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.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Putting Elders to Shame

Imaad is a young man with a passion to see his birthplace restored to its pristine condition. But as things stand, even a return to environmental and ecological conditions that prevailed in 1980's is a dream. He writes about Pahalgam and the Dal

(Mr. Mir Imaad Rafi, 20, was born in Srinagar. He completed his high schooling from the Delhi Public School (DPS), Srinagar, and is presently a 2nd year Law (B.A. LLB) Student at the Symbiosis Law School in Pune. He recently started a civil society group in Kashmir that assists youth of Kashmir by providing career counselling to students, inviting guest speakers, and reaching out to schools in remote areas of the valley to encourage interest in knowledge and proper education. In leisure time, Mr. Rafi interacts with people to comprehend public thoughts on issues of interest, and writes about social and environmental issues in leading English dailies published from Srinagar.)

Pahalgam - a Lost Paradise

In a state where there is a lot of talk about tourism industry, a viable tourism policy and implementation of current laws on ground seems to have taken a hike. Pahalgam, one of the most preferred tourism destinations in the world is gradually turning ugly due to sheer mismanagement by authorities. Men who vandalize nature have no interest in maintaining the balance in ecology. His aim is to suffice his own needs. Here comes the role of government which needs to counter such actions and protect the environment.

With much fanfare Pahalgam development Authority (PDA) came into being in 2003. It was expected that PDA will serve the purpose with what intention the government constituted it. Unfortunately the development authority got embroiled in the usual red tape and its inefficiency has led to what we see today, massive illegal constructions. Currently, the tourism department has extended the limits of PDA to the lower villages of Pahalgam but it forgot to question its achievements in its earlier jurisdictions. People have witnessed illegal constructions under the nose of PDA officials. Some say that it’s a nexus between the land mafia and the officials. It seems as if the illegal constructions have overshadowed the pace with which the development authority would issue the permission. The basic flaw in the whole system is of monitoring. When the authorities grant permission for repair to any structure, it usually gets misused. It was primary duty of PDA to cease the construction and take lawful action against the violators but it didn’t happen. Already having sufficient bed capacity, many hotels came up without any permission. Pertinently the hoteliers curbed the existing laws as they enjoyed proximity to the government. The centralization of powers has led to abuse of power which has not only led to large scale failure but the genuine concerns of the local villagers who are unaware of their basic rights have been ignored.

In such a scenario, one could imagine working of a typical corruption stuck government department. Now the extended jurisdiction would only mean extra icing on the cake for the officials who would leave no stone unturned to disobey the position they hold. Mufti led government, with an idea to promote tourism at local level and to empower the local population, gave permission for converting residential houses into boarding lodges as is a practice in the U.K but the locals misunderstood the concept and did the reverse which resulted in mushroom growth of structures. Delhi Municipal Corporation which takes the violators’ head on and have taken on the mighty. Powerful business houses have been demolished be it the Haldiram’s food outlet or any other showroom, every illegal building has been removed. Therefore, there is special need to replicate such steps here in Kashmir particularly in Pahalgam. With the Pahalgam ecology under threat, some locals who approached the honourable court with a PIL staying ban on constructions and other works, paved way to some extent but at the same time it deprived the poor people of shelter needs as in winter season their structures get damaged. The PIL was filed with mollified interests to satisfy their political agenda but the honourable High Court’s strict orders and constituting a one man committee proved successful when it came to deal with the encroachers. With support from the court, the development authority could have strengthened its roots in Pahalgam and administer it better. But to no surprise the authority’s functioning led to further deterioration in administration as the concerns of the needful were left unnoticed. And the losers in all this were the tourism players particularly hotels.

For a tourist it makes no difference whether the repair has been done or not, he pays to enjoy the services of a hotel and make best use of it during the stay. The unanswered call of the hotel industry brought a bad name to Pahalgam tourism. Although one witnessed Bollywood’s presence in the scenic valley be it Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar or Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Pahalgam has played a vital role in revival of Bollywood. Much recently Actors Aliyah Bhat and Randeep Hooda have shot across the lengths of Pahalgam. Thus reviving its connection with the film industry.

Government’s political approach towards Pahalgam was unexpected as we saw closure of amusement park on grounds of environmental concern while as hundreds of hotels without proper STPs whose drainage directly pollutes the river lidder have been given permission to operate. The concern of the government was so one sided that it led the honourable court to intervene into matters of public concern. We must thank the judiciary for its necessary action and taking suo motto cognizance of the worrisome situation.

I hope the honourable high court would take cognizance of it and try to evolve a strategy which benefits both ecology and the tourism players. Secondly the locals must also understand the value of the green gold for the ecological imbalance would lead to an inevitable disaster for the future generations.

Dal Needs a Vision not Rhetoric

Our inheritance, the majestic Dal Lake with a history of over hundreds of years is losing its charm by every sunset. The Dal, which used to attract thousands of tourists every year to the Valley, is no more the recipient of compliments. Today one hesitates to stand by the Dal shore as the smell doesn’t allow one to enjoy the charm of the Dal wrapped in arms of the Himalayas.

Our actions and the persistent silence over the dying Dal have lead to what it is today, from being 75 sq km; Dal has shrunk to 25 sq km in area and from 45 ft to 20 ft in depth. These indicators play a secondary role as compared to the continuing activities in and around the Dal which habitats almost 50,000 people who demand property rights on 300 hectares of agricultural land and 670 hectares of water area.

The number of establishments mushroomed around the Dal such as commercial buildings, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses which lack proper drainage facilities have contributed to the reduction in the size of the lake. There are a number of factors which promote the growth of the weeds in the lake which according to the authoritative survey is responsible for its deterioration. According to an international survey, it is said that if weeds cover more than 25% of the surface of a lake then there should be implementation of weed control. 

Unfortunately our state without any concept and expertise, using a single method went on to serve the cause. Starting from non-technical methods to prevent growth of weeds, the presence of livestock around the Dal is a major concern as their fecal wastes and other pollutants around the surface adds as manure to the weeds. Therefore, excluding livestock from the lake will significantly reduce water-weed problem.

In places like Hyderabad, Hussain Sagar Lake has fencing all around its circumference, thus preventing pollution by visitors and locals. The same can be adopted in Kashmir around Dal and other lake bodies. Secondly, the agricultural activities undertaken by the inhabitants of Dal also contribute to the growth of weed. In the interiors of Dal, their are small pieces of agricultural land with trees along the borders, which shed leaves and branches into the water. This adds to the build-up of organic bottom trash, the same is a common practice in the interiors of the Dal. The use of fertilizers on agricultural land by them is hazardous as ultimately the fertilizers are drained off in the lake and again manure the sediments of the deadly weeds. 

Thousands of houseboats that host a major chunk of our tourist influx is without any sewage solutions, its ironical that in the 21st century, we still stand primitive, without any remedy and action. In my opinion, after every thirty houseboats a portable odor free sewage plant should be installed or mounted on a wooden base and the same shall be transported to the shore where there is a nearest Sewage Treatment Plant (STP). This will encourage eco tourism and also help in regaining the pristine beauty of the Dal. The hotels around the Dal too can install portable odor free STPs jointly which do not occupy much space and energy. Such portable STPs are available not so far but in states like Maharashtra.

Besides that we need to imbibe in ourselves the passion to save the environment and avoid practices which pollute the lake. It is to be noted that the lack of government commitment, insufficient cohesive academic research centered on in understanding the importance and essence of conservation and management of the Dal, owing to financial constraints and required expertise is an issue. There are a number of ways for preventing weeds besides the mechanical harvesting which is adopted by the authorities. The accumulation of rich organic bottom materials feeds the weed and algae growth. Eventually something must be done either natural or biological to reverse the build up of these bottom materials and other sediments or the entire lake will reduce to a swamp. The organic bottom deposits rob the water of valuable oxygen that fish and other organisms need for health and growth. This will also affect the flora of the Dal. The Decomposing water weeds can deplete the oxygen supply, resulting in fish kills due to suffocation. Dense plant growths can provide too much cover, preventing predation, and leading to stunted (small-sized) fish populations

Over the years, many new methods have been developed for controlling the weed. When the water level is dropped, it exposes some of this material to the air, sun, and freezing. This allows the material to break down much faster in the air, while drying and freezing kills many of the rooted aquatic weeds. The organic bottom material is what supports the weed and algae growth that causes so much trouble in lakes. The level should be dropped to expose as much of the bottom area as practical and maintainable for the survival of the fishes. 

The white Amur fish (grass carp) are weed eating fish that are native to the Amur river of China and Russia with ability to control moss and weeds at a wider range of temperatures than most other fish. They have been utilized in order to regain the dying lakes across the world and presented successful results in places like Arizona. A three kilogram white amur can eat nearly three-quarters of its weight in weeds every day. Machine cleaning of weeds has become a rare occurrence in other countries since the fish were introduced. This translates to saving additional maintenance costs. The Fish can save the government hundreds of crores in annual operating costs and promote innovative and environment friendly water management practices.

The Dal authorities should develop catchment areas and fish grates on experimental basis with sterile fishes. If found successful, then the same can be done on a larger scale. Reducing light penetration is another factor in limiting weed growth, as the direct sunlight supports their growth so the water can be darkened with commercially available nontoxic water dyes to color the water in order to reduce light penetration and shade out nuisance plants.

It is, therefore, the need of the hour to approach professionals available across the globe who have achieved successful results in lake conservation and outsource can be viable option for the same.

Is The White Fuzzy "Cotton" Blanketing the Valley a Pollen?

Majeed says contrary to the impression spread by uninformed media, the popular cotton ("phrast phump") in not pollen

(Dr. Abdul Majeed Kak, 66, was born and in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He received his primary education from the Government Middle School in Nowhatta and his secondary school education from Bagi Dilawar Khan Higher Secondary School in Fateh Kadal. He completed his college education at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. In 1977 he was the first candidate from the University of Kashmir to be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of the Government of India for a doctoral research scholarship at the university leading to a Ph.D. in Botany in 1980. He is currently the Research Coordinator in the Department of Botany at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. Dr. Kak has over 35 years of teaching experience and research experience of over 25 years. He has received numerous research awards resulting in publication of 70 research papers and has authored two books on Botany. He is presently engaged in promoting and strengthening local and regional museums, a project supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi.)

Seeds Not Pollen

Locally called as Phrast Phumb (Poplar cotton), poplars were cultivated on war footing basis, a few decades ago both by the Social Forestry department as well as by the locals because of its rapid growth. It is abundantly grown being a cash crop everywhere on road sides, around educational institutions and wherever there is availability of even a small space, it is planted by the social forestry. It is grown near margins of all our water bodies; large chunks of Wular Lake, around and interiors of Dal Lake, Anchar and Hokher Sar lakes have been converted into thickets. Many of our precious water bodies like Waskur, Mirgund, Naran Bagh lakes and Narkara wetland are now no more or exist in their remnants. They have been converted into land masses by the cultivation of either willows or Russian poplars resulting in the near extinction of all our precious water bodies.

The growth of many local poplars like Kashur phrass, Punjaeb Phress and Dude’ phrast, is normal and not so rapid, are environment friendly with multidimensional benefits and are more economic in totality. For the past two or more decades, they have been under the threat of extinction due to overpopulation of Russian poplars whose figure is in millions. Russian poplar, scientifically called as Populus ciliate is considered as endemic to Asia. We have about five species of poplars growing in Kashmir, and for the past few years more hybrids have been introduced in the valley, correct identification of which is difficult. Poplars have separate sexes, either male or female plants, seeds are mortal, even if produced, but its viability is short just for a few days. So the plants are raised by cuttings (branches) in a damp or near marshy places till it develops roots and are sold and transplanted later on. Pollen grains are the male gamete carriers while Phrast Phumb is the Seed produced by the female plants and is not pollen. So to call it as pollen is incorrect.

In the valley, early spring or beginning summer is the climax season of shedding enormous pollens and seeds, many plants shed their pollen in huge quantity that causes a hazardous atmosphere throughout the valley. Pollens are tiny particles mostly invisible to the naked eye. They can be easily inhaled through mouth or nose as they are abundantly present in the air, or even many types of pollens adhere and get stick on the pores of the exposed human body parts.

Ordinarily, the introduction of a foreign substance into the body tissues causes the immune system to create antibodies to neutralize the threat and protect against any subsequent invasion by the same intruder. These antibodies are glycoproteins and are called as called Immunoglobulins. Each Ig antibody is specific for one particular allergen. In case of pollen allergy, the antibody is specific for each type of pollen, causing a lot of irritation and various ailments. Many men and women and mostly infants are more susceptible to these allergies and suffer from many respiratory and other skin diseases. Poplar cotton is not pollen; it is a natural process of shedding seeds through the wind. This seed dispersal mechanism is scientifically called as Censor mechanism. The non viable seeds of poplars are naturally embedded in a roll or bed of fibres or plush, to make them light so as to float along with the wind currents to far distances. It is not the case of Poplars only. Hundreds of other plants have the similar kind of seed dispersal mechanism. The best example is our Maidan Hund (Taraxcum officinale) having fibres arranged in an umbrella fashion, making seeds very light and are flown to the far distances from their parent plants by air currents.

The existing problem of this dispersal is that the production is so enormous, it seems to a person as if it is snowing particularly in Srinagar city, around Bemina and along all road sides of all routes and national highway. Seeds are directly inhaled through mouth or nose and causes a lot of irritation to the mucous membrane of respiratory tract and if it is deposited somewhere in the trachea, it may cause complicated problems in the throat and even lungs. No scientific work has been carried out till date with regard to the harmful effects of these fibres or even by non viable seeds, but one gets suffocated and irritated when these seeds are inhaled.

It is a significant step in the history of the state taken by Deputy Commissnor Srinagar, prohibiting DFOs of social forestry and urban forest department under section 133, (Srinagar area only) not to cultivate further saplings of Russian poplars. But what about millions of saplings particularly sold in Batamaloo Bus Stand area during early spring. There should be total ban of selling and cultivation of such hazardous plants. Strict orders are needed to uproot them immediately particularly for the city people where these hazardous plants are cultivated even in kitchen gardens. No doubt it is commercially important cash plant, utilised in poor construction work, Ply wood industry, Match sticks industries fake and duplicate furniture industries, paper industry, package boxes for transportation of dry and fleshy fruits etc. Recently its bark has also been utilised medicinally, but its demerits exceed its utilisation particularly when human lives are at stake. People and schoolchildren prone to allergies by poplar cotton should restrict their movement and should use masks or wet handkerchiefs even when they stay at home or outside. White travelling in vehicles, windows should be closed to prevent entry of this seed mass as prevention is far better than cure.

Honor Among Crooks

The Controller and Auditor General's (CAG's) Annual Report proves that in spite of programs funded by the Central Government to promote job growth in J&K, the administrative machinery in the State is not performing to even the most mediocre standards. But the most astonishing thing is how no politician is willing to discuss CAG reports because the sword cuts both ways

CAG Indicts Industries Department for Poor Performance

Dinesh Manhotra (Ihe Tribune)

Jammu: Even as the Union Government has extended a “special” industrial package worth Rs 296 crore till this fiscal end in J&K, the state government has miserably failed to properly utilise the earlier packages announced by the Centre.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report, which was tabled in the Budget session of the Assembly, has pointed out that special industrial packages had failed to achieve desirable results of generating employment for the locals.

While announcing that the Centre has accepted the demand for the extension of Rs 296-crore industrial package to the state till the end of the present fiscal year, Industries and Commerce Minister Sajjad Ahmed Kitchloo claimed yesterday that it would help in generating employment opportunities for the locals, besides boosting industrialisation in the state. Employment generation was the basic objective of both the Union Government’s incentives as well as the industrial policy of the state, the report said.

It added that a total of 5,312 industrial units were registered during 2007-12, which gave employment to 38,380 persons at an average of seven persons by each industrial unit. The average employment provided by each industrial unit ranged between six and nine from 2007-08 to 2011-12, which defeated the basic cause of announcing such incentives.

One of the objectives of the Central package and the state industrial policy is to generate 90 per cent employment for the locals in industrial units. But the CAG report said the Department of Industries and Commerce was not monitoring whether the industrial unit set under the special industrial packages were meeting the objective of employment generation. “The employment-generation data was accepted as claimed by the industrial units without any mechanism for verification being in place,” the report said. “There is no mechanism in place to monitor the turnover, value of output, profitability, extent and quality of turnover and extent of value addition in the manufacturing units to see whether these are commensurate with the burden of tax concession and subsidies on the public exchequer,” said the audit report. The Centre yesterday accepted the demand of the state government and extended the special industrial package till March 2014. The special industrial package will be applicable with effect from tomorrow.

Unmitigated Indulgence

Fazili shares a common experience in Kashmir, demonstrating once more that the the society has become "a slave of traditions burdened by showmanship and rat race"

(Er. Mohammad Ashraf Fazili, 68, was born in Srinagar. He received his early schooling from the Government Middle School, Nowhatta, Srinagar, and from M.P. High School, Baghi Dilawar Khan in Srinagar. Mr. Fazili completed his F.Sc. from the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar, and received his Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from the Annamalai University with honours grade. He joined the J&K government service upon graduation and steadily rose up the ranks to the position of Chief Engineer at his retirement. He managed a number of important infrastructure projects during his government service, including the Model Town Chrar-i-Sharif, Lower Jhelum Hydro Electric Project, Solid Waste Disposal Scheme Srinagar City, Circular Road Project Srinagar City, etc. He has numerous publications to his credit, including Srinagar the Sun City, Our Ancestors and Saints of Kashmir, etc., which were presented in seminar and symposia. He writes for various journals and is presently working on the Jhelum Valley Civilization.) 

Wazwan or Mazwan

A few days back I got trapped in a “Hamrah-i-Shah”, at a ceremonial function accompanying the bridegroom at late night. The invitation card indicated the time of the departure of the barat at 8 p.m. Unlike other places of the world, time is a free commodity for us and as usual the barat left four hours past the scheduled time, at 12 o’clock midnight. Instead of adopting a shorter five-minute route, the guide preferred a long roundabout that consumed an hour more.

Thus we reached the bride’s place the next day as per calendar. The reception and warming the meals took another hour. The meals were finally served at 2 a.m. and finished at 3 a.m. We left with the bride by 4 a.m. Meanwhile, there was a call of Azan from the mosque and we thanked Allah on bestowing on us the sense of punctuality at least for Azan-call.

During the serving of the Wazwan the usual order of serving the courses was violated as besides usual preparations like the ones covering the trami (copper rice plate shared by four persons sitting around), kababs, tabakh maz, chicken, methi maz, dhani phul, over six new varieties were served before the usual first course of meat preparation that is when Rista was served. This was followed by many more courses and all of us were condemning the extravagance and lamenting on becoming a silent partner to this large scale waste, but none had the moral courage to protest against this violation. Perhaps our sense of realization has died down and we have become slaves of our traditions burdened by showmanship and rat race. Since the guests could eat hardly 20 percent of the dishes served, we on our part persuaded one of us to carry the spared dishes to our home in a polythene bag. It was a great relief when the person agreed to the proposal.

It is believed that Wazwan has its origin in Iran or Central Asia, but no traces of it are reportedly found there. It might have been a Kashmiri innovation like Kangri, Wagu, jajir, etc. The Wazwan was a prudent way of serving meals devised by our ancestors, as instead of serving individuals separately; four people shared the same plate, which would lead to easier service besides closer contacts and also mutual sharing and enjoying the food. Each part of the lamb was utilized in preparation of a particular dish like the chest for preparing tabakh maz, thighs for dhani phul, rista gushtaba and kababs; other parts for preparing rogan josh, korma, etc., and the order of serving was besides the coverings of the plate - rista, rogan josh, cheese, aab gosht, korma, gushtaba. This would be just sufficient for four persons with 2 kgs of meat per plate with no wastage. Now we have resorted to more than double the quantity and some people are seen galloping down ten times more calories than the required ones and hence succumbing to the resultant frequent diseases as registered in the hospitals. The average requirement of calories per person has been worked out only about 1600-2500 per day. Assuming that the stomach is flexible, they fill their bellies in one go to their full extent with all solids salads, curd, half a dozen chatnis plus ice cream and a tin of Coke or Pepsi, etc.

In spite of the present dearth of meat due to boycott of the dealers, meat has been made available in plenty for marriages, as much as five to ten quintals per function. The function as such must be rechristened as mazwan instead of wazwan.

Once I happened to read the diary of an Australian tourist girl, who had recorded therein that she wondered how Kashmiri people would eat a plateful of rice, when she hardly could take just a spoonful of it and even then her stomach got upset. At another incident an official guest from Thailand refused to take a kabab, saying it would raise his cholesterol level, while as our overweight minister hosting the party consumed half a dozen kababs making the guest aghast with wonder.

In another function a French tourist shared wazwan in the trami with us. While asking him about his whereabouts, he disclosed that he is a Muslim convert, the reason being that he had got impressed by the simple burial given to King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, when he too was there in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. However, when he saw meat dishes being poured on our plate and getting stockpiled for disposal into dustbin, he said that had he known that Muslims waste food in such a manner he would have reconsidered his decision to convert.

Let us pray that attention of preachers and medicos is drawn towards advising the common people about the plus and minus points of wazwan and the number of calories found in the different courses of these preparations against the average body requirement. An NGO needs to inculcate the sense of time among common people. The host is handicapped when the guests come late, who at present wait for a mobile response to start of service of the feast. The recent turmoil had made people to make amendments in timings, number of guests or number of courses, but with the relaxed atmosphere, we are heading back to square one.

There is an alternative method of service in South India where Biryani is served in a huge flat container and every one sitting around pour Biryani in his respective plate according to his requirement and there is zero wastage. A trend towards buffet service has also begun, but common people seem to be not in its favor. In view of the extravagance, the new generation is adopting a revolutionary simplified approach of nikah ceremony being held in mosques with distribution of a few palms. The money wasted on wazwan and all the pomp and show serves the future needs of the newly married couple or for distribution among the needy and downtrodden.