Introduction to Blog

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

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

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

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

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

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The New Killing machines

Arjimand describes the pathetic condition of roads in the valley

(Mr. Arjimand Hussain Talib, 34, was born in Srinagar. He is a columnist/writer and a development professional who matriculated from Tyndale Biscoe Memorial School in 1991. He subsequently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Engineering from Bangalore University and has a diploma in journalism as well. He is an alumni of the International Academy for Leadership, Gummerbach, Germany and has worked with UNESCO, Oxfam and ActionAid International in some seven countries in Asia and Africa. Arjimand writes regular weekly columns for the Greater Kashmir and The Kashmir Times since 2000 on diverse issues of political economy, development, environment and social change and has over 450 published articles to his credit. He is presently an advisor in international development and based in Beijing.)

Of our Roads, R&B Department, Contractors and Aesthetics

Monotony of a chief minister’s life is not easy to cope with. Omar Abdullah is known to be an adventurer. He seems good at extracting acts of thrill from a life beset with a testing routine.

For quite a while now, Omar has often been seen driving from his Gupkar residence to Srinagar airport and other places. Lately, he has been doing something more exciting: darting from Jammu to Srinagar and from Srinagar to Bafliaz and Baltal in car rally styles.

It sounds good to see a CM driving himself, and, by default, get a feel of the ground. But the problem with such drives is that they happen in laboratory conditions. When the police and the traffic guys clear the roads of everything else (Cars, trucks, humans, animals, etc.), to get the real taste of a common man’s travel experiences is not possible. Omar’s driving times on these roads have set records.

J&K’s roads for a common man today are killing machines. The number of daily road accidents, the casualties, the abysmal road quality and dismal traffic management make us look uncivilized. Forget the advanced societies and the developing ones, today even sub-Saharan Africa’s roads are much better than ours. I can bet that.

Despite some good makeover of a few roads, Srinagar looks particularly pathetic. Of course, the new Galandar-Narbal By-pass sounds a good idea, but when will we fix the shabby and incomplete state of the critical Ali Jan Road, the Srinagar By-Pass, Hyderpora Flyover and numerous residential colonies? Do we have any plans to broaden up the inter-district roads, and improve them technically? Srinagar – the state’s face - gets peanuts for its roads. In 2009-10, it got a mere Rs. 389.60 crores in the district sector. Bandipora, Ganderbal and Islamabad (Anantnag) districts with much smaller populations and vehicular use got Rs 458 crore, Rs 360 crore and Rs 511 crore respectively.

For a ride towards civility, we need some real good spending on roads in the state. We need capacity building of R&B and Traffic Departments. R&B Department also needs a performance appraisal.

What we also lack is R&B’s interest in greenery and aesthetics. Engineers are known to love capital intensive works because it involves good money. Small works involving tree plantation, maintenance of landscapes and safety signs just don’t appeal. But doesn’t it require some questioning?

R&B Department also needs to apply some common sense in its working. It is unimaginable it doesn’t maintain a untied contingency fund with standby equipment and material to fix potholes on the roads. Our potholes normally wait for one year for funds to be released from the centre!

Our private contractors need some attention too. We need a system of their capacity evaluation and ranking them up accordingly. Most of them do not seem to have the professional project management systems. Their work quality needs on-spot monitoring.

The Traffic Department needs manpower, technical expertise, better equipment and training. It has since long been conditioned to primarily serve the sahabs of every kind. Pushing public transport into narrow lanes to keep the main roads clear for the VIPs in Srinagar is a big moral wrong. For a common man, VIP is more of a Very Interrupting/Intruding Person rather than what this acronym is traditionally known as.

Srinagar also needs the much-delayed traffic signals. It is well known that some of our VIPs hate the idea of traffic signals in Srinagar because they would be treated like anyone else at traffic crossings. But can they be allowed to veto this idea?

The spending on our roads is not good enough too. The district and state sector funds are paltry. Central Road Fund (CRF) money is fine, but it is limited, and mostly used on roads serving a strategic interest. Then we borrow massively from NABARD. For rural roads we love PM’s Gram Sadak Yojana money. But none of these help deliver quality roads.

The roads we are thought not to be efficient and resourceful enough to maintain go to the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). The latest one to go to them is the Handwara-Bangus road. But are these roads any better? Aren’t the Kupwara-Karnah, Bandipora-Gurez and other such roads maintained by BRO primitive?

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