Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Misplaced priorities!

In the name of progress and modernization, Kashmir is facing grave threats to age old traditions destroying the faith of the people

In recent times, the cable car has become a prestigious project for every spot in Kashmir regardless of its actual requirement at a particular place. Basically, ropeways especially cable cars are a means of aerial transportation meant for places normally not accessible by any other means. In the tourism sector these have been very much utilised in winter resorts for reaching higher slopes to enable the slopes being utilised for skiing. In many countries, such as in Canada aerial transportation is used in forests to fetch timber from inaccessible places. The main use in mountain areas is mostly related to tourism. In some cases, ropeways are set up in urban areas to take people to higher spots for panoramic views of the places around. In Kashmir, the most successful ropeway has been the Gulmarg Gondola taking skiers in winter to Afarwat and tourists in summer for panoramic views. In fact, the Gondola has earned more revenue from tourists in summer than from the skiers in winter. One may think of putting up such facilities in other potential tourist areas like Pahalgam and Sonamarg where skiing and sightseeing can be combined. However, there is no point in putting up cable cars in every nook and corner such as Verinag.
One must also understand the impact of these transportation systems on the environment. In mountain areas having forest cover a lot of trees have to be cut for erecting towers and then more trees have to be felled for a ski slope internationally supposed to be 40 metres wide. Moreover, the stations on top and the trails become garbage dumps unless continuous cleaning is undertaken. In urban areas, the cable cars do not gel with the environment at all. People had been talking of putting up cable cars for going to religious shrines. This robs the faith of all its sanctity. Traditionally in the Himalaya and many other places, the holy men have been going up to higher altitudes to meditate and commune with the creator. Most of the shrines of Muslim saints and religious preachers in Kashmir are located on hill tops or on higher mountain sides. People built shrines at these places where the revered persons passed away. As a matter of faith and tradition people have been going to these spots to pay homage and pray. Most of these spots are approached by foot trails or even over stone steps. One of the most popular shrines where people have been traditionally going is the Makhdoom Sahab. The number of steps for climbing up to the shrine is traditionally known to all the people who have been climbing these over the years. One remembers from childhood people climbing these steps with pitchers of water and emptying these in the pond on top in times of a drought. Makhdoom Sahab has now been connected with a cable car thereby robing the people of the tradition of climbing the historical steps. No wonder the initiators of the cable car may soon think of installing a water pump to fill up the tank on top! An improvement in faith!
The same story has been repeated in setting up of Tourism Development Authorities and Golf Courses all over the state. We have, not only destroyed the existing resorts by haphazard and unplanned development but have initiated measures for destroying the environment, which in the first place is the main attraction for people to visit Kashmir. Hundreds of crores have been spent on setting up of Golf Courses without any survey about the possible markets for these. These are mainly used by the elite businessmen and bureaucrats who have taken a fancy to Golf especially after retirement. Government must undertake a survey about the number of Golfers both domestic and international who have been utilising these courses on which huge amounts of money have been spent. About two dozen Tourism Development Authorities have been set up in what could have been lay back areas for tourism development after peace; the very basic requirement for up market tourism prevails in the state. The Authorities mostly headed by engineers or administrators instead of tourism specialists or experts have become channels to siphon off funds in collusion with the local legislators by constructing tourist centres and other infrastructure which in reality is the domain of the private players. Recently the government has been contemplating the regularisation of temporary employees of these authorities thereby created more liabilities for the already overburdened state exchequer.
If one thinks of the real top most priority for the present day Kashmir, it is the electric power of which we have a virtual famine. It should have been the foremost task of all the rulers to ensure availability of this basic facility. Instead of wasting the scarce precious resources on unproductive and luxury items, the maximum funds should have been diverted to the development of this sector.  Not only was money needed for power generation but for modernisation of its transmission and distribution. Instead of doing this, we have mortgaged our precious resources to outsiders from whom we have to buy back power generated from our resources at exorbitant commercial tariff.
The misplaced priorities are not accidental but deliberate. During recent times our rulers have found newer ways of making money by hook or by crook. Be it the education sector like the recent expose of BOPEE or any other field, the only consideration is how to pocket the maximum funds by any means without any qualms of virtually non-existent conscience! One really feels disgusted and suffocated. It is too sickening. Sometimes one feels that the people who have a chance of living abroad for some time in an honest and free environment are the lucky ones! Will we be ever able to set right all these misplaced priorities? Yes, provided we get just and strong rulers for whom honesty and truth are above all else! To get honest, just and strong rulers we have to be first honest and truthful to our own selves and then to others. A utopia, some may call it!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Nothing but the whole “Truth”!

               The very first casualty in the present day Kashmir is the “Truth”!

When a person in a court room stands in a witness box, he swears by keeping his hand on the holy book of the religion which he professes and declares that he will tell the whole “Truth”, and nothing but the whole “Truth”! The Webster dictionary defines “Truth” as “the real facts about something: the things that are true”. It further elaborates, that the “Truth” is “the body of real things, events, and facts”. The Cambridge dictionary definition is, “the real facts about a situation, event, or a person”. Unfortunately, in the present day Kashmir, none of these definitions holds good! The “Truth” here is something that suits a situation, event, or a person. In fact, it is very difficult for a person to discern what the real “Truth” is because of the totally murky situation. However, going by the dictionary definition, there are definitely real facts about “the situation, the events, or the persons”, notwithstanding the fact that the most people hesitate deliberately or unintentionally to speak these out. Lying is taken to be normal behaviour. Nobody expects the real “Truth” to be spoken out. This holds good in every sphere of activity including politics. 
This virtual apathy to the “Truth” and “normal” behaviour of lying has been commented upon by various foreigners who have visited Kashmir from time to time. Sir Walter Lawrence in “The Valley of Kashmir” has described in detail the character and disposition of Kashmiris. “The Kashmiri bears an evil reputation in the Punjab, and indeed throughout Asia. Proverbs liken him to a snake in his morals, and to a fowl in his manners, and men are warned against admitting a Kashmiri to their friendship”. Moorcroft, Hugel, Drew, and Barnes describe them as “Selfish, superstitious, ignorant, supple, intriguing, dishonest, false-tongued, ready with a lie, and given to various forms of deceit”. Moorcroft, however, admits that the vices of Kashmiris are not innate, but are due to the government under which they lived. “These vices are the effects of his political condition rather than his nature.” Walter Lawrence concedes that in a country where there was practically no justice, the only weapon in the hands of the weak was lying or subterfuge. He states that two national features of their character are–lying and envy or malice. “A Kashmiri cannot see any one getting on in life.” However, detailing the good qualities, Walter Lawrence writes, “Kashmiris possess an individuality, and a national character which will cling to them wherever they go. Kashmiris are fond of their own country, its food, its water, and its dress….. Finally, though the character of a Kashmiri leaves much to be desired, I think that it is to their credit that it is not worse, considering the few chances they have had for becoming truthful, manly, and self-respecting….A man who can be beaten and robbed by anyone with a vestige of authority soon ceases to respect himself and his fellow-men, and it is useless to look for the virtues of a free people among the Kashmiris, and unfair to twit them with absence of such virtues. The Kashmiri is what his rulers have made him, but I believe and hope that two generations of a just and strong rule will transform him into a useful, intelligent, and fairly honest man”.
Well, a Kashmiri is yet to have those two generations of a just and a strong rule. One may concede that the lying nature of a Kashmiri especially to his rulers is due to untold miseries and suffering he has gone through in earlier times and continues to go through even now. But one cannot explain the similar behaviour among Kashmiris themselves when they are under no outside compulsion. Lying has become the second nature of an average Kashmiri. He does not feel any remorse or compunction while speaking a blatant lie. Incidentally, among themselves Kashmiris have the three stages of “Truth”. When a Kashmiri swears by Almighty God he says “Wallah” and claims his speech to be true. One should take it to be 100% lie. Once he swears by his parents, it must be a half-truth! However, when he swears by his children, the statement can be taken to be somewhat near the “Truth”. The main reason for such behaviour appears to be the material greed which has overtaken everything after 1947 or rather after 1953 when the streams of money started flowing into the valley to buy Kashmiri loyalty. The generations of rulers that came after 1953 instead of giving a strong and a just rule imagined by Sir Walter Lawrence necessary for changing the character of a Kashmiri, unleashed the most corrupt practices to assassinate the Kashmiri character. Since then there has been no end and with each passing day new methods both covert and overt are being used to drown Kashmiris in a whirlpool of falsehood, insincerity and material as well as moral corruption.
George Orwell has said, “In a time of universal deceit-telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. Thus every revolution begins with speaking out the “Truth” and standing by it regardless of the consequences. Lord Buddha says, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the Sun, the Moon, and the truth. There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting”. So if a true revolution has to begin in Kashmir, people have to start telling the truth and go all the way!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kashmiris’ nightmare

Power has been illusive especially during winters for a long time now. However, the way it is playing hide and seek well before the start of the winter does not forbade well. The forthcoming winter may be the worst ever seen in terms of the electric power. According to power development authorities the demand in Kashmir alone is in the range of 1,100 mw or so while as the generation gets reduced to few hundred odd mw due to freezing resulting in lesser discharge in the rivers. Added to this are the transmission and distribution losses estimated to be the highest in the country. The only option is to import electricity at commercial rates from the northern grid. Unfortunately, it is the electricity generated from our own rivers which we have to buy back, thanks to our rulers, past as well as present. They have mortgaged our precious resources for their own vested interests.
 The most unfortunate part of the tragedy is that the common people were made to believe that the so called development of the state is going to bring them on par with the most modern facilities. It would have been better if one had stuck to traditional ways of facing the severe winters. The winters now are not so severe nor do we have the amount of snowfall which we used to see in our childhood. Srinagar used to get over three to four feet of snow at a time in winters. There used to be long icicles dangling from the roofs which mostly used to be shingle or so. Dal Lake would quite often freeze and it is said that sometime in the past even river Jhelum used to freeze! The snowfall would be so blinding sometimes that the migratory birds would fall in peoples’ lawns! In spite of such severe winters, people were mentally and physically prepared to face these.
 In old times, for cooking, the firewood burnt in earthen hearths was the common standard. Every home had a hearth which would burn firewood for cooking and at the back there was a copper vessel for heating water. For lighting, people used lanterns, oil lamps and in villages next to the forests pine wood sticks with resin called “lashi” in Kashmiri. For heating, charcoal especially one prepared by burning dry chinar leaves, was used in kangri under the traditional robe, Pheran. Kangri has been part of our culture from the earliest times. For winters people used to sun dry all sorts of vegetables as there would be no fresh vegetables available. Now with the so called modernisation and progress things have changed. People have become used to running everything on electrical power. Cooking, heating, cleaning and so on. No doubt it is progress in keeping with the modern world but the basis of all this progress is electrical power. We were fortunate enough to have a tremendous source of cleanest energy. Hydro-electric power. Abundant and massive potential. Environmentally clean. Unfortunately, all mortgaged by our own people leaving us in the lurch.
 It may not be practically possible to go back to the traditional ways now at this advanced stage of “progress”. We are now totally dependent on outside help right from our food to even manual labour. Perfect “Lotus Eaters” of the Ulysses! The worst part of the modernisation process has been the deliberate development of a subsidy culture right from the early fifties. Everything from rice to power has been subsidised. We have been made totally dependent on dole! Bribed in every possible way to toe a particular narrative. Having ingested all the bribes but still refusing to toe the narrative naturally infuriates the bribe giver. The best revenge for the dole giver would be like taking a thirsty horse to the river to drink and then muddying the water to make it die of thirst! 
Kashmir touted world over as the “Paradise on Earth” turns into a virtual hell during winter, at least for the local population. The visitors may be getting some special treatment but sometimes even they run away due to severe conditions accentuated by unstable and erratic power. Yes, we could be literally living in “Paradise” if only we had the electric power. God Almighty did bestow us with a “Paradise” like home with all the abundant resources but we ourselves turned it into a hell. You name any activity, it is in a mess. The worst of all is the power mess! We may have to live with it for a long time. The current winter may give us a taste of what we should be expecting during future winters, the worst nightmare!
 Is there proverbial “light” at the end of the tunnel? Yes, every grim situation has a solution. As the border roads sign goes, “Difficult can be done now, impossible may take some time”! The whole power scenario needs a complete revamp right from the generation to the distribution to the consumers. The revamp may be difficult but not impossible. That revamp will be effective only if everyone is honest about it. Beginning with the consumers, the engineers, and above all the rulers have to be honest. It is said that honesty like water flows from top downwards. So the first task is to get honest rulers. That in the present context may be a really impossible task!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Seal the SDA Office first!

Enforcement of the law must begin at home. The biggest violators of Master Plan have been the State Government Departments like the SDA and the Police.

 In pursuance to the directions of the Honourable High Court, the concerned authorities have sealed a number of structures in different areas of the city for violation of the Srinagar Master Plan. It is very welcome that the Judiciary has become active again in preservation of the character of our capital city by taking serious note of the free for all violations of the Master Plan, building bye laws and other regulations concerning the environment. Earlier they had taken a similar stand in case of the dying Dal Lake. The Honourable High Court has also directed to file statements about the assets of the ward officers. No doubt the main cause for violations of the master plan has been corruption yet one cannot overlook the violations committed by the Government itself. There is hardly any department of the government that has not violated not only the land use policy, but the building bye laws and above all the master plan itself. Let us begin with the Srinagar Development Authority itself. A bye pass road was constructed to relieve traffic congestion through the main city roads. Normally, this road should have been fenced on two sides with iron grill like the one usually seen on motorways so that nothing could come up on two sides. Instead of being a bye pass, the road now virtually passes through the middle of the city. The agriculture land has been converted into housing colonies, shopping complexes, workshops and so on. SDA itself has constructed a massive office on the bye pass. They did not allow an international group of Kashmiri non-resident doctors to construct super-speciality hospital in the same area quite a distance away from the bye pass on the plea of wrong land use! Now, to relieve congestion created by the deliberate actions of SDA, we may have to construct another city bye pass as the present one passes through the middle of the populated areas.
One fails to understand why the Government departments like SDA or the organisations like the Municipal Corporation should be constructing shopping complexes, shopping arcades and so on. The former is supposed to regulate all building permissions and implement master plan while as the latter is supposed to keep the city clean. In earlier times, some of these organisations acted like watch dogs to ensure order and cleanliness in the city. Now, these have themselves become the violators. A couple of decades back people were really scared of violating land use and building norms. Now there is a free for all. The violations have not only been committed by the people in general with the connivance of the authorities but the state organisations and institutions themselves have violated the master plan which they were supposed to enforce. Agricultural lands have been converted for construction purposes with impunity. New Housing Colonies approved by the authorities have no proper drainage and sewerage nor have these proper roads. The height of commercial buildings in the midst of residential colonies makes these look like sky scrapers. Most conspicuous is the Police Headquarter standing like the Pharaoh’s pyramid in the Egyptian desert! It is reported that the State Police has been constructing buildings all over the state without any permission and clearance from the concerned authorities. Probably they consider themselves to be a law unto themselves. Apart from constructing a huge the headquarter building, they built a Public School on the bye pass where no buildings should have come up. They probably followed the SDA example?
The number of hotels in residential areas, on the ecologically sensitive banks of the Dal Lake is in dozens. These have been constructed without giving any thought to the disposal of sewage and provision of parking. If one starts compiling the violations of various building laws and bye laws, it would go into a complete book. But the moot point is who allowed this to happen? Not only the concerned officials but the politicians patronising them. In the past, all these deliberate violations of the law have turned into a source of funds especially at the election times. The mere sealing of the properties now may also turn into a lucrative source of election funds so desperately needed by all the political parties. The real lesson for preventing such violations in future would be demolitions and that should begin with the government buildings constructed in violation of the master plan and all building norms and bye laws. If the state cannot take to task its own members violating the laws, what right it has to punish its citizens? Enforcement of the law must begin at home. Let us hope that the Honourable High Court which as the most welcome step, has taken a very serious view of these violations goes all the way to ensure some order in our living.

Friday, November 1, 2013



The colour of the water in the spring of the famous shrine of Kheer Bhawani in Tulla Mulla near Ganderbal is reported to be back to normal greenish tinge. More than a month back the colour of the water had turned red sending alarming signals among many people including Kashmiri Pandits. There is a belief that the colour of the water is an indication about the coming events. In normal times the spring water remains bluish white. As per the statement of the local Pujari (the Hindu priest) who has been a care taker of the shrine for almost 50 years or so, the colour sometimes changes to black foretelling the approach of bad times in Kashmir. According to him, the water had turned black after the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi in 1984. It had again turned completely dark black in 1990 before the Pandit mass migration.
Last month during the controversial Shalimar concert of Zubin Mehta, the water had turned red. There were many theories about this phenomenon. Even the Pujari was surprised as he had not seen the red colour during his entire stay in the shrine. Some scientists and experts had theorised that the water colour may have changed due to sulphur content or due to red algae bloom. Mr. G M Hajam, the Tourist Officer of Tulla Mulla/Manasbal area who had been following this strange happening has informed that the restoration of the water to original colour was a result of the dewatering done by the Shrine Trust. They had used a dewatering motor to pump out the water and after few days the water assumed the normal colour. Mr. Hajam was informed by Ghulam Mohammad Dar, a local employee of the shrine working with the Pujari that the colour had changed due to adulterated milk poured into the spring. According to him the devotees visiting the shrine would buy local natural milk and pour it into the spring as a mark of devotion to the Goddess. However, some devotees had brought with them the pasteurised milk in plastic pouches and poured it into the spring. After that the water had turned red and smelly. He attributes this phenomenon to adulterated/chemically treated milk. Now, the devotees are again buying the local milk and the colour remains normal. After all, the Goddess refuses to accept the adulterated offerings but the poor common Kashmiris have become immune to adulterated milk and all other food stuff! In any case, the assumption of normal colour by the holy spring must have sent a wave of relief among the devotees all over the world who had been alarmed by the red colour of the spring.