Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Ever Illusive Jhelum Dredging!

(The most important flood prevention measure of dredging the river Jhelum and the Spill over Channel seems illusive as ever as one does not see any physical progress on the ground!)
The Ever Illusive Jhelum Dredging!

After the disastrous flood of 2014, the most important task of the government was to initiate immediate flood prevention measures. The top most measure was the dredging of the River Jhelum and the flood spill over channel so as to increase the water holding capacity of the both. Along with this first step, the other important measure was to strengthen the River and Flood Channel embankments which had been breached in many places during the last flood. During the Governor rule some measures were initiated. A Kolkata based firm was awarded the contract and they offered to use various types of dredgers to complete the task. However, the progress of the firm was abnormally slow and in fact some of their dredgers broke down. According to some experts the dredgers used by them were not suitable for the river dredging. The firm was put on notice by the Irrigation and Flood Control Department but nothing positive seems to have happened. The worst is the total absence of dredging in the flood spill over channel.
A government of India panel in the wake of 2014 floods had thoroughly investigated the causes of the disastrous flood. According to the panel report the topography of the Kashmir valley made it prone to disastrous floods. They had pointed out some important factors which caused the floods. One of these was decrease in the carrying capacity of the River and its flood spill over channel over last few decades because of the absence of any dredging being carried out there. From 1986 till very recently, for example, no dredging was carried out in the outflow channel resulting into the drastic reduction in its carrying capacity from 17000 cusec to 3531 cusec. Similarly, no effective steps were taken to increase the flow velocity in the 96 kilometre Sangam-Wular mild slope stretch of river Jhelum It is very unfortunate that the successive governments have done little to address this issue.
Recently, the issue of the sloppy de-silting of the River Jhelum and the Flood Channel came in for sharp criticism in the state legislature even from the ruling party legislators. There was a demand for setting up of a house committee to oversee the project. In fact there was also a demand for informing the house of a concrete and a detailed plan on the subject. Sometime back the Chief Minister had set up a committee under her own chairpersonship to monitor and oversee the measures for the dredging of the River and the Flood Channel. It is not known whether the committee ever held any meeting or it ever went on the various sites on the ground to see the actual position? The Chief Minister has been busy with the budget session of the legislature and had to participate in umpteen events. However, she needs to find time to see the progress of the most important measures to prevent a repeat of the 2014 disaster! She should at least take a flying visit of the entire River and the Flood spill over channel in a helicopter to see that nothing much has been done on the ground. Just a look over the channel from its start till the Rambagh Bridge where the flyover is under construction will reveal the numerous obstructions deliberately created to stop the free flow of excess flood water! In the event of a flood the water will easily spill over the banks of the channel which in some places is not even 15 feet deep!
There was another disaster in this regard very recently. A large portion of Jhelum embankment caved in Wednesday evening in Pantha Chowk-Lasjan area of Srinagar, triggering scare among the local population. The local people alleged that the concerned department had used very unscientific means in strengthening the weak embankments. They alleged that had the river been flowing even at the normal level, the entire city would have been deluged. Imagine what would have happened if it had caved in during a flood! The story is same with all embankments which were breached during the last flood. Such an attitude of abnormally slow pace in implementing various urgent flood prevention measures amounts to criminal negligence.
Incidentally, Kashmir has experienced comparatively very dry winters for last three years. The level of water in Jhelum is at the lowest and the Flood Channel is absolutely dry. There could not be a better opportunity than this to dredge the River and the Channel. There is still time if the government wakes up and ensures taking up of the assignment on an accelerated pace. Let us hope this is done and we do not have to repeat the Roman History, “When Rome was burning, Nero was fiddling with his guitar!”

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Physical Social Disconnection!

(The people seem to be socially disconnected physically from each other due to the events of last couple of decades. This in turn has resulted in many psychological problems!)

The Physical Social Disconnect!

In 2015, Medicines Sans Frontier conducted a survey in Kashmir about the mental health of the people. “Nearly 1 in 5 adults (19%) in the Kashmir Valley is living with significant PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) symptoms, representing 7,71,000 individuals, with 2,48,000 (6%) meeting the diagnostic criteria for PTSD,” a report of the research released by the MSF reads. According to the report one out of every two adults in Kashmir is mentally disturbed. This mental disturbance is reported to be the result of the violent conflict in which the valley had been caught for last couple of decades. However, apart from the stress due to the violence and conflict all around, one of the other most important reasons is the virtually total physical social disconnect due to the prevailing circumstances.
Traditionally, Kashmiri society has always been very active socially. Generally, people have always remained in continuous touch with relatives living in different parts of the city and even in the entire Vale of Kashmir. People in each locality have stayed in touch with their neighbours routinely and would also participate in various social functions even regardless of the religion. There used to be very active inter-religious interaction before the eruption of militancy in the nineties of the last century. The social disconnection initially resulted in nineties due to continuous infamous Cordon-and-Search Operations (CASO) often referred to as ‘crackdowns’ and unending strict curfews. People preferred the “safety” of their own homes. However, the early part of the present century did give some relaxation and people had again started getting socially active. But the events of 2008, 2010 and finally those unfolding in 2016 forced local people to remain stuck in their own homes.
Incidentally, the people in rural areas have remained socially more connected with one another unlike the urbanites especially those living in some areas of Srinagar. During the disturbances of 2016, people in most of the rural areas came closer to each other because of the continuous onslaught resultant from CASOs, encounters and so on. Apart from these security operations, the other most important factor for total social disconnection has been the unending calls for bandhs and hartals which always confine people to their homes. Whether there are calls for shutdowns from leaders or there are “restrictions” from the government, the result is the same: confinement of people to their homes! Nobody likes to venture out in both the eventualities unless there are compelling reasons such as sickness, mourning and so on! All these years people in general and sometimes even close relatives have been meeting each other only on two occasions: marriages or funerals!
The physical social disconnection got a shot in the arm by the sudden outburst of the social networking sites like the Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc. Now people don’t have to move out at all. All interactions are done virtually through these extremely popular sites. In fact, people have been turning into “couch potatoes”, thanks to these sites! Even though these sites allow people to be in virtual touch with one another for all social functions and other events yet these are no substitute to actual physical interaction. The physical interaction in which people hug each other, shake hands, touch each other and feel each other is totally different and has its own great psychological advantages. Over a period of time people lose touch with the physical reality of other people and even things. The only advantage of these sites is keeping one updated with happenings all around. It is the fastest news disseminating media regardless of the fact whether the news is correct or incorrect. The most in thing these days is WhatsApp. Not only are people using it as the fastest means of communication for transferring data, photographs, videos but also as an easy tool for video calls. At the moment it seems to be the most used information tool on the information highway of Internet! It has also many other advantages such as an aid in education, an important marketing tool and so on. However, in no case can it replace the actual physical interaction.
In recent times, people have once again started meeting each other off and on. It is a good sign for reviving physical interaction. However, the friends instead of meeting in hotels and restaurants need to meet in peoples’ homes. Meetings in peoples’ homes are more informal, interactive than the formal or even informal ones in public places. Apart from this there is urgent need to revive the practice of visiting relatives and friends quite often on a regular basis. The visits should not remain confined to marriages and condolences only! Another decent way of reviving physical social interaction is something like a Coffee House. In the past, the Coffee House was the main point of meeting and interaction. One could sit there for hours on end, discuss various topics on just a few cups of coffee. We have now no such places anywhere. Most of the public meeting places like restaurants are quite expensive and people cannot sit there for a long time. Can some people come forward and set up a society to open Kehwa Khanas on the pattern of Coffee Houses in various urban centres? These could be the meeting places for intellectuals, journalists and others. Food for thought! Incidentally, the journalists have a Press Club now (though it will be fully functional by mid-2018). Hopefully, it will be made as lively as the Press Club in Delhi! A meeting place for the intellectuals. Let us hope the Physical Social Interaction fully revives and the Medicines Sans Frontier’s next survey gives a healthy report about Kashmiris!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Kashmir’s Mismanaged Healthcare!

(Even though we have some of the best doctors and reasonably good infrastructure, yet the general healthcare remains below reasonably good standards due to administrative mismanagement!)
Image result for healthcare

Recently on the basis of an unverified sting operation conducted by a “notorious” TV channel which has been depicting Kashmiris as anti-national criminals and rogues, the government removed the head of the premier health institution of Kashmir and some other consultants. Allegedly, some other motives than improvement in the healthcare are attributed to this unprecedentedly fast step. The State Government even disregarded the directions of the Honourable High Court in this regard. One would not like to comment on the veracity of the episode before the findings of any inquiry gives its report on the subject. Even if all the allegations levelled are presumed to be true, the episode only represents the proverbial tip of an iceberg as regards the state of healthcare in Kashmir which suffers from acute mismanagement and neglect. If the rulers think they can improve the working of the institution by merely changing its head, they are mistaken. What is lacking in all such institutions is the absence of a hospital administrator. Hospital Administration is a specialized subject and every consultant, howsoever, excellent he may be in his specialized line, cannot administer a specialized institution. Incidentally, the first head of the institution was a real specialist in Hospital Administration. An instance of mal-administration is running the Institute like an office. During night no consultants or specialists are available. In fact, there is urgent need for consultants to be on call and even some can stay within the premises for which accommodation and food can be provided by the hospital. Similarly, casualty is the face of a hospital. Again it looks like a fish market being attended by junior doctors. It needs to have senior doctors from each specialty.
No one doubts the capability and professional experience of Kashmiri doctors all over the world. In fact some of the doctors have made a name in different fields of medicine and surgery. One of the most renowned gastroenterologists is known all over the world for his discovery of a certain type of hepatitis. One of the top most cardiologists known all over the world is a Kashmiri. There are numerous other doctors in various fields of medicine and surgery who are held in high esteem in different foreign countries. In Kashmir itself we have had many capable doctors. Dr. Ali Mohammad Jan had become a legend during his life time and was probably the best physician in this part of the world. Even at present there are so many doctors whose reputation goes much beyond the borders of the state.
As regards infrastructure, well, we can safely say that we are not lacking as compared to other states or even to the top level facilities available in Delhi and other metros. However, the main problem is mismanagement of the infrastructure and the personnel involved in healthcare. Firstly, the premier institutions and some of the major hospitals in Srinagar are forced to handle the entire load of the Valley. This is because of lack of good primary health care throughout the valley. If the primary health care in rural areas and districts is up to the mark, there will be very much less load on Srinagar hospitals. Incidentally, Government has made it mandatory for freshers to serve in rural areas. In fact, it seems like a punishment! The need is for freshers to work with senior doctors for at least 3 to 5 years to gain experience. Senior doctors with experience should give some time in district hospitals and rural areas. They can filter many cases leaving lesser load on major hospitals. An endocrinologist and a neurologist in peripheral hospitals would be a great help. Only specialized cases need to be referred here. At present every one even with minor problems lands in Srinagar. The super specialty Institute has virtually turned into a General Hospital. The outpatient departments there are virtually like a Fish Market!  One of the reasons for that is lack of sufficient counters to get a ticket. Normally, these counters should have been outside the hospital and the number of counters could be increased for each specialty. Moreover, there could be two shifts of outpatient care. The doctors in wards and the OPD could rotate during the day.
There are district and sub-district hospitals in all parts of the valley. Some of these may be quite well equipped but these are supposed to suffer because of the absence of specialists and consultants. Similarly, some of the primary health centres have always the problem of doctors not staying there. The absence of specialists from district hospitals is attributed to these being non-teaching hospitals and the service given there by consultants does not count towards their teaching experience needed for promotion in various faculties. This drawback prevents top consultants from going there for a posting. The primary health centres have the problem of accommodation and other facilities for the doctors and other staff posted there. Incidentally, some of the Kashmiri doctors working in Middle Eastern countries have no objection in going to far off places in the desert because the facilities provided there are even better than those in the cities! Both these aspects need to be given top most attention.
Incidentally, there is only one Maternity and one Pediatric hospital in the entire valley to cater for a population of 8 million people. Also Kashmir must be among the very few places in the world where in Maternity and Pediatric hospitals two to three patients are put on a single bed! No doubt the district hospitals take care of various cases and refer only cases needing special treatment to Srinagar institutions. However, people on their own rush to Srinagar hospitals because of well-known consultants. The one possible solution could be to have some smaller Maternity and Pediatric hospitals in various district headquarters. In recent years a number of private “Hospitals” have come up in different parts of Srinagar and some other places. Unfortunately, no one is bothered that these units cannot be called hospitals in the real sense of the word. A hospital should first of all have an emergency and a lifesaving facility such as a fully equipped intensive care unit with ventilators and so on. Most of the private hospitals here are upgraded polyclinics or nursing homes! No one seems to be bothered about this aspect.
While talking of so called malpractices which now include the banned so called private practice by government doctors is only a tip of the iceberg. Firstly, there need not be a ban on the private practice by Government employed doctors if this is done in their own private time. They need not be given any non-practicing allowance but can practice before or after their duty hours. However, on rotation some doctors could remain available even after working hours which should be from 8 am to 6 pm. One cannot go by labour laws as regards healthcare. This is essential to cater for patients all of whom cannot be attended during duty hours. Everybody knows there is a great dearth of doctors especially the specialists.
Apart from private practice, there are many other malpractices. There is supposed to be a nexus between the pharmaceutical companies and doctors on one hand and between diagnostic centres and the doctors on the other. Pharmaceutical companies give many perks to doctors for prescribing particular brands. Apart from household items, they are even offered foreign trips! Most of the diagnostic centres have a liaison with some doctors who ask patients to get their investigations done at some particular centres who reimburse them part of the charges levied on patients for various tests. Sometimes poor patients are asked to go for a number of tests which may not be essential for establishing a diagnosis!
Incidentally, Kashmir is probably the largest consumer of drugs in the whole country. The number of pharmacies is countless. One finds a pharmacy at every nook and corner. Strangely, pharmacists can dispense any drug even without a prescription. Antibiotics and many other scheduled drugs are sold over the counter like sweets from a grocery! Apart from selling all types of drugs just over the counter some of the pharmacists especially in remote areas have been observed writing even prescriptions!
If one goes on enlisting the ills of the healthcare, one may have to write many columns. Thus the recent episode at SKIMS is only the tip of the iceberg. If the government is sincerely and honestly interested in improving the healthcare both at the basic as well as at the specialist level, an overhaul of the entire system is required. The sooner it is done, better it would be for the good health of all!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Only Meeting Ground!

(The only meeting ground between the two Asian countries of India and Pakistan is the extreme poverty of the masses on the two sides of the divide!)
The Only Meeting Ground!

It has been reported that the National Security Advisors of India and Pakistan met in Thailand on December 27, secretly! The meeting is reported to have been useful and it is claimed that it might help in restarting some sort of engagement at the diplomatic level as well. Well, there is always a continuous refrain from every quarter that leaders of India and Pakistan should have a dialogue and sort out all the differences to usher in peace and prosperity in the sub-continent. Both the countries are poor and the bulk of the population needs means for improvement in their living standards rather than to fight each other. Unfortunately, there appears to be nothing common between these two Asian countries except extreme poverty of the majority of the people living there! Normally, they should have been helping each other to usher in prosperity to the teeming millions living below the poverty line but on the contrary they are looking for newer avenues to get at each other’s throats!
In contrast to the abject poverty of the majority of their population, the rulers on both the sides have something else in common, their wealth! They have amassed wealth not only in their own countries but in foreign banks and even invested it in some “safe havens” abroad even though these havens are no longer safe as revealed by Panama and Paradise papers! While on the other side the few “dirty rich” families have gobbled up everything, on this side the “Corporates” have digested entire resources leaving the poor to fend for themselves. The bulk of the population on both sides is living in what is come to be known as the “below the poverty line”. In other words by global standards especially in the western countries, they are not even “poor” but something much worse than that!
But a question arises, why are these countries so poor in spite of so many resources? Well, the answer is the new type of colonialism faced by them. It is the economic colonialism or what is known as the neo-colonialism. For 200 years, the British robbed the sub-continent of all its resources to develop their own country. With the masses awakening all over the world, all the colonial powers had to end their physical possession of these under-developed countries but they came in with this new type of colonialism. They applied a dual strategy. On one side they ensured that the economies of these countries remained tied to their multi-national corporations and on the other, they created “disputes” to make these poor people fight each other. For this fighting they sold these countries weapons, the sale of which amounting to billions of dollars, ensured jobs for their own people back home!
The largest portions of the budgets of these two countries go in for purchasing armaments from western countries especially USA. India is the largest importer of armaments in the world while USA is the largest manufacturer and exporter! For the sale of their weapons these neo-colonialists create disputes and bickering all over the world. The partition of the sub-continent was their subtle and clandestine creation. After their departure they ensured that these two countries were always at logger heads! Well, Americans are basically violent people. They exterminated Red Indians to completely take over the country even though they were outside settlers. In fact, that country was born out of the blood of Red Indians and developed through the black slaves imported by them from Africa. The violence of their birth often manifests itself in shootings and killings in many parts of USA off and on!
To keep hold on the energy resources of the Middle East (the oil) they put the dagger of Israel in the heart of the Arabs! All the Middle Eastern wars have been fought for control over cheap oil while they kept their own oil fields reserved for future use! Iraq, Libya and other countries were virtually destroyed for oil. The Arabs who once almost controlled the whole Europe, Middle East and parts of Asia have been reduced to total vassals finally dependent on their good will!
The only country they are scared of is China. Its rise is a nightmare for the Americans as is evident from the Steven Bannon’s book about Trump presidency where he has compared China to Nazi Germany. It has virtually beaten them in economic progress and welfare of their own people. Their aim is now to surround it and halt their progress especially the economic progress. Unfortunately, India has fallen in their trap due its present leadership’s obsession with religious fanaticism. The Americans have now turned their heat on Pakistan which has developed very close relations with China. They want to use Afghanistan as a foothold to control China and Central Asia but the way things are going it may prove their graveyard!
If these three Asian countries, China, India and Pakistan join together, they will rule economically the entire world! The basic requirement for these two Asian neighbours, India and Pakistan, is to realise that the only meeting ground between them is the abject poverty of their masses. If they do so, the poverty of their teeming millions will totally disappear! They will become the future leaders of the entire world! Let us hope and pray that they do so sooner than later for the welfare of us all!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Gulmarg Ski Resort

(Even though quite well known as a Tourist Resort, the existing Skiing facilities need urgent upgradation for it to qualify on International standards as a Ski Resort)

Image result for gulmarg skiing resort

At the moment Gulmarg is the most popular tourist resort in spite of the uncertain and fluid political conditions in the valley. Notwithstanding various sudden upheavals, Gulmarg has continued to attract tourists. However, it has always been more attractive to winter sports enthusiasts especially skiers from within the country and abroad. Before the departure of the British from India, Gulmarg was the most popular and fashionable resort both in summer and winter. In fact, the winter sports especially Skiing started in Gulmarg almost at the same time as it grew popular in Europe as a sport. The Ski Club of India was established in 1927 by Major Hadow and Major Metcarp with B N Peston Ji who was designated as its first Secretary. A number of tournaments were introduced. These included the famous Lilywhites Cup. Lilywhites was a big sports firm in London. The firm continues its existence even now in the famous Piccadilly Square of London! There were many other trophies. Some of the ridges also had British names like the “Merry Shoulder”, a very good ski slope from Apharwat downwards. All the competitions were held at Khilanmarg. The pony track to Khilanmarg was kept open throughout the winter. Most of the rush used to be at Christmas and Easter events. In 1938 it is reported that the attendance on the Christmas Event at Khilanmarg was 500. 
Unfortunately, the departure of the British virtually killed the skiing part of Gulmarg. The only skiing was done by the Army’s High Altitude Warfare School to train troops for winter warfare. The sport was rekindled in mid-sixties of the last century by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India by starting a Winter Sports Project. The first batch of instructors was trained in the Ski School under the supervision of some expert skiers from abroad. The first batch of the National Ski Instructors who became part of the Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering (which was set up in late sixties), trained thousands of skiers from all over the country. The State also set up a School under the Department of Youth and Sports. Thus Gulmarg once again started developing as a ski resort. However, in the meanwhile the skiing facilities and standards had gone ahead in various ski resorts all over Europe and other places. In contrast, Gulmarg did not receive equal attention but continued to be famous summer resort for Golf and leisure tourists.
In 1987, after the visit of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi accompanied by the then Chief Minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah, it was decided to set up a Gondola lift to the Apharwat Mountain to make available the world famous ski slopes. Due to the turmoil of nineties the Gondola remained half-complete but was finally commissioned after some years. However, instead of skiing, the Gondola lift to the top became a greater attraction for summer day visitors to Gulmarg. Actually it has earned many times the original cost of its installation! Unfortunately, the main attraction of Gulmarg, the excellent ski slopes got neglected and Gulmarg mostly remained a summer attraction.
According to some experts from European Ski Resorts, Gulmarg is capable of holding many international level races. The Beta slope above Khilanmarg is ideal for holding the “Kilometre Carree” (the fastest kilometre) race an important global event held in France. All other international races can be held on the Apharwat slopes. Had attention been paid to the development of various ski facilities, Gulmarg could have been an ideal location for holding Asian Winter Games. In fact, a bid for the same was made in late eighties but had to be withdrawn after the turmoil of the nineties.
The first and foremost requirement is the homologation of the Apharwat and other ski slopes by FIS (International Ski Federation). Those people have visited Gulmarg a couple of times and asked for certain measures which remain unfulfilled. To become a real International level ski resort Gulmarg needs certain important measures to be taken in various fields. First are the slopes which need to be prepared on international specifications and then homologated. It will need avalanche control measures and international level ski patrol and rescue service. Once various facilities on international standards are developed in collaboration with some developed ski resorts of Europe, Gulmarg can be an important global destination for skiers. People may even forget its summer influx of mostly day visitors usually coming for Gondola rides.
Proper development of Gulmarg as an international level ski resort will open up the entire “White Gold” of Kashmir. As the Arabs have the “Black Gold”, the oil, similarly Kashmir has the “White Gold”, the snow on its mountains! The Pir Panjal Range could easily be home to a dozen ski resorts like Gulmarg. There are millions of skiers in Europe, America and other places looking for newer resorts. The possibilities of winter sports like skiing, cross country skiing, mountain skiing, heli-skiing are immense in Kashmir. Incidentally, the number of skiers in Europe is in millions. Germany has 14.6 million, France has 8.6 million, UK has 4.9 million and Italy has 4.9 million. All other countries have in the range of 2 to 3 million skiers. It is a huge market! If we have the world class facilities for skiing and also standard accommodation and other facilities, we can attract millions of skiers who are desperately looking for new areas. We could even have charters coming to Srinagar for skiing at Gulmarg and other resorts which can be easily developed. In fact, there may be many developers from abroad interested in collaborating with locals for putting up various facilities. This aspect needs to be seriously explored. The only requirement is for the government to honestly and sincerely consider the plan for developing Gulmarg into an international level ski resort. In fact, once Gulmarg reaches optimum level of development, there will be many other areas which can follow suit. Will someone seriously consider such a proposal and explore all the possibilities?