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.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Return and Rehabilitation - 2

Arif paints a picture of the Pandit community in deep distress and uncertain about its future

(Mr. Arif Bashir, 26, was born in Check-e-Ferozpora, Tangmarg. He completed his schooling in his native village, and obtained his Arts degree, with emphasis in English Literature, Urdu Literature, Political Science and English, from the Amar Singh College, Srinagar. He subsequently completed his Master of Arts degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir. He is a Reporter for the Kashmir Images, a leading English daily of Kashmir Valley. He has written, scripted and directed two Documentary Films - 85 Degrees, and Faces of Hope - and one fictional Film - Dastak. His ambition is to become an outstanding Film Maker.)

Will Pandits Ever Return to the Valley?

An ageing Raina looks across at the setting sun over Srinagar city from atop the Shankar Acharya temple and wonders whether he will ever be able to return to his home in the Valley in his life time.

Ironically, the temple sits on top of a hill which is popularly known as the takht-e- Suleman, a reflection of Kashmir’s secular traditions and Kashmiriyat.

But for this Pandit who had returned to the Valley after 20 years for a darshan at the temple, the pain of leaving is still fresh.

He had brought along his whole family – wife, children, grand-children – almost as a pilgrimage to his ‘homeland” and not just to offer prayers at the Shankaracharya temple.

Memories of 20 years gone by comes back as a rush and Pandit Raina recalls how in barely four months more than 96 per cent of Pandits had vanished from the valley only to surface in Jammu. At the time there seemed no visible rivalry between Pandits and their Muslim neighbours but the sudden appearance of Klashnikovs on the scene created an atmosphere where Pandits found it hard to stay back.

“It all happened so abruptly. On one hand there were large-scale anti-India demonstrations and on the other hand bombs were exploding everywhere. Our Pandit neighbours were feigning being at ease but the next day we would wake up only to see their houses locked and empty,” remembers Abdul Aziz Mir from Mir Danter in Anantnag.

But for most Pandits who quietly left the Valley in the dead of the night, things were far from safe. Daunted by rising militancy and alleged anti-Hindu sloganeering that found its way into the mosques the seige forced this minority to desert their homes.

“The atmosphere of fear created, either deliberately or unwittingly, by the kind of slogans erupting from the mosque loudspeakers left us not option but to run for our lives. We deserted our homes in the middle of the night and most of us didn’t bother to even carry our belongings. We thought we would be back in a month or so at most!” says Kuldeep Kumar Bhat, a resident of Shopian, who lived in refugee camps for years before finally shifting to Delhi.

But the people in the Valley as well as those who had left hope that some day they will be able to live together again. But over the last 20 years no real effort toward reconciliation or the return of Kashmiri Pandits has been made either by the government, the separatists or any social organization.

“The turbulent times didn’t spare anyone. We couldn’t help our Pandit neighbours when they were leaving. The tragedy is that even after two decades or so there is no serious process for reconciliation.

There is no mass movement or campaign for the return of Pandits to their homeland,” regrets Bashir Ahmad, who sells flowers for offering outside the Mata Khir Bhawani temple at Tulmul in Ganderbal.

The Pandit community which many believe is on the verge of a cultural dissolution has been scattered in many parts of India. The young generation finds it hard to connect with the cultural ethos of Kashmir.

“A Pandit girl would strictly, except in rare cases, be married to a Pandit boy. But after the exodus many are maarying Maharastrians, south Indians and Punjabis. The coming genberations therefore face a serious threat of losing its roots,” points out Padam Koul, a former school teacher from the Pandrathen area of Kashmir.

Several non-government organizations (NGOs) have been working around the idea of reuniting young Kashmiri’s through social-networking sites and face-to-face contact. Attempts are being made to clear the past and create an air of belief and brotherhood among young Pandits and Muslim boys once again.

But senior lawyer Rakesh Kaul is sceptical about such attempts. He feels such activities end up as mere ‘picnic’ for young Pandit couples who, he adds, come for a brief visit, roam around picnic spots and after a few interaction with a selected group of intellectuals and students, leave.

“What we need is a serious social campaign run by Muslims in the Valley for our return. Politicians may change their stands in accordance with the changing scenarios but the people, the masses won’t,” Rakesh points out.

However, the state government and most separatist leaders including Syed Ali Geelani have made some noise about inviting Pandits back to the Valley saying they were a part and parcel of Kashmir.

The state government has also constructed living quarters in various districts for housing Pandits if they come back to the Valley.

Accompanied by his childhood friend Nisar Ahmad Dar, Anil Kumar, an engineer from Anantnag does not feel like returning to his children in Jammu where he works as a salesman now. His heart is still very much in the Valley. On their way to the Sharika Devi temple near the shrine of Makhdoom Saheb the two friends talk of the past as if it were yesterday – the mischief, the anecdotes and the incidents.

But for Anil Kumar it is realistically impossible for Pandits to return as their properties worth crores have been ruined and destroyed. “Pandit villages have been burnt down. The once glorious houses have been turned to rubble. Window panes, doors even kitchen shelves have been stolen. It seems as if someone has mauled our basti’s. What do we come back for and with what hope? Not even a single house has been spared and now, after so many years, the people, the government and the leaders of different shades have suddenly realized that they miss us and want us back! I don’t believe this,” he says with unmistakeable sarcasm.

In a recent study prepared by a Pandit group, it has been pointed out that 95 per cent of property owned by Pandits, worth crores of rupees, has been damaged, either partially or completely in the last 20 years.

But the study also found that some Pandit homes were still intact.

The study claims that the destruction of Pandit houses began in the early 90s by the army, militants as well as miscreants.

However, to the credit of some villages and its people, the study found that at least a number of structures were still intact and well preserved in the districts of Badgam, Baramulla and Anantnag. And those properties where Pandits continued to live and are still living were never attacked or affected. Another Kashmiri Pandit, Mohan Lal, 60, feels the atmosphere and horror of 1990 still lurk in the hearts and minds of the majority of pandits. He says they cannot forget the miserable lives they had to live in refugee camps once forced out of the Valley.

“I don’t know how much of politics was involved in the 1990 exodus. I also don’t know about the part played by either Pakistan or India. But what forced me and my family to leave our home was the fact that when we were suffering because of constant threats and a hostile environment.

But none of our Muslim neighbours felt pained. After all they too were scared for their lives, no doubt. But then maybe together we could have avoided the exodus.

Unfortunately it didn’t happen and we ended up in a camp in Jammu among strangers,” laments Mohan Lal.

Agreeing with Mohan Lal, Rakesh Kumar, also 60, says that “if in 1990 every mosque could threaten the plurality of Kashmir without any consideration for us, why can’t the people invite us back by devoting the Friday sermons to pass on this message. Why can’t the people accept what actually happened in the past and what they want for the future.” According to the 1981 Census (there was no Census in 1991) in Jammu and Kashmir, the Kashmir region had 52 per cent of the state’s population, of which 10 per cent was made up of non-Kashmiri communities such as the Gujjars and Paharis, which are linguistically and ethnically closer to the people of Jammu. The population of Kashmiri Hindus was 1,24,078 as per the 1981 census. The 1991 census could not be held in J&K on account of the disturbed conditions.

About 140 Kashmiri Pandit families have returned to the Valley under an employment-cum-rehabilitation policy announced by New Delhi. Though they have been welcomed back by Muslims across the Valley, the majority of them seem sceptical about their permanent return. “We have come here for jobs and have been living here with our Muslim brothers. But the question is that we are not at peace as we no longer live in our own homes and instead have to live either in the one-room government shelters or seek hotel/private accommodation. We are quite touched when our Muslim brothers offer us shelter but guests are, after all, guests. We can’t stay forever this way, says Anita, who recently got a job in a government department here.

Confirming this, the chairman of the Kashmir United Forum (KUF) Bharat Raina said a recent survey had showed that 139 Pandit families had returned to the Valley and were living in the houses of Muslims here.

Raina said that these 139 families have refused to live in government quarters at Sheikhpora (Budgam) Mattan (Anantnag) Vessu (Qazigund) and Hawal (Pulwama) and preferred living with their Muslim friends.

But according to Sanjay Tikoo, chairman of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), talks of Pandits returning to the valley either by the government or by the separatists have always remained cosmetic and lacked seriousness. Tikoo is among the small number of Pandits who never left the valley. Claiming his organization had conducted several researches on the migration of Pandits, Tikoo says out of the 75,343 (3,67,289 members) families 74,692 (3,64,130 members i.e. 99.14%) families living in Valley opted to migrate. Most of them did in 1990.

During a recent press conference in Srinagar Tikoo also contradicted the government claim that 219 Kashmiri Pandits had been killed during the past 21 years in the Valley and claimed that the actual number was 399.

“As per our research data, 399 Pandits have been killed in the past 20 years,” the KPSS president said adding that “an estimated 75 per cent of them were killed during the first year of the armed insurgency in 1990.” But for Raina all this talk about Pandits returning has little meaning if his life ends in exile. As the former professor of chemistry in a Srinagar college takes in the grand view of Srinagar from the Shankar Acharya temple with the sun setting over the Dal Lake, his nostalgia to return home is palpable. He says, “I am living in exile in Delhi and this nostalgia to return will kill me someday. I want to come back to my home, to my people. But not until my Muslim brothers invite me wholeheartedly and make it public that they want us back. That their identity is incomplete in my absence.”

Return and Rehabilitation - 1

Charu notes the plight of displaced Pandits and sees a glimmer of hope in improved security and political scene in the valley

(Dr. Charu Sawhney, 32, was born in Jammu. She completed her matriculation from Sacred Heart School, Dalhousie. She went to Welham Giris School Dehradun for her higher secondary studies. After that she pursued her B.A. (hons). in sociology from Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi. She completed her Masters, M.Phil. and Ph.D. in sociology from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Her M.Phil and Ph.D. areas of research are on Internally Displaced Kashmiri People. She continues to pursue her research and writings on Kashmir.)

Return to Home

The return of the Kashmiri Hindus to their homeland, Kashmir remains uncertain. The panchayat election win of Asha Bhat in May 2011 from Wusan village in Baramulla district of North Kashmir indicates a bright sign towards normalcy in Kashmir. Asha Bhat, a 52 year old Kashmiri Pandit woman, became the first non-Muslim sarpanch in Kashmir after defeating her Muslim rival by a margin of 11 votes. This election win revives the debate about the return of the Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir. The Kashmiri Pandits did not flee with the intention of resettling in the new territories within India. They wish to return when the condition in Kashmir is safe. The de- linkage from home or homeland has an impact on the social lives of the displaced persons and their consequent return to the valley does not have a quick- fix solution.

The local Kashmiri Muslims in Kashmir in general were not instrumental in the displacement of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley. While the role of Jagmohan in the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus remains contested, a host of other factors were responsible for the eventual exodus of the Kashmiri Hindus from Kashmir such as the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the valley, the majority- minority dynamics and the prevalence of weak democracy in the state. The exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from the valley had an effect on how relationships between Kashmiri Muslim and Kashmiri Hindu communities got reshaped. It has led to a change in the perception of identity of the Kashmiri Hindus with regard to themselves and also with regard to the Muslims back in Kashmir.

Resettlement in the new locales impacted the way in which the Kashmiri Hindus identify themselves. Individuals draw upon their experiences of migration to generate alternative reckoning of their identity based on new political circumstances. Before displacement took place the notion of 'Kashmiriyat', which is symbolic of Hindu-Muslim unity, was very strong. With the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the exodus of the minority community Kashmiri Hindus faced an identity crisis as the 'we feeling' of belonging to the Kashmiri community composite of both Hindus and Muslims is not that strong. The Kashmiri Hindus as an 'imagined community' believe in claiming their Hindu identity more than their Kashmiri identity which is symbolic of Hindu- Muslim unity. Social identity and power relations are reformulated in the new territories after displacement. The majority of the Kashmiri Hindu children have no knowledge of the Muslims back in Kashmir as they were born and brought up in the host communities and unlike their elders have never interacted with the various communities of Kashmir on a major scale. The sense of solidarity and trust that a community shares with groups back in the homeland is disrupted in situations of conflict- induced displacement as the communities are de- linked not only from their home territories but also with the various communities with whom they interacted back home.

In the current scenario there has been a decrease in the rate of militancy in Kashmir. There has been a substantial decrease in the number of local militants in Kashmir. Not many foreign militants are there now, militancy has generally declined. There has been an increase in the number of tourists from other regions of India in Kashmir. During the KheerBhawani festival many Kashmiri Hindus visit Kashmir now and many Kashmiri Hindu temples are being renovated. Still a sense of insecurity concerning the return to Kashmir exists among the displaced people.

On a one to one basis the Kashmiri Hindus still relate to the Kashmiri Muslim community. Even after displacement the Kashmiri Hindus have kept contact with their Kashmiri Muslim friends and neighbors back in Kashmir. There are also cases where the Muslims back in Kashmir looked after the agricultural lands of the displaced Kashmiri Hindus and provided them with the economic returns from the land. After displacement interaction of the displaced persons with the local population of Kashmir whether Hindus or Muslims exists especially in matters when information is to be given by the Muslims in Kashmir about the property of the displaced people.
Not to discount the fact that many of the Kashmiri Hindus sold their properties to Kashmiri Muslims at throwaway prices. A handful of Muslims still work as tenants on the lands of the Kashmiri Hindus. After displacement, a clear cut severing of contacts between the Hindus and the Muslims is not there.

In terms of economic opportunities the return to the homeland also implies that the cost and benefits are to be further weighed. The Kashmiri Hindus who are confined to the camps in Jammu were mainly from the rural areas of Kashmir. They possessed immovable property in the form of land or houses which got left behind in Kashmir at the time of migration. Camp life meant that the individuals had to live in sub-standard conditions. The educated middle class among the Kashmiri Hindus avoided the sub- human camp conditions. The possession of education enabled them to acquire jobs and rebuild their lives in the new territories. The Kashmiri Hindus who resettled in big cities of India have greater access to job opportunities in the new locales which is lacking in Kashmir. There is apprehension felt by the displaced persons about the availability of job opportunities and return of their properties in Kashmir which may be forcibly occupied, damaged or destroyed by natural calamities.

In March 2011 a satellite township Jagti, 14 kilometers from Jammu city was inaugurated by the Prime minister for the displaced Kashmiri persons living in the camps in Jammu region. This much awaited positive initiative by the government in the form of provision of a township for the migrant Kashmiri population comprising of two bedroom apartments is met after the Kashmiri Hindus mainly the working class among them lived in one- room tenements in the camp regions in Jammu for nearly two- decades. This further puts the return of the Kashmiri Hindus to their homeland into question as it implies that an effort is made by the government to permanently resettle them in a safe distance from Jammu in a township with all basic amenities. It questions the stance of the government of India, whether it is to facilitate the return and rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Hindus to Kashmir or to resettle them in the new territories.

To facilitate the return of the Kashmiri Hindus community level initiatives are to be taken and local actors are to be involved. The return and rehabilitation of the Kashmiri Hindus back to their homeland will depend on the strengthening the notion of kashmiriyat a symbol of composite Kashmiri culture. In order to ensure the return of the displaced people back to Valley, the government must try and build confidence and harmony between the two majority and minority communities. Return and rehabilitation of the displaced people also requires the allocation of the original properties of displaced persons in their homeland and establishment of a safe atmosphere for return in Kashmir. Establishment of a strong democracy in the state will also have a positive consequence for the restoration of peace in the valley.

Therefore efforts have to be made in the social, economic and political spheres.

Breaching the LOC (Line of Commerce)

Voice of America (VOA) report on Inter-Kashmir Commerce

Kashmir Traders: Line of Control Commerce Key to Prosperity, Peace

One of the key areas for confidence building efforts between India and Pakistan is the removal of trade impediments across the line of control in disputed Kashmir.

Kashmiri traders are eager to raise their standard of living - but they are frustrated at the difficulties in tapping a market literally right next door.

Pakistan and India have fought two wars over Kashmir, which they both claim in its entirety. They both have a credible nuclear arsenal aimed at deterring the other from starting a third conflict.

In 2008, as a confidence-building measure, the two sides began sending commercial trucks over the so-called "line of control" separating Pakistan-administered Kashmir from what India labels Jammu and Kashmir state.

The Mumbai terror attacks of November that year, which India blames on Pakistan, brought cooperation in all areas between the two countries to a screeching halt. Trade over the "line of control" became dormant - with vehicles only allowed to cross two days a week.

India and Pakistan are once again taking steps toward dialogue. Hilal Ahmed, Jammu and Kashmir General Secretary for Line of Control Commerce, says the time has come for them to remove the biggest impediments to trade within Kashmir.

He says India wants a banking mechanism put in place, that the trading partners be allowed to communicate, and that bans be lifted from all the approved trading items.

Unpredictable trade bans are the biggest complaint among many Kashmiri exporters. Pakistan's imposition of a ban on chili peppers has created a mountain of backlogged inventory. Kashmiri traders who intended to fulfill orders on the other side of the "line of control" are suffering massive losses.

With no face-to-face meetings permitted, and only occasional one-way phone calls allowed, arranging transactions often amounts to guesswork.

There is also no agreement in place to clear transactions in cash, and so inter-Kashmiri trade is conducted on a barter system. If one trader cannot sell the goods he received in barter from his counterpart, he invites a third or fourth party into the deal, in an increasingly complex web of swaps.

Ahmed says it is obviously something India and Pakistan have to sort out as they talk to each other-but it seems clear to him at least they will eventually settle on clearing transactions in dollars. At the end of the day, though, he says, we traders just want value for our goods.

Shakeel Qalandar was a senior commerce official in Jammu and Kashmir, and is now an entrepreneur. He thinks a two currency solution is more likely.

"I don't see any reason why the government of India is having any reservation, or the government of Pakistan is having any reservation, in putting the banking mechanism in place," said Qalandar. "The only thing, what has to be done by both sides, both governments, is to make these currencies, India and Pakistan currencies, tradable."

Current rules limit trade to just 21 items - mostly handicrafts and basic produce. Qalandar says it is time to remove those shackles from the market.

"We want that all the items produced and manufactured in either part of Kashmir should be made tradable - as simple as anything. The services should also be included," said Qalandar. "Because what you want in this confidence-building measure is people-to-people contact, more and more people-to-people contact. And that will reduce the tension. It has reduced the tension."

For Qalandar and other proponents of intra-Kashmir trade, the numbers make a convincing argument for removing impediments.

"I think this trade is worth not less than two billion dollars a year," Qalandar said.

Many view that kind of interdependency as the strongest tool for creating a lasting Kashmiri peace.

Emphasizing Quality of Governance in an Era of Financial Benevolence

The editorial in the Kashmir Images emphasises that money alone is not enough

Understand People’s Problems

Couple of weeks back, in a private discussion a group of young Kashmiris while sharing their mind on the issue of governance, said: “We face lots of problems and hardships on account of various public utility services – say transport for instance, but how can those in the ruling chairs understand these problems and identify with us when they do not have to travel in old ramshackle buses we travel in?” And as the discussion went on and on, many more young people came up with countless other examples to highlight the failures of political leaders when it comes to having a first-hand understanding of the realities of the common people.

Whether ministers or bureaucrats travel in public buses or not is beyond the point here, what is indeed important is that the ordinary people have a strong belief, and not unjustifiably so, that those in the ruling echelons do not face the kind of problems and challenges as commoners face. Obvious conclusion of this belief is that if the leaders and rulers do not understand the situation on ground, it is hard to believe their ability to affect any worthwhile change in the ground situation.

Politics aside, when it comes to providing good governance and delivering on the political promises, even the minutest details about actual ground situation vis-à-vis different spheres of human activity, are vital. Rationally speaking, it is on the basis of the important data about what is already there - what are the loopholes and lacunae - that one can correctly devise the corrective measures as well as future programmes. Now, if those vested with the responsibility of formulating government’s policies as well as those whose job is to execute and implement them, continue to remain cut-off from the common people’s realities as they have so far been, expecting them to be able to affect any change on ground will be too farfetched.

With the overall security situation in the state showing some improvement, politicians and bureaucrats have no reasonable reason to avoid coming out of their comfortable offices for having a feel of what common people have to face day-in and day-out on various counts. Indeed there is not even a single sphere of life worth its name here which is without its share of problems. The Chief Minister Omar Abdullah will certainly do a great job if besides thinking of new things for the public welfare he also takes keen interest in setting the already existing rotten systems right. He has made some good beginnings, and it will certainly be a great thing if he continues to go for some deeper analyses of issues that concern the ordinary mortals.

The best thing Omar Abdullah can do for the people, and for his own political career as well, is to bring about some semblance of accountability in the government and its functioning. Let he initiate a culture of holding government functionaries responsible for the jobs they are supposed to do and are paid for. Once a few heads are set rolling for failures that bring hardships to the common people and disrepute to the government, it goes without saying that the standard of the overall governance will automatically start improving. Obviously this needs a huge political will. Having successfully braved the biggest challenges to his political career, Omar Abdullah must now focus his attention to the working of his government functionaries. He must weed out the unscrupulous lot to bring about a culture of accountability in this land of unaccountability now.

"Mumbai of North"

Proof that wealth among Srinagarites is resulting in some undesirable consequences

Srinagar Turns Into Beggars’ Capital

Shahnawaz Majid (Kashmir Images)

Srinagar: Srinagar city is fast turning into the ‘capital of beggars’ as professional mendicants from different parts of Kashmir valley besides hordes from outside states are out there begging in the city.

As has been the precedent, with mercury scorching the plains in mainland India, the beggars make a beeline to comparatively pleasant vale, escaping not only the heat but also making a ‘fortune’.

Here they cash in on the “soft-heartedness” of the Kashmiris and seek alms in every market, shopping center and traffic intersections of Srinagar.

The posh up-markets of Karan Nagar and Residency Road seem to be favourite places for them. Men, women, children, including even minor girls, and some with acute, or at time acute-looking physical disabilities and ailments seek alms from the people from dawn to dusk here.

“These beggars are very good orators and master persuaders. They often manage to soften the hearts of people with their tragic tales told in emotional voices,” says Reyaz Ahmed, a bank employee.

“Some of them tell the people that they are not professional beggars but are forced to beg due to some tragedies, or that they need money for treatment of serious illness or accident,” informs Reyaz.

Like Reyaz, Saba, a student of Government College for women, M.A Road, also feels pestered by beggars.

“They will coax, cajole, whimper or grovel, but they will somehow make you to pay,” says Saba, adding that it is sometimes very embarrassing to encounter them as they even clutch your sleeve if you don’t pay them.

“They are a nuisance for public, and government should do something to check this menace,” adds Saba.

Muhammad Junaid, a social activist, feels that government should come up with a comprehensive policy to check the problem of begging.

“There should be maximum institutionalized help for the beggars who take to begging due to some unfortunate circumstances or personal tragedies. Beggar homes should be established for them where not only they can be counseled and rehabilitated but also provided vocational trainings so that they become financially self-reliant and productive citizens for the society.”

Jammu and Kashmir can take cue from Punjab, where beggar homes have been established in the cities of Amritsar, Ludhiana and Jalandhar which have helped in the rehabilitation of beggars in Punjab in a major way.

Junaid, however, also cautioned that beggars from outside the state should not be allowed to enter Kashmir Valley as some of these people are also responsible for many social problems like alcoholism, drug addiction and other immoral activities.
When contacted, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of police, Central Kashmir Range, A G Mir told ‘Kashmir Images’ that begging is not an offence under law, so police can do little in curbing this problem.

Director, Social Welfare department, Hilal Ahmed Parray couldn’t be contacted for his comments on the issue despite repeated attempts by ‘Kashmir Images’.

The State of Chaos

Why is it that the J&K Government is willing to hand over financial gifts to militants returning back home from Pakistan, but unwilling to help its less fortunate citizens. Whether it is Pandits or physically challenged youth, the State wants Delhi to pay up for their assistance

Two New Scholarship Schemes for Disabled Students in J&K

Centre has approved two new scholarship schemes for disabled students in Jammu and Kashmir, under which 1500 scholarships will be given out by the end of next month, a senior minister has said.

"The Central government has approved two new scholarship schemes for the state to provide financial support to the disabled," state minister for Social welfare Sakina Ittoo said here yesterday.

She said by July-end this year, 1500 such scholarships will be made available to physically challenged persons so as to facilitate their higher education.

Ittoo said various special welfare schemes have been launched for the betterment of women, physically challenged persons and those belonging to backward classes in the state.

The minister urged the beneficiaries to come forward and avail the schemes meant for them.

Ittoo said the procedures and formalities for all centrally-sponsored schemes need to be further simplified, keeping in view the hilly terrain and poor communication facilities in the state.

Saving the Dal Lake

A different perspective on Dal from the Lakes and Waterways Developmental Authority (LAWDA)

Is Dal Really Dying?

Srinagar: Irfan Yaseen remembers the mid 90s when the Dal Lake was barely alive; being eaten and without a future. “The psyche here is that we hold no responsibility for anything,” said Yaseen, who took over as Vice Chairman of Lakes and Waterways Developmental Authority in 2008.

More than a decade later, a common person walking on the shores of Boulevard and looking into the waters, still sees weeds everywhere. His first words are those of dismay: “This lake is dead, and the people managing it are corrupt.”

“This cynicism that nothing has changed, is the real problem,” said Yaseen, who believes that negative news coverage and ignorance regarding conservation efforts waste all the good work his department and government have been doing from the past few years.

The primary source of pollution to the Dal Lake comes from within, and from the catchment areas that dump thousands of cubic sewage and sediments, as well as “some of the nastiest containments ever,” claims Showket Ali, JE, LAWDA, who has been engineering works of the department inside the lake for over 8 years.

This summer the State government has procured four new machines worth Rs 6.5 Crore, in an ongoing effort to bring the Dal Lake back to health. There are 15 machines which dredge and clean the lake seven days a week from 6am till 9 in the evening. The State government is also continuing to work on a project worth Rs. 356 Crore to rehabilitate the Dal dwellers.

“Right now we are implementing a conservation project that has been designed by IIT Roorkee, the aims of this venture being to tackle the problem of conservation from multiple dimensions,” said Yaseen.

Under the design, sewage that directly goes into the Lake and enriches the water body with nitrate and phosphorus, will be checked through sewage treatment plants.

Dal Lake by nature is a macro Fertility Lake that promotes vegetation. “To have flora inside the lake is not bad, but the problem is the excessive weed growth,” said Yaseen.

LAWDA officials say that they are encouraged by the progress they have made even before the peak season of work begins. Yaseen too, who now overlooks and plans the entire work with a team, said that he is expecting reduced water pollution into the Lake by the end of this year.

“We have stopped more than 80 percent of direct sewage going into the Lake, and by the end of this year there will be no toxic wastes coming into the Lake from catchment areas,” said Yaseen.

Under this scheme all the catchment areas that start from Dal Gate to the city periphery in Habbak, will be connected to sewage treatment plants, and when ready, will treat 36 million litres of water per day. As of now, 16 million litres of water are been filtered and Yaseen is confident that by the end of this year, the whole capacity will be build for sewage treatment.

At a briefing, officials from LAWDA described plans to begin the dredging of 28 channels, most of which are presently blocked due to sediment and encroachment.

For the experts, however, the fundamental problem for the overall preservation of the Lake comes from its dwellers, which are around 6000 families. According to Yaseen, there are still 58 localities which live inside the lack, and for their rehabilitation, a place called Rakh-e-Arth is being constructed over 7000 canals with all modern facilities that, when completed in 2015, will be a state of the art facility.

Many locals think that the project should be moving faster, and are especially worried about the interiors. In the 1990s, the lake was so toxic, polluted and encroached from all ends, but since then so many illegal localities, parks, and structures have been removed, increasing the Lake’s area from 18.7 square km in 2004 to 21.53 square kilometres, says Ali.

To prevent siltation, a process by which soil and other sediments get deposited into the Lake, the department plans to plant 16 lakh trees in the catchment area in the space of two years.

One thing that has always haunted LAWDA are charges of corruption and malpractices. “If the projects are implemented and worked on ground, the question of corruption on LAWDA is answered,” said Yaseen, who believes that the corruption in LAWDA is more perception based than reality. “Unfortunately, we are in direct confrontation with the people, and when we stop them from encroaching, vested interest always plays against us,” said Yaseen, admitting that there is some degree of corruption at certain levels, particularly in the lower ranks. “If anybody is aware of such happenings he should file a complaint or go for RTI.”

In this regard, LAWDA has also set up a website that gives details of procurement, contracts and purchase of equipment and other issues.

The Dal Lake is a national spotlight due to its historical, cultural and ecological significance. Its main problem, however, has been encroachment, untreated sewage and general carelessness from some quarters of society.

“The only untreated sewage which goes into the lake now comes from the houseboats,” said a LAWDA official who wished anonymity. According to him the houseboats community is a very powerful lobby as they know how to benefit from vote bank politics.

“Removing Dal dwellers is a very difficult task, but to move the houseboats even an inch is next to impossible.”
(Rising Kashmir)

"Official - Land/Timber Mafia Nexus"

A starkly revealing news about corruption in the Kashmir valley

Illegal Constructions Galore in Pahalgam Vicinity; Authorities in Slumber

Pahalgam: With High Court imposing ban on constructions in this tourist resort following the Public Interest Litigation by Peoples Welfare Organization, the land mafia and the hoteliers have started eyeing other major tourist spots located in the vicinity as illegal constructions galore there.

Sources say many ‘illegal’ constructions had already come up on State, grazing and forest land as well as on the banks of the famous Lidder river, in Yanad, Gujrani Batikote, Batikote and Ganeshpora, barely few Kilometers away from Pahalgam, thus disturbing the fragile ecosystem and also polluting the river.

“After the Court imposed ban on the construction in Pahalgam, the land mafia and influential hoteliers have shifted their base to other tourist destinations which have not been included in the flawed master plan and has been kept outside the jurisdiction of Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA),” sources said.

They said in Moora village of Yanad near the Rafting point, the land mafia had allegedly grabbed some 27 Kanals of State land and then sold it over to some big hoteliers and till now about 20 huts and guest houses have come up there. “Even the tourism department has designated it as hutment area, giving go ahead to these illegal constructions,” they added.

They said downstream Lidder, where the rafting culminates, a grazing land had also been encroached upon by the hoteliers with a concrete road having already been carved out of it as constructions continue to thrive there.

“In Gujrani Batikoot area, the influential people have plundered the huge forest area by resorting to felling of green pine trees to pave way for the illegal constructions with tacit support of forest officials,” sources said adding about 25 huts had already been erected there.

Sources said that in Amad which has been designated as wildlife zone, two huts had been raised by influential persons allegedly in connivance with the Wildlife officials while many more have illegally occupied land for construction purpose.

Similarly, sources reveal that all the building permission norms had been ignored while raising structures in Batikoot and Ganeshpora areas.

“In Batikote, the course of the river has been entirely changed and the constructions have come up barely 10 meters away from Lidder, thus disturbing its flora and fauna,” sources said. They said in Ganeshpora area two huts had come up barely few meters away from the Lidder.

“The solid waste is being dumped near the river while the sewage generated from the hotels and huts is directly poured into it,” sources added.

“We fail to understand that if the authorities have expressed concern over deteriorating condition of Lidder in Pahalgam, why aren’t they bothered about the same in the areas located downstream,” some of the officials added.

They suggested that in order to save these scenic spots from turning into concrete jungles like it has happened in Pahalgam, the government should wake up from the slumber. “The five member committee formed by the government on the recommendations of Court to submit report on the illegal structures and drafting of new Master plan in Pahalgam should bring all these areas under Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA).”

PDA Chief Executive Officer, Mir Altaf when contacted said, “Though these tourist spots don’t fall within the development authority, but I have time and again raised the issue of saving these fragile zones with various departments including; Fisheries, Flood control Protection, Roads and Building as well as Revenue.” He said he had already conveyed to the higher ups including the Principal District and Sessions judge, Anantnag (Islamabad) about the need of bringing the areas under the purview of Development Authority in the revised Master Plan. (Greater Kashmir)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fearful as Terrorism

Naveed says that corruption in Kashmir is not merely a disease, it is an outright form of tyranny

(Mr. Naveed Qazi, 22, did his schooling from Burn Hall School and Tyndale Biscoe, and eventually graduated in Commerce from the University of Kashmir. Naveed is a blogger and activist from Kashmir, and head of intellectual activism group, Insights: Kashmir. His blogs have been published on local and international journals like Open Democracy UK, The Nation, Pakistan and Muslim Institute, London. Naveed lives in Srinagar, and writes on current affairs, politics and society.)

Corruption in Kashmir

Kashmir sits at the top brace in the league of corruption in India. The lust for 'greed and power' in Kashmir, has granted huge amount of money in hands of some people, while most of the people have become increasingly poor. There is corruption at every level, every sphere and every degree in our social order. Obtaining riches has taken all priorities of life. Traditional ethics have been mocked - if we are not shocked by it, why don't we atleast emphasize that obtaining money or a service through illicit means is sinful?

Adventures of corruption have suffocated both public and private sectors. Corruption in one form or the other, has been part of our social strata, and has variegated incidence in different times and at different places. This has lead to despair and resignation on the part of those people who are concerned about it, which mainly include social activists and intellectual commentators. Yet, it has received remarkably little attention from administration and state actors. Our corruption rate is so high that it is difficult to understand which science or which benefit analysis would preclude it from its inclination.

Kashmir has been choked to death by cumbersome and dishonest bureaucracies, thereby slowing down any economical, social and technological advances. Elections for pro-Indians and massive agitations for separatists have given nativity to immoral practices -- 'speedy money' through 'fat levy bribes.' The amount of red tape, mockery of judicial system and political hooliganism at our place is highly alarming. Starting from a ward councilor to a MLA, allegations of corruption have been heard of. Public money has resulted as a free gift. Corruption has brilliantly blended in our lives, in a way that we have totally lost sense of it. Unless and until the top hierarchical order don't show any dedication in chopping the 'weeds of corruption,' from the root levels, no one can prevent it from growing, either today or in the near future.

There are many facets of corruption. Political. Economical. Moral. Social. Legal. Some have even annotated it to be as fearful as terrorism. Infact, it facilitates terrorism. Religion, western philosophy and psychology calls it a crime - a major offence.

Corrupts have learned boldness and have won an 'influence of expansion.' In our society, it has facilitated outlaws, revenge seekers, incompetents and pseudo pacifists. Due to menacing corruption, home grown wars, varied goals and competing cultures have been institutionalized. Social inclusiveness has taken a halt. It has alleviated our political conflict, and acquired a major role to play because people have taken it to imposing heights. The masses have been petrified and terrified because this 'degree' of action has hacked their social domain, thereby giving them emotional tortures.

Bad governance is also inherent to corruption. If leaders desist from being accessories to it, or condemn it strongly, our society will be less corrupt and this will enhance peace, development and stability in our territorial domains.

The people who work on daily wages in factories or the mazdoors, rehri wala, small owners of convenient stores, darzis and wazas are not corrupt. Unfortunately it is the'educated class' of our society, the bureaucracy, the politicians, the service sector associates, who are suffering from this trait of corruption - favoritism - nepotism - degeneracy, in other words. There is a need to implement genuine education against corruption, and that can help in bringing certain sophistication, an elevated culture and optimism in ones personality. It can cleanse out skepticism from our mentality, and can eventually make us aware and perceptive individuals.

A bribe in Kashmir is endorsed as a gift, an incentive for service, a considered promise; but threats evolving from these bribes are far more dangerous to our society - both in terms of long term and short term forecasting. It seriously halts our platform for any kind of emancipation. As poorer people slide deep into economic trouble, the social devastation it causes, is merely evaded or excused. It has given us putrefaction and aggravation.

Our economics has been badly affected by these debase practices. Just like tyranny, corruption is a great disease to any society. There is a need to focus on the tension between 'self-seeking behavior' and 'public values.' High levels corruption are associated with our economic sector also. It has reduced the efficiency of our industrial policies, levels of output in investment and there is a growth of violations in financial regulations. There have been no reforms which could reduce incentives for bribery and decrease the risk of corruption. The total elimination of corruption from our society is improbable but steps can be taken to limit its reach and reduce the harm it causes.

Given the perceived high levels of corruption in Kashmir and the way it has been institutionalized, the pattern has resulted in an unauthorized leakage in social and administrative levels. It is a pity that neither of our political leaders nor our administrators ever talk of corruption, its levels, and its minimization as a remedial strategy, of either of the various plans laid down by activists and visionaries of the civil society. In the matrix of anti-corruption strategies in world order, the level of commitment of political leaders and the adequacy of anti-corruption measures, Kashmir perhaps falls in the ’hopeless’ strategy cell, indicating extremely weak political commitment and inadequate anti-corruption measures.

Divided People, Common Suffering

Wajid sees a pattern of near identical fate on both sides of the Line of Control (LOC)

(Sardar Wajid Ali, 27, was born in Dothan, Poonch district in Pakistan administered Kashmir. He was educated at the Government Boys College, Dothan. He completed his F.Sc. Pre-Engineering from Muhammadan Science and Computer College (MSCC) Hajira Poonch, B.Com from Karachi University & MBA from University of Central Punjab Lahore. Wajid has for Toyota in Pakistan in Management since 2005-2008 got excellent management award, and now works as Business Manager for FBGC & SBF (dealing in Construction Sector, Manufacturing & Trading) in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. Sardar Ali is associated with Jammu and Kashmir National Association of UAE as Media Coordinator & Administrator of the "Kashmir CORNOR" (Kashmiris Connected and Organized for Reconciliation of National Oriented Reprisal), a JKNA online Discussion Forum that networks with other Kashmiris.)

Kashmir Dispute has become National Ego for India & Pakistan.

Any conflict or combat is a product of any species of violence which starts when there is no purity in acts whereas purification and decontamination of acts matters a lot for peaceful consequences. The State of Jammu & Kashmir is the most tinted and highlighted state amongst South Asian Region because of its disputed eminence, and of course because of ambiguity, obscurity, unimportance and triviality of national right that is being unresponsive and uncaring indeed by all means from the state's oppressors since six decades.

The State of Jammu & Kashmir is amongst those 562 princely states of sub-continent that have five thousand years of history background as independent, progressive and prosperous status with its multi-dimensional cultural heritage. The culture that maintains its incessant flow dismantling the man-made barriers between past and present. The state was well known by its harmony, unison and relationship of masses having different religious background under one territory before its dissection. Over the divider of sub-continent in 1947, the state has to suffer an unscrupulous expedition since the divider of sub-continent till date, and may be in forthcoming years there will be continuity in this sort of injustice oppression because there is an absence & lack in serious coordination towards serious negotiation counter from two of the Nuclear powers India & Pakistan possessing this unfair oppression where the state victims want to get rid of this merciless behaviors of both countries.

Pakistan stand on Kashmir is purely based on Two Nation Theory depicted as "because of 77% of the state population consists of Muslims in majority" so justification matters for Pakistan that, state need to be part of Pakistan, which is not reliable and authentic stand indeed because state is having different religions like Muslims, Buddhist & Hindus as major religions and also the subdivision exist like (Sunnis, Shias, Ismailis, Sikhs etc.) so the Pakistan stand on Kashmir is not having any authenticity and also flaw of this justification automatically appears because Two Nation Theory only functional for those areas of sub-continent then straight under British rule and did not applied any of the semi-independent princely states like Kashmir. Indian justification for Kashmir is based on the right that was given to the rulers of 562 Princely states of Sub-Continent to choose about the future of these states and the ruler of Kashmir has got about the accession of his state to India so Kashmir is the fundamental and legal part of the India which is also not possible because Kashmir is not a commodity that is for sale or for any bartered but it is an individual's existence part where all people have their fundamental & equal right to choose their future through a plebiscite which is expressed in many of the talks by then Government Officials of both countries at many occasions during their perspective speeches (Quid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in June 7, 1947, July 11, 1947, July 30, 1947. Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru in July 9, 1951. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in July 14,1972 and Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif in 1992) mentioned that it is the right of Kashmiri people either they want to be a part of India, Pakistan or want to live Independently as Kashmir has an individual existence and its people must be the final arbiters of their future. but behind the scene it is not so easy because the fight for Kashmir region has become the national ego for both India and Pakistan and no one is ready to get off through any means of dialogue consideration because both countries have no focus for the prosperity and well-being of Kashmiri peoplebut only holding a resource oriented approach that is just to annihilating & demolishing the basic ideology and right to self-determination and destroying the overall peace of South Asian Region with this non-serious attitude.

As I have cited earlier that the peaceful & non-violent consequences cannot be practiced and implemented until and unless these two nuclear powers will not take the Kashmir conflict for the well-being of Kashmiri people rather than resources oriented approach. It is the matter of fact that both countries have their own mutual interests in this region in the shape of (Water) as {Indus Valley has major 7 Rivers and many small rivers are fertilizing the lands of Pakistan and India since water treaty agreement between India and Pakistan} as major and more that no one can ignore or overlook and ultimately both countries have turned the Kashmir conflict as National Security & Ideology by overlooking the people of Jammu & Kashmir and lead to relate this conflict to their national ego by spending very huge amounts to security matters and ignoring other essentials.

When India put the Kashmir case in United Nations in 1948, the resolutions of United Nations Security Council as {38, 39, 47 and 51 of 1948} and United Nations Commission for India & Pakistan (UNCIP) resolutions of {August 13, 1948} has evidently professed the State of Jammu & Kashmir as disputed region and anticipated its final decision and settlement through free, fair & unbiased plebiscite under the supervision of United Nations and prominently declaring the right to self-determination for Kashmiri People that was violated and still in the process of violation across LOC in the state of Jammu & Kashmir by strictly ignoring the free choice of plebiscite for masses and by implementing the accession as essential and legal procedure by both Indian & Pakistani constitutional assemblies like {Azad Jammu & Kashmir Interim Constitution Act 1974 that was imposed by Islamabad}, itself a disregard and contravene to the same act which starts as "WHEREAS the future status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir is yet to be determined in accordance with the freely expressed will of the people of the State through the democratic method of free and fair plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nations as envisaged in the UNCIP Resolutions adopted from time to time" and in the same Constitutional Act it is mentioned in Article 4 (7) (2) of the Act 1974 states that “No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to, the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan.” This is at one side itself a disregard of this Constitutional Act and the other side a straight violation of human fundamental rights.

During Musharraf & Vajpayee's regimes a ray of hope was created when a bilateral efforts had taken to build and promote bilateral relationship between both countries through Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) like starting direct bus service across LOC, Promoting mutual relationships between both countries, opening negotiation counters for each other, concentrating to promote trade, Opening ways for mass communication sectors, Promoting sports, musical and cultural environment that was clogged later on because of may be Musharraf dictatorship was not got supported by masses in Pakistan and collapsed soon that has led the Kashmir dispute at same level where it was in earlier time without any concrete outcome and proper implications regardless of a looming emphasis. This regime at least worked a bit realistic as compared to previous ones and no doubt the positive smooth acceleration of relationship may only practice through Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) .

It is also a matter of fact that no one from both of India & Pakistan will set back easily from this disputed region because it will questioned and hurt their National Integrity, Mutual interests in the state, Loss of resources and particularly a political dilemma that caught the international attention that has become National Ego for both of them now. Spending a major portion of their budgets on security matters and shaking their economic structures is a sign of their National Ego regardless of the people oriented approach or any prosperity or progressive measures for the masses of Jammu & Kashmir State.

Another blemish and blotch approach has to be seen in the recent Elections held in AJK part during current era of 2011 which is another prejudice & bigotry when non-state political parties has took part in elections by hook and crook methodology through their few projected state elements with the help of heavy amounts in the territory of Kashmir which is a status quo and none of the political party have right to purchase land or to participate in any election campaign in disputed territories around the globe which is the straight violation of the laws relating to the status quo areas and Kashmir was declared disputed by the United Nations in 1948 and both India and Pakistan agreed to give Kashmiri people a chance to determine their political future through free and fair plebiscite under the UN patronage without positioning their own adoptions in this disputed territory of Jammu & Kashmir.

Karachi pact 28th of April 1949 is another reflection of illegal occupancy where Pakistani Establishment has enjoyed their titular power in Northern areas of Gilgit, Baltistan and Hunza by taking it directly under Islamabad without relating it to Azad Jammu & Kashmir Interim Constitutional Act and this region is five times the size of the area designated as Azad Kashmir consisting a territory of 72,971 km2 in real that is so injustice and discriminated behavior , big hurdle for masses relationships, traditions, creating destruction in the communication process and detracting masses from both regions of Azad Kashmir & Gilgit Baltistan(AK & GB) to demolish their history backgrounds, whereas Line of control (LOC) is a drastic division that has snatched the overall peace and calm across the border. So in real scenario we cannot say that there will be some sort of peaceful consequences and measurements from both sides of LOC without pure judgmental behaviors and without implementation of United Nations Resolutions on Kashmir dispute where it is clearly mentioned that Kashmir dispute must be resolved with the choice of Kashmiri people otherwise in the prospective of Islamabad & Dheli both are badly failed to protect the Kashmir cause at its genuine identity and just relating it to their National Ego which is clearly seen & realized in current situation.

The other side of Line of Control (LOC), the sacrifices rendered by Kashmiri people have proved it clearly that there is no other option that can be practice regardless of implementation of free, fair and unbiased plebiscite and referendum rather than any maltreatment and abuse, discriminate, forged or planted one elements. So relating the Kashmir Cause towards National Integrity is actually the National Ago for both Indian & Pakistani Governments which has no means with Kashmiri People and both countries must need to understand and respect the fundamental human rights not for the sake of National Ego or any resource oriented approach but for the sake of mankind and for the better perspective of humanity.

Non-Political Panchayat Elections Turn Highly Political

Ranbir is amazed at how mainstream political parties are locked in a bitter tug-of-war over ‘branding’ and ‘parading’ of newly-elected sarpanches and panches before the media

(Mr. Ranbir Singh Pathania, 31, was born in born in Jammu city. He did his early schooling from the J.S. Luthra Academy and the S.R.M.L. Higher Secondary School, Jammu. He graduated from the G.G.M. Science College, Jammu, with distinction, and went on to earn his law degree from the University of Jammu with distinction in the Constitutional Law. He is a practicing lawyer in the Jammu seat of the J&K High Court and subordinate courts in Jammu. Mr. Pathania has taken on prestigious cases like the Siddhra land scam, B.Ed. colleges scandal, etc. and is one of the vocal advocates for the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to root out corruption, preserve heritage and enforce the Right to Information (RTI) law. He is the General Secretary of jagriti Samaj and a member of the Advisory and Constitution Amendment Committee of the J&K Bar association. He was selected for the "Best Citizens of India" award by the Best Citizens Publishing House.)

Panchayats and Politics in J&K

The pulse and longing of the people of Jammu and Kashmir for Panchayati Raj has rightly been reflected in the form of overweening turn-outs in the recently held Panchayat elections. The cult and crescendo of public participation had been such that it outplayed state government
‘ wildest’ dreams and topsy-turvy its apprehensions. And if we go by the text of recent press-reporting, it looks as if mainstream political parties are locked in a bitter tug-of-war over ‘branding’ and ‘parading’ newly-elected sarpanches and panches before the media.

The state government has flown across criss-cross of the rumble-tumble taking time by the forelock trying to garner maximum credit out of the unprecedented voting graphs. Mahbooba Mufti surprises everybody by professing that sarpanches and panches backed by ruling regime have miserably lost in the Valley. Isn’t there anybody to tell these lame-duck politicians that the Panchayati Raj Act, a law unanimously enacted by legislators of all political parties, clearly stipulates that Panchayat elections in J&K shall be on non-party basis. Or if petty blame-fixings and point-scorings have become the very idiom of today’s politics.

Nonetheless, apart all this politicking, nobody is talking of giving functional and financial autonomy to Panchayats in order to make them as virtual, self-reliant institutions of local self-government committed to transfer power to the people.

It is but an open affair that J&K Panchayati Raj Act is a heartless piece of legislation. It had been only in the backdrop of addressing a passionate letter by this columnist to Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, urging her to protect Rajivji’s legacy in J&K that the entire Congress unit of J&K had risen in rebellion and the issue had ultimately to be settled in Coordination Committee of the ruling coalition. Thereafter, Bills regarding constitution of an independent Finance Commission and Election Commission for Panchayats came to be passed in the State Assembly.

The struggle for the best does not stop here. In order to establish a decentralized, participative and holistic Panchayati Raj, a more serious and sincere effort needs to be initiated on part of state government. Section 45 (3) of the Act envisages that top man of the top tier of Panchayati Raj (District Development and Planning Board) shall be a nominated man thereby making elected PRIs subservient to the bureaucratic will. Whereas in the rest of country, the district-level chairmen seek the mandate from sarpanches and panches. Thanks to the special status of our state. The issue of devolving actual and effective powers upon Panchayats and vesting of administrative control of departments/institutions working within their jurisdiction with Panchayats still hangs fire. There is no whisper from the government side regarding payment of honarium for elected sarpanches and panches. While the corporators elected in municipal areas are getting handsome allowances since the date of their election. Gram Sabhas have not been prepared as healthy and viable seats of deliberation. Provision for social audit of Panchayats is also missing.

And the most important aspect of ‘capacity-building’ of panches and sarpanches as well as Panchayati Adalats – that shall teach and train them as to what are their powers and how they have to act and react - is yet to be addressed. Least has been done to afford broadband connectivity to Panchayats in J&K and create e-PRIs while can provide a whole range of IT related services such as Decentralized Database and Planning, PRI Budgeting and Accounting, Implementation and monitoring of Central and State sector schemes, Citizen-centric Services, Unique codes to Panchayats and Individuals, Essential GIS based applications, On-line Self-learning medium for elected representatives and official functionaries. The concept of e-PRI has the potential to revolutionise PRIs as the symbol of modernity and efficiency and induce mass ICT culture. Furthermore every Panchayat needs a Community Facilitation Centre, library and a playground.

With a view to providing an alternative disputes redressal mechanism to the current justice delivery system that is expensive, time-consuming, procedure-ridden, technical and difficult to comprehend, Nyaya Panchayats Bill is also required to be immediately put into play in J&K. Establishing Nyaya Panchayats shall ensure participatory and people-oriented system of justice for the rural people in their respective villages with greater scope for mediation, conciliation and compromise.

All said and done, it seems that Panchayat elections have been reduced to a cosmetic exercise in J&K. The gospel of effecting a qualitative and cumulative change in the rural areas through Panchayati Raj seems to be a far-fetched reality over here. It seems that the powers-that-be are more inclined towards window-dressing and less towards substantive work. If gimmickry would have been able to deliver goods, J&K by now would have transformed itself into happy oasis of a state. The stiff-necked babus and weak-willed netas have joined hands in debarring Panchayats of their real powers. Rather they are scared of this ‘third force’ in the process of development and empowerment.

And another lee part of the affair has been that a genuine voice seeking fullest devolution of powers to the rural people is yet to be heard from the countryside. As Bernard Shaw says, “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”

Is it not possible that all political parties, pressure groups and individuals come on one platform and try to create a role-model Panchayat in J&K like a happy oasis in a storm-tossed sea seeks and transform long-cherished goals of rural empowerment and rural democracy into a sweet reality. Well the answer lies hidden only in the womb of future. And let us hope and pray for the best.

Manzoor's Story

The desperation expressed by Manzoor is the story of many young people in Kashmir facing an uncertain future. Manzoor's story is followed by an editorial on tackling employment

(Mr. Manzoor Akash, 25, was born in Rafiabad, Baramulla district. He completed his schooling locally, and earned degrees in B. Litt (comparative Literature) and M.A. in English from Barkatullah Vishwavidhyalaya, Bhopal. A very articulate writer, he has published numerous articles in various journals. He is also a budding poet, having published his first book of poems, "Verses of Heart," in 2006. Some of his poems have been reviewed by prominent literary critics in India. He has taught English at high school level, and hopes to teach in a university some day. Presently he teaches English at the Government Degree College in Kupwara.)

Please Listen

I am a college contractual of Kashmir valley. I am working on a meager salary of Rs. 8000/- per month from last couple of years. Some of my brothers have been working for last 7 or 8 years and have gone overage. Some are so honest, hardworking and dedicated that their sense of responsibility didn’t let them go out to carry out any research work though they were selected many times. College didn’t let them think about their own career.

I am treated like a slave. Injustice is done with me. My innocence is taken an undue advantage of. I am a so-called professor, so must not be treated like. There should be difference between me and a higher secondary contractual. Especially in case of pay scale. Higher secondary contractual teaches two classes and takes Rs 7000/- salary monthly whereas I teach six classes and am given only one thousand extra. I am worse than a public school teacher. I feel frustrated.

I am everywhere the same. Whether I work in Baramulla, Bandipora, Sopore, Anatnag, Pulwama or in Srinagar. I am everywhere treated step motherly. I can be ordered to join Sogam, Kupwara or Uri College. What then I reside in far flung district like Pulwama, Anantnag, Budgam, etc. Doesn’t matter, even if I’ve to spend a hundred or two a day. I, sometimes, visit my parents after months. No problem. My salary is disbursed after 8 or 9 months. No problem. I am developed. Even bank people do not facilitate me with any kind of loan. They treat me like a beggar. I turn to be a shameless person because like other working people of the society. I am not able to give my parents pay after every month. Students in the campus want me each day to be taught. They praise me because I teach them the best and that too regularly. If my lectures be weighed than even Rs. 25000/- pay will not equal the balance pans. I am supposed to join the duty even during hartal days because my single leave not only makes me a shirker and brings disgrace but it also creates a pandemonium besides an explanation that peon always comes with. And if due to some unavoidable circumstances I could not report my duty for 2 or 3 days then it is sure I will be sent back to the pavilion (Amar Singh College).

I am a human being. Have done M. Phil and PhD still I am humiliated. I will tell you a secret, if you won’t tell it to others. No girl is ready to marry with me because I am a poor employee. Whom society has rejected. An ReT teacher doesn’t allow me to sit or speak before him because he takes Rs. 18000/- as salary and I still Rs. 8000/-. How fools I am! I’ve ruined my life after college. Government job has gone off my hands because college has rendered me good for nothing.

To whom can I narrate my painful story? When I go to the door of CM, I am not even treated well by a chaprasi. I am frisked like a thief. Still I think there is a silver living in the clouds. My rank is higher than my meager pay-scale. Since 2008, my grievance of pay hike is kept suspended. I have been praised by sugar coated words, many times over. But at grassroots level, happens nothing.

Now, with my head lowered to the ground and eyes brimmed with tears, I request you that our pay scale may be hiked. Sir, there is no one left to us, except you. You posses power. Our life has been destroyed. Now, if your Excellency is benevolent, we hope ours demands will be fulfilled. Omar Sahab, you are sympathetic and kind personality. Whose door can we go to except yours? Years passed, and we still wait in a hope that it will end.

Tackling Unemployment
(Editorial in the Kashmir Images)

Jammu and Kashmir is face to face with plethora of problems and crises. While on one hand the political uncertainty has been proving a stumbling block in state’s progress and development, on the other hand it is the corruption that has been eating up very vitals of the society. All the institutions of the state are plagued with the menace of corruption and therefore it was no wonder that Jammu and Kashmir is among the top most-corrupt states. Though the successive governments have been claiming waging war against the menace and have even passed some stringent laws to deal with the corrupt, but the disease seems incurable because these wars have remained confined to rhetoric and laws within books only.

Another serious problem that has been posing biggest threat to the state is that of unemployment. The number of educated unemployed youth is increasing with every passing year with no avenues of employment available anywhere. As the state, particularly the Kashmir Valley, is too poor on industrial front, government remains the only employing agency. It goes without saying that government in no circumstances is in a position to accommodate the heavy rush of all the unemployed. Therefore, the unemployment really emerges as a great threat and if ways and means are not found to create employment avenues, the situation has every potential to take any dangerous turn. The unemployed lot is growing frustrated with every passing day and the increase in the incidents of suicides or even the petty crime is in some measure one of the dangerous fallouts of employment crisis.

Even though one agrees that government cannot accommodate and employ all the unemployed but at the same time it can’t shy away from its responsibility of helping these youth found jobs with respect and dignity. The self-employment schemes are one of the attractive and very promising alternatives. But once again the rampant corruption has made these schemes useless. Need is to revive the schemes and think innovatively and make them more people-friendly. The schemes should be made so attractive that instead of looking towards the government for jobs, unemployed should voluntarily prefer to go for self-employment. But in this regard the banks operating in Jammu and Kashmir have to take a lead. Although the Jammu and Kashmir Bank, whose USP is “empowerment of masses”, has been doing some real good work on this front, but the other nationalized banks, which are also doing very lucrative business in the state, must also be pulled up to contribute their bit. They cannot have the privilege of their sweet discretion in terms of their social responsibility.
It is true that banks are through and through business establishments and are always in a race to earn more. But then there is something called corporate social responsibility.

Banks are supposed to do more than just financial business. Despite being commercial institutions, the banks too, at some level, actually belong to the people, because it is their money that is the life blood of banking industry. So if banks are doing profitable business here, credit for it goes to the people who have actually reposed their trust and invested in, and with these financial institutions. Now when it comes to shouldering the responsibility of pulling out this state from the morass of unemployment, banks have to be there to help. They have to shoulder this social responsibility and come forward to help the unemployed stand on their own feet and earn with respect and dignity. And in doing so they will certainly be doing business as well, because the loans they extend to help the unemployed will also earn them profits.

Children's Hospital in Srinagar is a Disgrace

The G B Pant hospital for children is suffering the same fate as the Lal Ded Hospital for Women.

‘Children Hospital as Good as a Railway Station’

Srinagar: G B Pant hospital, the only children hospital of Kashmir is ‘as good as a railway station’ according to a mother who helplessly shares a bed with three more attendants holding their sick babies on their laps. The hospital presents the same scene in all its wards.

Hajra, mother of a two months old baby in ward one, screamed out of rage, “We feel like we are on a road. Doctors are not available round the clock. Leave doctors, you have to run behind nurses to listen to you. One guides you to other and the other to someone else.”

The hospital still stand nowhere for its progress as it was recently in the news for its staff negligence and lack of facilities. Fearing to lose their jobs, doctors and the senior officials refuse to comment.

One of the senior doctor, who choose to hide his identity said, “From patients to doctors and the other officials, everyone knows about the grave problems of the hospital. There are a number of collective concerns on all the sides.

Fearing for getting penalized, the anonymous doctor said, “If you get permission from a higher level then only we can speak about the issues of the hospital, else we get penalized for speaking the truth.”

Speaking about the flow of patients and the attention they get, another anonymous doctor said that the hospital is overcrowded to take proper care of patients.

“This hospital comprises of an exact number of 200 beds, with a flow of patients in thousands. We cannot deny admissions to patients as it is a government hospital and at the same time we are helpless to provide them the care they require,” added another doctor.

“You see a senior doctor once in 24 hours. Our patient, who was suspected of meningitis at SKIMS, was referred here. Last night the junior doctors, who we suppose are mainly post graduate students, diagnosed him and said there are no chances of meningitis, you can take him home. We were adamant to stay back and today a senior Pediatrician confirmed this as a case of meningitis,” said Dr Saima, attendant of the said patient from Khanyar.

Explaining how poor ventilation can cause other diseases to the patients, Dr Saima said, “We are here with patients suffering from tuberculosis. There are all chances of transmitting such diseases to other children. There is hardly any cross ventilation inside the premises. Instead of recovering, patient will end up with some other diseases.”

Canteen’s bad drainage system is aggravating this problem with its pungent smell. This area is on the side of the Intensive Care Unit, where new born babies and minors with critical illness are admitted for medical care.

“I have been complaining about the bad drainage system of the hospital from the past three years now. People come and sit in our canteen to eat their home food,” said Farooq Ahmad, owner of the Canteen.

He further added that there are no bathrooms available for ladies and the ones available are also in a bad condition. “Your newspaper will be filled with complaints and yet there won’t be an end,” he said. A group of doctors, when insisted to voice their opinion wished anonymity and collectively said that the fact of dual control of this Pediatric Hospital by army and government adds majorly to the problem. “In fact, the location itself is at the wrong place. Such a hospital could serve the patient needs better if it could have been close to the SKIMS or any other big hospital of the valley,” they stressed. (Rising Kashmir)

Snuffing a Great Health Hazard

Ashraf feels the time has come for Kashmir to take a radical course

(Dr. Mirza Ashraf Beg, 70, was born in Sarnal, Anantnag. He did his primary schooling at the Primary Hanfia School in Anantnag and completed his F. Sc. from the Government Degree College in Anantnag. He completed his medical degree (MBBS) from the Government Medical College Srinagar, University of Kashmir, in 1967, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Pathology from the Government Medical College Jammu, University of Jammu, in 1981. He served as the Medical Director of the Civil Hospital, Pahalgam, until 1983 and subsequently held senior administrative positions in the health service system of Saudi Arabia, including participation in a joint program with the Johns Hopkins University and the University of South Florida for a United Nations project related to environmental and ecological impact of the 1991 Gulf War. He is an Executive Member of the Jammu and Kashmir Red Cross (nominated by the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir), Member of General Medical Council, Jammu and Kashmir, Medical Council of India, Saudi Medical Council, and General Medical Council, London. He is proficient in Kashmiri, Urdu, Hindi, English, Arabic.)

Ban Smoking in Kashmir

It has been proved beyond doubt that smoking cigarettes is one of the leading causes of cancers in humans. But let us be clear that smoking cigarettes and other habit forming smokes like shesha or committing sins are not the only cause of malignancies. If it was so then our Sikh community ought to have been immune to this deadly disease. Passive smoking is off-course more dangerous. Hence family member’s colleagues or coworkers who smoke in presence of their associates or community are more detrimental for their society and the neighborhood.

A few days back it was interesting to read that Div-Com Kashmir will make the two districts of Budgam and Srinagar as no smoking zones. Theoretically an excellent idea! ‘Hum Bhi Chahtay Aazadi.’ Before issuing such statements we need to know that people all over the world use tobacco in different forms and there is a strong campaign against this menace despite that cultivation of tobacco is increasing because it is a lucrative business. Same is true about the cell phones. Despite knowing it has disastrous effects on our health we don’t stop even our children for abusing the cell phone utility. Thousands of gallons of substandard diesel are burnet in telecom towers polluting our atmosphere with dangerous gases detrimental for the health. Our honorable Div-Come also needs to find out why a specific brand of ‘four square’ cigarettes despite its high carcinogenic effects are sold ‘only in Kashmir’ and why Bhang and poppy is cultivated under the nose of his law enforcing agencies despite the government commandments. It is because there is a nexus between the cultivator’s supplier’s conduits and consumers who are said to have a political umbrella. Unless that chain is broken it is only a tall claim to ban the cigarette smoking. Besides that a strong awareness in the community especially the younger generation is to be enforced sturdily.

Statistics have shown the trend of cancers in Kashmir is rising dangerously so we need to be on high alert and call for SOS. It is definitely not only the cigarette smoking or Huka that we can put the blame on. Thousands of locomotives plying on our roads are puffing out deadly carcinogens that we smoke passively and inhale in to our lungs consequently transported to other parts of the body through our circulating blood pumped by the heart in to the lungs for oxygenation. We don’t see hundreds of diesel operated army trucks plying aimlessly on the roads of other states in India neither do we see out dated trucks and civilian busses despite having lived their life emitting obnoxious smoke like brick kiln chimneys forcing an innocent passerby to smoke the same. The coal used in our brick kilns that have mushroomed haphazardly on our highways and our coal operated room heaters (Bukharies) are equally responsible for numerous lung diseases such as COPD, corpulmonale, bronchitis and cancers. Many deaths have been reported due to coal operated Bukhries used during winters. Gas heaters are equally dangerous. The drinking water transported through worn-out pipes where lead was used to bridge the knots is said to have its adverse effects on the gastric mucosa and that is why such pipes are no more in use in the countries where people are health conscious and governments perform their duties dutifully.

Thanks to our horticulture experts we have seen a boom in this industry for the last thirty years. Kashmir is producing millions of apple boxes every year. Our peach, cherry, pears and apricots are the best and can compete anywhere in the world. Our economy was sustained by the revenue earned through our fruit during the turmoil of last twenty years when we had virtually an economic blockade due to everyday strikes and government imposed curfews. This bumper crop was possible due to the use of fertilizers and controlling the diseases like sanjoscale by using pesticides. These pesticides and fertilizers are chemicals that have injurious effects on all the living creatures including the humans. That is why beautiful butterflies and singing frogs that where important for our habitat have almost disappeared disturbing our flora and fauna. Every day we are seeing organophosphorous poisoning cases both suicidal and accidental in our hospitals. In order to save people involved in our horticulture and agriculture industries from injurious effects of pesticides and fertilizers we need to educate them properly about the judicious use of these chemicals. Use of proper gloves, goggles, masks and head covers is a must while spraying the insecticides or using the fertilizers. In developed countries where farming and horticulture is spread on large areas spraying of pesticides is done by helicopters where human hand has the least possible role. The same system can be tried here by applying cooperative farming.

Coming back to Div com’s smoke free zones in Kashmir, nothing is impossible but we need to devise a proper system and introduce it gradually. It should not look a hollow slogan like our politicians do. In US and western countries on way towards a complete ban on smoking the establishments that have a large group of people working under one roof have defined smoking areas where smokers can smoke without disturbing their colleagues. Similarly there are corners for smokers on the airports. You can ask for a nonsmoker’s room in hotels. Smoking is a habit forming attitude or an addiction and there are definite ways and means to get rid of such tendencies. We have councilors who are experts in these fields they de-addict these fanatics by proper counseling rather than imposing an ineffective ban.

Disappearing Forests

The Editorial in the Kashmir Images laments the slow demise of pristine forests in the Kashmir valley

Lest We Regret

The shaving of the jungles and the shrinking of the forest area is a matter of grave concern for a state whose climate is determined by the presence of forests. In that sense, our state ill affords indiscriminate felling of trees in the forests and turning the retrieved area into agricultural or horticultural lands. But unfortunately, for the last two decades there is no respite to our forests from the axes of smugglers. The continuous illegal logging has made this beautiful state loose its sheen and the pristine glaciers are receding at an alarming pace.

Moreover, there seems no halt to this obnoxious activity in the near future. Millions of words are written on the pathetic state of our forests but equally less is done to arrest the trend. Huge chunks of dense forests today look barren lands however the trunks of the felled trees remind one of the thick presence of trees and a whole lot of wildlife once residing therein. Go to anywhere in the state, you will definitely find some portion of the forest land shaven and brought under cultivation of cash crops or left unattended to trigger soil erosion.

In the name of protecting forests government envisaged forest protection force and many people were engaged in the new scheme of things. However, till date none of them have been allotted weapons and ammunition to fight the well organized and ferocious smugglers. The verdant and extremely important forests have been left at the mercy of unarmed forest officials who in most cases are abettors in smuggling. It can be gauged from just seeing the accumulated properties of the forest officials and their life style.

Government may utter tall claims of protecting forests but at the ground level, its performance is almost zero. Or in other words one can say that if there were no government, the pace of cutting the forests would not have been any worse. Question may arise why people on their part are creating market for smugglers? One may ask when a person constructing a house has no option to get timber from the forest department and in some cases 20 to 50 cubic feet are sanctioned per construction, then where from will he get the required timber other than turning to smugglers. Government has not kept wood and timber in sufficient quantity so that the demand is fulfilled from there. Instead those who oil the palms of the officials or are influential by way of their official or unofficial position get timber in plenty. So in other words government is creating a situation where tacitly needy are made to approach smugglers and thereby spelling doom for the lush green forests.

Experts opine that if the current pace of clearing forests goes unabated, the time is not far away when Kashmir along with its pristine and glorious forests will turn into a barren land supporting least species of life. That will be catastrophic for this state as it will not only rob us from our pleasant environs but also break us economically. Lack of forests means enormous soil erosion, flash floods, long spells of draught and many unknown diseases. It is time we take heed of this silent catastrophe that is accumulating only to befall us when we have almost nothing to stop its dangerous effects. The best way to begin with is to keep supply of timber in the forest depots ready for the local consumption so that smugglers find it hard to sell their illicitly gotten timber. At the same time give enough teeth to the forest laws and also arm forest protection personnel with weapons so that they can overpower the smugglers.

The Destruction of Dal

Indifference and greed lead to expected consequences

Tussle Ruins Dal Lake

Srinagar: As the ‘Incredible India’ tries to promote Kashmir as the prime tourist destination, at its heart a lingering conflict is polluting the waters and future of tourism in this Himalayan valley.

Dal Lake, one of the main attractions of Kashmir tourism is decaying as the tussle between government and houseboat owners’ hits stalemate over relocation of houseboats. Without a decision in view houseboats continue to function without sceptic tanks putting all the drainage directly into the water making Dal ever more polluted and prone to excessive weed growth and sedimentation.

“We have managed to curtail all the pollution coming into the Dal from catchment areas and the only direct toxic waste polluting Dal is from the houseboats”” Irfan Yaseen chairman Lakes and Waterways Developmental Authority said. According to Yaseen houseboats owners are reluctant to relocate to Dole Dam where government is promising free of cost centralized sanitation system.

LAWDA chief also said if houseboat owners do not comply with the government they are left with no option other than using law enforcement agencies to save the Lake.

“We are trying to make them understand that their livelihood is directly related with the wellbeing of the lake. We know it is an emotional issue for them, but they have to understand that it is the need of the hour,” said Yaseen whose agency with some success connected 70 houseboats from Nageen Lake with the sewer and by end of this year will connect all 150 odd houseboats from the second popular lake of the city with the drainage system.

“Social pressure on this sect of society holds key to success. We don’t want to use force and we hope that persuasion will do the trick,” Yaseen said.

But for the Houseboat Owners Association, government claims hold no standing as according to its president, Altaf Wangnoo the problem of pollution is with authorities who have “failed to relocate 60000 families of Dal dwellers. We are hearing for years that they will relocate these families from the Dal and will make it clean and free from encroachment; they are moving at a snail pace.”

Wagnoo said shifting to Dole dumb is out of question as it will ruin their business and property. “They have to only connect 130 houseboats with sewer, for that they can’t hold all of us ransom,” Wagnoo said. “We are always ready to help, but we seek government compensation if they want us to move back.”

Government on the other side wants to see tangible results by the end of next year in improving the situation of Dal Lake. “We have seen 20 years of turmoil and we have hope to bring Kashmir back to what it used to be,” Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister and union minister for new and renewable energy said on sidelines of a promotional golf event in Srinagar’s Royal Spring Golf Course on Saturday.

Tourism 101

It should be obvious that without recreational sports even a beautiful meadow can lose its luster

‘No Adventure Sport Makes Gulmarg Boring’

Asem Mohiuddin

Gulmarg: As the name Gulmarg strike to your ears, the mesmerizing beauty, scenic splendors and serene atmosphere is what you may imagine. But think again. This world famous hilly tourist spot in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district is gradually losing its sheen due to official apathy and lack of proper infrastructure.

As one descends into this green valley to charm the art of nature, the open disposable on roads, piles of horse dung, water stagnation and foul smell is all that greets the visitors.

The tourists visiting the place complains that this splendid valley has almost lost its charm as it has turned into the garbage dump and causes much inconvenience to them owing to lack of basic infrastructure like roads, culverts .

“It is unfortunate such beautiful place is not maintained well. There are no dustbins visible for litter. Horse dung is lying everywhere on roads and dumping water smells foul,” said Neharika, a Hyderabadi tourist, who is here for holidays.

She said that she visited the place fifteen years back; however, even after this many years she sees no improvement in the infrastructure.

“I had been to this place when I was a kid. It was all greenish and charming. Today, I see all it has been defaced with unnecessary erection of fencing, no maintenance of places, said she.

Her husband Aalish who visited the place first time said that instead of defacing this mesmerizing beauty, the management should have improved the road connectivity as they are in dilapidated conditions.

“There are no information boards about the places which force non local tourists to take the support of local horseman against the hefty charges. The roads are in bad conditions with no littering spaces,” he said while showing littering he compiled in his bag.

He suggested that as the tourist influx to this place is very high and the management should have designed maps, erected information boards and kept professional guides for the assistance of tourists.

“We wanted to explore the place fully but owing to the absence of information boards and maps we sought the support of local horseman. Horsemen are highly bargaining and demanded Rs 3600 for one horse for three hours. When we refused finally they agreed to provide two horses against Rs 500 each,” he said.

Suman another tourist from Delhi said that the place is boring as it provides no active entertainment.

“How long a tourist would like to stay here without any further entertainment apart from enjoying the beauty of nature? There should also have some recreational parks, museums and adventurous sports activities to enthrall the visitors,” she said.

Pertinently, once being the hot destination for local tourists, Gulmarg witnesses the feeble rush of locals as the place is considered dreary with no active entertainment to offer.

“How long we will visit to see this place. There is nothing new it is all boring now,” said Zahoor Ahmad who visited place more than a dozen times.

However, showing helplessness in controlling the horse dung on roads, sources in the Gulmarg development authority said that the presence of more than 50,00 horses have really made their job difficult to maintain spotlessness.

“They have a strong union and whenever, we take steps for the maintenance of spotlessness and impose restrictions and guidelines to them they go on strike and forcibly halt the functioning of system. So we are helpless,” authorities said.

The Chief Executive officer, Gulmarg Development Authority, Mahboob Ahmad said that the departments suffer with shortage of manpower which causes difficulties in maintaining spotlessness.

“We have only thirty casual labors for maintaining spotlessness that is very less. Now we plan to outsource the sanitation,” he said

Mahboob said that for road improvement the tenders have been floated and within next few weeks all the roads would be magdimized. He said that horsemen have been banned for plying on roads and in case they violate law would be imposed with fine.

Friday, June 17, 2011

"We Want Tourists!" - Now Read the Reality

Yusuf narrates the harrowing experience of a tourist group wishing to explore Gurez and implores J&K Government not to promote tourism in frontier locations without adequate infrastructure and courtesy staff

(Mr. Mohammad Yusuf, 57, was born in the Dalgate area of Srinagar. He attended Government Schools in Drugjan, Sonawar, and Batwara, all in Srinagar, and completed his college studies at the Sri Partap College, Srinagar. Following his graduation, he briefly attended the University of Kashmir, and in 1980, joined the Physical Education Department of the University of Kashmir. Mr. Yusuf taught aquatics and adventure sports (swimming, mountaineering, snow and water skiing, rafting, parasailing, skating, kayaking, canoeing, etc.), before retiring in 2011. His students have has won many local sports trophies. He has led many exploration expeditions in Kashmir, and has been the Treasurer of the Winter Sports Association of Jammu and Kashmir, General Secretary of J&K Aero Sports Association and the J&K Ski & Mountaineering Association, Secretary of Srinagar Winter Sports Association, and Vice President of the J&K Yoga Association. He presently works as a consultant at the Adventure Call Tours and Travels. In his leisure time, Mr. Yusuf engages in social work, gardening and blogging.)

Shape it First

Much has been discussed and written about the potential of tourism in the Dard-Shina tribe dominated Gurez valley for long. The articles written by this author and Mr. Zahid Samoon etc. earlier also highlighted the potential of tourism in Gurez. With the motive to develop Gurez as a potential tourism destination the Tourism Department is regularly conducting the Tourism festivals in this remote valley for many years now. Pertinently the first well organized and research based exploratory expedition to Gurez was undertaken by the Directorate of Physical Education and Sports, University of Kashmir way back in 2005. The historic expedition, consisting of 60 students of different colleges and post-graduate departments of the University and three TV channels, brought Gurez into the notice of the authorities and other tourism players. It is in fact cherished desire of the local MLA, Jenab Nazir Ahmad Khan (Gurezi) to put Gurez on international tourism map. Many other well-wishers of Gurez are contributing their bit to this direction.

Since there are not standard hotels or huts available in Gurez at the moment, the Tourism Department has constructed Tourist Reception Centre there with residential accommodation of 5 double bed rooms and some well-furnished log houses. There are some other Guest Houses of different departments like Fisheries, Forests and PWD etc. but a common tourist is not allowed to stay in these bungalows. The newly constructed buildings of Tourism Department have made it possible for tourists to visit Gurez.

After putting hard efforts by Kashmir University, Tourism Department, writers and locals, Gurez is being recognized as a total destination for heritage, herbal and adventure tourism in the country. Surprisingly the domestic tourists have now started planning visit this formidable Himalayan valley. Tour operators are also now giving it space in their itineraries. Gurez has tremendous potential for adventure and recreation tourism. Its challenging, majestic and lofty snow clad mountains towards Mushko valley offer great challenge for serious climbing, the hills and the pastures are ideal for bushwalking, hiking and trekking, while the smooth and virgin slopes are ideal for alpine snow skiing and paragliding. In the plain area of the valley one can also operate parasailing and during winter ski-touring could be great fun here. River Kishenganga is ideal for white water rafting, kayaking and sport angling. The rich Dard-Shina culture and the heritage log houses are yet another attraction for tourists. The rich flora and fauna is ideal for nature lovers.

The tourism in Gurez is presently formless and needs to be shaped first by the Government and thereafter recommend the tourists to visit it. Surprisingly on 29th May, 2011 a Kolkata based ‘MYNATURECLUB’ team, led by Mr. P.P. Ghosh, consisting of 17 members including 6 ladies and 5 children, left Srinagar for Dawar early in the morning. As per rules they approached the Police Station at Bandipora for acquiring the required movement pass but were told that the passes are issued in the S.P’s office. To our dismay when the team called on the S.P’s office they found just one officer available there and all other subordinate staff was enjoying holiday. There was no one to issue them the necessary passes. They were then told to come next day. Since the group had planned just two nights stay in Gurez it was not possible for them to retreat. Due to overflow of tourists at Srinagar it was not possible for them to arrange accommodation in any hotel at Srinagar. There was no alternative but to proceed towards Dawar under any circumstances. On hearing the misery faced by the team at Bandipora, the Tour Coordinator in Srinagar approached the concerned officials in Tourism Department and a political activist from Dawar for extending their help to the stranded team. But astonishingly no one could help them out till 5.00 p.m. He then approached the President, Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK), Mr. Rauf Ahmad Tramboo, who tried to contact the Minister for Tourism, Mr. Nawang Rigzon Jora but to the bad luck of the group, Mr. Jora’s cell was switched off as he was busy in inaugurating the Golf Course at Pahalgam. It was now about 6 o’clock when Mr. Rauf succeeded in contacting the Minister of State for Home and Tourism, Mr. Nasir Aslam Wani, who was kind enough to take immediate action and directed the Police officer in Bandipora to issue the necessary pass to the group. By then it was 6.30 pm and it was about to go dark. Due to fear the senior members of the team were showing reluctance to travel in rough mountainous terrain during night. Not only tourists but the drivers were also scared of traveling on the unseen road in the dead of the night. After great deal the team was finally motivated to move forward under any circumstances. The disgusted team finally left Bandipora for Dawar at 7.00 p.m.

One wonders why the police did not issue the pass to the group before receiving a telephone call from the Minister. The travel from Bandipora to Dawar normally takes 4 to 4.30 hours in fair weather but since the drivers were travelling on this road for the first time it took them about 6 hours. To the safety of the team the drivers drove their vehicles very carefully in the darkness.

The efforts made by the caretaker of TRC building at Dawar, Mr. Ghulam Muhammad Lone, in making this unique trip a success deserves high applauds. He was anxiously waiting for the group on roadside with torch in his hand up to 1.00 am. He had already arranged dinner for them. Mr. Ghulam Muhammad has always been in the forefront whenever there was any move towards the promotion of tourism in Gurez.

On return from Gurez Mr. Ghosh expressed that “What a disparity? The men from the valley – be it Yusuf Sahib, or the two Zahoors, or Jenab Gulam M. Lone – all of them helped us a lot to put us across the Valley to the unexplored Gurez Sector. On the other side the JKP, RR, CRPF, BSF men from down the valley, only put before us queries that made us uncomfortable, unnerved and unknown in our own land. Totally enamored by the trouble Yusuf took in convincing the Police Department of Bandipore in providing us with the permission. I thought the movement pass could have been arranged a bit earlier if we could apprehend such horrifying impasse created by the police procedure”. He further expressed that “It was a true and touching moment when I saw Jenab Gulam M. Lone standing on the entry point of Dawar with a torch at such late hours – 1 AM of the night. No words to express my gratitude to this elderly gentleman of Gurez. His team was wonderful. Always trying to help us and make us feel comfortable”.

If the tourism in Gurez is to be promoted seriously the authorities at the helm have to play their role in a coordinated manner. It is suggested that instead of issuing the travel permissions at Bandipora these must be issued at TRC Srinagar through Dy. Director (Enforcement) as is done in the case of Air-Port permissions. The Tourism Department must arrange fame tours for local tourism players, guides and commercial vehicle drivers to acquaint them to the facilities, terrain and the road conditions of the area. It was a difficult task to motivate the two tempo traveller drivers of same name, Zahoor, to take a trip to Gurez and Telail. It was their maiden trip to this hitherto unknown tourist destination.

Besides holding the tourism festival, Gurez needs lot more publicity to grow its tourism potential. Conducting of adventure sports programs for the local youth is also important because without training manpower it may not be possible to operate adventure tourism smoothly there. It was a good move to shift some ski gear from Gulmarg to Dawar last year but conducting the training camps in skiing, rafting, trekking and climbing is equally important.