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.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Challenging Growing Wahabism in Kashmir

Two (of the many) recent commentaries written by valley journalists to condemn the growing unKashmiri culture in the valley. Mehmood's is generous to label its perpetuators as "compulsive representatives of Islam"

(Mr. Mehmood-ur-Rashid, 40, was born in Srinagar. He graduated from the Amar Singh College, Srinagar. He has been active in journalism for over ten years, and currently works at the Greater Kashmir (GK), having worked in the past at the Rising Kashmir as the Features Editor. The columnist is presently the GK Magazine Editor.)

It Hurts Deep

The person of ‘Grand Mufti’ and his latest fatwa represent the trivialities of present day Kashmir. They can at best produce the revulsive cacophony in the studios of Indian TV channels. And Indian TV channels are the handmaiden of Indian state when it comes to Kashmir. That is the reason why the fatwa of a person who hardly matters to Kashmir’s religious landscape becomes such a grand debate, in fact a ‘national issue’, as one of the wonderful news-actors so fumingly puts it. It is an outright insult for a well-meaning person to engage with such a non- sense; even condemning it would mean contributing to silly. Then why write this column?

My reason for writing this column is deeply personal. I, as a member of the Muslim community, as a part of Muslim civilization, as an ordinary student of Quran, and like millions sharing an emotional bond with the Prophet of Mercy and Knowledge (S.A.W), am deeply hurt when my prophet’s name is invoked in an undesirable context. When Islam gets associated with ignorance and coercion I feel an agonizing twitch in my heart. I could not sleep the whole night when Asiya Andrabi made it look like as if my Prophet – the prophet of Knowledge, Freedom and Mercy (S.A.W) – wanted the group of three little girls to be chased away so mercilessly. I thought my heart was about to explode when my Prophet was portrayed as someone who actually wanted these three little girls to be denounced, the way they were denounced by those who denounced them. Whatever little I know of my religion and my prophet, my heart says that in the kind of an atmosphere created by unknown facebookers, male-moralists, decree-makers, and all the “compulsive representatives of Islam”, the only refuge would be the mercy of my prophet(S.A.W). And this mercy doesn’t exclude those three little girls either.

Music and Islam may be an academic engagement but Prophet and Mercy is not. The two are inseparable, inalienable and indisputable. Misfortune has struck us in the form of unscrupulous brokers of religion, and the “compulsive representatives of Islam”, who so menacingly have barged into the territory of Islam leaving Knowledge, Mercy, Ethics, and Freedom in a state of mourning. My prophet (S.A.W) had nurtured these values with his blood and tears. Seeing the compound of my beloved prophet vandalized this way, I cry in pain. Not for any political or academic reasons, but for this personal pain, I yell out condemnation for those who – knowingly or otherwise – become the reason for people to believe that Islam sands in the way of human freedom or the expressions of art.

Leave aside ‘Grand Mufti’, he hardly matters. But the “compulsive representatives of Islam” is a concern. And what do we mean by that. Just some days back I spent a whole night with some of my friends discussing things that so effortlessly invoke interest in Kashmir. I logged onto to Youtube and opened a video. I had heard the speech earlier as well, and thought fit for the occasion to replay it. This was Ahmed Javed speaking on the topic Nifaz-e-Shariat: Kya, Kiwn aur Kysai (Establishing Sharaiah: What, Why and How), in a function organized by Late Dr Israr Ahmed’s Tanzeem-e-Islami. A brilliant mind equipped with an indescribable command over language, and a harming articulation, Ahmed Javed explains how law, even if it is Islamic, is essentially coercion, if it doesn’t turn into an individual and collective value. To Ahmed Javed, the person of Prophet (S.A.W) is the locale where law becomes ethics and that is why Islam is nothing but the conduct of prophet – Mizaje Rasool (S.A.W). And then he goes on to say that the display of coercion and terror in the name of Islam has nothing to do with Mizaje Rasool. I have never seen Ahmed Javed turn so emotional as when he says that “In the name of establishing Shariah, the way aggressive conduct is nurtured, hardheartedness is displayed, and a lower form of mind is imposed, I shall be committing treason against the Apostle of Allah if I don’t reject it with all the force at my disposal.” He then goes on to identify the forces that he calls as “the compulsive representatives of Islam”, and hammers home the point how they are singularly damaging the image of Islam, and how they are committing disrespect towards the Prophet of Allah – Muhammad - May Peace Be Upon Him. An unending shower of peace from Almighty on our Prophet, the prophet of Mercy, Knowledge and Freedom (S.A.W). He is the Prophet of us all, and our little girls are a part us and no one has the right to negotiate compulsively their relationship with the Prophet (S.A.W). Our little girls have the ability to discover their relationship with the Prophet of Mercy (S.A.W), and no Mufti’s domain it is to broker that relationship.

Last, I feel sorry for Jam’at-e-Islami. Jam’at-e-Islami of Syed Maududi, and in Kashmir, of S’ad-ud-Din. Syed Maududi and S’ad-ud-Din are not just an academic enquiry or a political anxiety for me, they are a part of my emotional being. On seeing this organization come to this pass, I feel hurt. Putting its weight in favour of wily brokers of religion, and contributing to a merciless presentation of Islam I whisper to myself, in a state of disbelief - this can’t be Jama’t e Islami.

Demonizing Kashmiris

Zafar Meraj (Editor-in-chief and Publisher, Kashmir Monitor)

The controversial rock band, while winding up its operations, has literally rocked Kashmir as the issue involving its existence or not, was grossly misused by all and sundry to demean and defame the people of this unfortunate piece of land who otherwise feel very proud of their highly rich cultural heritage. Besides many things, one question that is begging for an answer is as to who were the people that threatened the all girl band? Was it part of the usual games that vested interests in Kashmir have been playing to demonize the people only because they dared to raise their voice against the ill treatment meted out to them by successive regimes? Was it, for that matter, yet another attempt to malign people especially Kashmiri Muslims and to create a sharp divide among different sects and beliefs?

Music and poetry have for centuries been deeply connected with our culture and rich heritage and we have not only some great musicians to our credit but we have the privilege of having introduced some new instruments of music that are now being played worldwide.And also, our culture, our heritage, was never a la male affair but our womenfolk took was actively associated with it and their association was always welcomed. This is not today’s story but dates back to several centuries when the much talked about empowerment of women was not even dreamt by the forefathers of those who now call themselves the torch bearers of ‘civilised society’. The history of Kashmir, that dates back to over 5, 000 years,is witness that women played an important and at times more than equal role in all the spheres of life in Kashmir. When it comes to music, Kashmir has produced legendary women singers, from Malika Pukhraj to Mehmeet Mehmood. And who can forget the luminaries like Habba Khatoon, Arin Maal and Lalded. Women like Raj Begum, Naseem Akhter, Zoon Begum, Aashah Koul, Shamim Dev, Kailash Mehra….. the list is very long…. have earned global name and fame not only for their persons but also to the land they belong to. None raised any finger when these stalwarts would demonstrate their skills and enthrall the listeners and instead they were accorded all the respect and reverence that they really deserved.

In this back ground making an issue of some so called ‘threats’ from some unknown, faceless quarters to the all girl rock band does not make any sense at all. Even as the culture of rock music is something that does not go along with our rich and highly valued cultural heritage, the same has been there for a long time and even the vultures of the so called new cultural order admit that the band had been playing here for quite some time and even taken part in contests. Does not it strengthen the belief that someone for some reason is playing the mischief and in the name of ‘saving culture from fundamentalists’, some people want to demonize our society, our people at large? If that is not the case where does the religion come in when we talk about music?

For God’s sake, where does the ‘sufiana’ tradition come when you talk about playing rock band, a completely westernized affair? Why bring Islam all the time when you talk something about Kashmir, something that does not suit your interests? Irony is that these so called cultural vultures are always keen to find some occasion to malign Islam and Muslims both. And sad part off the story is that some people amongst us, for their petty personal interests are ever ready to feed those whose only job is to malign and defame Kashmir and its people. New theories are brought out; new words are coined, to divide people of Kashmir on the basis of their beliefs. A new term ‘Sufi Islam’ is the latest in this regard which has become a useful stick for everyone to beat the Kashmiri. And who are the people who are running this campaign that goes against our rich ethos, some opportunist bureaucrats who after having ‘earned’ enough, want to become ‘mujawirs’: some paid mullahs who have been trapped by these vested interests and used as ladders. Why does not someone tell these ‘thekaydars’ that there is and only one Islam and that this cannot be categorized as Sufi, Barelvi, Deobandi or Wahabi. And those who do this are in fact the real enemies of Islam and deserve to be shown their place.

Tail piece:
Before issuing ‘fatwa’ against the rock band, could the so called grand Mufti have and his cohorts a look at the local TV channels where young girls are shown dancing to the tunes of Wahab Khar, Ahmad Batwari, Shamas Faqir and other great poets?

State That Shows Desdain Towards its Minorities

Empty rhetoric aside, J&K Gocernment's indifference is only spreading angst among minorities

State Fails to Promulgate Minorities Act: J-K only state that doesn’t have minority panel

Sumit Hakhoo (Tribune India)

Jammu: Even after 21 years, the state of Jammu and Kashmir is ignoring a suggestion of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM), seeking extension and amendment to the NCM Act, 1992.

Jammu and Kashmir is the only state in the country that doesn’t have a Minority Commission to safeguard the interests of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians, who fall in minority list in the Muslim-majority Himalayan region.

The state faces a unique problem, as here Muslims are in majority while Hindus and other communities are in minority. So, the amendment is necessary so that benefits of schemes for the minority groups are implemented properly.

As per the procedure, the state has to make a recommendation to the President of India that an amendment may be made to the Act to make it applicable to the state by considering enactment of a law for promulgation of the J&K Minorities Act along the lines of model Act developed by the Commission and circulated to all states.

The last effort for setting up a commission was done by then Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, when the Social Welfare Department had set in the process for the same, but it was put under the carpet after Omar Abdullah took over reins of the state.

Sources said despite several reminders by Minority Commission chairman Wajahat Habibullah to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and the Law Department to take steps to make the Act applicable in the state, the Law Department has remained silent on the issue.

“It has been very slow in its response. J&K has even failed to bring the State Minority Commission Act. But we are still making efforts on our part”, said Wajahat Habibullah, NCM chairman. Habibullah said as the state has separate Constitution, it is mandatory to seek approval of the state Assembly before any Central Act passed by Parliament of India is extended to the state.

Article 1 sub (2) of the National Minorities’ Act of 1992 excludes Jammu and Kashmir from the jurisdiction of the Act. Nevertheless, the Union government did advise the state to have such laws passed by the state legislature and made applicable by appointing the Minority Commission.

However, state law secretary GH Tantary ruled out any early solution. “The Act can’t be extended in J&K but we are studying ways to create a separate body of our own. The process is going on,” Tantary said.

The state government has been contending that complexity in declaring any group a minority arises from the existence of a peculiar, region-wise and community-wise composition in the state, where no community is in minority in all the three regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Leh.

Conserving State Resources

Dr. Ganaie has a point that medicinal plants are as precious a natural resources as oil and diamonds. Dr Khursheed Ahmad Ganaie is Assistant Professor, Department of Botany Islamia College Srinagar.

Forest Flora on Sale........

This refers to the news item “Govt lifts ban on extraction of medicinal plants from forests” in an earlier edition of the Greater Kashmir. The decision of the state government to lift ban on the extraction of medicinal plants from the forests seems to be based on short-sightedness and ignorance of the ground realities. The statement of the state forest minister is very unfortunate and reflective of a non-serious attitude of the state forest department vis a vis protection of biodiversity in general and medicinal plants of Kashmir in particular. The statement of the forest minister is laughable wherein he speaks of extraction of medicinal plants with utmost care for commercial purpose that too at the hands of contractors. Ironical!! How a greedy contractor can extract rare plants with utmost care is out of my comprehension. Any person who has knowledge of ecology of medicinal plants of Kashmir will laugh at the statements of the forest minister wherein he speaks in one breath about the probability of extinction of medicinal plants and in the same breath about putting them on sale for their large scale extraction and exploitation. If the experts had advised the state Govt in 2005 to impose a ban on medicinal plant extraction fearing extinction of some valuable medicinal plant species, I am astonished to know how come in 2012-2013 the species availability or abundance of these plants has reached a level where they can afford mass extraction. Where are those experts?!!!!!

Why the government is not again consulting those experts on the issue whether to lift the ban on extraction of threatened herbs or not. In July 2012 a report of the forest department telecasted in an ETV Urdu Kashmir news programme revealed that most of the medicinal plants of the state are dwindling at a faster rate and many species are at the brink of extinction, then, what made the forest department and ministry of forestry to act in a hostile and unrealistic way. This decision has left all the ecologists, conservationists and environmentalist of the valley stunned; the question which haunts them all and they seek answer for is, how within six months the valuable medicinal plants of the valley can miraculously and magically reach an abundance level where they can be extracted on large scale?

As far as our knowledge of medicinal plant abundance and conservation biology goes, we can say with surety that it is not right time to lift the ban on extraction of Himalayan medicinal plants. Most of the medicinal plants growing in the forests of Kashmir show small population sizes which is conceived as a very serious thing in conservation biology. I want to ask a question to the forests minister and his guild of forest experts (if any) how any collector can extract medicinal plants with utmost care from small populations without damaging them. It is not only the number of plants which is important but it is also the genetic variability between individuals and populations of medicinal plants which guarantee them a long term survival. Extracting medicinal plants will reduce this variability and will shrink these populations below the viable population size which can precipitate extinction of these small populations. Species with small populations are always very prone to extinctions than species with large populations.

Even if a hardcore and skilled conservation biologist who knows the whole game of plant population biology and demography is asked to extract these rare plants with utmost care so that their survival is not affected, I don’t think he can help it without severely damaging the population; his way of extraction too will leave the population with a serious damage and survival threat. In such a scenario how can an illiterate and greedy collector and contractor be able to extract plants without recklessly damaging the fragile medicinal plant populations? Respected minister sahib, there is no viable scientific and sane concept of extraction and collection of endangered medicinal herbs with utmost care!!!! Translating your statement, “extraction of medicinal plants with utmost care” in the light of medicinal plant ecology simply means killing someone with utmost care. What does this mean? No conservation or ecological science can accommodate your slogan of “extraction with utmost care” since any sort of extraction is going to play havoc with the long term survival of threatened medicinal plants.

The government should come clean on lifting the ban on medicinal plant extraction since it has given birth to serious suspicions in the minds of conservationists, environmentalists, ecologists, taxonomists, naturalists and other people who really understand population and conservation science and are fully aware with the collective ecological status of the Himalayan medicinal plants. The unwise decision of the government of lifting the ban on extraction of medicinal plants which are fighting the battle of their survival in the silent jungles of Kashmir leaves a safe road for smugglers and official smugglers to loot the forests of Kashmir and bring the rare medicinal plants to the state of extinction. The State Medicinal Plants Board which is an organisation meant for ensuring the conservation, preservation and welfare of state medicinal plants exists on papers only. One fails to understand what the purpose of having such a board is which hardly exists on ground. The State Medicinal Plants Board should have all information about the medicinal plants growing in Kashmir Himalayas which unfortunately it doesn’t have and even it doesn’t strive for. The present structure and constitution of state medicinal plants board is faulty and disgusting and it would be in the better interest of the state and state medicinal flora if this incompetent and non functional board is dissolved at an earliest and reconstituted by putting better brains together who are laden with a deep knowledge of the Himalayan medicinal plants so that the establishment of the board in the state meets the purpose of its formation.

Only a vibrant and competent board can magnificently manage the affairs related to the medicinal plants of Kashmir that too truly based on scientific knowledge. Many ecologists, conservationists and systematists are genuinely upset over this poor and unwise decision of the government. This decision exposes the bottom of the government in general and forest department in particular and is reflective of the fact that the state forests are in crude, cruel and unsafe hands. (Greater Kashmir)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Fida Iqbal in USA

Fida provides an interesting perspective as a visitor to World's richest country

(Mr. Fida Iqbal, 49, was born in Sopore. He attended the D.A.V. School in Nayadyaar, Rainawari, and the Government Higher Secondary School in Sopore. He obtained his Bachelor's degree in Agriculture/Floriculture and Landscaping from Chowdhry Chottu Ram College at Muzaffarabad Nagar in Uttar Pradesh. Mr. Iqbal works with the Jammu & Kashmir Tourism Department as a landscape architect. He enjoys kitchen gardening, reading writing, and is very a passionate and dedicated golf player.) 

Surprising USA

This is almost fourth week now that I am in US pursuing an academic course as exchange visitor scholar at UMASS (University of Massachusetts). In spite of my tight schedule of learning, interaction and rigorous knowledge evaluation tests I spare some time to appraise myself with the political mindset and social structure of American society. Interaction with common people and some learned Americans lead me to the conclusion that majority of Americans are either ignorant or least bothered about the political happenings in the rest of the world. I could find that a common Kashmiri on the streets of Sopore or Shopian in his own way is well versed with the international political happenings and developments than a learned American. Incidentally my assessment get substantiated by the comments of a well known Palestinian born journalist, political analyst and commentator Rula Jebreal on political satirist Bill Maher’s American television evening talk show ‘Real Time with Bill Maher’ on 21 January. While making a point about role of America and its people in Syrian conflict she said “The people of this country (Americans) are less informed about the happenings around the world than the people in the rest of the world”.

Interestingly, while introducing myself to anyone here in US I would intentionally mention about the state of Jammu and Kashmir or more precisely about Kashmir. But to my surprise, most of the people expressed their ignorance about Kashmir. They don’t know in which geographical region Kashmir is located; what is the climate of this place; leave alone the turmoil in Kashmir and sufferings of people of Kashmir? On the first day of our course—the orientation day whole ‘New England’ area under which the state of Massachusetts falls had a heavy snowfall. While interacting with the foreign students the program director asked me to meet her after the session. In her office she offered me a fleeced jacket, gloves and some other winter gear on the assumption that I being a fellow from the much hotter plains of India. I thanked her and politely made her understand about the climatic zone I belong to, and my preparedness for the most severe winters. Imagine, this is level of ignorance about Kashmir and its geographic, climatic and political state of affairs in US! 

Hopefully, I may find some Kashmir knowing Americans when I visit New York at the end of my course. Yes, the Kashmiri Diaspora in US as in most of the other cases keeps track of Kashmir but they are also incapable of making their point within the American society. Except the lot, who apparently make much noise about Kashmir in the corridors of American opinion makers just to gulp down the dollars collected in the name of Kashmir and Kashmiris.

Shifting my ongoing American experience from ignorance, politics and exploitation to moral values and ethics an eye-opening experience impressed me a lot about work culture in America. In US Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a United States federal holiday is observed on the third Monday of January each year and this year it was on 21st of January. To cover the assignment on schedule University authorities arranged special lectures and other course related activities for us on this day and almost every concerned faculty member was present except the supporting staff. Carrying teaching material and aids of his own is a routine for every teacher in much superior and advance education system in US. However at the end of the sitting cleaning (rather sweeping) the lecture room of trash and other material for the next session in the absence of housekeeping staff by one of the senior most faculty members, that too in our presence humbled me to the extent that I offered her my help. To my more impressing surprise she refused the same, but in a much polite way.

Not to Worry - This Episode Will be Soon Forgotten

The Center, for a change, sees through various nefarious actions of so-called pro-India legislators and politicians trying to secure personal goodwill with voters by making New Delhi a scapegoat. But this too shall pass ...

‘Reckless promises’: Centre Takes JK Ministers, Legislators to Task

‘These Hollow Announcements Deceive The Electorate And Foment Hatred Against Union Of India’

Imran Muzaffar (Greater Kashmir)

Srinagar: In a virtual snub, the Government of India has asked ministers and legislators in Jammu and Kashmir not to make ‘reckless’ announcements regarding allocation of funds for developmental works in political rallies and public functions.

The Centre has also lambasted the ministers and legislators in J&K for “fomenting hatred against the Union of India” by making such announcements which later turn out to be mere gimmicks and are aimed at “deceiving the electorate.” “The ministers and legislators have no right to announce blindly the allocation of funds over public issues whatever they may be. They must not deceive the electorate by throwing surprises for political ends. It is only after proper estimates that such announcements should be made,” reads a Planning Commission of India memo dashed to the state government.

The ‘dictatorial memo’ has ruffled many feathers in the state’s corridors of power with ministers and legislators, according to sources, expressing displeasure over such an “authoritarian diktat” from the Commission. “But they can hardly face up to the PCI instruction and no minister or legislator now onwards can have the power to announce fund allocation without estimates and without following proper guidelines,” an official privy to the PCI communication told Greater Kashmir.

The Centre, the official said, has asked the J&K Government to “make its ministers and MLAs understand” that their “blind announcements” on funds allocation in political rallies and other public functions were badly affecting the financial administration in the state. “They have been asked to prepare well thought out estimates and financial drafts genuinely before making announcements regarding allocation funds for any public works. Also the J&K Government has been asked to sensitize its ministers and MLAs through workshops and seminars so that they can understand the nuances of allocation of funds,” he said. “Rather than trying to throw surprises in public meetings by blindly announcing funds for various works, ministers and MLAs must concentrate on pending works and ensure accountability in the previously-allocated state and central funds invested into various projects,” the memo, according to sources, reads.

The development comes after the Planning Commission of India spotted loopholes in allocation of funds in J&K, the official said. “The Planning Commission is currently gauging how the state governments are allocating funds for various projects. In case of J&K, it has observed that whenever a minister or MLA goes, he/she announces funds blindly on works that may either cost less or more from the exchequer. The Planning Commission observes that all this is affecting the governance and lands the state government in grave financial mess,” he said. The GoI has also lambasted ministers and MLAs for fomenting hatred against the Union of India by making such announcements which later turn out to be mere gimmicks, the official said. “The MLAs have also been directed to allocate and utilize the constituency development funds properly,” he said. “The GoI has expressed dismay over how the MLAs and ministers were allocating the funds.

The GoI has said this way ministers and MLAs instill in people hatred against the Union of India. They have been asked to not deceive the electorate,” the official said. The Planning Commission has observed that in J&K much of the exchequer was being exhausted without proper estimates. “The GoI has also decided to formulate an expert panel to audit the allocation of funds in J&K during the last two fiscals,” the official said.

Principal Secretary, Planning and Development Department B R Sharma did not respond to repeated telephone calls from this newspaper.

New Delhi, As Always, Will Eventually Back Down

J&K has received central funds and grants without accountability and oversight until now, in return State bureaucrats and politicians remain unsatiated and demand more

Centre Stifles JK for Fiscal ‘Indiscipline’

Akshay Azad (Greater Kashmir)

Jammu: Tightening noose around Jammu and Kashmir government, the Planning Commission of India (PCI) has asked the state to send project-wise Action Taken Report (ATR) for facilitating release of Rs 1900 crore withheld by it out of Rs 3800 crore Special Plan Assistance (SPA) for the current fiscal. Sources told Greater Kashmir that despite repeated requests by the state government, the Centre has refused to release Rs 1900 crore SPA, mainly due to the poor performance shown by the state’s executing agencies and failure of the concerned departments to submit Utilization Certificates. “PCI has now asked the state government to send project-wise details and ATR of the projects undertaken by the state government under SPA. Previously the state government was only submitting rough details of projects to the union government for seeking release of funds under SPA”, sources in the civil secretariat told Greater Kashmir.

They said that PCI has taken strong exception to the poor performance being shown by various line departments and executing agencies in the state on utilization of funds and has asked it to put forth all the required details before seeking release of Rs 1900 crore withheld by the Centre. “We have been asked to furnish each and every detail of every project and both the physical and financial progress achieved so far”, an official in the state’s Planning Department said. He said the Planning and Finance Ministers and bureaucrats were constantly in touch with the Planning Commission assuring it of fulfilling the formalities for release of the pending grants.

Sources further said that in the backdrop of PCI’s latest instructions, the state’s Planning Department has decided to hold crucial meetings in both provinces of the state to ascertain physical and financial progress of various developmental projects under execution. “The meeting of all 11 districts of Kashmir province is scheduled to be held on January 30 at Srinagar. It would be chaired by the Principal Secretary, Planning and Development Department, BR Sharma and all the district heads have been asked to come up with the details of the utilization of the plan outlay and implementation of various schemes”, sources said. They further said that all the District Development Commissioners, Chief Planning Officers, District Statistical and Evaluation Officers of Kashmir province, officers from Planning and Development Department including Director Area Planning, Director Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS), Joint Director (Coordination) would also be attending the scheduled meeting. “The meeting in Kashmir province will be followed by similar meeting of all districts of Jammu province in the winter capital in coming days” sources said.

They further said that after holding the meetings, the Planning Department would forward ATR to the union government for the release of remaining Rs 1900 crore SPA as only two months were now left of the current financial year and it would be difficult for the government to utilize the money judiciously.

The Planning Commission had allocated Rs 7300 crore worth plan to Jammu and Kashmir for current financial year of 2012-13. Generally, majority of plan amount is released by the end of December or start of January to facilitate the State to draw up plan of development works and spend the plan amount by March 31 when the financial year ends.

However, this year, the Planning Commission had blocked Rs 1900 crore of the State on different grounds. Pertinently, JK government has drawn flak from the Government of India on tardy execution of developmental schemes especially the flagship Centrally Sponsored projects with various Central Ministries time and again reprimanding the state on the same.

Guess What's Up

The rise in civilian crimes will energize civil society anywhere to engage in public outcry and government accountability, but Kashmir's one-dimensional civil society is not interested

JK Crime Rate In Upward Swing

Observer News Service

Srinagar: In a disturbing picture of the state of society, latest police figures show 24, 608 criminal cases registered in Jammu and Kashmir in 2012, with an increased incidence in reported rape, sexual harassment, attempted murder and kidnapping.

According to Crime Branch data, 104 more criminal cases were registered in 2012 as compared to the previous year, though the murder rate had marginally fallen. Suicides and domestic violence against women have shown an upward trend.

In 2012, the police had registered 303 cases of rape across the state, while the number was 277 in 2011, the official website of the Crime Branch says, indicating an increase of 26. Last year, reported murder cases stood at 124, while the figure was 169 the previous year - a drop of 45. In sharp contrast, cases of attempted murder had leapt up to 511 from 494 in 2011. According to the Crime Branch, kidnapping cases registered in 2012 stood at 1,093, as compared to 1,077 in 2011.

The cases mostly related to kidnapping of children, the Crime Branch says. Sexual harassment (previously known as molestation) cases too have shown a marked rise, with 1,322 incidents registered last year, up by 128 cases the year before. Domestic violence against women too has shown an upward trend, with 301 cases registered in 2012 as compared to 286 in 2011. Robbery and other assorted crime registered last year stood at 6,768, again a marked increase from the 6,113 in 2011.

The suicide graph too has risen over the year, from 369 cases in 2011 to 373 in 2012. Similarly, violence against domestic helpers had risen to 541 cases registered in 2012, from 507 in 2011.

A Cultural Revival or Another White Elephant?

Sometimes it is unclear if the news value comes for highlighting cultural renaissance or simply that another construction job worth crores in black and white money is coming up that will enrich pockets, if not minds, of the well-connected

Tehzeeb Mahal: Kashmir culture’s exotic future address

Rising Kashmir News

Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir’s rich art and culture will soon have a new and exotic address in the multi-facility Tehzeeb Mahal, the foundation stone of which was laid by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah near Tourist Reception Centre recently.

With this, the uncertainty dogging the construction of Tehzeeb Mahal for decades has finally come to rest. A modern cultural centre to showcase rich art, cultural and literary heritage of the State was being planned since 1970s and in 1982, foundation stone of Tehzeeb Mahal was laid in the Emporium Gardens. However, the project did not move any further until recently when the Chief Minister approved its construction adjacent to the Tourist Reception Centre.

Tehzeeb Mahal is Rs 64.89 crore project of J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL). Another Rs 23.47 crore will be spent on relocation of the State Road Transport Corporation at Nowgam and cost difference of the land to be paid to the Corporation as former owner of the present site.

Secretary JKAACL Khalid Bashir Ahmad said the ground floor of the three-storeyed building will have auditorium with a seating capacity of 600, Folk Replica Centre, Art Gallery, Administration Space and Intimate Theatre Studio with seating capacity of 200. The first floor, he said, will house Auditorium Balcony, Exhibition Hall-1, Handicrafts Display Room, Library and Conference Hall while the second floor will have Exhibition Hall-2 and Heritage Museum. An Open Air Theatre and Sculpture Garden will be other facilities available at the Tehzeeb Mahal, he said, adding, the basement of the building measuring 46,123 sq ft will be used for parking and housing services. The building, Khalid said, will have special architectural finishes in tune with local heritage architecture including maharaji bricks, daji dewari look, devri stone cladding, khatamband ceiling, pinjra and jaffri work, paper machie and sozni work on walls and log bridge and heritage fort wall.

Pertinently, the Academy has a rich collection of manuscripts, paintings, miniatures, sculptures, artifacts, reference books, photographs etc. which due to present limited space could not be displayed for public viewing except occasionally by holding limited exhibitions. Tehzeeb Mahal will resolve this problem and make possible round-the year display of the State’s magnificent heritage besides turning into the permanent and colorful address of the State’s culture. The project to be completed in 39 months and is being executed by J&K Projects Construction Corporation Ltd (JKPCC).

Omar Lays foundation of Tehzeeb Mahal

 Kashmir Observer

Srinagar: Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah Tuesday said that the heritage of Jammu and Kashmir denotes a civilization of par excellence with pluralistic ethos and amity in diversity. “Preservation of heritage, culture, art, literature, history and memorabilia serves as authenticated credentials for present and future generations to study and learn about a people and their life style”, he said.

Laying foundation of Tehzeeb Mahal (Heritage House) here this afternoon, the Chief Minister said that Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages is a complete treasure of such memorabilia which can be properly displayed in the coming up Tehzeeb Mahal for all to witness and get educated. The Chief Minister said that recently Cultural Academy unveiled a bit of its treasure by displaying historic, rear and ancient works of Quranic calligraphy in an exhibition here which mesmerized the visitors. “There are numerous such works of art, culture, literature, languages and heritage preserved in Cultural Academy. Tehzeeb Mahal would be most appropriate for displaying these for public”, he said adding that this complex could also serve as an important centre for literary conferences and meetings.

Omar Abdullah said that his government is extending all support to the Cultural Academy to expand and strengthen its activities for development, preservation and showcasing of State’s rich cultural heritage. “I told the Secretary Academy, Khalid Bashir that the government would be with him in his efforts to groom writers, poets, artists, painters, sculptors and others associated with State’s art, culture and languages”, he said adding that the Cultural Academy has also been asked to showcase the State’s rich cultural heritage in various parts of the country. He referred to the holding of heritage conference by Tourism Department at Goa in which a group of people from various fields of art, culture and literature from the State were facilitated to participate.

The Chief Minister also referred to the newly constructed Museum at Srinagar and said that he has asked the concerned agency to complete its internal requirements pertaining to the display of historic valuables in a befitting manner and making the security foolproof. He said the Tourism Department has already taken measures in this direction. He expressed the hope that the Museum would be shortly opened.

Omar Abdullah said that he has asked the Tourism Department to formulate a calendar with Cultural Academy for holding various events of cultural programmes utilizing the already completed amphitheatres across the Valley. “This would provide added attraction to the visitors visiting the State during tourist season”, he said and directed for printing broachers, leaflets and posters in this regard and keeping these available at Airports, Railway Stations, Tourist Information Centres and other such places for tourists. He said over 13 lakh visitors visited the State this year which is expected to grow further. “In order to make them aware of the State’s rich cultural heritage and make their stay more eventful, Tourism Department and Cultural Academy should formulate such programmes jointly”, he emphasized.

In his welcome address Secretary Cultural Academy, Khalid Bashir said that blending tradition with technology, the Rs. 64.89 crore 3-storeyed Tehzeeb Mahal project will be a modern cultural complex in traditional architecture and state-of-the-art facilities related to art and culture. The Secretary Cultural Academy said that the building will have special architectural finishes in tune with local heritage architecture including maharaji bricks, deji dewari look, devri stone cladding, khatamband ceiling, pinjra and jaffri work, paper machie and sozni work on walls and log bridge and heritage fort wall. He said that the Ground Floor will have auditorium with a seating capacity of 600, Folk Replica Centre, Art Gallery, Administration Space and Intimate Theatre Studio with seating capacity of 200. The First Floor will house Auditorium Balcony, Exhibition Hall-1, Handicrafts Display Room, Library and Conference Hall. The Second Floor will have Exhibition Hall-2 and Heritage Museum. An Open Air Theatre and Sculpture Garden will be other facilities available at the Tehzeeb Mahal. The basement of the building measuring 46,123 sq ft will be used for parking and housing services.

Khalid said that J&K Academy of Art, Culture & Languages has a rich collection of manuscripts, paintings, miniatures, sculptures, artefacts, reference books, photographs etc. Due to the limited space available with the Academy, this treasure trove could not be displayed for public viewing except occasionally by holding limited exhibitions. The Tehzeeb Mahal will resolve this problem and make possible round-the year display of our magnificent heritage besides turning into the permanent and colourful address of the State’s culture. It will also serve as a major attraction for tourists interested in knowing about the heritage and culture of the State.

Noted writer Padam Shree Rehman Rahi presented vote of thanks and highlighted the significance of Tehzeeb Mahal project for the growth, development and preservation of State’s rich art, culture, languages and heritage

Heritage in Peril

Amazing that Kashmiris themselves are indifferent to what outsiders see as precious architectural and cultural legacy

Neglected Heritage

Raouf Rasool (Kashmir Images)

In the year 2008 Srinagar and Leh (old) towns were included on the New York-based World Monuments Fund (WMF) watch-list of the 100 most endangered sites across the globe. WMF is a private and non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of endangered architectural and cultural sites around the World. That a foreign organization showed interest in preserving Srinagar’s cultural heritage should have come as a clarion call for all the people of the state that owing to their lack of concern about their heritage, someone from outside had to step in to wake us up from slumber. But alas, it has not been so. Instead the local population as well as the local government continues to be carelessly negligent about the local cultural ethos, not only of Srinagar or Leh towns but about the entire state.

The heritage in Jammu and Kashmir and particularly in Kashmir Valley has all along got very little or no attention by any quarter. The indifference towards this sector is not confined to the governments only, but the general public too is equally culpable of vandalizing everything. While government’s lack of interest has resulted in wanton loot and destruction of heritage sites, people too are no less ruthless and in certain cases have been instrumental in destroying these glories of the past. While WMF showed its concern about the preservation of heritage here saying traditional structures built to survive earthquakes were suffering as a result of ongoing instability and conflict, local populace, more or less, has always remained indifferent towards this aspect. While all over world people feel proud of their cultural heritage and get inspirations for coming ages, in Kashmir these sites have always been treated as alien – as if the people have no emotional or cultural connection. Peoples’ indifference and sort of disrespect towards their heritage and culture is one of the main reasons of the trouble and turmoil that the region is face to face with today. People who don’t respect their history, their culture and their heritage are bound to lose connection with the roots and once this connection is broken, peoples’ identity is lost and crises are born. That is what has happened here.

Now that a foreign organization has shown interest in preservation of our heritage, let it be hoped that the interest that is being shown towards it doesn’t die after some time. History bears witness that in this part of the world much is said than done and every issue is spoken about and kept relevant just for a brief time. Hoping against hope, one would pray that history doesn’t repeat itself this time and all the concerned authorities and the people in general gear up to save and preserve the heritage that gives Kashmir a distinct historical and cultural place in the community of other societies. The Tourism Department claims to have completed the cultural mapping of Srinagar city and in this backdrop, WMF initiative could go a long way in preserving the cultural ethos of this old city history of which dates back to 2000 years. Besides international attention, that definitely would help a great deal, need is to concentrate and focus on the issue domestically. Neither government nor a few non-governmental organizations can do the needful alone as, sadly, in both these cases it is actually money that plays the game (Dal Lake conservation being an eye-opener). Therefore, need is to involve general public by launching an awareness campaign. Of late the heritage tourism has become a buzz word in Kashmir. Talk of heritage tourism needs to be translated into action and that can happen once the concerned authorities launch a full-fledged campaign for the preservation of heritage.

Strictly for Kashmiri Cuisine Aficionados

Hopefully Kashmiris will realize that the looming disaster is much more than simply shrinking water bodies and degrading environment

Nadroo Production Decreases in Wular

\Sheikh Saleem (Rising Kashmir)

Srinagar: Once known for Nadroo (lotus stem) production, Asia’s largest fresh water lake Wular has stopped producing Nadroo due to the growing pollution and encroachment. The extinction of Nadroo has taken toll on livelihood of thousands as people who lost their ancestral work.The Nadroo extractors and contractors have either switched to other jobs or have been rendered jobless.

Around 30000 people, living on the banks of Wular were dependent on the Nadroo production of the lake. “In early 90s, we were selling tons of Nadroo but now not a single lotus is seen in the lake,” said Ali Mohammad, a Nadroo-grower. Attributing the extinction of this valuable Kashmiri cuisine to growing pollution in the lake, the Nadroo extractors said the marshy land of the lake was encroached upon by people and the government alike.

Nadroo-is a lotus stem grown in marshy lands. According a report of Wetland international-South Asia, lake vegetation sustains livelihood of 24150 households forming 29 percent of total lakeshore population.

Data collected from the rural appraisal indicated an abundance of vegetation, particularly Nadroo during 1950s, which provided income base to 75 – 80% of the population. However, the availability of Nadroo has decreased by 56% during the last fifty years owing to reduction in lake area, siltation and decline in water quality.

The report that was published in June 2007 said analysis of trend data on availability and dependence indicates drastic changes in vegetation resources over the last fifty years. “Kashmiri Nadroo is famous in India where the market was good for the Nadroo business, but the growing pollution proved a slaughter for our ancestral trade,” said Ghulam Hasan an erstwhile nadroo extractor. Though the people dependent on the Lake were hopeful as the government of India announces beautification and drudging of Wular, but six years have passed government has failed to even remove the encroachment.

According to a survey conducted by government, various government and private agencies have encroached about 62,232 kanals of land in past decade. Most of the land is under willow plantation. The plantation has been done by the forest department and social forestry. Interestingly the government has failed to implement the orders of removing encroachments orders issued five years back in 2006.

Due to extinction of Nadroo from the Wular the dependents on Wular have now switched on to other jobs thus losing their ancestral work. “The communities have gradually switched over from Nadroo to trapa collection, “said Iftikar Rasheed, an environmentalist.

Environmental experts have constantly warned in the last few years that lake is fast dying. The encroachment has taken toll on the production of vegetation and fish in the lake. “The encroachment on the lake has changed dramatically over the years, thus there occurs immediate change in the fish production,” said Iftikar Ahmad Wani, an environmentalist.

As government earlier used to issue tenders for the auction of Nadroo extraction but a government official said from past few years department have stopped to issue auction notice.