despots, as far as preserving and conserving archives is concerned. Let the state government respond to the situation and step in to set the things right in the Archives Department and have an advisory committee in place comprising academics, historians, archeologists and NGOs pursuing conservation of heritage to advise it on conservation and associated matters.

Doctors Point to Half Baked Drug Act

Doctors claim that the true villian is the State Legislature and Bureaucracy that only extended portions of the Indian Drug Act to the State. Yet another example of how the State uses the Article 370 to pass laws with loopholes that breed corruption

Doctors Hit Back at Crack-Down on Private Practice

Mukhtar Ahmed (Kashmir Images)

Srinagar: Accusing the government of resorting to unfair and unethical means in its recent crackdown on doctors indulging in private practice of doctors, Doctors Association of Kashmir (DAK) Saturday termed the crack-down as a an attempt to grab limelight.

“If government is seriously pursuing this cause, then it should enforce the ban in Government Medical College too?” DAK president, Dr. Nasir-ul-Hassan said. “All doctors are bound to work under prescribed, which permits private practice before 10 am and after 4 pm, and we assure the government that doctors from our fraternity shall abide by it,” president said.

Addressing media people at a local hotel here, the DAK president confessed that his organization too was opposed to the private practice by doctors. “But the way government has gone about in its crack-down – the way a policeman was addressing a respected doctor win very derogatory manner, is unethical and totally condemnable.”

Expressing concern over the lack of proper medical facilities and infrastructure in far-flung areas of Kashmir, Dr. Hassan blamed the government for neglecting the peripheral areas, as a result of which, he said, patients are referred to Srinagar for the slightest of ailments.

“The reason for the huge gap in medical facilities in city and rural areas is the bureaucracy as it a huge stumbling block in our initiative of reaching out to every nook and corner of Kashmir,” Dr. Hassan alleged while tangentially training his criticism at the bureaucracy.

It is pertinent to recall that the recent crackdown against the doctors indulging in private practice during hospital hours, was initiated at the behest of Divisional Commissioner Kashmir.

DAK president also questioned the selection of current Director of Health Services, Kashmir, to the post. He said, as per rules, the Director of Health department should be from within this department only and not from Medical Education department.

“Government had assured in the State Legislature in 2003 that no doctor from Medical Education shall be brought to head the Health department. However, despite this, out of the last five directors four were from Medical Education department, including the present director,” the DAK president alleged.

He said it is “humiliating for the entire health fraternity as few people have been given illegal access through backdoor entry”.

Earlier, Dr. Mir Mushtaq, DAK spokesperson alleged that the development funds meant for hospitals are being misused and a huge chunk is paid as salaries to the “illegally appointed staff”.

Explaining reasons for the incompletion of the Drug Act in the Valley, Mir regretted that despite the act being formulated some 30 years ago in mainland India, Kashmir is yet to see it in its full light owing to the bureaucratic and lackadaisical approach of the government.

“This lack of interest in implementing the Act on part of the government and its concerned agencies is indeed a big incentive and patronization for the business of fake drugs in Kashmir,” Mir lamented.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Women's Day

As we approach the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day on 8th March, Nida reflects on the suffering that is taking its toll among the women in Kashmir, followed by a declaration by the "Women for Peace"

(Ms. Nida Qayoom,23, was born in Sopore. She matriculated from Government Girls Higher Secondary School in Sopore, followed by graduation in the English Literature from Government Degree College,Sopore. She did her post graduation in English from the University of Kashmir in 2008. She is presently working as a contractual lecturer in English Literature, and in 2009-2010 did so at the at the Government Degree College in Handwara. She writes regular columns in Daily English Newspaper, The Rising Kashmir, related to various conflict and social Issues in Kashmir. She has been a National Service Scheme (NSS) worker for three years and participated in the 91st Indian Science Congress held in Chandigarh in 2004. Ms. Qayoom was awarded the best speaker of the college by the then Education Minister in 2004, and best anchor of the college in 2005. She has participated in the National Games for women as an athlete in 2003 held in Pondicherry and also participated and received awards in many debate competitions and symposiums from 2004 to 2006 held in different colleges of the valley.)

The Pain of Being a Woman

Five years ago her husband went off for work. He never returned. In crossing the moor, he was engulfed by some treacherous armed personnel. She was informed by some people of her locality about her husband’s fate. She moved from pillar to post to find his whereabouts all alone with nobody to fall back upon.

Whether he is alive or dead remains an unsolved mystery. If dead, his body was never recovered. That is the dreadful part of her life. Poor Amina, hailing from a small hamlet of Kupwara District, with two little children to look after, always thinks that he will come back someday and walk in at last through the door just as he used to do. The door is thus kept open every evening till it is dark. At times she gets a creepy feeling that he will open the door and walk in.

There are many such Aminas in our Kashmir who are caught in an unending whirls and sufferings silently and are not able to give vent to their feelings. The pain of being a woman, a frail creature, a weaker sex trampled under the heavy boots of many known and unknown forces; exploited for selfish gains, all this can be experienced in Kashmir. Since the start of militancy, the womenfolk of Kashmir are most affected. They are the real sufferers, the eyewitnesses to anguish and pain. If a man is killed, his sufferings come to an end at the moment of his death. But a woman dies many deaths with every passing day. Either she has to look after her small children or she has to take the responsibility of the whole family, besides being a daughter, a sister and a mother too.

We can understand the pain of a sister who loses her only bread earning brother and thus begins her unending journey of hardships and sufferings and that too when she lives in a conservative society like ours. Her compulsions and helplessness is exploited by the black sheep of our society and she is dragged into illicit trade, as we are aware of so many scandals which have emerged in the valley for many years. A big portion among the women sufferers are half widows whose husbands have disappeared either in custody of security forces or by some unknown forces. These half widows neither live nor die. They are doomed to live in a state of helplessness and are left to suffer for their whole lives and hoping against hope that someday, somehow their husbands will return and bring back their lost smiles. Every single day is a nightmare for them with nobody around to wipe off their tears and thus they succumb to their woes and crave for death…the wounds inflicted on them can hardly heal. They are living with a sense of agony. This is the pathetic story of a woman living in burning paradise.

‘Women in Kashmir demand peace and dignity’

Srinagar: Women for Peace a non profit group has urged all political sects of Kashmir to give peace a chance in Valley and stop the blood shed.

“We the women of Kashmir demand that no more blood of the young be spilled on the streets of our Valley. Issues can only be resolved in an atmosphere of peace. Let us give peace a chance,” a joint press statement by organization released here on Thursday said.

“Our experiences of the recent years forces us not to remain silent as we have took the brunt of violence, faced humiliations of many types, seen the disruption of our social fabric. We want the cycle of violence to end,” press statement by the organization read.

They also demanded an inquiry into the deaths of summer 2010, immediate halt on arrest of minors, rehabilitation of first time offenders, special juvenile prisons for minors and police sensitization of forces dealing with public in volatile situations.

The members of the group include Prof Nusarat Andrabi Prof Neerja Mattoo, Nighat Shafi, Naseem Shifie Dr Yasmeen Ashai, Fehmida Shah, Isober Ali, Ruksana Shams, Dr Tehemina Bukhari, Ayesha Salim, Anita Mehta, Dilafroze Qazi, and Dr Shamshad Bashir.

To Hosni Mubaraks, Ben Alis and Gaddafis in Kashmir

Junaid says that both separatist and mainstream politicians in Kashmir have enjoyed an atmosphere of mass impunity and lack of accountability by exploiting public

(Mr. Junaid Azim Mattu, 25, was born in Srinagar. He partly completed his schooling at the Burn Hall School, Srinagar, and partly at the Bishop Cotton School, Shimla. He attended college in America and graduated with a degree in Business and Finance from the Eli Broad School of Business at Michigan State University. He is a consulting financial analyst and telecom-IT entrepreneur based in Srinagar. A seeded national varsity debater throughout his school and college career (his grandfather - Khwaja Ghulam Ahmed Ashai - was one of the founding fathers of the Muslim/National Conference), Mr. Mattu also played under-19 cricket at national level for J&K. He is a founder of the World Kashmiri Students Association (WKSA), a global youth association for Kashmiris based in Srinagar, Kashmir, working on social, economic and political issues through constructive and informed activism. WKSA, as of today has 1,700+ registered members in Kashmir. He is also a nominated alumnus of the Global Young Leaders Conference. In his leisure time, Junaid likes to engage in reading, gardening, watching movies and listening to music.)

Sinecures & Benefactors of Conflict

The obduracy of the conflict in Kashmir is all too visible. Albeit the sinecures that sustain and prolong it, are often less visible – merging and dovetailing into the rhetorical séances of a status-quo-ist discourse. Our radical-by-convenience leaders tell us that an amicable, acceptable and pragmatic resolution means a ‘sell-out’. Nothing short of a plebiscite ‘come what may’ are the charming proclamations that resound from safe houses and pulpits of righteousness. They speak of morals and integrity as they unabashedly bask in an accountability-free atmosphere of sensationalism and polemics, feeling little or no need to answer questions – where are we headed and how? Desperate cries for realism are subdued by invoking the imagery of blood and gore, belittling our numerous sacrifices by reducing them into bargaining chips and discounting equations.

If there are no holy-cows in conventional politics, there can’t be any in conflict politics either. No single leader is above scrutiny and introspection, lest he declares himself to be God-sent. Brushing aside geo-political realities in living rooms, wrapped in the warmth of ideologically reinforced delusions is hunky dory. However, the teenagers in our graves, the splattered blood on our pavements – the voluntarily self-imposed economic sanctions – that’s the other side – a side seen by a different demographic, a demographic that is voiceless, jobless and without hope. A demographic that experiences the conflict as opposed to those who talk about the conflict, issues calendars in the summers and vacations in Delhi in the winters. The poor man’s demographic. The same poor man whose bullet-riddled young son is our martyr and the same poor man who becomes our ‘collaborator’ and ‘traitor’ the moment he goes out to cast his vote.

The inherent contradictions between what the ‘sailors’ of the Kashmir movement preach in seminars and what they selectively experience and endure is, if nothing else, contemptuous to the very concept of Kashmir’s collective national dignity. As we present our children as gun-fodder for their political longetivity and notoriety, our own aspirations become dangerously malleable in their hands. We waddle around in the mundane gloom of a conflict-zone life, to be ordered to trot here one day and shutter our shops the other day – all in the blind faith that kicking our own bosoms and sacrificing our kids for the self anointed right honorable dictators of this movement will give us deliverance from oppression. And in this whole circle of blind faith begetting a vision-blind leadership, we have ceased to ponder – how do the sinecures and benefactors of conflict juice us like fructuous pulp, our miseries their sweet succor?

And it’s not the separatist leadership alone that is guilty of benefiting from this conflict. Mainstream politics in Kashmir has enjoyed an atmosphere of mass impunity and lack of accountability primarily due to this conflict. Delhi continues to treat Kashmir as a business vertical outsourced to a select few to ‘heal’ our wounds. Ironically the same faces that have inflicted some of the deepest darkest wounds on the face of Kashmir’s scarred history have, with Delhi’s occasional blessings, ordained themselves to be the faces of reconciliation and redemption. Delhi has consistently stifled and ‘managed’ democracy in Kashmir due to this self-imposed paranoia, an erroneous belief in the indispensability of some at the cost of others. Most past elections in Kashmir were strategically rigged so that the control panel stayed in Delhi, not entirely with the people of Kashmir – all in the name of ‘national interest’.

Election boycotts in Kashmir have voluntarily disempowered the people, benefiting power brokers and traders of religious vote-banks – benefactors of conflict in their own right. There are religious institutions that vote en-block to claim their pound of flesh in Kashmir’s power politics. Then there is this enormously disempowering, exploitative existence of religious constituencies in some of our most impoverished and backward areas. Religious constituencies that breed on conflict and the deafening invective of a people’s indifference in their own governance. Vote-banks in Kashmir, unlike most states in India, aren’t as much based on caste politics as they are on this marriage of profit between religious constituencies and conflict politics – and all the opportunism and chicanery that comes with it.

What happened last summer was most unfortunate, barbaric and suppressive and I personally spoke and wrote unequivocally against the atrocities and killings by the State and the security apparatus. But does our commitment to our nation have to stop at mere condemnations, annual chest thumping and slogans? A quick, superficial analysis of the summer fatalities discloses a bitter fact – most people who died in Kashmir were young children and teenagers from modest backgrounds and most often than not, with very grim career prospects. Since it’s fashionable to compare even egg hatchings with the uprising in Egypt – let us draw a fair comparison there as well. In Egypt, those who lost their lives included Doctoral Fellows, Researchers, Teachers, Business Executives and individuals from sound professional and economic backgrounds. Back here in Kashmir, our educated lot chooses to sit wrapped in shawls and quilts to watch the revolution on TV – analyzing it to threads and knots, claiming it with shrill living-room and seminar patriotism. Their own children are not allowed to so much so look at a stone with the intention of hurling it – but the poor man’s son is a glorified soldier of resistance and dissent – his death a mere statistic for their post-dinner darbars.

Then there are conflict benefactors spread across the globe – perhaps one of the biggest chain of retail stores and sinecures in the world – selling the sentiment and sacrifices on glossy brochures of statistics and sonnets. The number of expatriate ‘think-tanks’ and four-men ‘councils’ in Western lands ironically far exceeds the number of political parties and groups within Kashmir. I have lived in the West for enough years to notice the absolutely comical nature of clueless interactions – both actual and perceived – that take place between these self-anointed ambassadors of our movement. The role played by diaspora and expatriate communities in the Cuban movement, the Kosovar movement or for that matter my interactions with French-Algerian Muslims is absolutely inspiring. So my grouse is not with those who choose a better life for their families and still have an urge to support a political movement back home. My grouse is with those individuals who pontificate from afar, assume the right to judge, demean and disparage those in Kashmir they disagree with and morbidly draw argumentative succor out of gruesome miseries in Kashmir – miseries that they can read about on weekends and weeknights – miseries their own children are safely protected from. Flipside - Any leader in Kashmir who feels the need to seek suggestions from across oceans and continents from a motley crew of understandably disconnected gentlemen should relinquish the privilege to lead even a Mohalla, not to speak of a nation in quest of dignity.

There is a joke that goes around in Kashmir – that Pakistan will fight till the last Kashmiri. Our misplaced and misinformed romanticism of a socio-religious affinity with Pakistan – a nation perpetually struggling to be a State - has given wanton freedom to conflict benefactors who sell their souls at the drop of a dime, issue statements of Azadi in Kashmir and statements of merger with Pakistan while in Islamabad – or while talking to Pakistani publications. Our ignorance and malleability as a people has made us vulnerable to be juiced and minced for personal political gains and agendas.

Our Conflict Economy has burgeoned into a black-money sector without any parallels in recent global history. Business Empires have sprung up from nowhere – irrigated by an apparently never-drying stream of conflict-remunerations. More journalists find employment in Kashmir than any other State in India as new newspapers and magazines hit the stands every other week. Police suppliers revel and prosper in conflict. Tax evasion continues unabated and unrestricted. On the graves and miseries of our people, we have built our lives – dreamt of safe and prosperous futures for our own children. Our conflict benefactors are in plain sight – exploiting every drop of warm blood in our veins – feeding on our emotions and sensitivities. If there are Hosni Mubaraks, Ben Alis and Gaddafis in Kashmir – it is them, it is them, it is them.

Where the Jobs Are

Sajad proposes that young people should stop looking for sarkari jobs. This fact is borne by the Rangarajan Panel report, which recommends providing funds to create non-government jobs

(Mr. Sajjad Bazaz, 45, was born in Srinagar. He attended the Khalsa high school and the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar. He received his bachelor's degree in Media and his master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. Mr. Bazaz has over two decades of experience in journalism (both print & electronic), and he is author of the book "Bankwatch" which is about a financial scenario with particular reference to the J&K state. He is currently incharge of corporate communications department in a leaduing financial instution in J&K. Mr. Bazaz likes to spend leisure time watching movies and enjoying company of his friends.)

Self Employment Ventures

Unemployment is a global phenomenon. Every country is devising programmes and launching initiatives on continuous basis to combat this challenge. However, it is the design and format of initiatives which makes such programmes successful in engaging youth in profitable self employment ventures. Since finance is the backbone to all such employment generation programmes, various schemes are tailored and put in place to encourage unemployed youth for self employment ventures by way of financial support.

Since our state is also plagued with growing menace of unemployment, a good number of state as well as central government sponsored employment generation schemes are in place. With annual incremental increase in unemployment scenario every year thousands of unemployed educated youth enter into the list, largely due to the economic distress and mismatch, the problem is going to be one of the biggest challenges before all counts. The jobs created by the state government are nowhere matching the burgeoning number of unemployed youth.

We cannot ignore the fact that the unemployment problem in the state is mainly responsible for social tensions. To generate a lasting solution to the problem of educated unemployed youth, various state and central level self employment schemes are in place, which include schemes like JK Self Employment Scheme (JKSES), Swaran Jayanti Shahri Rozgar Yojana (SJSRY), Swaranjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY), Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP) etc. These schemes have failed to facilitate the unemployed youth to shape their future in a better way in view of the negligible growth of salaried jobs. Notably, the Government of India has, in a major decision, decided to restructure and redesign the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) and convert it into the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM). Under this mission a multi-pronged strategy for poverty reduction in a time bound manner will be used by providing sustainable livelihood through various means to rural population below the poverty line.

When we talk of implementation of the government sponsored self employment schemes in J&K state, we can simply say that these schemes are not delivering as intended. While analyzing the performance of these schemes, the basic purpose of eradicating the unemployment, particularly among the educated unemployed youth has been defeated. There are several reasons behind the failure of these schemes. The banks operating here are blamed for not promoting these schemes. But those who blame the banks don’t bother to look at the huge amount of money blocked under these schemes, as most of the loans given under these schemes have turned bad. The huge percentages of bad loans under this category have shaken the lending confidence of the banks and are genuinely showing reluctance in extending loans to the beneficiaries.

We have seen a youth financed by the bank for his self employment venture outside the ambit of government sponsored schemes, shows enthusiasm in his line of activity and gives his best to earn and repay the loan well on time. Contrary to this, a youth is financed under any of these government sponsored schemes, looks out more for creating situations to avoid repayment of the loan. One of the most serious problems is the faulty identification of the beneficiaries. It is done in a casual manner where most of the time viability of activity becomes casualty. This kind of situation has resulted in saturation of the line of activity.

Instances galore that at the time of processing a case, the youth who is referred as beneficiary, is given an impression that chances are bright that the loan amount may be waived off in future apart from getting government subsidy. Taking advantage of the meaning of word ‘beneficiary’ - one who receives anything as a gift– the youth is given to understand that he doesn’t need to think of repaying the loan. This kind of official backing, which is not without a cost, is ironical. It is a hard fact that the banks’ substantial amount blocked in these schemes is primarily because of most of the time selection of borrowers has not been prudently done.

There are cases of the beneficiaries of these schemes who are government employees. There is need to launch an investigation into these fake beneficiaries, who have failed to repay the loan taken under these government sponsored schemes, on war footing. The cases should be registered against them and the officials of the sponsoring agencies responsible for sponsoring them to the banks.

Allegations also galore against the government sponsoring agencies that the beneficiaries are forced to pay for getting sponsored under any of the self employment schemes. Here the element of subsidy in such schemes is used as a tool by the agencies to motivate and extract money from the beneficiary. This is evident from the fact that the cases referred are most of the time full of flaws. There are also instances where it has been observed that the beneficiaries generally are not serious in establishing the units under the schemes opted by them and they resort to diverting the loaned funds to other non-productive activities, resulting in default in repayment of the bank dues, which ultimately gives rise to non-performing assets, thereby preventing banks and other lending institutes from being enthusiastic towards lending under Government Sponsored Programmes.

Precisely, the ventures promoted under these schemes have been experiencing a high mortality rate for varied reasons, as there is no visible impact in the economy. Consequently, the objective of providing employment opportunities to the people by generating productive ventures through these Government Sponsored Programmes has remained a distant dream so far. The State has not been able to promote and create any employment-oriented and labour intensive private sector enterprises having any significant impact to tackle the problem of unemployment, with the result the growing unemployment problem of the State could not be addressed and is accentuating at an alarming rate with each passing day. Consequently, the issue of generating productive ventures for gainful employment has gained utmost significance to be focused as a high priority issue for effectively tackling the alarming problem of growing unemployment.

If the horizon of local employment generation is to be expanded in the state to offer jobs to all aspiring youth and other citizens, then some innovations are necessary in forwarding the benefits of these sponsored schemes to the genuine persons. The first and the foremost thing is to win back the confidence of banks by ensuring timely recovery of money under these schemes. At the same time, there is also need to restructure the role of sponsoring agencies where banks are given major role to identify the beneficiary and the line of activity. This will check faulty identification of borrowers and curb the saturation of the activities.

Amid this background, there is need to have a holistic re-look on the government sponsored employment generation schemes. These schemes need to be restructured to suit the current environment. In fact, the whole system of operating these schemes needs a revamp. The schemes need to be redesigned as per our regional or geographical location.

Rangarajan Panel Rolls out Rs. 2,000 cr Jobs Plan: Focus On Skill-Development, Private Sector

Muddasir Ali (Greater Kashmir)

Srinagar: An expert panel assigned to formulate a job plan for Jammu and Kashmir in the aftermath of summer 2010 unrest, Thursday rolled out Rs 2,000 crore program here for improving employability in the state.

The report recommends setting up of Rs 257 crore Skill Employment and Empowerment Scheme to envisage placement-linked and market-driven skill training of 50,000 to one lakh youth over the next 5-years, launch of a special industry initiative in Private Public Partnership (PPP) mode for enhancing the skills and employability of 40,000 youth in 5-years and launch of special scholarship scheme to benefit 25,000 students in next 5-years with an allocation of Rs 1,200 crore.

Accompanied by other members of the panel head C Rangarajan handed over the report to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah at a function at SK International Convocation Center here today.

“The report envisages flagship schemes. A two pronged approach has been adopted to recommend for job creation - to improve skills which will in turn increase employment rate among the youth and making available employment opportunities,” Rangarajan, who is the Chairman, Economic Advisory Panel, to the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, told a gathering about the contents of the report.

Rangarajan stressed that financial allocations have to be made for implementation of the program and execution mechanism has to be strong.

“We have taken a bold initiative. We have suggested mechanism for implementing the schemes and the panel will pursue it with the PMO. Implementation mechanism has to be strong. Otherwise ideas remain just ideas. Big effort is needed to bring transformation. We are hopeful that with the help of the state and central government the programs are implemented,” said Rangarajan who is a former RBI Governor.

Rangarajan asserted that top notch of India’s corporate sector like, Infosys and Tata have expressed their willingness to come forward for engaging in implementation of the job plan.

The report, Rangarajan said tries to lay out schemes to prepare the youth with skills which would improve their employability.

Regarding Skill Employment and Empowerment Scheme, Rangarajan said the Union Ministry of Rural Development which is already imparting such training would be the nodal agency and the youth from rural as well as urban areas both from APL and BPL categories would be trained.

“If the scheme is implemented fully, it will bring significant change in the state. Some of the probable private sector partners are IL&FS, Kuoni, Don Bosco and Dr Reddy's Foundation,” he said.

Regarding the initiative in the industrial sector, he said there is a need for collaboration between private industries, state government and government of India in training and absorbing the youth. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs would be the nodal agency for the scheme for which 50 percent of the cost would be borne by the government and another 50 percent by the companies.

“We will urge the Prime Minister that funds are made available for the scheme. It is not necessary that youth trained get jobs only in the state but in other states as well. It will be good way of ensuring greater integration,” Rangarajan said. “The companies that have expressed interest are Infosys Technologies, Tata Consultancy Services, Godrej and Boyce, BILT, Crompton Greaves, Avantha Group, Bajaj Auto, WWFI, JCB India, Tata Motors and Apollo Hospitals."

For scholarship program, he said the panel has proposed that students from state get admission in different institution outside, “though it is very difficult for the institutions to set aside a quota of seats.”

The latest initiative on employment generation follows constitution of two panels on economic development of JK some years back whose recommendations are gathering dust. Both these panels were also headed by C Rangarajan.

Dr Singh had constituted the Task Force on Economic Development of JK in 2005 which submitted its report in November 2006. Some of the key recommendations included; transfer of 390 MW Dulhasti Hydel Power Project from NHPC to J&K and transfer of 1020 MW Bursar Storage Scheme from NHPC to J&K for execution in the state sector. No follow-up action was taken on the recommendations of the Task Force especially relating to transfer of Dulhasti power project to the state.

Among the five Working Groups on Jammu and Kashmir constituted by the Prime Minister in May 2006, the third Working Group on ‘Economic Development of the State” was again headed by C Rangarajan.

While reiterating the implementation of the recommendations made by the Task Force regarding transfer of Dulhasti and Bursar power projects from NHPC to the state it had called for increasing the state’s power share in the central projects among other recommendations. The Group had also called for vacating the properties in possession of the security forces and the army, especially those relating to industrial activities.

For economic development in JK, he said two reports have already been submitted to government of India. “For immediate impact we have provided for several schemes in different sectors like agriculture, horticulture and others as well,” he said.
Regarding sectoral initiatives, Rangarajan said the group has recommended revival of State Finance Corporation by providing Rs 100 crore for the purpose to revive flow of credit to the enterprises.

"The amount will not be enough. Another Rs 50 crore should be granted for making it operational," he said.

He said the credit flow was necessary for allowing the small and micro enterprises to flourish in the state. Other initiatives recommended include faculty enhancement programs, persuading private school and educational institutions to accommodate children from Jammu and Kashmir.

Responding to a question, Rangarajan said some of the schemes given in the report should take off soon as there is no reason for delaying them.

“We are seeking separate allocations (for separate schemes). For employment oriented programs funding will have to be done from appropriate authorities,” he responded to another question.

Asked about the fate of recommendations on transfer of power projects to the state made by the Prime Minister’s working group headed by him, the noted economist evaded direct response. “You know our reports which have indicated why certain measures should be taken.”