Wednesday, November 29, 2017

CBM’s for the Youth!

(Recalling youth from violence through confidence building measures is good but the question is why did the youth take to violence in the first place?)
CBMs for the youth!

The Chief Minister has announced amnesty for the first time stone pelters. The cases against these would be reviewed and withdrawn. The initiative is supposed to have been taken on the advice of the new Interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma who has recently started his second visit to Kashmir. He has probably realised that the greatest stakeholders are the alienated youth who at present constitute the bulk of the population. There have been many other suggestions from various quarters to turn round the alienated youth of Kashmir. The new generation of Kashmiris especially the ones born and brought up during the turmoil of nineties of the last century has mostly been volatile and irreconcilable. It is this generation which has seen the worst part of violence due to which it is fully restive and completely alienated. In fact, stone pelting started right from 2008 with the first agitation generated by the Amarnath land row. It reached a peak in 2010 when over a hundred boys were killed. Stone pelting was then likened to Palestinian Intifada!
The latest violent upheaval was the Burhan Tsunami of 2016. All these incidents which became a virtual tide were caused by total suppression of free expression guaranteed under the constitution. The government was not ready to tolerate any demonstration or procession regardless of the fact whether people demanded “Azadi” or even better power supply or even jobs. Curfew was continuously imposed without any relaxation, days on end. People were not even allowed to offer Friday prayers in local mosques not to talk of the Grand Mosque which remained locked up on umpteen Fridays! Somehow the authorities had a fear that every demonstration regardless of the issue at stake will turn into a March for “Azadi”! Well, even if such a thing would happen that would not take out Kashmir physically from India with a million strong fully entrenched army guarding it! Rather the peaceful marches if allowed would end up in a dialogue as happened in 1963 Holy Relic agitation. The agitation ended in a dialogue as a result of which Sheikh Abdullah was released.
No doubt the other side across the border is looking for any opportunity to rake up trouble on this side but that only happens when opportunities are provided to them as happened in 1965 after suppression of a student movement which had risen as a result of the holy relic agitation! In fact due to suppression of that movement including the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah on return from his foreign tour, not only a gulf was created between the people and the rulers but the two countries went to war which caused destruction all around. After the reinstallation of Sheikh Abdullah in 1975, there was a lull which again got disrupted in 1990 because of the underlying problem remaining unresolved! The main drawback has been always the attitude of authorities for managing the basic problem rather than solving it once and for all! Unless that is done, the Kashmir’s volcano will continue to simmer and erupt without warning off and on!
Why have the youth been so much alienated this time again and driven to extremes? Well, simply because they have been and are still being continuously harassed by various security agencies, paramilitary forces and even the special operations group of the local police. In fact, the intelligence agencies have indexed every Kashmiri especially the youth. Reportedly, boys are picked up, beaten and then released after few days, sometimes against consideration by their parents and relatives. It is alleged that the harassment of the youth has become a lucrative business for some security agencies including the police. The reason for Burhan Wani to pick up a gun was his continuous harassment by security forces. In fact, the beating given to him and his brother by the security forces was the last straw!
Amnesty is being given to first timers but does anybody care why there are second timers and the third timers? So the most important confidence building measure is to immediately stop harassment to the youth by all agencies and allow total freedom of expression. This can only be achieved when draconian powers given to security forces are withdrawn. As long as they enjoy the freedom to harass everyone without any accountability and as long as all their actions get a blanket cover of “National Security”, peace is not going to return to Kashmir!
An important confidence building measure requiring immediate action than giving Amnesty to first timers is to take care of political prisoners in various jails within J & K and outside. The Government should bring all Kashmiri political prisoners languishing in different jails outside Kashmir back to the valley. Allegedly, some of them are being beaten and ill-treated and some are not being provided medical treatment. These people seem to have been virtually forgotten and their families are going through worst kind of torture and hardship. Even if they are not released immediately merely bringing them back to Kashmir will give a big relief to them and their families. They are virtually being subjected to the “Kala Pani” treatment of the British days! Reportedly, there are about a thousand Kashmiris in various prisons at the moment. About 350 or so are in Jammu in various Jails like Kotbalwal, Reasi, Poonch, Rajouri and Udhampur. Around 50 or so are supposed to be in Tihar Jail, Delhi. Approximately, 300 are detained under Public Safety Act. Additionally reportedly over 200 boys are detained in various Police Stations of the valley. Giving relief to these people will also be an appreciable CBM for their families! Let us hope the Interlocutor keeps this in mind!


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Kashmir on “Auto-Pilot”!

(People allege that the governance is missing in Kashmir but in reality, the State has been put on an “Auto-Pilot” like an aircraft taking a long range flight!)
It is usual practice with the flight crew of a long range passenger aircraft going on long flights usually inter-continental ones, to put the aircraft on “Auto-Pilot”. The “Auto-Pilot” controls all functions of the flight along a pre-determined flight path. The pilots can even go to sleep one by one with someone from the crew remaining awake to retrieve the aircraft from automatic controls during any sudden or unusual weather disturbance or some other mechanical problems enroute. A similar situation exists with the state administration in Kashmir these days. The pilots have put the valley on “Auto-Pilot” and have gone to the salubrious climate of Jammu for the winter break. In fact, the whole Kashmir both administratively and politically has been on an “Auto-Pilot” for last 70 years or so!
Politically, all the stakeholders have been almost mechanically following certain set flying paths. Some are on the “Mainstream” path while others are on so called “Separatist” path. Both seem to be using “Auto-Pilots” and take manual control only when there is some major “Weather Disturbance” on the route! Both the crews have been making hay while the Sun shines! The poor passengers have always been left high and dry! There are two antagonistic claimants who declare themselves to be the owners of the Aircraft called Kashmir. While one side has the physical possession of the same, the other side claims that the Aircraft is legally their property and has been stolen by this side. Unfortunately, none of them is bothered about the fate of the passengers stuck on the aircraft! The tragedy is that there appears least possibility of the aircraft safely landing somewhere! The misfortune of the passengers is that the landing gear of the aircraft is stuck and none of the Global Air Traffic Controllers are prepared to guide the aircraft for a safe landing somewhere! The only possibility seems a crash landing after the aircraft runs out of fuel! The only silver lining is that the passengers are least bothered about the ultimate fate of the aircraft and are enjoying the discomfort of the crew who are now fighting among themselves!
Regarding the “Developmental” side of the flight, the less said the better. The proverb that left hand does not know what the right is doing absolutely fits the situation. Let us start with the power scenario. According to Power Engineers themselves it is the worst power situation Kashmir has ever faced. The irony is that there is enough power available in the market and our rulers are ready to pay for it but we have no way to carry it home. This is allegedly thanks to some bureaucrats who have been sitting on the proposals for expansion in receiving capacity for years! It seems the bureaucrats are ruling the roost everywhere. Normally, in a democratic government, the policy and power flow down from the ministers but here it seems some of the ministers are not aware of this fact and depend totally on the bureaucrats surrounding them! Ultimately, it boils down to accountability from the lowest to the highest level, which, unfortunately, is totally missing in the present set up!
Another instance of “Auto-Pilot” pertains to the flood prevention measures. No one in the government including the Chief Executive seems to be really bothered about it. The “Auto-Pilot” will stop once another disaster strikes! It will be too late then! Instead of the works connected with these flood prevention measures being monitored on a continuous basis, no one is showing any serious concern and one only hears routine announcement that some of the measures are being executed. Three years is a long time. These measures should have by now been completed in all respects especially when the Chief Executive of the state is supposed to be heading the Committee for implementation of these! The stark example is the flood spill over channel. She needs to take a trip along its banks!
If one goes on describing the situation in various other administrative fields, it will take many columns. No one seems to be really in charge. Things seem to be moving on their own like an aircraft on a long range flight switched on to an “Auto-Pilot”! The captain needs to wake up and take full charge before the aeroplane crashes! The captain appears to be scared of Delhi! In fact, the reverse should have been true. Delhi should have been scared of the Captain as she could abandon the aircraft anytime she likes along with its Delhi passengers! Let us hope the captain becomes a real commander and takes charge of the aircraft by switching on from “Auto-Pilot” to manual in all respects otherwise there is every chance of the plane crashing without warning!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Flood Channel, invitation to disaster!

(The present condition of the flood spill over channel is such that even a small flood can turn into a disaster!)
Flood Channel, invitation to disaster!
For last three years various engineering departments have been inspecting, debating and discussing flood prevention measures to prevent any disastrous floods in future. The 2014 flood which was the most disastrous to have occurred in a century, has not taught any lessons both to the authorities and the common people. While the authorities are in a deep slumber, the people are busy in encroaching the flood basins and the spill over channels. No less a person than the Chief Minister herself is chairing a committee to oversee the completion of various essential measures for prevention of disastrous floods in the future. However, nothing substantial is happening on the ground.
A typical example of apathy and total neglect is the condition of the flood spill-over channel. It has been specifically made to by-pass the flood waters so as to save Srinagar from any disaster. It was constructed in 1904. Many times, this channel has saved the city from inundation.  At present the channel is fully silted up. In fact, in some places trees are growing inside it. At many spots its bottom is hardly ten feet lower than its banks. Because of encroachments and the silting, in 2014 the channel failed to save the city. But if excavated and deepened properly it could prevent inundation of the capital city during future floods!
Well, there were other reasons for the 2014 disaster. Kashmir used to have incessant rains earlier too. In fact, spring and autumn are rainy seasons in Kashmir. So why these floods that still cast a shadow of trauma over the entire Valley? There has been extensive cutting of forests by timber smugglers in collusion with the security forces and forest official. Even young trees have not been spared. Meadows have been over grazed. The result is a quick run off. The rainwater hardly stays in these areas and quickly comes down with earth and boulders down the slopes. Thus the river rises in a very short time causing floods.
The flood waters need a place to go somewhere if the city is to be saved. Almost the entire valley used to be a flood basin and the water would thinly spread without causing much harm. We have drastically deprived the River any room to thinly spread its excess waters. Most of the flood basins in the vicinity of Srinagar have been converted into housing colonies. Srinagar was known as the Venice of the East because of numerous canals and water bodies. The canals have almost all been filled up and converted into roads and the water bodies have been encroached inch by inch and converted into land. Only the names remain! Nalla Mar, Gill Sar, Anchar, Khushal Sar and so on.
Dal Lake is in the last throes of death. We have not only encroached the lake from all sides but also polluted it beyond redemption. Same is the fate of Wullar Lake which was reputed to be the second largest sweet water Lake in Asia after Lake Baikal in Russia! To tame the river somewhat our ancestors had constructed embankments especially to save the city of Srinagar. However, we have vandalised these everywhere by constructing houses, hotels, hospitals and in some places even mosques!
There were two things which needed to be done. First was to conduct an investigation for various failures at all levels. This was essential to prevent similar mismanagement of floods in future. However, more urgent task than this was for the government and the people to take an initiative for flood prevention measures. These included dredging of the river all along its length; desilting of the flood spill over channel; clearing of some of the flood basins and strengthening of the embankments. Nothing substantial has been done so far. Everything is going at a snail’s pace. On the contrary the government is quietly sitting on its three years long inaction. What an irony! Had this happened in any other country, apart from some people having been put in the dock, massive flood prevention measures would have been completed by now?
There is still time to save the situation. The winter is the best time to excavate silt and earth from the River and the flood spill over channel. It just needs a couple of dozen JCBs and about 100 or so tippers. The excavated soil can be used for filling wherever required by various departments. Interestingly, recently there was news about people being restrained from excavating earth from the Budgam karewas to fill up Rakh Arth area where Dal dwellers colony is supposed to be constructed. There was no need to destroy karewas if people had been directed to excavate the flood channel. The same soil could be used for filling wherever there was a need!
Such tasks cannot be done through usual tendering procedures because of the urgency and the disastrous consequences which may result due to administrative dithering. The Chief Minister being the Chairperson of the Committee could directly order some reputed company within the country or even from abroad or even a government organisation like Hindustan Construction Corporation or so to take up the job without going in for any tenders. She has all the residuary executive powers under the constitution and can order in public interest, anything in relaxation of all rules! But the question is will she do it? Let us hope, she does it and is not misguided by the motivated administrators and the engineers!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Kashmir’s Unending Power Famine!

(An area having one of the highest potentials of hydro-electric power has been facing a perennial power famine due to corruption and criminal negligence of its politicians and bureaucrats!)

Keeping the tradition of the erstwhile Maharaja’s tradition alive, the Durbar has moved to the salubrious climate of Jammu, leaving the valley people to face the worst ever power famine during the freezing winter! It is the worst tragedy of Kashmir that in spite of the capacity to generate thousands of megawatts of hydro-electric power, its inhabitants are always facing shortage of power especially during severe winters. Kashmir’s two neighbouring countries in connivance with the World Bank have virtually robbed it of its invaluable resource. It is a pity that an organisation like the World Bank did not keep any provision for the inhabitants of a territory whose water resources they were mutually dividing between its two neighbours! In a way, while dividing the waters of Kashmir without keeping a provision for the local inhabitants, India and Pakistan have committed a robbery! Pakistanis probably thought that one day Kashmir will fall in their lap and because of that accepted all Kashmir Rivers as their share. On the Indian side, the National Hydro-electric Power Corporation stole whatever was left as Kashmir’s share. From the profits of their Kashmir projects they are supposed to have earned 900 billion rupees so far!
However, if one delves deep into this whole mess which has created a power famine in Kashmir, it transpires that basically it is Kashmir’s politicians and bureaucrats who have actively connived in this loot! For last few decades, power woes are very much a part of the Kashmiri life in winter. It is not only our misfortune but is also a disgrace for the ruling elite which have been in political power all these years. There is hardly anyone who has not heard politicians of all hues and shades claim from the pulpits the hydro-power generation capacity of our rivers. The estimates vary from 20,000 to 25,000 megawatts or even more. Unfortunately, as already stated, all these rivers have been mortgaged to Pakistan by the Indian government. Kashmir’s so called political leaders have either signed on the dotted line or in some cases have not been taken on board at all! Well, the loss of our rights on these rivers through Indus Water Treaty is not the only basis for the mess even though it is one of the major factors. The entire process of power development in the state has been lopsided from the very start. Initially, before 1947 we had only the Mohura Power House which used to supply power. It continued for quite some time.
Those days one was not used to cooking or heating with the help of electric gadgets. A light bulb was the most precious possession. After 1947, the demand for power increased and the state went in for newer projects. We got P S Gill as our power commissioner who worked out a detailed plan for development of various projects. Two projects, one at Ganderbal and the other near Baramulla, the Lower Jhelum came up. Gill was totally attuned to run of the river projects and did not consider any storage based project. We also got bogged down by the Indus Water Treaty which had tied our hands behind the back. The result was a perennial race between the demand and supply. We have still not been able to bridge the gap between demand and supply especially during winter. This is because the freezing temperatures decrease the flow of water in our rivers and the power houses operate at a very low generation capacity.
It is not only the lack of generation within Kashmir or the import from outside which is the main culprit. Basically it is the system which is thoroughly corrupt. We want power but do not want pay for it. It is often given out that we have over 50% transmission or distribution losses. This is not true. These losses only amount to no more than 10% or so. 40% loss or even more is due to pilferage. Dishonesty at all levels. Corruption has seeped into our bloodstream. One would not have expected any pilferage in the metered areas but unfortunately it may be as much as in non-metered areas if not more! Strangely it is the linemen supposed to check pilferage who are showing consumers how to by-pass the meters. They are alleged to charge 100 rupees per month from these pilfers. Some consumers have a separate service line which they hook onto the mains bypassing the meter after dark. The linemen know this and keep their mouths shut against a monthly “fee”.
According to recent press reports, the present winter is going to be the worst in our memory as regards the power. The latest problem has been caused by the lack of facilities for transmission of power from the Northern Grid to the valley! Allegedly, there have been inordinate delays on the part of the administration in sanctioning and releasing funds for the two grid stations which could have increased the capacity for transmission. The peak requirement of the valley is supposed to be 1700 Megawatts while as the transmission capacity is only 1200 Megawatts. In fact, it is a funny situation, there is enough power available in the market and the government is ready to pay for it forgetting the realisation of revenues, yet we cannot bring it home as we have no carriage facilities. There could not be a worse misfortune than this! Will there ever be accountability for such lapses! Not till Kashmir remains an orphan! Everybody wants it but no body sincerely owns it! Well, the only choice is to forget all the modern gadgets and go back to Kangris and Bukharis and pray for our salvation!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

End repression before talks!

(For any dialogue to succeed the primary requirement is a conducive environment. One cannot ask somebody to talk by holding a gun to his temple!)
Image result for repression in kashmir

It is a very welcome initiative from Government of India to hold talks with all stake holders in Kashmir to resolve the basic problem and bring peace to the area. Kashmir problem has been hanging fire for a just and equitable solution for last 70 years. It has not only been a disaster for the local people but has caused immense damage to the whole sub-continent by diversion of valuable funds urgently needed for the welfare of the poor people, towards mutual war efforts. Apart from outright major wars, the two neighbouring countries have been fighting proxy wars with Kashmir being the main theatre of operations. Kashmiris have been virtually turned into guinea pigs for testing the two conflicting ideologies. Not only have Kashmiris suffered physically, economically but also mentally. According to “Doctors without Borders” almost every second Kashmiri is suffering from psychological problems including traumatic disorders.
The new generation of Kashmiris has become totally irreconcilable to the status quo and want a change.  They are not under the control of any leadership and now constitute 60% of the population. Thus when declaring that the Government representative is going to talk to all stakeholders, the biggest ones are the youth representing the majority of the population. Let us hope the interlocutor is able to find a way to talk to this generation.
For starting a dialogue one needs a conducive and a peaceful atmosphere. For quite some time Kashmir is not in an environment of peace and tranquillity. Firstly, most of the fundamental rights including even the right to life remain suspended! (Example is AFSPA) Every nook and corner has presence of armed troops whether regular or paramilitary. Even foreign journalists have remarked that Kashmir is at present the most militarised place in the world! Cordon and search operations are going on for suspected militants on a continuous basis throughout the valley. In fact, the Chief of the Army has declared that process of dialogue through the interlocutor is not going to affect the military operations and these are going to continue without any break. There appears to be strange dichotomy in the approach of New Delhi to the present volatile situation in Kashmir. Some of the opposition leaders have characterised the appointment of the interlocutor and starting of a dialogue as “diversionary tactics”! A.G. Noorani terms it “The Kashmir Ruse”! The basis for this observation could be the earlier such attempts for reconciliation and dialogue which have unfortunately all been unsuccessful due to lack of sincerity in approach.
There is no change in the response of the leaders presently heading the movement for “Azadi”! They have rejected the dialogue offer calling it time buying tactics. Earlier they used to demand admission of the existence of a dispute about Kashmir by Government of India before any dialogue. Additionally, it has been often given out by the leaders of the local movement that Pakistan has to be a party to the dialogue. Now, they seem to be totally unreconciled for any dialogue. This shows that they are under tremendous pressure and do not want to climb down from their extreme position due to the strong sentiments of the youth and the contradictory statements of BJP leaders. Normally, any offer of unconditional dialogue with all stakeholders needs to be given a try if a climate for the same is created by ending repression.
There have been observations by some people regarding the assigning the job of an interlocutor to a former intelligence officer. Many have opined that the task should have been assigned to an upright politician of some standing. Normally, political disputes are best sorted out by politicians rather than intelligence men. However, it is also true that an intelligence officer would be in a better position to know the actual ground situation and who is who of the whole movement especially in a place like Kashmir teeming with intelligence agencies! However as already said, the main catch is the conducive situation. People have to feel that the offer of talks is genuine and the Government of India is really interested in peace. This can be judged only if all the repression is ended. One cannot claim sincerity for peace when a gun is held to ones temple. All restrictions need to be withdrawn. There should be total freedom of expression. Detained people being slapped PSA after PSA need to be released. Cordon and search operations should be halted. Forces presence especially in civilian areas must be decreased. They should be sent back to barracks. Draconian legislations need to be withdrawn. An atmosphere of freedom rather than of fear needs to be established. This is a pre-requisite for any meaningful dialogue intended to bring in peace. Otherwise the whole exercise, as termed by many intellectuals and leaders, is a diversionary tactic for firefighting and not for removing the cause of the fire!
A journalist friend from Chennai has written an article about the dialogue offer stating, “As a flag-waving Hindu nationalist, Modi is in a better position than anyone around to push for a settlement of both the internal and external aspects of the Kashmir problem. But can he display the level of statesmanship it calls for?” Let us hope he does!