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.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Destruction of Nature

Athar's moving report is a clarion call for a change of course in a paradise no more

(Mr. Athar Parvaiz Bhat, 37, was born in Bedibera Lolab, Kupwara. He completed his schooling from Government High School in Madanpora, Lolab. He received his bachelor's degree from Government Degree College in Bemina, Srinagar, and his Master's degree in mass communications from the Media Education Research Centre (MERC) at the University of Kashmir. As a journalist, Mr. Bhat writes for prominent newspapers published from Srinagar. He has also completed half a dozen international fellowships which includes two fellowships from Thomson Reuters Institute and three national fellowships. He has worked as a researcher for two environmental documentaries which were broadcast by Discovery Channel, and was awarded twice for his journalistic work. During leisure time, he likes taking long walks especially via green areas, especially while visiting his native village.)

Paradise Lost: Kashmir’s Resorts of Filth and Concrete

Srinagar: India’s seventeenth century Mughal emperor Jehangir is probably best known for his comment on the valley of Kashmir: “If there is paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this.”

For about two decades, few outsiders could see this paradise, as insurgency and anti-insurgency rendered Kashmir a global trouble spot. But now that the violence is on the wane and there is talk of ‘paradise regained’, haphazard hotel construction and unattended rubbish threaten to spoil this heavenly abode. The idyll of Kashmir is ill-prepared for an influx of tourists and the features that attract visitors could well prove its undoing.

Regulations to manage sewage, rubbish or solid waste were totally ignored during the atmosphere of violence that reigned for around 15 years. But even after Kashmiris witnessed almost a decade of governable era since 2003, those who have been at the helm all these years could hardly do anything for Kashmir’s treasure trove – its environment and ecology.

 Recent improvements in the security situation have led to a surge in tourism. Around three million tourists visited Kashmir in the last two summers, according to official figures. With half a million people directly or indirectly involved in the valley’s tourism industry, this is now easily shaping up into a major contributor to the local economy. Thus the swelling up of tourist numbers is certainly a cause for joy, but has also led to a boom in hotel construction, especially in the famed resorts of Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonamarg.

There is least of desirable planning in the construction procedure. Most hotels try to maximise the number of rooms even if they block the best views of the Himalayan peaks in the process or, woefully, sit on the banks of erstwhile pristine waters of Lidder and Sindh. The three major resorts are fast becoming concrete jungles. 

With tourists from all over India and the world moving into Kashmir in droves, rubbish now threatens not just the ecology but the tourism industry itself. Environmentalists have expressed their concern about the policy paralysis saying the construction should be prohibited within these resorts. But the government has not only allowed construction of hotels right on the most scenic spots, but has also failed to provide adequate disposal systems for solid and liquid waste.

According to the official records in Pollution Control Board (PCB), only two out of over 100 hotels in Gulmarg and only three out of over 150 hotels in Pahalgam have secured No Objection Certificates from PCB; the rest are functioning without the standard norms. The only waste disposal site in Pahalgam has been set up right at the bank of a stream which flows into Lidder River, an important tributary of Jhelum.

In Gulmarg, garbage is thrown under the forest trees, which has caused huge damage to them. The high-altitude meadow that turns into a golf course every summer and a ski-slope every winter has no waste-treatment facilities either. Thousands of tourists throng to the meadow throughout the year, especially in summer. The growing number of tourists visiting the heath resort, especially those high-end tourists who come for playing golf at world’s highest green golf course, means more greed for those who remain in hunt of high business. An influential businessman has recently built a huge hotel here, having chopped down hundreds of trees to make way for the project.


The directorate of Ecology, Environment and Remote Sensing has recently issued notices (which this writer exclusively gained access to) to Sonamarg Development Authority calling for immediate measures to undo the environmental damage caused by unplanned construction at the famous Sonamarg resort, but nothing has changed except the scenic beauty of that charming resort often called “the golden meadow.”

“While development of modern infrastructure is of paramount importance for meeting the needs of the tourism industry, it is important to design such development in an eco-friendly fashion to preserve and conserve the fragile ecology and environment of Sonamarg,” warned one of the notices.

“The development which has already taken place at Sonamarg or is in progress has a serious adverse impact on the ecology and environment.” The waste generated by hundreds of thousands of tourists is thrown around without any treatment or scientific management, as per the survey of the department officials.

And all untreated effluents find their way into the Indus River which straddles the beautiful resort. “This causes extensive pollution in the river because no Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) is in place,” the officials have observed.

In terms of popularity, Sonamarg is a relatively recent addition to Kashmir’s tourist map. Areas outside the town remain idyllic. But many people worry the area will soon suffer a similar fate to the better-known tourist resorts of Pahalgam and Gulmarg, where unconstrained tourism has caused havoc.

Though a few conscientious citizens have started raising their voices against the environmental mess, yet things look far from getting better. A few years back a local NGO in Pahalgam, Pahalgam Peoples Welfare (PPF) filed a public interest lawsuit in the High Court against illegal construction in Pahalgam. As a result, the court served several notices to the government and its official limb, Pahalgam Development Authority.

“We said in the petition that building permission laws have been thoroughly violated,” said Reyaz Ahmed, member secretary of Pahalgam Peoples Welfare.

A local teacher, who did not want to be identified, said the bureaucrats and influential businessmen have converted the green zone in Pahalgam into an area permissible for construction in the master plan of the tourist resort after purchasing chunks of land in Pahalgam. 


A consultant from outside Kashmir, who was part of a team from a Consultancy Agency which is helping Jammu & Kashmir government to form an action plan on climate change, recently refused to accept the accommodation at a houseboat in Dal Lake when he learnt that the liquid waste from houseboats in Dal Lake was going into the lake without any treatment.

“He asked us to change his accommodation without any delay saying his conscience won’t allow him to stay there,” confided an official of the Ecology, Environment and Remote Sensing department.

Two years back, revelations by Wikileaks included a cable in which an American diplomat had used a striking simile about Dal Lake’s pollution and Kashmiri politics saying Kashmiri politics was “as filthy as Dal Lake”.

For people like Kashmir Houseboat Owners Association president, Azim Tuman, who demands that the government should announce a special package for the houseboat owners for installing Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) in their houseboats, the government is unfair in dumping the blame on the houseboat owners rather than taking a stock of its poor policies.

“Instead of devising a solution for preserving the great heritage of Kashmir’s houseboats, the government is hell-bent on forcing the closure of houseboats,” Tuman said.

 “It is not only the matter of securing the livelihoods of thousands of families, but a question of protecting our heritage as well.”

Houseboats were first built by British rulers in the 19th century on the pristine waters of Dal Lake to allow their officials in India to take a break from the scorching heat of Indian plains in summer months.

Since then, the houseboats have been the most preferred accommodation sought by the tourists who come to Kashmir. So Tuman has reasons to worry. “We don’t want them to die because of the government’s failure to provide a solution,” he said.

Houseboats alone are not responsible for the environmental devastation caused to Dal and other major water bodies in the city. The 372 hotels registered with Kashmir’s tourism department in Srinagar city, have no sewage treatment facilities either. Having 10785 rooms with 21073 beds, these hotels remain chock-a-block with tourists especially during summer and drain their sewage directly into Jhelum, Dal Lake and Nagin Lake.

For the past three years, Srinagar has been facing a serious space crunch to accommodate the tourists in summer. According to official figures, more than 3.5 million tourists have travelled to Kashmir during the past two and a half years. This has forced the tourism department to allow residents of a number of areas to convert their houses into guest houses in Srinagar where most tourists prefer to stay. This would mean the disposal of additional untreated sewage into our water bodies.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Corruption Rules But There is Hope

When a young teacher like Shabir is concerned enough to use his voice for publicly denouncing bribery, one has to hope that some day a million Shabirs will arise with the same cry

(Mr. Shabir Ahmad Sheikh, 33, was born in Kulgam, Kashmir. He completed his schooling from Government Higher Secondary School, Kulgam, and received his Bachelor's degree from the Government Degree College in Anantnag, Kashmir. He is currently employed in the Government service as a teacher in Kulgam. In his leisure time Shabir enjoys reading, and writing poems, short stories, and topical commentaries that are published in local newspapers and magazines.)

Say ‘No’ to Bribe

Jammu and Kashmir State is facing several problems like unemployment, illiteracy and poverty. Among these problems, it is the bribery and corruption that is most grave. Bribery is an outrageous problem and should be treated as newsworthy to set the discourses.

Big scandals and scams of corruption often hit the headlines of media, but daily incidents of bribery in public services seem to be immune to public consternation. It has become an in-house business in department with the officials charging money from the citizens as if it is a legal fee – Rs 500 for state subject, Rs 200 for medical certificate, Rs 1000 for loan approval, Rs 3000 for driving license... so on and so forth. Greasing the palm of public servant has become an unwritten law, a convention in the state.

Not for conscience but to make it easy to speak, bribery enjoys several names such as chai, methai, party. After being served, there is that goodwill handshake that depicts the two – one who offers the bribe and the one who receives the bribe - have common understanding on how things work. A handful of people, who voice against it, end up in serious trouble. Bribery is so pervasive that the whole society takes the unacceptable as normal and finally, it makes common people get used to a certain lawless way of life.

Bribery does immeasurable loss to the national economy. The World Bank ranks bribery among the biggest hurdles to a country’s growth, reducing it by a margin of 0.5 to 10 percent in a year. The root cause of the problem is ineffective law enforcement. As a result, the bribe-taker feels no legal fear. Further, the absence of transparency in applying rules and regulations encourages a public servant to favour those willing to pay. Many people believe that curtains can be dropped if the public servants are not underpaid, overworked and if they are better monitored. Some argue that incentives be given. Bribery can be eliminated by the concerned and responsible actions of citizens only, by their steadfast attitude of saying ‘No’ no matter how they are harassed and instead expose those corrupt officials who demand or expect monetary gain.

In my opinion, the culture of bribery will eliminate when the government tackles it, in all its institutions with zero tolerance attitude. Further, we need to ensure full public awareness about bribery being an exploitative tool used to fleece public.

Wish They Were This Honest and Truthful When in Power

Financial wiz Dr. Haseeb Drabu, who has the dubious distinction of taking doublespeak to its glory during his years in authority by calling highly subsidized J&K budget as "zero deficit budget," can also be brutal and frank in his retirement. He lays out the case against false statements perpetuated by the National Conference and the Chief Minister. Drabu says allegations of low allocation of central assistance is a red herring that seeks to divert attention from the gross fiscal mismanagement of the last five years

Problem of the Plan

Haseeb A Drabu

The annual state plan, normally a low key technical matter, has evoked considerable public interest this year. No sooner was it finalized with the Planning Commission (PC), the Chief Minister expressed his dismay over the “low annual plan allocation to JK”. Many political analysts deciphered the “political smoke signals” and journalists saw it as yet another “snub” to the state government. The government economists are writing unending articles on PC’s lack of understanding of the J&K economy while the industry bodies are venting their anger on it. The bewilderment at the Plan “fiasco” behooves only the ignorant. The facts are quite simple: the fiscal management of the state government for the last five years has been exceptionally poor. It this that has led to the truncation of the state plan size. Here is how.

The PC has provided Rs 10,396 crore as central assistance to the state plan. This amount is more than sufficient to cover the approved plan of Rs 7,300 crore. Indeed, it should not only be able finance the state government’s proposed plan of Rs 8,000 crore but also leave a surplus of Rs 2,396 crore for all the frills and fancies of the state government.

As such, by no standards whatsoever is the plan allocation low. For instance, Assam, a comparable special category state, has got a central assistance of Rs 8,873 crores to finance a plan of Rs 12,500 crore. That is how it ought to be: plan size should be more than the central assistance. In the case of J&K, it is the opposite: the central assistance is higher than the plan! And has been so for a while now.

What is happening to the money that the PC is giving? Of the Rs 10,396 crore allocated for the state plan, Rs 6,867 crore is being used to meet the non-plan deficit. This leaves the state with Rs 3,529 crore of central assistance for the plan. To this are added borrowings of Rs 3,770 crore to arrive at a plan size of Rs 7,300 crore instead of the Rs 8,000 crore proposed by the state. Why was the plan size cut?

Simply because, in the last five years, Centre’s assistance to the state plan has increased by Rs 6,000 crore but the size of the state plan has increased only by Rs 2,800 crore! The difference between what the Centre gave and what was used in the Plan -- Rs 4,200 crore has been diverted to fund non plan expenditures. The implication is straight forward: irrespective of the past legacy, incrementally the fiscal situation in the last five years has worsened substantially.

For the record, what did this government inherit as it fiscal legacy, in terms of plan financing, from the previous regime? In 2008-09, the state plan of Rs 4,500 crore was financed through central assistance of Rs 4,403 crore. The plan was bigger, albeit marginally, than the central assistance. The state contributed, in the form of state’s own resources, Rs 97 crore to its own plan.

Five years later, in 2013-14, the state’s own resources are budgeted to be negative; (-) Rs 3,200 crore. What this means is that the current expenditures exceed current revenues including borrowings by Rs 3,200 crore. It can’t get any worse than this when a government borrows to defray its current expenditure and still not able to meet all its current liabilities. In less than five years, the state has skillfully been driven from poverty to penury.

The poor fiscal health is ascribed, from the peon to the principal secretary, to the problem of power; the under recoveries, the low tariffs and then, of course the Indus Water Treaty! That the power revenues and expenditures distort the fiscal balance is correct to some extent. It was precisely in recognition of this structural issue the PDP led coalition had introduced a separate power budget as Part B of the state budget. It was done to ensure that fiscal policy doesn’t get distorted by the power sector.

Till 2008-2009, power deficit was indeed the main contributor to the over deficit. That year, state’s balance from current revenues (BCR) was (-) Rs 2,000 crore while the power deficit was Rs 1,400 crores. This meant that the non-plan deficit of the state without power was Rs 600 crores which was easily covered by the plan grants. Not anymore. The BCR projected by the state now is (-) Rs 7,800 crores! The power deficit for 2011-12 was Rs 2,000 crores. Assuming an increase by 40%, it will now be around Rs 2,800. Even then, the state resource position budget without any impact of power deficit, has a gaping hole of Rs 5,000 crore! In fact now the non-plan deficit without power is now almost double that of the power deficit. This is the real problem.

The implication of this fiscal crisis is that even the Rs 7,300 crore state plan will largely be on paper only. For, Rs 1000 crore borrowing in the plan is in violation of the ceiling of Rs 2,771 crores. If approved, by the Ministry of Finance, it will fritter away the big advantage of J&K’s plan financing of 90 per cent grants and 10 per cent loan. Actually the plan then is 51 per cent loan financed and not 10 per cent as is claimed. If it is not approved, then the Rs 1,000 crore is a pie in the sky, and the effective plan is only about Rs 6,300 crore.

Further, the non plan deficit projected by the state government was Rs 7,837 which has been “improved” by the PC to Rs 6,939. In real terms, a gap of Rs 898 crores has been left unfunded. Adjusting for this, the plan is down to Rs 5,400 crore. Out of which, Rs 2,300 crore are tied grants, wherein the state government has no flexibility. The actual state plan then reduces to Rs 3,100 crore! Finally, using the proportion of plan capital expenditure given in the budget 2013-14, the total capital expenditure in the plan will not even be Rs 2,500 crores! No wonder if people complain of where the money disappears! The fact is that it wasn’t there from the beginning. The emperor, it turns out, doesn’t have any clothes.

(Reproduced from the Greater Kashmir)

Stench in Srinagar City

Fazili describes how the paradise is facing duel stench emanating from Achan Saidpora Solid Waste Dumping Site on one side, and from untreated water of Brari Numbal mini lake on the other. The stink is in the heart of the city

(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.)


Way back in 1981, the J&K Government entrusted to UEED, the task of formulation of the feasibility report with the objective of developing the baseline information and parameters for formulating and designing a well conceived cost-effective scheme for hygienic collection, transportation and disposal of solid wastes of Greater Srinagar city. While the second phase of the work under this project would involve the exercise for establishment of the appropriate scheme and its engineering aspects. Having retained M/S Universal Enviroscience as consultants, a report was formulated, which identified and delineated the areas and essential components which were of relevance to the second phase of the work and also provided a conceptual system of the solid waste management programme for Greater Srinagar city.

The subjects covered were:

(I) Review of growth pattern of Srinagar Town based on population, sectoral activities, geo-climatic and other conditions and land based use pattern.

(II) Identification and assessment of sources, nature and quantum of solid wastes in Srinagar town based on sources, nature- physical and chemical characteristics, classification of solid wastes-assessment of recoverable materials and of fuel and fertilizer production and quantum.

(III) Inventory and assessment of existing solid waste collection (including house boats and dunga boats), transportation and disposal facilities and manpower and workshop facilities.

(IV) Conceptual system of solid waste collection, transportation and hygienic disposal and location of additional sites in Srinagar.

(V) Identification of the areas for further investigations and survey.

(VI) Guidelines for improvement/modifications of available data/reports.

(VII) Recommendations on financial aspects and time bound programme of the project.

The physical and chemical characteristics of the solid waste samples revealed that the wastes are most amenable to composting. Besides other recommendations for improving the door to door collection system, transportation, sanitary landfill for a few years, installation of mechanical compost plants at Noorbagh and at the landfill site within a period of five years was recommended to Srinagar Municipality. The recommendations were partly implemented by the SMC, but the main recommendation for installation of mechanical compost plant (MCP) was shelved for reasons best known to the authorities.

The issue of preparation of a detailed project report on Solid waste Disposal of Srinagar city was again taken up by Srinagar Municipality in 2000 AD, but its results were not known.

The problem of stench in Srinagar city, would have been, eliminated if the proposed “Mechanical compost plants” would have been installed in time, which would have also minimized the land area required for sanitary landfill, besides generating organic compost to be made available to the farmers to enrich their soil. This way the harmful effects of chemical compost would also have been obviated.

I was specially deputed by UEED to New Delhi to inspect the mechanical compost plant of NDMC in eighties. I also attended an interstate meeting in Housing Department in New Delhi, who took review of the already functioning compost plants of different cities. I understood that our state had made no efforts to obtain Central assistance for establishing the mechanical compost plant. Later I was tipped for visiting Japan for observing their system of disposal of solid and liquid wastes, but it did not mature as my sanction order became victim of red tape in the secretariat offices.

As observed by me at NDMC the process of conversion of compost takes just three weeks by dumping the wastes directly from trucks on a platform, sprinkling water and turning the wastes mechanically for 21 days during which period considerable heat gets generated in the wastes and decomposition takes place. Thereafter the wastes are placed on conveyer belts and hand picking is done for any hard materials like stones, metals, glasses, plastics, polythene etc. by the persons who remain on either side of the slow moving belt. For smaller elements screening is also recommended. The decomposed waste ultimately goes to the pulverizer, for grinding it in to a powder, which is packed in bags to be sold to farmers. There is no problem of stench during this operation as has been observed in various metropolitan cities including the capital city of Delhi.

Everyday there is a protest lodged in the media by the inhabitants of the surrounding areas, even Imam of Jamia Mosque Srinagar has condemned from pulpit on Friday prayers, the apathy of the authorities for not being able to tackle the problem of stench emanating from Achan dumping site for the last three decades. Similarly the Brari-numbal mini lake in the heart of city has turned to be a cess-pool adding to the already existing foul smell from Achan site. The STP constructed at huge cost is non functional and filth from four lakh citizens pours in to the mini lake round the clock.

In view of the growing menace of stench spreading in to the interior of the city of Srinagar, it is high time that Govt. wakes up to the situation and takes up the construction of the compost plants as recommended by the experts of international repute.

According to Master Plan of Srinagar Metropolitan area 2000-2021, for a population of 12 lakhs in 2000 AD and estimated 23.50 lakhs in 2021 AD, Solid Waste including fruit and vegetable wastes works out to 538 tons and 1356 tons / day respectively. Out of 538 tons of solid waste 300 tons were handled by the Municipality in 2000 AD and the remaining 236 tons waste was partly dumped in water bodies, partly in ditches and partly salvaged in the form of Kabadi materials at domestic levels. As for the disposal of waste materials, SMC managed to collect the garbage from 308 collection points in 2000 AD (presently 575 points in 2013) within the municipal limits. These collection points are interspersed all over the city on roads in open form. However recently in certain selected areas, plastic dustbins have been provided by the SMC and door to door collection is made against a monthly charge of Rs. 50/- per house hold. This has reduced the open spread of solid waste attracting street dogs, besides spreading local obnoxious smell in these particular areas.

According to the Srinagar Municipal Corporation, it has at present only one Dumping Site at SyedporaAchan which comprises of 540 Kanals of land. Where the waste is being spread over and is further being covered with clay and use of disinfects are also being made. The existing Dumping site is being improved and modernized in a scientific Engineered Landfill site through the financial and technical guidance of Asian Development Bank. A detailed action plan/project report on this score has been prepared. In fact some of the works have been taken up for execution by the J&K Economic Reconstruction Agency against the money released by the Asian Development Bank. All the environmental and other related issues will be redressed under the modernization plan. The modernization of existing open dumping site into a scientific Sanitary Landfill site will be taken up for execution by the J&KERA in a couple of months against the estimated cost of Rs. 22.00 Crores that will take care of all the pollutants including that of air quality, ground water quality and aesthetic look and landscaping of the interior of Landfill site as per guidelines of J&K SPCB. Besides this there will be a permanent facility for regular monitoring of these components in future

As can be viewed from the future programme of SMC regarding disposal of solid wastes, the recommendation of the construction of Mechanical Compost Plant has been ignored for unknown reasons. It would be prudent if some officers were deputed to inspect the working of the mechanical compost plant of NDMC, whereby they would get a clear idea of its efficiency and its suitability for our conditions.