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, April 22, 2011

Diminishing Dal

Fida believes a brick-and-morter project approach will not solve Dal's woes since it is an ecological disaster

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

Decaying Dal

British representative Francis Younghusband in his book ‘Kashmir’, narrates about splendor of Dal Lake. Francis writes, “The Dal Lake, with the canal leading into it, and the various gardens on its shores, is one of the chief attractions of the neighborhood of Srinagar. It is always lovely, but perhaps at no season more beautiful than early May. The water is so still and so clear that the reflections of surrounding mountains are seen as in the most polished mirror. The reflected mountain is as sharp and distinct as the mountain itself. The luxuriant plant growth from the bottom and the numerous fishes are seen as in clear air”. Many other travelers and visitors to Kashmir have drawn a majestic picture of Kashmir and Dal in their travelogues, notes and books. But, Younghusband has portrayed the majesty and natural state of Dal in a splendid way and in very a few lines.

After more than hundred years of stride towards empowerment, progress and transformation, presently Dal stands no where near the benchmark of attractiveness as visualized by Francis Younghusband in the year1908. Existing Dal has not only shrunk in area and physical health but its charm and majesty has all vanished. First half of the twentieth century experienced very little degradation of Dal Lake, but post 1947 era and aura of emancipation did not suit well to ‘Dal’. So, it started its journey of dissolution towards death, a death brought by its own people, who would otherwise derive part of their earnings, pleasure and wellbeing from the magnificent waters of this Lake. After independence, materialist devil within the people was the first to enjoy its freedom and plunder on ecological wealth of lakes, waterways, pastures and attention-grabbing environs of the valley. With support from neo- political order and materialist elite this perpetual environmental loot has by now mount into huge quantities of ecological plunder. ‘Dal’ as most prominent environmental structure of Kashmir faced much of the vandalistic brunt.

After extensive damage to Dal and its environ; gradual extinction of flora and fauna in its vicinity, state and federal governments came out of deep slumber to save and restore the pristine glory of this world famous water body. A multi pronged strategy of restoration and conservation of Dal Lake was devised under the aegis of environment ministry giving shape to ‘Dal Development Authority’. Many plans and strategies were put into action by this authority, but practically did almost nothing on ground to address the root cause of Dal decay. The superficial measures of Dal conservation instead of improving its health and life pushed Dal into the oblivions of apathy and cycle of corruption. Over the period of time Dal development authority soon turned into a money spinning agency; encouraging its masters to broaden its contours of corruption and pillage by metamorphosing into ‘Lakes and waterways development authority’ (LAWDA). With vast area of operation, enormous patronage and huge funding from the central government and substantial allocation out of state budget, LAWDA was supposed to deliver wonders but got off the hinges.

This conversion led to burial of all earlier carcass of deception. Unfortunately, a project of national importance and interest was suffocated with unbridled corruption and left to die its own steady death. For last more than a decade LAWDA is running this project with all fresh assurances of revival with every passing financial year, but on ground they seem to have conceived a novel idea to showcase the Dal. They have practically caged the remains of Dal with several of its obituaries embedded on its shores, passed on as foundation stones and commemorative plaques.

Dal is dying! It is a fact now. From earlier indigenous dredging and weed harvesting to modern imported dredging cum weed harvesting machines, Dal responds to none. Why? From the day one every effort and step towards Dal conservation was laden with loads of nepotism and corrupt mindset. The people who created a chaotic environmental situation out of once stunning Dal after inception of ‘Awami Raj’ turned Dal development into a lucrative business of minting money and wielding clout. Dal has reduced not only in size but its existing shrinking area is fast turning into a cesspool of filth, waste and other residual material. Its catchment area on all sides is devoid of any vegetative cover and plantation, a prerequisite for continuous recharging and sustenance of any active water body. Instead of vegetation and plantation its catchment area is growing concrete jungle of human habitations. This process has not come about overnight, but has flourished under the nose of regulatory authorities, LAWDA being one of them and the prominent one. For last two decades the whole landscape on the peripheries of Dal Lake has changed enormously, but for the worst and LAWDA has failed over and over to check this defacement. To boast regarding achievements and beating the `Clean Dal' drum is nothing but rhetoric. Mowing terminal parts of Dal weeds and stirring polluted and putrefied waters of Dal with mechanical aerators is nothing but superficial acts of deception and fraud. It is Kashmir's natural beauty; location of Dal and its ambiance that is playing its role in hiding our follies, otherwise the ugly face of Dal is staring starkly on our face.

No one can deny the efforts of many people within the Dal restoring agencies, but either they were knowingly sidelined or their faulty strategy could not yield the desired results (as desired by the nation, not by the political oligarchy of plunderers and swindlers). Over the period of time many sincere but inexperienced technocrats and so-called marine science specialists turned Dal into a laboratory for trying their random methods of conservation and improving biodiversity features of the Lake. From age-old manual de-weeding to mechanical measures and flip-flop to square one is simple hit and trial method and people can not afford this fiddling with its precious assets of enormous environmental significance? Plan of relocating Dal dewellers to far off flood catering basin of ‘Rakhe Arath’ is nothing but ‘Asmaan se gira Khajoor ma atka’. We are losing Dal and now we will be losing a precious and much needed flood water basin. A simple social audit and evaluation of planning and execution procedures of Dal conservation program by a layperson can lead us to many skeletons of ill-conceived projects left either halfway or abandoned after flawed completion. It is amazing! For the last more than a decade LAWDA is unable to plug few main trunk sewers and other drains emptying into Dal. Many of their STPs (Sewerage Treatment Plant) are either nonfunctional due to incompletion of feeding sewers pipeline or do not function as per the standing procedures of operation. A cursory look on the achievements of LAWDA, particularly in the interiors of Dal will reveal the factual position. And nation must know.

The biggest paradox of Dal conservation agenda of our agencies is their approach and strategy. They treat Dal exclusively a physical problem and are trying to restore it with steel and concrete. Whereas, Dal is an ecological tragedy with few patches of physical degradation and can be restored only with an eco-friendly regimen of restoring its biodiversity, fragile environs and above all ensuring curb on any future brute intervention into the Lake system by invoking both legal and administrative provisions.

A Casualty Named Truth

Junaid comments on how masquerading politicians are refusing to confront reality while sanctifying anarchy

(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.)

The Theatre of the Absurd

An assassinated political leader in Kashmir dies two deaths – one at the hands of his anonymous assassins and the second in the default acquittal given to his murderers by a society that is being pushed towards complete and total anarchy. In being ambiguous and spineless in acknowledging the reality, we re-murder the murdered. And, true to our improvised spinelessness, we are in the process of re-murdering Maulana Showkat – by sacrificing the truth for an apparent “greater common goal” – as if our movement hinges on shielding killers. In the process – we end up violating the sanctity of justice, of human solidarity and dignity. In the process, we also end up giving a carte blanche to these radical goons – kill us and we will give you a benefit-of-doubt; we shall understand your righteous act of political murder.

Maulana Showkat’s assassination is as much a consequence of our cowardice as it is an independent act of barbarity. Our refusal to point a finger at murderous radical elements and their political patrons, our inhibition to hold them accountable and our consent in allowing them to function in an accountability free time-warp – our cowardice as a nation has murdered Maulana Showkat. We are all passive accomplices in the murder. Our sense of solidarity towards our leaders is conditional to the pitch of their rhetoric – not their aspirations and vision for our dignity and liberty.

Following Maulana Sahab’s tragic assassination, there were impassioned demands for the murderers to be brought to justice. I wish our acknowledgement of reality was as unequivocal as our demand for justice. The dichotomy of political posturing has perhaps been exposed yet again in our selective openness to possibilities. Maulana Showkat died for his ideas of political moderation and religious accommodation – an anathema to the self-righteous bastion of radical Kashmiri politics – to the ombudsman who has taken upon himself the role to decide what’s right and what’s treacherous in Kashmir.

Kashmiri politics, it appears has become this Shakespearian tragic comedy where colorful characters sarcastically and subtly mock at each other, conspiring against and branding the rational ones while they are alive only to weep foul, shedding crocodile tears when they die. Our sold-souls have robbed our society of the concept of social justice – shocking them into an invective of indifference to everything that has and continues to happen in the name of Azadi – copyrighting the right to mourn and cry, deciding which whimpering sob is “genuine” and which “counterproductive” to the bigger concern of political liberation.

I don’t know if the findings of the Police probe are airtight or weak. I don’t know if the evidence connecting the accused to the assassination is admissible or circumstantial – real or fake – but I’m conscious to the lessons of our history – to the phenomenon of Kashmir’s moderate and independentist leadership dropping dead – one after the other. Mirwaiz Molvi Farooq, Qazi Nisar, Abdul Gani Lone, Professor Wahid, Dr. Guru, Dr. Ashai, Sheikh Aziz, Jaleel Andrabi and many others that slipped through our fingers as we were mute, helpless spectators of our own political orphaning. And each year we express our unfaltering solidarity with our martyrs – known and unknown – pledging to continue our political struggle against the powers that silenced them. However, what’s tragic is that in celebrating and eulogizing the sacrifices of those leaders killed by our own radical goons, we conveniently forget that their assassins continue to roam within our society – not as occupational forces in a uniform but as self-righteous jurists who bask in an unconditional social sanctity for anarchy.

Our moderate separatist leadership, barring a couple of outspoken voices, is cowed down into this guilt of being moderates – as if rational, pragmatic human thought is a cardinal sin – as if being a Kashmiri Nationalist is this shameful admission of being a wimp. They have now changed the assassination narrative to this ever familiar “black-sheep”, “could be anyone” discourse – shamelessly shielding the accused culprits in advance – exercising their right of a default-acquittal – appeasing powers across the border. This tactical phrasing and political monkeying is all-too-familiar in Kashmir. If this right to default-acquittal had to be exercised, why did we clinch our fists, climb on stages and point our fingers towards the sky – promising the people that the murderers wont be shielded? Why these theatrical performances when we knew that we won't be able to stand up to these radical bullies if and when their names would come up in the investigation?

Do we really want to take Kashmir down a road of Kangaroo Courts, Loya Jirgas and Khapp Panchayats – a road of rogue jurists holding murder trials and reading out sentences? I’m not too sure if such an institutional medievalization of our society would be acceptable to a nation that has sacrificed far too much for justice and dignity.

Following each assassination in our history, militant organizations have come out with these almost generic statements of “exposing the culprits”, while maintaining that any indications that murderers were within its ranks was a malicious attempt to “defame” the movement. Maulana Showkat’s response has elicited the same response as organizations are jumping over each other to hold Kangaroo courts. Who would be the judge, who would be a part of this jury and what would the hangman look like?

I’m not for a moment suggesting that we should blindly accept the findings of the police probe. I’m suggesting that we should not dismiss or question them without solid, substantiated reasons to do so – and if there are any such reasons – it’s time to make them public. If not, it’s about time that every single coward, ambiguous and apologetic leader introspects before it’s too late – before we are all annihilated for our beliefs and convictions because come such a day, there will be no mourners or pallbearers – just a nation in trance.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lost in Time

Firdous blames social anarchy on leaders who see modern amenities as conspiracies but conveniently turn a blind eye to societal disparities

(Mr. Firdous Syed Baba, 44, was born in Bhaderwah, Doda, and had his schooling in Jammu. He is a weekly columnist for the Greater Kashmir and writes for the Daily News and Analysis (DNA), Mumbai, as well as The New Indian Express, Chennai. Formerly, he founded the "Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Development Studies" and the periodical, "New Hope." Between 1989 and 1991, he led the Moslem Janbaaz Force, a militant group, and was jailed from 1991 through 1994. In 1996, he publicly renounced the gun culture, and is an active member of the Kashmir civil society.)

Responsible Who?

Spread of social evils in the society is a matter of great concern. It’s truly painful to watch helplessly, moral decay eating up rapidly the social fibre of the society. The social upheaval we are caught with has the potential to turn social equilibrium topsy-turvy. While we are able to predict a disaster that has already cast its shadow, yet we are unable to understand the nature of change clearly, is truly suffocating. Incapability of calibrating a proper response is enough to choke many of us, in frustration we start banging our head hysterically against the wall.

In post modern era since most of the social changes are technology and economy driven, majority of the population involuntarily is forced to adopt the new life styles. Even though we may already have lost the moral compass, the tempting comforts of modern life styles makes it very difficult for an ordinary human-being to resist the corrupting influences of modernity. The present technological advances probably lead towards degeneration of tradition and ethics, paradoxically are linked with the natural process of human evolution. Seeds of moral destruction are inherent in the modern material development.

Majority in the present world, keeping in tune with the process of evolution have progressed and prospered at a phenomenal cost, they have lost their social moorings. We the awestruck Muslims unable to grasp the change have neither prospered nor progressed yet we have failed to follow our much cherished moral systems. Fixed in the past dark-age, our moral degradation is worse than the technological advanced capitalist West. If we shunned modernity moreover scientific advancement voluntarily just to protect our moral systems than why we the Muslims are the most disempowered and morally desolate people in the present world?

Undeniably we have failed to follow and practice sincerely; the much acclaimed and time tested moral systems ordained by our ancestors. At the same time we have also failed to keep pace with the extraordinary growth of science, technology and economic development. This should be a critical area of our inquiry. Instead of contemplation, Syed Ali Geelani in his usual rejectionist style has commanded: “I appeal all of us that, if some honour is left in us, we should collect these mobile phones and throw them into the Jhelum River”. Geelani is not new to practice rejectionism. Since time immemorial, Muslim leadership particularly the clergy unable to understand the natural processes of evolution angrily and in frustration have shown the retarded mentality of rejecting scientific development. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had to face the wrath of Ulema of that time for even to ask Muslims to learn English.

Geelani is not alone to spread the pearls of wisdom; “After all, we were able to live our lives, do our businesses properly before the advent of mobiles”. But then we were able to live life without Internet also? Why internet, telephones also? Till recently we did not have electricity connections at home, LPG is a very recent addition. We are told there were no roads, and naturally question of motor vehicles doesn’t arise. Some time ago there were no schools and not to talk about doctors and hospitals. My late father use to grieve that his father suffering from tuberculosis died at a very young age of 35; “he had no access to penicillin which became available shortly after his death”.

If we are able to draw a fair comparison with the past, due to poverty, disease and widespread illiteracy our ancestor’s even five decades ago lived in most horrible revolting conditions. Due to economic backwardness theirs was a dark-age. But our forefathers were wise and enlightened than the myopic and dwarfs of today. They yearned for the change; we are incompetent to understand the change. We have lost the balance completely; we shun the evolution completely and are lethargic in mastering the ever-growing body of scientific knowledge. Yet we find ourselves caught in the blind chase of materialism. Is it not sheer hypocrisy?

There can’t be any disagreement with Geelani that mobile phones are misused here. However singling out girls alone for the misuse is absolute duplicity, what about the boys? Mobile phone at the first place is not something to be loathed and rejected, like numerous other modern inventions; it’s a useful tool which makes life easy. What is to be decried is the misuse of mobile, not the mobile phone itself. The challenge is to fine tune a proper balance and not to throw mobiles in the Jhelum. Rejectionist attitude which only points out ignorance---Jihalat--- in no way can be of any help to face many of the social, ethical problems posed by the modern times. We are free to lament the misuse of mobile. But it is essential to understand; misuse of the mobile is not the real problem, its mere symptom of a deep problem.

Moreover, ridiculous is the assumption of Geelani that New Delhi is deliberately “promoting liquor, drugs and sexual waywardness among the youth to erase their Muslim identity and undermine the freedom struggle”. Believing conspiracy theories is our favourite pastime; it also relieves us from the responsibility of any wrong doing. Shifting blame on others is more disastrous. Self-satisfying erected smokescreens obscures the ugliness of our own making; it also impedes the process of corrective mechanisms. India bashing may earn Geelani much sought goodwill among the impressionable youth; it will never trigger a genuine process of introspection. One wonders, whether India bashing is the real motive or much needed social reform.

India is busy in the process of forcefully integrating Kashmir against Kashmiri’s will. Coercion and enticement are all the tricks of trade. The best way to kill a resistance is to destroy the moral character of a nation, this is a simple fact known for centuries. However it takes two to tango. Controlling power will act according to its interests but why we are making its task easier by more than willingly collaborating in our own moral destruction. Let us assume that some Indian short-sighted poisoned minds are keen for our youth to go astray. If they want our youth to consume liquor, drugs and indulge in sexual waywardness, it needs to be condemned, univocally. But then who is consuming liquor, drugs and indulging in wicked sexual pleasures, we and our youth. Exploiter has a motive; exploited is more to be blamed for allowing him/her self to be exploited, knowingly. It is not only the waywardness that is only disturbing, the over increasing lustful behaviour of extramarital sex is also matter of great concern. The popularity of “morning-after” contraceptive pills amongst the unwedded young girls is shameful; it exposes the myth of our religiosity.

What we need to understand that we are not forced to adopt the wicked pleasures rather we chase these evils to satisfy our evil instincts. They knew that by character we are fallible and deceitful; they only provided us easy and unfair means of making money. In the process we have been made dependable by destroying our local economy. By divorcing dignity of labour, we have turned out to be parasites. Problem is not the misuse of mobile phone, real problem is our over materialistic mentality and fraudulent attitudes. Illicit money earned through corrupt and unfair means is bound to give rise to culture of extravagance. Lavish spending in marriages is lamentable. We have crossed all the limits of decency, we now have made occasions of death as an elaborate costly affair. Sadly we don’t miss any chance to show-off the ill-gotten wealth. If parents have the illicit means to provide thousands to their young children as pocket money, what else the tender minds will do other than to indulge in alcohol, drugs and sex. Otherwise how can college going kids afford costly drugs and mean to finance illicit premarital affairs.

Geelani sahib, if you are really serious to earn Azadi for this suppressed nation, work for a social reform first rather than banging your head against a concrete wall. The occupation is not necessarily sustained by the military might; it firmly stands on the foundation of our social evils. Reform the society occupation will automatically crumble like a sandcastle. Inculcate dignity of labour and truthfulness; believe me every other social evil will eventually fade away as if it never existed. India bashing is easy, undertaking societal reform the most difficult task. And it requires strength of character and personal commitment. There are no shortcuts, without renascence Azadi is not possible.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Catering to the Rich?

Arjimand discusses two important Bills that were recently "tabled" in the State Assembly. The one argument he does not explore is that did the government pursue a half-hearted effort to give an appearance of commitment to overhaul Kashmir's feudal economy that mostly caters to the rich?

(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.)

How property tax and agri land laws could be better designed

Some key laws in the state lately seem to be passed with juvenile statecraft. Well, it may sound paradoxical in itself, but that is what comes to mind when we analyse the two controversial bills passed in the Assembly recently.

The bill on introducing property tax lacked in homework. So did the bill which sought to ban any construction on and conversion of our agriculture lands.

Now that the government has backtracked and both the bills were sent to ‘select committees’ – it is a good time to float other ideas as well, which just don't look funny.

The first thing that we need to understand is that both these laws did not come out of nothing. At the moment, the law on property tax is not a matter of choice for us, it is a binding rather. For long I have been saying that the loans we have been borrowing from agencies like the ADB and the World Bank through schemes like Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) do not come for free. All these loans come with certain conditions.

When J&K state got ADB loans – which Economic Reconstruction Agency (ERA) now spends on our roads, drains, water projects etc. – we signed the same on certain conditions. The conditions included enhancing and streamlining water tax, introducing new municipal and other civic taxes. But all this is not unique to J&K state – these agencies ‘help’ every country with advice and ‘conditionalities’ about how to raise more resources to repay their loans.

When it comes to the proposed property tax, it does not come out of the blue. It relates mainly to the World Bank funded centrally sponsored JNNURM scheme. The main aim of the scheme – started in 2005 - is to modernise cities like Srinagar and Jammu – whose population fall between 10 and 40 million. So did we see any modernisation happening in Srinagar lately?

In our state, as many as 93 projects costing Rs. 1227.23 crores have been sanctioned under the scheme. Out of this amount 80 per cent of the funds will come as grants from the government of India, while J&K state has to contribute the rest 20 per cent.

Interestingly, majority of the projects under the scheme are implemented in the Jammu region. Until recently, Rs. 126.54 crore were spent in Kashmir region in comparison to 167.19 crore in Jammu. But that is not the whole story.

Given the fact that this is a reform-driven scheme, all the states taking this money are bound to introduce new taxes. A Business Standard report on February 12 quoted Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as saying that “he would not give a penny of the JNNURM money to the states if they failed to fulfil their promises on reform.”
Under the scheme, the states have to bring in 23 reforms – which are mandatory and optional. The mandatory reforms include introducing e-governance, municipal accounting, property tax, rationalization of stamp duty, community participation law, public disclosure law, among others.

So when it comes to property tax it is clearly mandatory. But what is interesting to note is that the government didn’t go ahead with e-governance (which was much easier but curbs the powers of babus) with the same urgency that it went with the property tax bill.

So at this point the government seems to have two options – either to say ‘no’ to the JNNURM funds altogether or in fact bring in the mandatory reforms. But the moot question is: is a restructured property tax law really possible in J&K at the moment?

At the heart of property tax idea there lays the assumption of wealth creation. It is extremely debatable whether residential houses in J&K create wealth, if not rented. It is not only about paying property tax on homes, as our economy remains highly volatile, people will find paying property tax on commercial properties impossible.

There are two creative ways of raising more revenue for J&K. Pakistan, despite stiff opposition, has just introduced farm income and wealth taxes, creatively designed not to tax poor people in both rural and urban areas. Landholders of more than 50 acres there need to file tax returns. Under that law, an income of Rs. 80,000 per crop has been exempted from the tax, while five per cent tax is applicable on an income of Rs. 100,000 and 15 per cent on all agricultural incomes exceeding Rs. 200,000. Given the big money J&K makes from large farmlands and livestock, we can surely think on similar lines.

When it comes to wealth tax we could design that creatively too. Any wealth making property (if the owner doesn’t pay income tax) – within and outside municipal limits could be brought under such tax. But would the ministers and babus like such a law?

When it comes to the Prohibition on Conversion of Agricultural Land for Non-Agricultural Purposes Bill, it requires drastic rethinking. What the original bill meant is that people won’t be allowed to switch over to better earning horticulture and make constructions on irrigated agricultural land.

But why on this earth we need a law that prohibits conversion of irrigated land to other purposes? Non-irrigated horticulture makes more money. It saves us water. But when it comes to construction of houses and commercial buildings on farmlands, it does need a prohibitive law.

Our population continues to grow. The 24 per cent population growth between 2001 and 2011 is huge. That means if we take that as an average growth, in the next forty years, Kashmir valley alone will have a population of 1.37 crore. So clearly we would need more houses and more business space.

Section 8 (C) of the original bill empowered “the government or the competent authority to permit any person or any department of the Government or any other body to convert the use of agricultural land for public utility purposes”. Obviously, it is bound to be misused.

A time has come when J&K state needs to bring in a law on Floor Space Ratio or Floor Space Index (FSI). We have done a massive horizontal building expansion. That is a luxury we can’t afford now. An appropriate FSI will make it binding on people to use a particular patch of land to create a particular floor space.

That, in effect, would mean more people living or doing business in a patch of land than as of now.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Virtue of Unification

Najib notes a deep seated conspiracy behind fragmentation of the erstwhile princely state with a 5,000 year history. He argues for its reunification in order to reconstruct its national glory

(Sardar Najib, 33, was born in Trarkhel, Poonch district in Pakistan administered Kashmir. He was educated at the Government Boys College, Trarkhel, and won a Gold Medal during F.Sc. Pre-Engineering as a topper in the entire Pakistan administered Kashmir. He graduated with B.Sc. in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) University of Engineering and Technology in Peshawar. Mr. Najib is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project management Institute (PMI), and is pursuing the MBA degree from the University of Atlanta, Dubai campus. He lives in Dubai and is the spokesman for the Jammu and Kashmir National Association of UAE that networks with other Kashmiris. He is an avid reader of historical literature on Jammu and Kashmir.)

Split Plexus of the Jammu and Kashmir State

The former princely state of Jammu Kashmir had become the victim of Two-Nation
theory in the South Asian subcontinent. The conspiracy was devised by the then
imperialist just after the second world war-II, for transferring of power and to implement the new format for division of globe. The agenda of the new imperialist was mostly designed and engineered on the basis of the control of resources, to increase the dependency towards him and his allied partners. In order to sustain the dependency and snatch the resources from specific region, it is off course, it was the requirement of the pre-designed format and dynamics of parameters to control time dependent changes. It is evident, that the Northern state of South Asia was marked by the designer to use for sustaining the crucial control factors. In the modern trend of the imperialist, the new philosophy is being incorporated, that “Don’t eliminate the state, do make weak internally”. The recent example is the division of Sudan and continued efforts in Libya.

The creation of the polemic situation is the proof to mingle the state position. The drastic and most dangerous was to split the plexus of the state. In this condition the state was divided into the regions across the LOC and also within sides of LOC. There was further subdivision of the region even on one side of LOC. The region in the Pakistan controlled Jammu and Kashmir was divided into Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas. The degree of the division was so dangerous that absolutely and purposely there was no political, social or administrative links in the both subdivided regions even located on one side of LOC. The situation on the other side of the LOC is also very similar.

The Indian controlled Jammu Kashmir was also theoretically subdivided with sense of
valley-ism, the Jammu and the Leh. Evidently, the bilateral ties among these subdivided regions are very weak and even not on an orthodoxy threshold. Hence, it can be argued in view of strong sense the heavy logistic, infrastructure cost of the declaration and existence of the two capital cities i.e. Srinagar (Summer Capital) and Jammu (Winter Capital). During the transition period from Srinagar to Jammu and back during commencement of the seasons, absolutely there is no working for at least two months in the government offices.

In addition, the sense of rift due to shifting can be smelled on both sides in view of the treatment of both sides during off period. There is utmost subdivision in the Indian Controlled Kashmir. The strong, sense and feeling can be observed in the Poonch district, which is practically hanged between Jammu and the Valley. One person from Poonch, district said that ‘’ the people from Valley called them indecent Phari (the person living on mountains and not seasoned” and people from Jammu called them
Ugarwadi (the terrorist).

This is on record that the Poonch is most backward district of Indian controlled Jammu and Kashmir. Now, we move forward to the region of Leh, which is also backward and the cultural inter-ties with other regions are vary weak. The weak links are due to the fact, is the remoteness and less concentration on the development. The main causes of the weak inter ties and sense of heavy division is due to of the lack of logistic infrastructure. The chances of people to people contact are acute and hence, the medium of interaction due for diffusion is on edge.

Now the scenario on the other side of LOC i.e. the Pakistani administered Jammu and
Kashmir, is on verge to keep on the division for sustainability of the oppression. The example directing the verge is the format of elections, the design of government, and the role of lent officers and most whacking is the Northern Areas inclusion as the quoted province of Pakistan. The election for Pakistani Controlled Kashmir is designed that the 12 seats are allocated for the migrated people settled in Pakistan. The constituency is spread over number of cities and geographically in the scattered areas. The number of the registered voters normally ranging from 400 to 1000, logically or socially there is no link, as can be observed world wide in any constituency.

The observation can be made during elections at polling stations that voters are not
seemed the native inhabitants of Jammu Kashmir. The allocation of these seats is just a symbolic representation being used as control points the part of the designed
mechanism, in order to plant the government to be used as posture to enjoy the wet
dream sensation. The structure of the government is made with waxwork for molding as
required and when required basis. The second crucial control point in the mechanism is the deputation of lent officers into the disputed territory. The government in the Pakistani Controlled Kashmir is just an anesthesia for politicians to diffuse and engage the political pressure. The situation is similar as kolkhoz, but sometimes giving more share to the politician suitable for them during this particular time. This is just a jamb; the probe into deep will give the more drastic control points.

The people from all regions of Jammu Kashmir state were refraining to be not in contact purposely to avoid any joint venture for the future of their homeland. Due to these engineered factors and pre-planned design the inter-cultural ties are very weak. Even that sometimes before the phone call across the LOC was not allowed.

In view of the above perspective the state needs the reunification on the basis of
common point of interests. The common and most viable solution is the true deep
analysis of the issue, with enhancement of people to people contact with vision in mind for reunification as on before 1947. However, this is not a bed of roses. It needs the intellectual deep sensing and formatting the existing system, equipped with unity, trust, common target and improvement of bilateral interaction across the LOC and within any side of LOC. The LOC, is not only the physical line dividing the Jammu Kashmir into regions under different governance, it is the cause of division of the sentiments, the relationships, the tribes & families. The Interaction across the LOC in all State regions for improvements of people to people contact to be managed and organized under supervision of international organizations.

The issue is not a land or the water issue between two countries, this is the issue of a nation had a five thousands years historical background. The issue must be addressed in view of a context of a nation not in a sense of a border, land or the resources.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Roads Paved With Greed

Saima sees a reason for possible protest in the coming Summer, and it will not be related to politics but against misgovernance

(Ms. Saima Farhad, 30, was born in Srinagar. She went to Mallinson Girls High School in Srinagar, and to the Government Womens College, Maulana Azad Road, Srinagar. Ms. Farhad has completed her Master's Degree in Social Work from the University of Kashmir. She is currently an Assistant Professor in Social Work in the University of Kashmir. Ms. Farhad has been a co-editor of the "She Magazine," a valley based journal concerned with issues involving women.)

The Nightmares That our Roads Are

When the previous summer’s unrest broke out, many people tended to cite unemployment and misgovernance as important issues and factors responsible. Their argument was that a sort of anger and rage has developed amongst the common people, because of their frustration with the slow pace of development, which has made them to come out on the streets to protest.

Let's for a minute believe them. If that would have been the case then the government should have taken its cue, used the money flow from the ‘packages’ that came to prevent the unrest, and gone in for speedy development on all fronts. But is that the case.

If the state of our roads, which all of us ply on everyday, were an indication, then we are soon to have one more summer of protest against ‘the misgovernance’. And this time around no one would need to search for stones. The streets have no dearth of them.

Every single day, due to the dismal state of our roads, every single person here, loses time as well as money. Be it a student, employee, a businessman, a hospital going patient, a doctor, a job seeker who has to go to an interview, everyone is losing time. Those who travel by bus get their journeys delayed because of the numerous potholes, and unplanned excavations where-in every government department is in a race to make a drain or lay a telephone cable or a water pipeline as soon as a road is repaired or completed. The roller coaster ride through the numerous bumps and the potholes sets the mood for the day for the commuter in the bus. And if he is in the overload, as most of us are, it sets a day for back ache too.

A car owner’s nightmare is more fuel consumption, more loss of money and more damage to the car. The car mechanics in Srinagar are the happiest lot, because thanks to the government, they are making a quick buck. The condition, our roads are in is worsened whenever there is even a drizzle, forget about moderate or heavy rain, or snow. The absence of a proper rain water drainage system, only adds to the situation, since the water stagnates on the road, leading to more damage to the roads.

The potholes become cesspools and the roads rivulets during rains. The potholes continue to store water long afterwards. Thus the government ensures that those who have to walk the road face the utmost difficulty. There is probably no one in Srinagar whose day has not been affected by the splash of muddy water from the pothole or the road, when a vehicle passed by.

The unrepaired roads are even unwalkable in the dry season because of the dust. You have to keep a handkerchief to your nose to walk even a small distance. But the handkerchief does not solve the problem completely. The occasional spec of duct finds its way into the eye, leading to a sordid time. It is not late for doctors to have a study on the prevalence of lung diseases and eye infections in Kashmir, due to the ever increasing dust on the roads.

At many places the roads have caved in. And this does not apply to mountainous terrain where there are natural reasons at work. These cave-ins instead of being repaired have been left as such, waiting for unknowing victims.

It is no surprise that the condition of roads has greatly increased the risk of accidents. The two wheelers face a particularly difficult plight where they not only have to protect themselves from the dust and mud, but also curve around potholes. Lives put intentionally at risk.

Whenever a road is repaired elsewhere out of the state it is expected to have a particular time span. Let’s say, a year at minimum. But the repaired rod here reverts back to the state from which it was repaired in just two months at maximum. The contractors, fleeced by the government officials, assure that the worst quality product is put into road building and road repair. The money spent finds its way into the coffers of engineers, politicians, and contractors, and the common man suffers. Only if 40-50 percent of the approved money for each project would have been spent on actual work, things would have been much different. It is not as if people are demanding for American or European standards. Even standards employed elsewhere in the country would do. But in the face of an almost non-existent quality control mechanism, this can never happen.

Even if luckily a road gets repaired, soon some government department or agency finds it appropriate to start work on a new drainage project, and the road digging starts again. This happens so often, that there can be no co-incidence to it. There is no co-ordination among the various govt departments is an accepted fact, but there seems a deliberate attempt to start digging work as soon as a road is repaired. During the digging process, no care is taken of traffic diversions. Even if there is another road from inside the colony or the mohalla which commuters put to use, as an automatic diversion, somehow at the same time out of all the other places, digging starts there to undertake a long overdue public works project. A comedy of errors, some would say. But it is too planned to seem random.

And this digging and then reconstruction is a long long wait. The biggest problem with road projects, be it repair or construction, here is that they take ages and generations to complete. What should have been completed in a week, takes months, what should have been completed in a year takes decades. A mohalla road takes around the same time taken to complete a new metro lane in New Delhi.

More so, even to the common eye the techniques put into use to construct and repair roads, seem right out the stone ages. There has lots of smoke, lots of dust, lots and lots of labour, and so on.

All this seems to be a deliberate and planned effort at failure. A calculated effort to steal public money and let it flow into coffers of those who know how to extravagantly overspend.

But since everything is supposed to be complicated in Kashmir, it may not be so simple. Maybe this is even a form of long and protracted community punishment being put into effect, to frustrate and slow down-greats achievements for those who have these goals in sight.

So, if we go by the state of our roads, then we are on the road to another summer of protest. Till then let the mechanics, the engineers, the politicians, the ministers-the odd and the even make merry. As someone pointed out, they make merry even then. It is always the commoners who suffer.

Koshur Speaking (Rural) Women Entreprenuers

Afsana describes the unique capacity of women in rural Kashmir who have found new income opportunities

(Ms. Afsana Rashid, 30, was born and raised in Srinagar and attended the Minto Circle High School. She graduated from the Government College for Women with a Bachelor's degree in science, and completed her post-graduation degree from the University of Kashmir, obtaining her Master's Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. She has received numerous world-wide recognition and awards for covering economic depravation and gender sensitive issues in Kashmiri journals, which include Sanjoy Ghose Humanitarian Award, Bhorukha Trust Media Award 2007, and the 2006-07 UNFPA-Ladli Media Award. Her work on "Impact of conflict on subsistence livelihood of marginalised communities in Kashmir and Alternatives", was recognized by Action Aid India in 2005-06. She has travelled abroad attending a workshop on "conflict Reporting" by Thomson Foundation, Cardiff, UK, and a seminar for women in conflict areas by IKV Pax Christi, Netherlands. In February, 2008, she compiled a book, "Waiting for Justice: Widows and Half-widows." She has been a valley based correspondent for the Khidmat and Tribune, and since July 2010 has joined Dainik Bhaskar.)

Women's Jobs Pop Up in Kashmir 'Mushroom Villages'

From her home in the Kashmir Valley, Naseema Bano cultivates button mushrooms in trays to sell at the local market.

"It is profitable, and people have started purchasing," Bano says.

Mushrooms are creating a substantial profit for the valley's women, who have not had much financial freedom but can now contribute to their families.

Women here say that strict gender roles hinder their economic opportunities and the region's economic development. The female work participation rate is just 25.6 percent nationally and 22.5 percent in the state of Kashmir and Jammu, according to India's most recent census in 2001.

To reduce unemployment and empower women, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology-Kashmir, SKUAST-K, created two model "mushroom villages" in 2009 and 2010 in the northeastern districts of Baramulla and Budgam.

Nazir Ahmad Munshi, senior scientist at SKUAST-K's Mushroom Research and Training Center, says the program offers trainings to women first at the university, then at demonstration centers in their villages and finally at their individual homes. Later, they give them materials to start production.

So far, 136 women are producing mushrooms in their homes in Budgam village and 65 women are producing mushrooms in Baramulla village to sell at local markets.

"After acquiring training from the center, I've set up my own unit," grower Haleema Begum says. "I don't have to work hard as it is an easy task and I have engaged my family members as well." SKUAST-K's Munshi says it's a feasible business.

"Being a home-based unit, women prefer mushroom production," Munshi says. "Besides, raw material required for mushroom compost that is important for mushroom production is locally available, like paddy and wheat straw, chicken manure and horse dung. We even train our trainees on how autumn fallen leaves, like apple and chinar, can be used as compost for mushroom production."

Munshi says the Horticulture Technology Mission, a government-funded mission to promote socio-economic development in India's northeastern region, provides the women with free spawn, or seeds.

He says production is also easy to sustain.

"Production technology is simple," Munshi says. "It is not dependent on power and is [an] employment-generating unit."

On top of that, Munshi says profits are significant.

For a minimum of 200 trays or 500 bags, a grower can earn $220 a month, he says. One grower earned almost $3,400 last year and some have been able to market their produce in New Delhi, India's capital.

Munshi says mushroom demand is high because many mushrooms in the state are wild and inedible. Mushrooms also have cosmetic uses -- in creams -- and pharmaceutical uses.

"Its protein value lies between meat and vegetable," he says. "Diabetic patient[s] can take it as it is [a] low-caloric food vegetable. Eighty percent of it is water."

But Munshi says it's hard for growers to market their mushrooms because they are women. To help, the university arranges load carriers to take their produce to the markets.

The university also aims to provide mini-canning units, which process mushrooms, in the villages. Munshi says that the villages should also have mushroom houses or farms, since a lack of space is another problem.

"Space in their respective homes isn't easily provided by the families to women for this purpose," says one grower, Shaista Bano, who is not related to Naseema Bano.

She says that women also face financial constraints because of their gender.

"Families aren't encouraging, and it is difficult for us to avail loan facilities," she says. "Parents don't encourage their girls for setting up businesses."

Shaista Bano says the government should assist them financially.

The Centre for Environment and Education Himalaya, a nongovernmental organization, has also set up a mushroom cultivation program for women.

"People here didn't know that mushrooms could be cultivated and consumed," says Mubashir Ahmad, a Centre for Environment and Education Himalaya coordinator. "We got spawn from SKUAST-K and offered it to our beneficiaries."

SKUAST-K aims to set up five more mushroom villages across the valley by the end of this year.

Munshi says the program plans to focus on dhingri mushrooms more than button mushrooms because they offer more crops annually, don't require compost and have a longer shelf life because they can be dried. Munshi says that if the growers can raise their prices and maintain the proper temperature during the winter -- so mushrooms can be cultivated year-round -- Kashmir could compete with China in mushroom production.

The Dying Chinar

Imran speaks passionately about a beautiful living object that is dying right in front of his eyes (and ours)

(Mr. Imran Mohammad Muzaffar, 21, was born in Hajin Sonawari, Bandipora. He completed his high school from the Government Higher Secondary School in Hajin. He has studied Political Science and History, and joined Government Degree College, Baramulla, to study Convergent Journalism. Mr. Muzaffar has participated in one of the workshops of the BBC World Service Trust on Social Affairs Reporting. He has participated in the National Science Drama Contest in New Delhi, and looks forward to pursue post-graduate studies. He writes occasionally to express his hopes and dreams.)

Chinars are Wailing

Chinar, I would lean against, is no more on the ground. Chopped into pieces, coloured black, and alone among the junior ones, as if the eldest member of a family has been killed, my favourite, gigantic, shadowy and best ear-lending chinar in the Naseem Bagh has been ultimately cut down by the brute force in the disguise of development.

I remember my grandparents talking of Naseem Bagh as the most beautiful and peaceful land Kashmir would ever be proud of. I read Aga Shahid’s portrayal of Chinars in his poems. I hear travel agents talk of Naseem Bagh whenever any angrez sahib has to explore the valley. I see Naseem Bagh boyfriend-girlfriend rendezvous. Much water has flown down the Jhelum. But that of Dal Lake, they say, waters never move therein. At a time when the university premises are full of energetic boys and girls seeking for admissions, the Naseem Bagh, on the other hand, is crying and its greatest chinars, under whose shade millions have made their mark, are shrinking. Naseem Bagh, whose backdrop are the greatest Himalayas, seems almost barren now after the monster’s havoc on the chinars and further marking of those chinars who are to be cut in the future course of time. The chinars are marked with black colour so that there is no confusion in cutting the chinars down. I wonder how the uncountable chinars squeeze to some at-sight countable poor creatures, in whose mourning no protests are held and no obituaries published.

The very chinar I would share memories and pastime with is really no more. I could not believe at first but the reality was like that, I jogged through whole of the Naseem Bagh to find the chinar but at the end it was an awful sight watching it chopped down. Such a grand tree, it used to shadow much of the land relaxing students and teachers amid the hustle bustle of day today heavy business. I remember students discussing events with their teachers in the shade of that tree long when the other students had gone back to their hostels and homes.

It was a holy tree for me, for others I don’t know. Lore has it, there used to be uncountable chinars, UNCOUNTABLE, to count and Naseem Bagh would be so dense that it used to filter whole city’s air and Dal lake would be incomplete without these gigantic, beautiful and hapless chinars. I remember in my childhood when we were taken for a picnic; we were shown ‘The Kashmir University’ in general and ‘Naseem Bagh’ in PARTICULAR. Teachers told us that the Bagh is the highest chinar bearing one and not a single Chinar is prone to any disease, cutter and poacher. Now the gates are open, cutters are being sharpened day in and day out in the face of development. Contracts are given and are being challenged to cut maximum in a given time. Naseem Bagh throws a mournful expression.

Chinars are wailing.

From Self-Centered to Community Centric

Maroof shows how little one has to do to make a big difference in the lives of less fortunate. But will that happen?

(Dr. Muhammad Maroof Shah, 32, was born in Kunan, Bandipore. He has pursued a career in veterinary medicine and animal husbandry, completing Bachelors's degree in veterinary sciences (BVSc) at the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry (FVSc & AH), Shuhama campus of the Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Kashmir (SKUAST-K), and MA English through the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). He is presently posted as a Veterinary Assistant Surgeon (VAS) at the Government Sheep Breeding Farm in Dachigam. Dr. Shah is the author of two books, and has lectured as a visiting fellow at the Jaipur University on Western Philosophy. In his leisure time he pursues studies in comparative religion, philosophy and literature.)

Can We Change It?

People protest in all ways when some innocents are killed but how insensitive are they to the coldblooded murders connected every hour. Imagine if you find a child denied food or good nutrition and he dies because of starvation or disease caused by malnutrition in front of you. Imagine denying a person the facilities of electricity and cooling when temperature is in 40 degree Celsius and he dies of heat stroke.

There are more ghastly and absolutely inhuman ways of killing also to which we have become accustomed. A young person is denied job for no fault of his own but because the system can’t adjust him as it is based on fundamental of injustice and denies jobs to millions. A person who is denied a job suffers from veritable hell and dies every moment – a far more cruel way of murdering than by shooting. Not being able to find a job or feeling alienation in one’s job is a cancer of the soul. This cancer afflicts countless millions across the world and many amongst the readers or someone in their families and we are accustomed to it. Impunity’s most shameless face! Denying a person treatment because he can’t afford is murdering him. Denying a person shelter because he can’t afford to purchase land or build a house is denying him the status of a human being. Countless thousands of couples suffer from slow poisoning of the soul due to it. Mistreated for being jobless or for some other reason a person wants to live alone, to weep without anybody around to notice it – that hurts his self respect. He was industrious youth working even up to late midnight to cram his lessons he never understood perhaps because he lacked verbal skills or knowledge of English. He fails in examination and fails again in the next year. His dignity and self respect goes as he is reviled by family members and ignored by friends. He becomes a criminal, an addict or suffers from neurosis of life long depression. This is the death of soul. He can’t afford education in a good school and his parents are eaten by guilt and the child grows to be a mediocre or at best an average student. All students can’t go to good schools because of limited seats.

Don’t forget that the system which makes it possible for me to build multi-storied house and that too on agricultural land with all the modern comforts condemns the labourer with whose skill and sweat that was constructed to penury, to agonizingly wait for daily bread if he gets the job for the day. The same system which makes it possible to overfeed some and then treat their obesity or diseases resulting from too much weight and fat at public expense has no money for universal public distribution system. The system has a mechanism – interest based banking – that ensures that the rich become richer and the more rich one is the richer he can become at the cost of the poor who are literally squeezed to death by bankruptcy or difficulty of repaying loans. The system protects the property of the rich by employing the poor in police force to fire protestors and “criminals.” If you happen to own some big business or bank or hotel or industrial plant or shopping complex you hardly need to do anything and still enjoy all the comforts because the labourers can work to create wealth for you to enjoy. The students condemned to study or take examination in the city or the attendants of patients from Bandipora or Kupwara who have indoor patient at SKIIMS have nowhere to go as the night draws nearer though at the same time the system protects my neighbour’s 18 room house on which only one or two rooms are normally used by his small family. More food is wasted every night or in one big function every day than is needed to feed all the people in neighbourhood.

If we can’t fight the system head on we can still make significant difference nonetheless if we want. A few ifs – which are all easily manageable – and we can be a welfare state. No poor person will need to hire sumo or auto if we used to give lift – I will not beg for free lift but will gladly pay some money to car owner. Our jam problem will go tomorrow if were conscious citizens and shared our car with 4 others on the way. Our State will save crores daily on the whole if people had a little compassion or fellow feeling or even had economic sense – collecting say Rs 10 or 20 from 5 persons to whom they give lift they will cover their petrol expenses, travel efficiently as jam will be less. In many advanced countries there is hardly anyone who is denied lift in contrast to situation here. Cooperative farming will give all of us almost free milk, free meet, free vegetables and even free rice or roti. Community kitchen will end buhu-sas tussle, strengthen extended family system and relationships while allowing our sisters and mothers enjoy life without being condemned to work thanklessly day in and day out. Job crisis will be over the next day if needs are provided for which are balanced nutrition, two or three rooms for a small family, a community hall in the area where all the expenses of functions such as marriages could be covered for less than Rs 150/plate in buffy system with many dishes of wazwan without any need of shamyanas, generators, and other paraphernalia.

If civil society decides and goes for change we will have significantly reduced crisis in jobs, in health care. If every doctor gives only 2 hours free service in a week, all the poor in our State will be treated. The same should apply to other service providers. We can create nonmarket alternatives to supply us most of the commodities and services and reduce cost of living to a few thousand rupee per month and less than Rs.10,000 salary for average family will suffice. Young people who had been inadequately loved or trusted in individualist market driven competitive system are despising everyone or resigned to their state as now trust no one or see themselves as unlovable. Everywhere we see hostility, mistrust, ingratitude, non-compliance. If we build a mahmaan khana with every new mosque we can accommodate all stray people and students whom government can’t accommodate in hostels as it has other priorities. In it we can keep space for two or three people for sleep and meals. We can solve problem of all those who come to hospitals and find no place at night or students/labourers/employees in need of accommodation by making waqf accountable. We have enough money with most mosque committees to do a lot of welfare activity. How many people know that Islam, as especially emphasized by Javid Gamdhi, requires 10-20% of income from productive units/rent every month to be given as ushr. If we gave ushr for only one year we can make big hostels that will accommodate students and road-farers. We could open beggar houses and make beggars work on different projects there – say vegetable cultivation. If imams of mosques want beggary to end, they need to register all poor in the community and provide some minimum support system from organized zakat/ushr system and then outlaw beggary in their localities. All unregistered beggars who come from nowhere and exploit us would be gone. All retirees should be asked to join some NGO or engage is various welfare activities. We have mosque committees, mohalla committees for the dead but none for the living. Let us make one for them.

The (R)age of Sycophancy

Hassan says that in J&K it is not the merit that matters, but CHM. To know what the CHM means, take a trip into the mafia system known as the State Administration

(Mr. M. G. Hassan Mukhtar, 44, was born in Srinagar. He has a Bachelor's degree in Architecture, Post-Graduate diplomas in Disaster Management, and Environment & Sustainable Development, and Certificates in Rural Development and Human Rights. Mr. Mukhtar is a Habitat Planner in Human Settlement Field. He is also a freelance writer, independent researcher, analyst and policy planner.)

Of Work Culture and Government Offices

In all the categories of government institutions except legislation (where legislators are directly elected by people and removed by them only), rest follow guided hierarchies from sub-ordinate staff to middle level up to top level. Since a person seeks employment to earn his livelihood so that s/he can sustain life till death, rest is all in vain. If money comes without working, then it is all the more nice. Therefore no one joins an organization or department to serve but the goal is to earn. Or if an employee initially feels that s/he must serve the institution to which s/he has been employed in order to get remuneration but during the course of employment one comes to a conclusion that it is not the department/institution or the public one works for but for the malafide interests of his/her superior. One has not to see the genuineness of the case/file under his disposal but the interests of the higher officer. Once that path is followed, then everything turns good in one’s favor, otherwise only God can safeguard you. By doing all sort of chamchagiri, one shall always be in good books. Just using one’s own brain is a crime in government particularly when you are a subordinate. You can be dubbed arrogant, egoistic and a rebel. In case, one is a fool of first order but knows the art of sycophancy or hypocrisy, then one shall always rise high through career benefits etc. On the other hand, if you are an intellectual and do have sound knowledge but do not indulge in sycophancy and double standards, then yours is a gone case. Would you believe that there are officers in government who do not know how to write an application but are in good books with timely promotional benefits just because of serving the personal interests of their higher authorities?

Anyway what I am trying to convey is that in government one cannot just rise high on pure ability and intelligence unless proved that he can serve as a puppet too. Mere efficiency, transparency, integrity has no takers in government. One could be lucky enough, if s/he gets favorable atmosphere on the basis of ability but that is a rare case worth to be preserved in the archives. One cannot rise without the help of godfather. Rather everyone needs one GF necessarily. If one is honest, dedicated, hardworking, efficient but still then requires a godfather who could belong to any category "dishonest, corrupt, and inefficient." If one is dishonest, still then needs a godfather (who may even be honest or nepotist etc) to safeguard his interests and protect him from administrative shocks. Let me tell you that nothing works without godfathers or patrons. The silver lining is that one must emulate the persona of his superior and behave like a dog wagging his tail faithfully; rather understand his boss's needs (of every sort) and fulfill them. This all one can do at the cost of organization/self respect and trust people have reposed in you as a public servant.

If your immediate superior officer or employer is corrupt, try to become one and/ or be a conduit or help him in his endeavors, then there is no looking back. It is guaranteed that you shall rise and get easy promotion, lucrative posting and unaccounted holidays. If he is scandalous or wants to favor/ help someone (not necessarily on the basis of goose), then extending a helping hand towards him by not creating hurdles in the case file under your disposal shall keep him in good humour. This will ultimately pay you in the long run. The applicant receiving his help/favor may be his immediate/distant relative or friend or a sponsored case. While judging a case file, do not look into the merits of the file / genuineness of the case but the personal interests of the higher officer.

These are the only ways to get your Annual Performance Report (APR) a better outstanding. These stupid APRs have literally turned government employees as modern slaves under the falsehood of democracy and administrative discipline; therefore they cannot exhibit creativity or innovation. As per my knowledge and experience and more so keeping an eye on such relevant issues in present times, these APRs could be simply dubbed or called as Assessment of Personal Relations (APR) between a superior officer and his sub-ordinate official without an iota of reference to ability, efficiency and intelligence. It is only through the culture of chamchagiri, hypocrisy and mockery (CHM) that one can sustain progress and reach higher level in government sector. Usually no employee works for the organization or its interests but for their superiors who hold key to APRs.

The APR dependency culture in today's democratically functional governments is foolish. The creative instinct of an able officer goes into dustbin. An official has to work in any case to get his salary. Let attendance and the progress report which could be generated on weekly/monthly basis (quantity & quality) be the criteria and let's do away with these Annual Performance Reports (generally known as Assessment of Personal Relations). Team work in govt. sector is simply plagued with malafide and vested interests. The government must broaden Vigilance Organization by having established honest officers of different fields in order to prepare a transparent record of all officers within government agencies, autonomous /corporate institutions, with feedback from the public (in terms of grievances/appreciation). It should be a third party appraisal machinery and not the immediate or superior officer within the same organization. This shall remove the concept of owing allegiance only to the immediate officer which will enable employees to think creatively, critically and constructively towards the organization and public they serve. I personally believe that a public servant must be imaginative, innovative having high degree of constructive intellect.

There is in fact a mafia system within administration. The dishonest ones work in close liaison with each other both at horizontal and vertical level while the honest ones are scattered and fragmented. Able and efficient ones are rendered useless through denial of work by an inefficient/corrupt/ nepotist superior. Some of the non-corrupt superiors never mind promoting those scandalous officers who are proved involved in forgery. This is really amazing. It is higher officers who groom their own brand of corrupt officials and use them at their own freewill. Those officers who do not take cash but promote nepotism (which according to me is the ugliest form of corruption) are the worst lot.

So far as division of labor in government/ semi-govt. sector is concerned as per posts and designations and hierarchy, this is thrown to dust bin. The superior officers use the methodology of harassing the efficient ones and get work done as per their personal wishes and whims in the form of nexuses with pure vested interest from officials who are habitual cheaters with proven record of forgery.

The Right to Information Act lays stress on the role, responsibility and duties apart from delegation of powers to the individual officers in an organization so that every official becomes accountable for the jobs in his/her own domain. An officer processing files of another colleague under the malafide and vested interest of superior officer is totally violating the standard procedure and such actions stand purely illegal. Only in case of one officer being on long leave may be asked to deal with work of another officer. Most of the superior officers violate these norms for their own interests whether for pecuniary benefits or simple nepotism. Further if two colleagues or two immediate hierarchical officers do not see eye to eye, there is a need to use the administrative tool of LEVEL JUMPING so that work does not suffer on account of enmity between the officials. In public sector undertakings, zero transfer policy has rendered most of the employees as sarkari dons with one track mindset. In these organizations, there is either nexus because of malafide interests or enmity due to acrimonious relations between officials. This has created groupism within organizations and has affected the culture of work. The aforesaid description is the general culture of work in government sector with of course exceptions.

Drowned in Mis-Governance

Arjimand reviews findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) regarding the quality of governance in the State, but does not mention determined efforts by politicians and state officials to keep the CAG Annual Reports from being discussed in the State Assembly. Few of the CAG findings are discussed following Arjimand's analysis

(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.)

Drowned in Debt

The CAG report presented in the State Legislative Assembly is a severe tell off to the government of the State. The consequences of ad hoc budgeting, almost entirely driven by political expediency, have gruelingly started staring into our face. It needs bare common sense to point out the rot that has set in from long time now. An excessive, and blind, reliance on loans under different schemes, borrowings from center and different financial institutions, and incessant piling up of debts have pushed this state into a crisis that are too deep to fathom. This was known to all even before the budget for this fiscal was presented. It makes our economy tragic, and those who handle it criminal, that rather than making an attempt to check the rot, it has only been deepened. Does it need any super fine calculations that when we, on the one hand every time borrow, and on the other hand create no wealth, we are destined to find ourselves neck deep into debt. And this is what has happened.

In the ultimate analysis economy is about making calculations, and digits have a habit of being brute. Digits don’t do a politics that hides more and reveals less. If our politicians stealthily and slyly wreak havoc to our economy, digits are only there to expose them; head to toe. The report submitted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India indicating the pathetic state of the economic health of our state on account of its debt load is a harsh reminder of what the governments in the state from time to time having been doing to us. "The overall fiscal liabilities of J&K State have increased from Rs 23,287 crore in 2008-09 to Rs 28,735 crore in 2009-10," the report makes it plainly clear. It means that the State's fiscal liabilities have increased by 18.31 per cent in 2009-10. According to the report the total liabilities come to about Rs 15.449 – comprising internal debt, loans and advances from the central government. Given these figures the Fiscal Liability – Gross State Domestic Product ratio has reached 75.03 percentile at the end of the last fiscal, meaning March 31, 2010. The same was 69.78 percentile in 2008-09. To make it understandable to a layman, one way is to compare this ratio to the proposed ration in the recommendations of the 13th Finance Commission. It says that the ratio should come under 25 percent in the next five years. This huge gap between the two is indicative of how worse the situation is.

The point that now needs to be asked with all seriousness, mixed with popular resentment, is that what made us come to this pass. Without getting into who did it and for what ugly purposes, it can be in a nutshell explained in terms of lack of democracy in the State. To come into power, public support has never been considered as crucial in this State. It has always been a nexus between the political parties of this State and a slew of know and unknown powers, to contain the popular urge about one particular political question that has determined the power structure of our State. Consequent to this we have witnessed the growth of a bureaucracy that is a mix of incompetence and servility. With the result the element of responsibility has been completely absent from our politics and bureaucracy. To give a feel good factor every time, and getting money from different sources to keep things afloat our governments have accrued problem over problem for us as people. People become rich only if they know how to explore and exploit the resources that nature has left with them. Also by developing skill and knowledge capital. These are the principled sources for the creation of wealth. Stuffing these sources and allowing the loans to compensate – it makes a hideous economy.

CAG Indicts Govt for Financial Indiscipline

State fails to surrender huge sum in budgetary savings

Tribune News Service & PTI

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has pointed out in its report that the state government has violated the budget manual and failed to surrender the budgetary grants and appropriations in the financial year 2009-10. And the non-surrender of the funds deprived the government of the opportunity to transfer these to other needy sectors, the report revealed.

In its report for the year ended March 31, 2009, which was tabled in the state Legislative Assembly recently, the CAG said that the state government has failed to surrender Rs 2,671 crore of budgetary grants and appropriations.

“At the close of the year 2008-09, there were 28 grants and five appropriations (state budget) in which saving occurred, but no part of that had been surrendered by the government departments concerned,” the report said.

The saving in these cases included Rs 2,292.35 crore in 44 cases (involving 28 grants and two appropriations) where saving involved were Rs 1 crore and above, it said.

As per the state budget manual, the departments were required to surrender grants/appropriations or saved portion, thereof, to the Finance Department as and when the savings were anticipated, it said.

Giving further breakup, the CAG report said the Education Departments failed to surrender Rs 437.55 crore as saving amount, the Planning and Development Department Rs 381.54 crore, Consumer Affairs public Distribution Department (CAPD) Rs 310.88 crore, Power Development Department Rs 247.95 crore, Finance Department Rs 242.91 crore and Home Department failed to surrender Rs 148.91 crore during 2009-10.

Indicting the government for financial indiscipline, the report said contrary to the financial code of the state, in respect of 11 major heads, expenditure exceeding Rs 10 crore and also more than 50 per cent of the expenditure of the year was incurred during the last month of the financial year 2009-10. According to the Jammu and Kashmir Financial Code, the rush of expenditure in the closing month of the financial year should be avoided and strictly monitored, it said. The report further said the coding pattern as advised by the Principal Accountant General had not been adopted by the state Finance Department and even the demand of grants of some departments did not have a code number to identify them.

These deficiencies made the entire budgeting process erroneous, making reconciliation of the department figures with those adopted by the Principal Accountant General difficult, it said. The report added that the matter was reported to the state government from time to time, but there was no response.

CAG Points out 'Poor Governance,' Non-Compliance of Rules in J&K

'Good governance' and 'work culture' are the two words, off and on, used or to say propagated by the State Government but going by the latest report of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, the reality is somewhat different, as CAG has indicted the State administration for its non-compliance with various financial rules, procedures and directives during 2009-10.

Pointing towards the 'poor governance' in J&K, the CAG has stated that the several state government departments have failed to furnish mandatory Utilisation Certificates (UCs) to the Accountant General (AG) within the stipulated time period of 18 months. According to the CAG findings in Table 3.1 on Page 43, Utilization Certificates for a whopping Rs 1815.29 crore in respect of 2362 items were outstanding till the end of March 2010.

The range of delay in producing UCs varies from one to five years. There were 504 items amounting to Rs 354.52 crore for which no UC was received by AG for at least an year while non- production of UCs for huge funds of Rs 1071.76 crore against 1129 items is still pending for the last three years or so and reflecting the 'irresponsible' approach of the state government is the fact that there were 729 items amounting to Rs 388.99 crore whose UCs are being awaited for about the last five years.

As per the Financial Rules, "the grants provided for specific purposes, UCs should be obtained by the departmental officers from the grantees and after verification, these should be forwarded to the Accountant General within 18 months from the date of their sanction unless specified otherwise."

Evidently, there has been laxity on part of the departments and the officers concerned who have failed to comply with the guidelines laid down by the Accountant General. Moreover with the slackness displayed by the officers, the State Government has to receive a bit of 'stick' from the CAG.

It is not only the non-compliance of UCs, the State Government has also got flak from the CAG as far as non-submission or delay in submission of accounts is concerned.

As many as seven Autonomous bodies covered under section 19(3) and 20(1) of the Duties and Powers Act had not furnished the annual accounts amounting to Rs 535.56 crore (Table 3.2, Page 43, 44) as per the CAG report. For the period 2008-09, the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology (SKUAST)- Jammu failed to produce the details of grants to the tune of Rs 54.42 crore released under four accounts for at least four years while SKUAST-Srinagar could not provide status of its two accounts under which it was granted Rs 80.58 crore as aid for almost four years.

The other autonomous bodies which fell short of the yardstick include Jammu & Kashmir Khadi Village Industries Board, Srinagar, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil, Jammu & Kashmir Legal Services Authority, Srinagar and Provident Fund Organisation, Srinagar.

By not preparing and submitting their accounts despite receiving hefty sum in grants clearly reflect these organisations' non-seriousness.

Astonishingly these bodies did not even bother to convey the reasons of non-submissions of the details of the accounts. The CAG report further highlighted that 245 accounts of 29 other bodies were awaited in audit. These organisation have to go through annual audit under Sections 14 and 15 of the CAG's (Duties, Powers and conditions of Service) Act,1971 which says, " The Government/Heads of the Department are required to furnish to Audit every year detailed information about the financial assistance given to various institutions, the purpose of assistance granted and the total expenditure of the institutions." (Early Times)

CAG picks holes in financial management of J&K Expenditure in excess of approval, more than Rs 1 cr each in 15 cases

Giving a lie to the claims of J&K government vis-à-vis “financial management and budgetary control, the audit of the appropriations by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on State Finances for the year ended March 31, 2010 reveals that the expenditure aggregating Rs 11,875.82 Cr exceeded the approved provisions by Rs 4062.03 Cr in 15 cases.

In these 15 grants/appropriations worth Rs 7813.79 Cr, the excess expenditure was more than Rs one Cr each or more than 20 percent of the total provision. Among them, for Power Development Department, the total grant/appropriation was Rs 2435.66 Cr while the expenditure was Rs 2795.20 Cr thus incurring an excess expenditure of 359.54 Cr (15 percent). Similarly for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD) department, the grant was Rs 3.97 Cr yet the expenditure was Rs 5.52 Cr with an excess expenditure of Rs 1.55 Cr (39 percent). For Social Welfare department, Labour, Stationery and Printing department and Higher Education department, the grants/appropriations were Rs 278.71 Cr, 36.03 Cr and 275.96 Cr while the expenditure was Rs 281.66 Cr, Rs 83.72 Cr and Rs 450.26 Cr thus incurring excess expenditure of Rs 2.95 Cr (1 percent), Rs 47.69 Cr (132 percent) and Rs 174.30 Cr (63 percent) respectively.

Of these five demands, total revenue voted was Rs 3030.33 Cr while the expenditure was Rs 3616.36 Cr with an excess expenditure of Rs 586.03 Cr.

In case of Finance department, the total grant/appropriation (revenue charged ) was Rs 1950.44 Cr while the department expended an excess amount of Rs 187.80 Cr (10 percent) with the total expenditure of Rs 2138.24 Cr.

Under the head of Capital Voted, the departments of General Administration, Industries and Commerce, Public Works, Social Welfare, Public Health Engineering, Hospitality, Protocol and Toshakhana and Transport incurred an expenditure of Rs 36.90 Cr, Rs 114.29 Cr, Rs 1465.23 Cr, Rs 199.59 Cr, Rs 171.77 Cr, Rs 505.00 Cr, 0.47 Cr and Rs 54.07 Cr against the total grant/appropriation of Rs 29.15 Cr, Rs 111.29 Cr, Rs 1216.92 Cr, Rs 182.67 Cr, Rs 113.82 Cr, Rs 345.31 Cr, Zero and Rs 25.40 Cr which amounted to an excess expenditure of Rs 7.75 Cr (27 percent), Rs 3.00 Cr (3 percent), Rs 248.31 Cr (20 percent), Rs 16.92 Cr (9 percent), Rs 57.95 Cr (51 percent), Rs 159.69 Cr (46 percent), Rs 0.47 Cr (100 percent) and Rs 28.67 Cr (113 percent) respectively. In these grants, the total grants were Rs 2024.56 Cr while the expenditure was Rs 2547.32 Cr which amounted to an excess expenditure of Rs 522.76 Cr.

Under capital charged head, in case of Finance department, the total grants were Rs 808.46 Cr while the expenditure was Rs 3573.90 Cr thus incurring an excess expenditure of Rs 2765.44 Cr (342 percent). Of these, excess expenditure by more than 20 percent has been observed consistently for the last five years in respect of one grant and one appropriation i.e., Labour, Stationery and Printing and Finance departments.

Closing month rush

According to Jammu and Kashmir Financial Code, rush of expenditure in the closing month of the financial year should be avoided. Contrary to this, in respect of 15 major heads viz., GAD, Planning and Development, Education, Finance, Industries and Commerce, Agriculture, Revenue, Public Works, Social Welfare, Housing and Urban Development, Tourism, Stationery and Printing and Transport departments, expenditure exceeding Rs 10 Cr and also more than 50 percent of the total expenditure for the year was incurred either during the last quarter (Rs 149991.66 lakhs) or during the last month (Rs 125236.37 lakhs) of the financial year 2009-2010. The percentage of expenditure in the last quarter ranged between 63 and 99 percent and during the last month it ranged between 51 and 94 percent of the total expenditure, reveals the CAG report on State Finances for the Year ended March 31, 2010.

Similarly, as per the State Budget Manual, the spending departments are required to surrender the grants/appropriations or portion thereof to the Finance Department as and when the savings are anticipated. At the close of the year 2009-10, there were, however, 28 grants and five appropriations in which savings occurred but no part of which had been surrendered by the concerned departments. The savings in these cases was of the order of Rs 2672.03 Cr which includes Rs 2671.73 Cr in 44 cases (involving 28 grants and two appropriations) where savings involved were Rs 1 Cr and above. Non surrender of these funds deprived the government of the opportunity to transfer these funds to other needy sectors, CAG report pointed out. (Kashmir Times)