Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Weather Panic!

(The anticipated western disturbance has set a wave of panic among people because of the recent system failure caused by just few inches of snow!)

                      The Weather Panic!

Over last few days a weather warning has been issued by the Metrological Department. A strong western disturbance is expected to reach J&K around 24th January. Probably, there may be more than one disturbance back to back. The weather warning has created panic among the people and apprehensions of a system failure are strong. This is so because of the recent debacle caused by hardly half a foot of snow. The warning says there may be very heavy snowfall and there is possibility of avalanches in higher reaches. The satellite pictures did show a series of western disturbances approaching Kashmir. Our weather in winter is dependent on these western disturbances. It is only recently that the people have got weather conscious. Thanks to Mr. Sonam Lotus, the head of the Metrology Department in Kashmir, even common man is acquainted with the weather forecasts. He has become a household name. His forecast preceding the 2014 devastating flood was most accurate but unfortunately, the government at that time virtually slept over it. The best they could do was to throw bananas from the state helicopter to the marooned people!

In earlier times, the weather was a for granted thing. There was a set pattern. Kashmir used to have four clear seasons unlike other places in the sub-continent. Spring, summer, autumn and winter had very distinct succession. This was before the global climate change. During winter, people expected heavy snowfalls. During one’s childhood sometimes the snow would accumulate almost to the first floor level. People would be prepared for severe winter in every possible way. Firewood bukharis and charcoal for kangris would be stored in advance. The vegetables would be dried in autumn itself. There were no fresh vegetables during winter. There was no mechanized transport and there was no need for road clearance. People would make their own ways for travelling from one locality to the other. People were also alert to shove off snow from roof tops. Most of the time, the winter was an occasion for hibernation and meditation. Early morning Harissa, a dish made from meat and rice was a treat which people enjoyed. Life was going on at a very comfortable pace. Those were the days of fun and relaxation. Heavy snow warnings did not exist!

Then came the “modernization” and the “development”. Everything changed. We became part of the “civilized modern world”! Now we have modern roads with over a million vehicles moving all over; railways, and airlines. The life is fully mechanized and systemized. There is now a well-regulated “system” running our day to day life. However, a small vagary of weather throws everything out of gear and we have the “system failure” causing panic everywhere! The worst part of the panic is our getting totally isolated from the outside world. It is because of our total dependence on the only surface access to the outside world which gets closed with every snowfall. In olden days, before 1947, our all supplies used to come through the Jhelum Valley Road which never closes during winter. The present National Highway which used to be called the “Bannihal Cart Road” was used only in summer.  

While discussing the weather forecasts it must be emphasized that it is very difficult to predict exact weather weeks in advance. One may be able to give a general picture of the possible conditions after studying various parameters which keep on continuously changing. However, with latest satellite technology and computers, it may be possible to give exact weather few days in advance. Again it needs to be updated continuously due to changes in wind speed and direction and the amount of precipitation in the clouds. Even though we may miss the good old days of relaxation and peace, yet to cope up with the changing modern times, we need to be fully abreast of the weather conditions. For this we need to thank Mr. Sonam Lotus for not only making us weather conscious but constantly keeping us up to date about the fast changing conditions. Let us hope and pray that we survive the possible catastrophe predicted by him. The warning not only alerted everyone but is keeping the government also on its toes! Thank you, Mr. Sonam Lotus! People interested in tracking weather through hourly satellite photographs can use the following links:                      

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Winter Tourism in Kashmir (Kashmir's WHITE GOLD!)

(The mountains surrounding the Valley of Kashmir have some of the best winter sports possibilities in the entire world!)

Winter Tourism in Kashmir

Kashmir is known throughout the world as the “Paradise on Earth”. During summer it has some of the most attractive resorts like Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Sonamarg and many more. People in millions have been visiting the place in summer both from within the country and abroad. Most of the time it had been promoted as a summer destination. The tourist season used to be limited to five to six months of summer only. Then in sixties winter sports were started in Gulmarg by establishing a Ski School. In fact, it was revival of winter sports which used to be held there in late thirties and early forties of the last century. The Ski Club of India was established by Major Metcarp and Major Headow, two British Army Officers, in 1927 at Gulmarg. Mr.B.N.Pestonji was its first Secretary. Skiing had been introduced as a sport in Gulmarg area almost at the same time as it had started in Alps. Those days all ski competitions were held at Khilanmarg and the pony track was kept open throughout the winter. There were two major events, the Christmas and Easter Competitions. The famous British Sports Equipment Firm, the “Lilywhites” had introduced some trophies for various ski competitions. In fact one of the ski slopes above Khilanmarg is still called the “Lilywhite Slope”. The attendance in the open competition held at Christmas in 1938 was over 500. 

The revival of skiing as a sport was started in early seventies by the setting up of a Ski School by the Ministry of Tourism with UNDP assistance. This is now called the Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering. They trained the first batch of instructors. The School started subsequently short ski courses for beginners and also conducted groups. This attracted once again a large number of British Tourists from Hong Kong. Regular ski tours started coming to Gulmarg from Hong Kong in winter. The State Youth and Sports Department also set up a ski school to train local boys and girls. Slowly the sport grew and a large number of ski lovers started coming to Gulmarg. In fact, the slopes of Gulmarg which have been homologated by the World Ski Federation (FIS) are suitable for all international level competition. The National Winter Games have been held at Gulmarg a number of times and the first one was held in March, 1986. Gulmarg has had collaboration with the French and Austrian National Ski Schools. Experts from these Schools have visited and trained instructors from Gulmarg for many years. Also instructors from Gulmarg have gone to France and Austria for advanced ski training. In fact, the boys trained in Gulmarg have come up to International level. In 1986, Ghulam Mohammad Hajam from Gulmarg secured a position among the top six in the Asian Winter Sports held at Sapporo, Japan. Gul Mustafa Dev was the first person from Kashmir to secure a position in the Winter Olympics held in Canada. Even though Gulmarg can be upgraded into a world class ski resort, yet it is not the end in developing winter tourism in Kashmir.

The entire Pir Panjal range has the potential for setting up of a half a dozen ski resorts like Gulmarg. Right from now open Tosa Maidan to Ahrabal there are many places where ski resorts could be set up. Yusmarg, Kungwattan, Dodhpathri and many other similar places. Same is the situation in Lidder and Sindh Valleys. Kashmir has the largest snow area suitable for all kinds of winter sports. Apart from Alpine Skiing in the resorts, it is ideally suited for cross country skiing and ski mountaineering. In the past regular cross country and ski mountaineering groups from abroad were conducted in Lidder valley by some Kashmiri Adventure Tour operators. Then comes the more adventurous sport of heli-skiing which was introduced by the famous Swiss skier Sylvain Saudan called the “Impossible Skier” through his company the Himalayan Heli Ski. It continued even in the worst years of turmoil of the nineties! If one compares the tourism potential of winter and summer, the winter has much more potential than summer. The catch is the clientele. There is not much domestic clientele as there are very few ski resorts in the Himalaya. Only Gulmarg, Narkanda and Auhli. Except Gulmarg the others don’t have very good slopes and snow conditions. Moreover, the accessibility to other two resorts is worse than Gulmarg. Skiing has not yet caught as a craze among the elite of the country like in the western countries.

Europe has millions of skiers who are now looking for newer and less crowded places with equal facilities. In the recent years we have had regular Australian groups as it is summer in Australia when we have winter here. Also sizeable numbers of Russians have been coming to Gulmarg. Recently, the Chinese Ski Association had approached for training their teams in Gulmarg. Kashmir could be the ultimate winter destination for them if the potential is intelligently exploited. To tap this potential the first essential is international accessibility to this area. That can be achieved only after Srinagar airport gets international air connectivity enabling direct international flights to touch down here and also when charters like Goa are allowed here. At the moment it may seem a utopian dream but in the long run it may be one of the most important economic activities. In the meantime, there is need to prepare a comprehensive long term development plan involving foreign collaboration for Winter Tourism in Kashmir.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

System Failure!

(Just a foot of snow throws life out of gear which is a system failure due to lack of accountability at the top management level)

System Failure!

Kashmir has seen many heavy snowfalls in the past. In fact, sometimes even three feet of snow has accumulated in a day or so. Because of massive and sudden snow falls in the past the government had imported German snow cutters and snow clearance machines which were being handled by the Mechanical Engineering Department. In western countries these machines are geared up and in fact these start moving as soon as snow starts accumulating. No body waits for the snow to stop to clear it. Few years back when these machines were first commissioned, these too were started as soon as snow had started accumulating on the roads. If the clearance is delayed, it causes ice formation and it is difficult for these machines to remove the ice. One remembers snow clearance in Gulmarg where the machines would be working round the clock, even during the night. These are fitted with heaters in the driving cabin and have huge search lights.

As regards lanes in the various localities in the city, these used to be taken care of by the Municipal Corporation. Even they too had acquired small snow clearance machines good for smaller roads and lanes etc. Some years back the head of the corporation would personally supervise the operation. On the Facebook many missed that dynamic guy. One senior bureaucrat mentioned that unfortunately, favouritism has taken its toll. We have square pegs in round holes! For administration to be successful especially in unusual conditions, it is essential to have the right man in the right place. This depends upon the Chief Executive who has to be familiar with the aptitude and capability of each pivotal officer and make all these officers fully accountable for any laxity in their performance.

The power system was also hit badly but there was comparatively quick recovery. Here, the system and not the personnel handling it are in a mess. We have the worst distribution system anywhere in the world. The low voltage lines at some places pass on trees! At a number of places in the downtown area the individual connections are a jumble of electric wires. It is a miracle that these junctions survive the snowfall and other vagaries of the weather. Keeping the power running is purely due to the efforts and the risks taken by the linemen. Without proper winterized clothing and other safe equipment, they ensure the continuity of the distribution system at great risk to their own lives. In fact, during the recent snowfall, two linemen were electrocuted. Even earlier there have been many instances of these people getting killed during their line of duty. However, they hardly get the commensurate compensation. If a soldier is killed on the border, his dependents get almost 20 lakhs as compensation. Why not the same to the person who loses his life while serving the nation in some other vital capacity?

J & K is supposed to have the highest transmission losses in the country. Apart from that some of the 33 kv lines are very vulnerable to the vagaries of weather especially heavy snowfalls, thunderstorms and so on. Even during the recent snowfall, these lines going out of the main grid station were snapped due to fallen trees. Apart from this the transformers in different localities need continuous monitoring and maintenance. Unfortunately, the consumers are equally guilty for letting the transformers get damaged by overloading the system. Quite often people use more load than what they are supposed to be paying for, by theft of the electric power through illegal hooking of service lines!

In spite of the initial failure, the system did recover by the efforts of the field staff in most of the sectors. The main problem is of management. If the managers have the dedication and capability, the system will work. Ultimately, it boils down to the fact of the entire system being geared up well in advance for such emergencies. This involves many dry runs but that is possible once the top leadership is geared for that. They can only be geared if there is strict accountability at the top level and the right people are placed in the decision making positions. Here one should also take into account the Peter’s Principle of management which says that every person in an organization finally rises to the level of his inefficiency.

While talking about the field staff, one must mention the five month long total shut down. Most of the civic services did work and at least these did not totally collapse simply thanks to the field staff that carried on their work in all situations. It has been observed that the ground level field staff has more interaction with the common people in every locality than the top management level. They need to be encouraged and looked after well by way of equipment, clothing and all other facilities. Incidentally, a senior bureaucrat from outside the state remarked that he does not at all know who the electric lineman is in their area. In fact, he mentioned that there is no need for him to know as the system works automatically in all emergencies. Something similar needs to be done here. Now that we have lived through this minor episode, it would be worthwhile for all concerned to review and gear up all the systems as we still have a long period of winter left. This is more essential in view of the unpredictable weather caused by the climate change all over the world. Let us pray and hope this is done!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Understanding Kashmiri Aspirations

(The motivators of various initiatives to bring peace to Kashmir first need to understand the sentiments and the aspirations of Kashmiris)
Understanding Kashmiri Aspirations
An unprecedented uprising has just somewhat abated after five months. The uprising which had been triggered by the killing of a local militant leader of Tral, Burhan Wani had acted as a Tsunami sweeping away everything in its path. Kashmir was virtually at a standstill for almost five months. There was one refrain everywhere, “Azadi”! We may not have seen the end of the unrest but it is essential to understand the basic sentiments and the aspirations which give rise to these unprecedented upheavals. Thinking that the people have been brought to their knees by the use of excessive force and everything is settled would be the usual blunder committed by the authorities after every such uprising!
Some people take Kashmir’s movement for emancipation to have started from early thirties when Kashmiri Muslims rose to demand their basic rights from the autocratic rulers. However, Kashmir’s history does not start in thirties only. If one wants to understand the Kashmir’s present problem and especially the perennial unrest, one has to go back in history to the times when Kashmir lost its sovereignty and was merged into the Mughal Empire.
Since that first take over, Kashmiris never got a breather and had to face the external masters one after the other who by their notorious means of oppression squeezed out every sign of civility, honour and self-respect out of them. Kashmiris have never accepted external rule willingly. They have been fighting external hegemony even before Mughals, right from the era of the Sultans when they fought and chased away the Sayyids. Similar to the present rule in Kashmir engineered by external forces over a period of time, Kashmir was in the same situation in the time of the Sultans.
According to Dr. Abdul Ahad, the historian, “the reign of Sultan Hassan Shah is remembered not for any tangible achievement but for the disrepute he brought to the Sultanate by falling into lap of luxury and pleasure…”The rule was full of corruption and oppression. It was during this period that Malik Ahmad Yatu, the Prime Minister of Hassan Shah invited Sayyids to fight against Tazi Bhat, the Commander-in-Chief of the Sultan. “The Sayyids, a riotous group of great notoriety who had been turned out of the valley for their nefarious designs, not once but twice (by Bud Shah and, subsequently, by Hassan Shah) accepted the invitation and swooped”. They took over Kashmir by their notorious machinations. However, the Kashmiris rose against this external rule and valiantly fought the Sayyids under the leadership of Jahangir Magrey and others. The Sayyids were humiliated and had to surrender and run away. Thus Kashmiris were able to restore their own local rule.
However, the trend set in those early times for inviting outsiders for settling local scores has been Kashmir’s undoing through subsequent periods under Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs and Dogras. This continues even during the present times when people either look towards the Western Countries or to Pakistan to bail them out from the present oppression. The same had been Sheikh Abdullah’s weakness in looking outside for riddance from the autocratic rule of the Maharaja. Had he stood on his own, the things may have turned out quite differently.
It is not correct to claim that the Kashmiris are not a separate nation. By all definitions of nationhood, Kashmiris constitute a nation. Kashmir is the only place in the sub-continent which has a record of written history from the earliest times. Kalhana wrote the earliest book of history in the sub-continent, Raja Tarangani in the twelfth century A.D. Kashmir’s history goes back few thousand years B.C. Throughout the external rule there have been many uprisings. The Shawl Baf’s uprising in 1865 was an attempt against the oppressive external rule. The Silk Factory strike and the presentation of a memorandum to Viceroy of India in October, 1924 was another bid by Kashmiris to throw off the external yolk. The massacre of July, 1931 gave the real impetus to Kashmir’s movement for total freedom from external rule. Sheikh Abdullah was thrown up as a charismatic leader by this movement. It is Kashmir’s misfortune that he got confused and fatigued towards the end and left his people in the lurch!
Kashmir’s political movement has always suffered by the personality cult nourished and encouraged by outsiders. However, the present day youth are no longer looking at the “Gods that fail”, the name a friend had given to this personalised leadership in his article some time back. Although some forces are still trying to prop up various new leaders or “Gods”, yet the youth do not follow these blindly. The days of “Ala Kari Wangan Kari, Bab Kari” are gone now. As shown in the last couple of agitations in 2008, and 2010, the youth rose en masse on their own because of convictions and it is the” Gods” who had to follow the youth. Attributing the idea of Independent Kashmir to Sheikh Abdullah is a gross mistake. Attainment of absolute freedom is ground in the psyche of every Kashmiri because of the centuries of external suppression. Sheikh Abdullah only voiced it openly. It may be a debatable question whether an independent Kashmir is possible or not in the present circumstances but no one can deny that every honest Kashmiri has always desired absolute freedom. A place where he could live with dignity and honour and could walk with his head held high.
There have always been attempts to cloud the Kashmiri aspirations by confusion and irrelevant debate. Recent comments of a bureaucrat are a typical example of this deliberate confusion. As Immanuel Kant while describing the “Theory of Causality” says in his “Critique of Pure Reason”, one gives a thesis, then anti-thesis and then tries to have synthesis but ends up by creating what he calls the “Dialectical Illusion”! It would be better not to confound the reality but to accept the fact that the Kashmiris have certain basic sentiments and aspirations which need to be attended to without wasting any more time. All the peace initiatives, dialogues and the reconciliatory efforts should start with that premise. There can be no lasting peace without that. We will go on witnessing storms and tornados off and on till that is done.