Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Dredge the Jhelum, please!

More than 14 months have passed since the worst flood in the history of Kashmir virtually destroyed Srinagar. The sleepy Government needs to wake up to prevent the repetition of the tragedy

The last year Kashmir witnessed the worst flood of the century. The flood had occurred due to a number of factors apart from the general belief that it was a “Divine Retribution” for our sins! It was a unique combination of the monsoons and a very strong western disturbance which poured tons of water on our mountains and the plains. There was also a quick melt of the glaciers. The amount of water running down our mountains was beyond the capacity of the river and it came down virtually as a sheet of water. However, one other important factor for spilling over the embankments and for dozens of breaches was the silting of the river bed and its spill over channel. These had not been dredged for decades. In addition no efforts had been made to strengthen the embankments along the route of the river through the city. In fact, the negligence on this part resulting in the disaster amounts to criminal negligence.  It will, however, at the moment serve no purpose in dissecting the past mistakes. There is most urgent need for future action to prevent the repetition of the disaster.
One had expected that the first important task of the new government would be to take up measures for flood prevention after ensuring the rehabilitation of the flood affected. The rehabilitation process got stalled as the State Government did not get the funds it had projected to the Central Government on this account. There were many promises and false starts about an announcement being made in this regard by the Prime Minister but nothing materialised. Whatever rehabilitation happened, it was by individual efforts and through insurance companies.
However, the most important aspect of taking measures for prevention of similar occurrences in future remains in limbo. No one seems to be bothered. Dredging of the Jhelum and the spill over channel is the first step which must be taken up immediately. The present season with the lowest water level is the most suitable and appropriate time to undertake the job. However, one needs someone like Hakim Suya about whom we used to read in our school books. Alas, we do not have someone like Avantivarman whose minister Hakim Suya was. In those days also Kashmiris were troubled by the floods and the whole valley was ravaged repeatedly. Hakim Suya under took massive steps for dredging of Jhelum and took other measures to relieve people of this menace of floods. It is said (proverbially, perhaps) that he took sacksful of gold coins and threw it into Jhelum and people jumped in to retrieve the coins thereby taking out all the mud and silt which had accumulated there. 
The present government has to engage a resourceful national agency like the Hindustan Construction Corporation or ONGC on a turnkey basis to desilt the river and the channels on a war footing on a turnkey basis within a fixed time frame. They could even explore getting some multinational companies having some expertise in the job. A resourceful company could put a couple of hundred excavators and a similar number of trucks on the job round the clock. The effort could be funded even by the Asian Development Bank. The time limit for dredging is till spring when the first rains come in and the glaciers start melting. Usually destructive floods hit Kashmir always towards the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. The main reason for this is the fact that during early spring and summer the water has many channels to go around. People need water for their rice fields. However, at the end of the summer and early autumn all channels are closed as the rice crop ripens. The water has only one channel to move and that is the river. If it falls in excess, it always spills over its banks. The other urgent requirement is to strengthen the river’s embankments especially along the capital city. These embankments have been grossly vandalised by encroachments which need to be removed. Even the Honourable High Court has castigated the Government in this regard. The weak points where breaches had occurred need to be strengthened with reinforced cement concrete walls. All along the river the embankments should be strengthened with piling. The flood spill over channel needs to be given the same treatment, dredging and strengthening of the embankments. One more thing which needs attention is the dewatering stations. The pumps of most of these stations are below embankment level and these were submerged during the flood. These should be placed on the embankment level or even slightly above it. 
After having lived through a traumatic experience and come back to one’s home after a year and a half, one still gets nightmares! There is no guarantee that the tragedy may not recur! One can only implore the concerned to take immediate steps to initiate and complete the flood prevention measures on an accelerated pace. The Chief Minister has shown that he can exercise his prerogative if he wants to. This is the most important sector in which exercise of such a prerogative is needed. Let us hope he does it?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Kashmir, the “bleeding” Heart of Asia!

Kashmir is truly the heart of Asia which has been “bleeding” for long. Unfortunately, the new process started in Turkey some years back completely ignores the historical fact!

The 5th Heart of Asia - Istanbul Ministerial Process Conference was held for two days in Islamabad, Pakistan from December 9, 2015.
The conference was inaugurated jointly by the Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani. It was co-chaired jointly by Mr. Salah Uddin Rabbani, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Mr. Sartaj Aziz, Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Foreign Affairs.
The event was attended by high-ranking delegations from 14 participating states, 17 supporting countries, and 12 international and regional organizations. The foreign minister Sushma Swaraj led the Indian delegation. She said that she had come with a message to move forward. The focus of the conference was on Counter Terrorism, Counter Narcotics, Disaster Management, Education, Trade and Investment and Regional Infrastructure. As usual, Kashmir, the real Heart of Asia, considered by one and all as the Nuclear Flashpoint of Asia was nowhere in the picture! The maximum one could hear is that India and Pakistan have decided to resume their bi-lateral dialogue. However, there is no mention of Kashmir in the deliberations! 
The regional initiative supported by certain western powers including USA owes its origin to Turkey. It was in November, 2011 in Istanbul that the initiative under the title of Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was started to provide a platform to the countries in the Asian region to discuss regional issues relating to security, political, and economic issues so as to bring co-operation between Afghanistan and its neighbours. It was intended to be an initiative for regional co-operation among the Asian countries. Afghanistan has been a battle ground for proxy wars between the two leading super powers of the world. First the Russians came in and the Americans ensured their ignominious retreat from there which ultimately resulted in the break-up of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Americans had trained and armed the guerrillas which defeated the Russian forces. Later on these American trained warriors including the famous Osama bin Laden turned against the Americans. Americans came in with the multinational forces. However, they failed to totally subdue the Afghanis and had to leave. Their exit is still going on. The tussle about the area is because of its strategic location. It is a neighbour to the Central Asian Countries and Iran. The fires lit by Americans spread into the Middle East which is now in total turmoil. The Indian sub-continent seems to have lost the interest of Americans and they are trying to use it as a lever to control Afghanistan.
Kashmir had a similar situation in forties. Here again the two super powers indulged in proxy wars using India and Pakistan as their pawns. Those days there was direct confrontation between these super powers. The Anglo-Saxons had identified Kashmir as the most important strategic corridor to check the advance of the Russian Empire. It was because of this they had separated Gilgit and converted it into Gilgit Agency. Before partition an important meeting was held in Paris between George Marshal and Ernest Bevin in which the importance of keeping the Gilgit corridor under their control was discussed. They had felt that it would be better to keep Gilgit in Pakistani controlled area. After the breakup of Soviet Union they lost interest. However, now a new factor has come in. China is building a corridor to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean! US interest now is to contain China. Pakistan they are trying to use as a buffer for Afghanistan. India has now only economic value for them. A huge market for American products, both lethal and non-lethal. 
Kashmir has been a real heart-ache for entire South Asia for last 68 years while as Afghanistan came into limelight as a trouble spot only in seventies. The real trouble started there after the Soviet intervention of 1979. The whole area was destroyed. There were indiscriminate killings. Millions of refugees came into Pakistan. Along with the refugees came violence and the young Taliban trained in Pakistan and infiltrated into Afghanistan to drive out Russians created people like Osama bin Laden who had volunteered for Jihad from Saudi Arabia and was trained by Americans. Ultimately, he paid them back in kind!
In contrast, Kashmiris as a nation have been suffering for the last more than four centuries under external oppression. The last 25 years have been the worst. Almost a hundred thousand Kashmiris have been killed. There are over forty thousand widows, a hundred thousand orphans. Thousands of women have been raped and molested. Thousands of houses and other structures have been destroyed. Over 8,000 persons have disappeared without a trace. There cannot be a worst tragedy than this. Still the guardians of human rights led by the western powers do not consider Kashmir to be the real “bleeding” Heart of Asia! It seems the west is now totally sold to material considerations and has forgotten the finer qualities of life of which they were proud at one time. They need to understand that Kashmir is the real powder keg which can someday blow away entire Asia including the so called Heart of Asia, Afghanistan!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Make Jammu Permanent Capital

To sort out the problems being faced by the common people, it may be better to declare Jammu as the permanent capital of J & K State thereby ending the necessity of the “Durbar Move”!


As usual the “New Maharajas” have moved to Jammu along with their “Durbar”! The practice initiated by the Dogra Maharajas more than a century and a half back is still carried on by the present so called democratic rulers. Kashmir must be the only place in the world where a state capital is moved from one city to another for the convenience of the rulers. Once the “Durbar” moves to Jammu, the people in the valley are left to fend for themselves. One could not challenge the erstwhile Maharajas as it was their sweet will which mattered and not the welfare of the masses even though that aspect was looked after much better in a monarchical set up. They wanted to enjoy the best of the seasons and therefore, spent the winter in the warmth of Jammu and enjoyed nature’s beauty in Kashmir’s summer. This trend was in fact started by Mughals who used to spend summer in Kashmir. However, they did not make Srinagar their capital.
The end of Dogra regime in 1947 created a piquant situation. The Dogra Maharaja had lost his control over the state which became a point of contention between the two newly created dominions. However, the larger part of the state including the Kashmir valley remained with India. To ensure their hold on the Indian part of the state, the Indian leaders placated the tallest Kashmiri leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and made him the head of the administration. At this point, the Jammu people felt the real loss of sovereignty which they enjoyed over Kashmiris because of their Maharaja. In order to overcome that loss they started a movement for the total merger of the state into the Indian Union. That process is still continuing.
On their part, the Indian leaders motivated the Kashmiri leader to continue with the Durbar Move so that the Jammu people do not feel complete loss of sovereignty. Thus the State was burdened with two capitals with everything duplicated which involves huge sums of money apart from the large amount spent on the transfer of the government from one capital to the other. There were some attempts at ending this superfluous and wasteful practice of the erstwhile royalties but due to strong opposition from Jammu no one could stop it. In the meantime, there developed a strong business partnership between the Jammu and Kashmir traders. In fact, recently the trading community from Jammu assured Kashmiris that there would be no economic blockade of Kashmir, call for which was given by the extremist Hindutva elements in Jammu. They on the other hand offered to have a joint front with Kashmiris for retrieving power projects from the NHPC. 
After the turmoil of nineties, apart from the bi-annual Durbar Move, there has been a significant and sizeable movement of people to Jammu in various spheres. Most of the Central Government agencies and departments have located their regional offices in Jammu. Same is the case with many multi-national companies. Due to rail connectivity, Jammu has become very close to different commercial centres of India. A large number of Kashmiris have built their houses in different parts of Jammu city. Most of the mainstream leaders and other party workers spend considerable part of their time in Jammu. While as generally Kashmir is considered to be unstable and uncertain with totally unpredictable ground situation, Jammu is considered more safe and stable. While as the industrial estates in Kashmir have been struggling to survive, the Jammu Industries are flourishing. Many investors are willing to take up projects in Jammu while as they all hesitate in setting up units in Kashmir. 
Jammu has enough space fully air-conditioned to house the entire government. Setting up the entire government permanently in Jammu will not necessitate movement of a large number of people to Jammu. The valley will benefit in many ways. The security set up would be reduced to a considerable extent. All the traffic hassles would be gone. All the problems in different spheres would be attended to regularly on a year round basis without any “Durbar” break. Kashmir could be given a full-fledged completely autonomous provincial set up like the Development Councils in Leh and Kargil. As regards the mainstream rulers, politicians and their followers, they would not be missed in the valley and in fact, sitting in Jammu they would be closer to Delhi! Finally, the Jammu people would be more than happy and there would be an end to their perennial grievances of discrimination. The idea needs to be given a serious thought!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Kalhana’s Kashmir!

What would Kashmir be like if Kalhana’s “Country of Spiritual Merit” had continued its march unmolested by foreign oppressors?

Kalhana’s Kashmir!

In the most depressing dense fog reeling under the unscheduled power cuts, turning breathless due to the stinking Dal Lake in its last throes, wading through water logged streets due to choked drains, and turning crazy due to dilapidated roads, and worst traffic jams, one imagines even though hypothetically, what would Kashmir be like if it had remained a sovereign country as it was in the time of Kalhana? May be a utopian dream but worth dreaming in the present dreary days!
Pandit Kalhana who was an illustrious son of Canpaka, a minister of the Kashmiri King Harsha compiled from 1148 AD to 1158 AD the written record of the reign of Kings of Kashmir from the earliest times till his own time. This is the earliest book of written history in the entire sub-continent. He called this book Rajtarangini or the River of Kings! According to him ancient Kashmir was famous for five things: learning, lofty houses, saffron, honey and grapes! The most famous seat of learning, Sarda University was in Kashmir. This university had a library which contained books which one could not get anywhere in India. Kashmir used to have 14 storey high wooden palaces! 
If Kashmir had continued its march unmolested, the first thing we would have had would be abundant electric power. Not only would everything be running on power but we would be exporting it to our neighbours and earning colossal revenues. There would be electric trains and trams. There would be power based central heating of houses. As Arabs had oil which pushed them up technologically for all their needs, we had the cleanest source of energy, the water! Unfortunately, it has been stolen from us. 
In regard to agriculture and horticulture, we would have achieved self-sufficiency. We would not be importing edibles from outside state which we have to do at present due to neglect in regard to tremendous possibilities in these fields. Moreover, we would not have had a huge parasite population slowly eating away our vitals! We would be exporting Apple juice concentrate, Saffron, Walnut-kernel, Almonds all over the world. Kashmir label would have been a special patent. Lavender grows in the wild. There would be many perfumeries here. We would not be boasting of the Asia’s largest Tulip Garden, but exporting cut flowers all over the world. Commercial floriculture would be one of the most viable and lucrative professions. Frozen Trout from Kashmir would be in great demand. In fact, there is no end to the possibilities in Agriculture related fields. 
On the Tourism front, it would truly be the Eden of the East. It would have been a year round destination. There would be almost a dozen ski resorts in Pir Panjal Mountains giving the best experience of winter sports in the world. Of course we would have had at least two International Airports with round the clock landing and take-off facilities equipped with the best instrument landing systems and radar. There could not have been any other destination in the world in relation to Adventure Sports. Mountaineering, rock-climbing, trekking, skiing, white water rafting and kayaking, para-gliding, caving, mountain biking and so on. In fact, Kashmir would be the ultimate destination for adventure tourism!
In regard to learning, we would have had not only one Sarda University but half dozen institutions of the highest class in different fields of education and learning. Kashmir would be the best place for boarding schools tucked in mountains. Sufism and Philosophy would have been ideal subjects for research of the highest order. There would be no question of schools in shanties and pupils freezing in cold unheated schools. In fact, there would be no winter vacations as happens in Europe and America because of fully heated schools. Winter is the best time to study! Kids would be enjoying their summer holidays like those in Europe and America!
In the sphere of health care, not only would Kashmir be having top class primary and tertiary healthcare, but would be an ideal destination for Health Tourism. People would be coming from all over not only for recuperating in the most salubrious climate but there would also be facilities for specialised treatment on global standards. Children would not be dying for want of proper treatment! 
Above everything else, Kashmir would have been able to maintain its pristine environment by limiting influx of hordes of tourists and pilgrims. In ancient times, Kashmiris would allow only a select few to enter the Kingdom. Most important of all, there would have been accountability at all levels. There would be no free for all! It would have been a Paradise in the real sense of the word. 
One wonders what happened to this beautiful land. As some Kashmiris say it suffered because of the evil eye cast on it by outsiders! Instead of becoming a “Country of Spiritual Merit”, it became a living hell! Will it ever return to that glory again? It may seem difficult or rather impossible! However, one can draw consolation from the road sign on one of our mountain roads which says, “Difficult can be done now, impossible may take some time!”