Friday, May 25, 2018

Srinagar International Airport, a cruel joke!

(Going by International Civil Aviation Standards, the Civil Airport at Srinagar does not, in reality, function as an International Airport)

For a change, let us see how the airport is described in the famous online encyclopedia, Wikepedia. It says, “Sheikh-ul-Alam International Airport (IATASXRICAOVISR) also known as Srinagar Airport is an international airport that serves Srinagar, the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India. It is owned by the Indian Air Force, and the Airports Authority of India operates a civil enclave at the airport. Although, designated an international airport in 2005, the Srinagar airport does not receive scheduled international flights as of April 2018, but has seen Hajj flights. It has an integrated terminal and one asphalt runway. The airport has bus and taxi service to the city of Srinagar, which lies 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) to the north”.
So, if one considers all aspects of the Airport, it appears to be an apology to a real International Airport in many respects. The Airport itself with its runway, control tower and other ancillary facilities is the property of the Indian Air Force who maintains it and controls all flying operations. The civilian side has only an enclave, an apron and outside parking area. Again, because of absence of any operations involving international flights, it is a misnomer to call it an international airport. Even the domestic flights are totally dependent upon the Air Traffic Control of the Indian Air Force unlike other civilian airports in the country. In spite of Precision Approach Radar and other sophisticated instrument landing facilities, the civilian flights get cancelled in poor visibility and fog, especially in winter.
One of the most important requirements for any tourist destination to attract high end foreign tourists is easy accessibility. The destination should be accessible to international airlines. As mentioned in Wikipedia, in 2005 Srinagar Airport was up graded and declared to be an “International” Airport. In fact, a Dubai-Srinagar flight was also started. However, the whole exercise turned out to be something in the name only and not with honest and sincere intentions. Firstly, the Airline, Air India Express which operated the flight was an Air India subsidiary meant for the labour class in the Gulf Region. It had all economy configurations with no in-flight facilities. One of the European groups which flew to Srinagar from Dubai in this flight swore never again to fly Air India! Secondly, Pakistan did not allow overflying to aircraft flying in or out of Srinagar which increased the flying time from 3 to 5 hours and made the flight uneconomical. The Pakistani objection could be overruled if the flight had an hour long stopover in Delhi ass flights from Jaipur and Amritsar have. Allegedly, even this namesake international flight was discontinued on the intervention of security agencies. Unfortunately, the “Democratic” India is suffering from a security phobia and every positive thing gets shelved for security reasons. They have the last word!
There is a way out to both maintain the name “International” and allow direct access to high end global tourists both leisure and adventure without any security apprehensions. Let International Charters from various foreign tourism markets be allowed to fly in direct to Srinagar. Pakistanis too will have to co-operate in allowing overflying to these International Charters coming from the west if they have any consideration for the well-being of Kashmiri people. The Charters from the South East Asia can come direct without any hindrance. Also Charters from Central Asia can come directly to Srinagar. Goa has a short season of about five months from November to March. It gets more than a 1000 charters from Russia, Central Asia, Europe and now even from Middle East. It is because of these Charters that the Tourism has received a tremendous boost. Why can’t we have a similar thing in Kashmir?
Well, if Tourism of International standard is to be introduced here with global arrivals, then the Government may have to seriously consider setting up of an independent modern civil airport somewhere else. The valley being totally flat, it should not be difficult to select a proper spot for the purpose. It does not matter if it is little away from the capital Srinagar. One could always construct a fast motorway to reach the airport. Well, that may be a thought for some time in future! In the meantime, one has to make best use of the existing airport with all possible improvements.
The most annoying part of the present system is the most elaborate and frustrating security checks of outgoing passengers. No doubt there have been a number of incidents and Srinagar is because of the volatile situation, a very susceptible airport to incidents of violence, hi-jacking and other incidents. With the most modern body, baggage and even vehicle scanners available these days, it should be possible to reduce the harassment of the passengers. This is more important as the incoming passengers have a smooth entry without any hassles. However, the entire goodwill of the arrival and stay in the valley is lost by the cumbersome and annoying exit. Let us hope. The authorities give due consideration to this aspect also.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Resilient Kashmiris!

(“The country of Kashmir may be conquered by the force of spiritual merit, but not by the force of soldiers!” Kalhana)
Image result for cordon and search operation

Recently the Army Chief challenged Kashmiri militants saying that they cannot get Azaadi as they cannot fight his Army. "I want to tell Kashmiri youth that Azaadi isn't possible. It won't happen. Why are you picking up weapons? We will always fight those who seek Azaadi, those who want to secede. (Azaadi) is not going to happen, never.” It seemed odd that the Chief of the third largest Army in the world with thousands of tanks, guns rockets and even nuclear weapons having almost a million troops in Kashmir is getting upset with a couple of hundred teenagers, mostly untrained and ill-equipped. Probably, he is facing a strange kind of Guerrilla War in Kashmir which has no parallel! A few armed teenagers are being protected by thousands of unarmed civilians at the cost of their lives.  In every army operation, the civilians try to protect or help militants to escape who probably visit these houses to have a meal! Due to this civilian interference in military operations, there are more civilian casualties than those of the militants! Incidentally, in an earlier column the fight was likened to the biblical episode of David versus Goliath. On this a friend had remarked that in the end it is David who wins the fight!
Earlier the General had said that neither the militants nor the Army can solve Kashmir problem through violence. Well, that is really true; the General had, in fact, spoken the truth. Violence begets violence and no issue can be resolved by mindless violence. Ultimately, it is an unconditional and open dialogue which solves all issues. As regards the persistence of violence even after huge losses, it is the genetic resilience of the Kashmiri. Historically, Kashmiri has always been a resilient person. Dictionary meaning of the word “Resilient” is: “a person able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions”. Tyndale Biscoe in his book, “Kashmir in Sunlight and Shade” observes that the amount of oppression Kashmiris have undergone over the ages, if the British had faced the same, they would have lost their manhood!
This resilience is actually the survival instinct of a Kashmiri. For over last four centuries, they have been oppressed by Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs and Dogras. They were reduced to virtual wretches and lost all their good qualities. They did rebel to change their destiny many times but failed. The main misfortune of the people has been their betrayal by their own kinsfolk. There have been and there continue to be “Black sheep” within the Kashmir society ready to sell even their mothers for a price. All the foreign oppressors got a foot hold because of these local collaborators. The external oppressors always scout for ready collaborators by patronising the weaknesses of character in a person. They bring out the worst and suppress the good qualities. During last 70 years people on both sides of the divide have exploited the weaknesses of the Kashmiri character to keep them in perpetual subjugation.
In recent years, the worst suppression was during the turmoil of the nineties of the last century. There were massacres, rapes, virtual kidnappings and the population faced probably the worst trauma in their lives. Such a brutal treatment can reduce any people to worst form of depression and despondency. The people were truly traumatised. In fact, the teams of “Doctors without Borders” (Medicins Sans Frontiere) that visited Kashmir after the turmoil of nineties reported that almost every second Kashmiri is facing a psychological trauma. Their counsellors did try to help by touring and interacting with the people in different parts of the valley. In fact, the well-known local Psychiatrist Dr. Mushtaq Margoob to help the people overcome the trauma started a counselling project, “Rainbow in Haze from Canada to Kashmir”. It was conducted with the Canadian assistance. The district Ganderbal was taken as a pilot district. They did achieve a considerable success in normalising the traumatised people. They had intended to take up many more districts. However, the attitude of the Delhi rulers and their collaborators from 2014 onwards has eliminated every need of counselling or treatment. The people, because of their inherent resilience seem to have overcome all the traumas and are out on the roads everywhere to face even the bullets!
In the turmoil of nineties, people were very much scared of the gun. During any encounter or even cordon and search, they would immediately leave the area to save themselves. No one could even think of defying restrictions or curfews. However, the situation is totally changed now. The fear of the gun is totally gone. During any encounter or cordon and search, the people instead of running away, try to storm the area to afford militants a chance to escape. Many times the militants trapped in a cordon and search operation have been successful in making good their escape because of the people rushing in large numbers towards the site. As a result a large number of civilians have either been killed or injured in these operations. Apart from the fact that the people have overcome the trauma of fear, they appear to have developed extreme alienation from the mainstream. As one journalist has put it, they were earlier anti-Indian but now they hate India! Even the veteran politician Yeshwant Sinha has opined that India has lost Kashmir emotionally! The present possession is physical only. How long can one keep physical possession without emotional involvement? The only way to involve people emotionally is to cease all violent action on all sides and start an honest unconditional dialogue. It is impossible to physically obliterate a whole nation by military force. Hitler could not do it with Jews in spite of killing six million of them! On the contrary his Third Reich disappeared and he committed suicide in an underground bunker! Here, one would like to repeat Kalhana’s saying about Kashmir and Kashmiris. “The country of Kashmir may be conquered by the force of spiritual merit, but not by the force of soldiers!” So the sooner the spiritual side is taken up, the better for one and all!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

AFSPA, a license to kill!

(The present blood bath in Kashmir can only be stopped by revoking AFSPA which is virtually a license to kill and destroy without any accountability whatsoever!)

In the famous Ian Fleming’s series, James Bond, an operative of the Her Majesty’s Secret Service, had a code name “007”. The 00 suffix according to intelligence parlance stands for the “License to kill”! James Bond is authorized to kill in the name of Her Majesty for the sake of Great Britain. Well, we have a similar license issued to the Security Forces, called the AFSPA! They can kill, destroy and do all sorts of things in the “National Interest” and their actions are beyond any adjudication. The legislation which stands for Armed Forces Special Powers Act was enacted in Kashmir in 1990 at the start of the militancy.
The Act is called, “The Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 No. 21 of 1990. An Act to enable certain special powers to be conferred upon members of the armed forces in the disturbed areas in the State of Jammu and Kashmir”. It would be useful to reproduce certain clauses of the Act to show how severe and totalitarian it is. The Act empowers the Governor or the Central Government to declare any area as disturbed even though Law and Order is a State Subject.
“3. Power to declare areas to be disturbed areas.- If, in relation to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the Governor of the State or the Central Government, is of opinion that the whole or any part of the State is in such a disturbed and dangerous condition that the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary to prevent :-
(a) activities involving terrorist acts directed towards overawing the Government as by law established or striking terror in the people or any section of the people of alienating any section of the people or adversely affecting the harmony amongst different sections of the people ;
(b) activities directed towards disclaiming, questioning or disrupting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India or bringing about cession of a part of the territory of India or secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union or causing insult to the Indian National Flag, the Indian National Anthem and the Constitution of India,
The Governor of the State or the Central Government, may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare the whole or any part of the State to be a disturbed area”.
The Act further authorises any Commissioned Officer, Non-Commissioned Officer, and Warrant Officer or any other officer of equivalent rank in Armed Forces to use force even causing death, destroy a dwelling, search any dwelling without warrant, and arrest any person without warrant. He is also authorised to search and seize any vehicle suspected to be used for unlawful activities. The power to search includes power to break open any door, lock, almirah or any other box or so if the key for the same is withheld. In brief, the security forces have total powers to act as they like if they suspect any “anti-national” activity. In fact, these powers are not even exercised by an occupying force in a territory conquered by them as a result of war. In such cases, they are covered by Geneva Convention. Here there is absolutely no legal protection or remedy to the aggrieved!
On the contrary, the worst part is regarding legal protection given to the persons acting under the act. The article 7 of the Act reads, “Protection of persons acting in good faith under this Act :- No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act”. This is the most totalitarian clause giving indemnity to one and all in security forces doing whatever they feel to do in the so called “National Interest”! How does one know what is “Good Faith” and how one can judge whether a person has truly acted in “Good Faith” as his actions are not allowed to be adjudicated! There is nowhere in the world such a draconian legislation!
AFSPA has been in force in Kashmir for last 28 years! What has been its fallout? The Government estimates of casualties during the militancy of the nineties of last century are over 50,000 dead. Thousands injured and maimed. The unofficial figures put the dead over a hundred thousand.  Apart from this 10,000 are still supposed to have disappeared without a trace! Women have been raped sometimes en masse. Property worth crores has been destroyed without any accountability. This has all happened under the infamous Act AFSPA in the “National Interest”. There are some typical episodes where even the guilty have been identified and attempted to be prosecuted but escaped punishment under the garb of this Act. The typical instance is of Pathribal. The case was investigated by CBI who wanted to challan the accused. However, the Supreme Court of India intervened and did not allow prosecution under a civil court and handed over the same for Court Martial to army who let go of all the accused. There are innumerable other cases of massacres, rapes, destruction of property by the Security Forces which could not be investigated or subjected to judicial scrutiny because of AFSPA.
Kishalay Bhatachajee in his book, “Blood on my hands- confessions of staged encounters” has given detail of what all has been happening under the patronage of AFSPA in Kashmir. It gives vivid details of what some of the officers had been doing especially about fake encounters. That was the past, now the present is much worse as the security forces are now on a mission of kill and destroy without asking any questions. Allegedly, they have Mossad Advisors who are following the strategy used by them in Palestine. Search, locate, kill and destroy. However, in Kashmir there has emerged a new kind of militancy. Few armed militants are helped by thousands of unarmed people where ever the security forces go to locate and kill them. This has been resulting in mayhem and a blood bath of civilians. Civilian casualties are more than the militants killed. Instead discouraging militancy, it is being glamourized and very well educated people are getting involved. On killing of one militant, there are 30 others ready to join. This strategy is not going to end violence but on the other hand it is increasing and involving all sections of the society.
Almost all right thinking people have opined that the only way to end violence is to start talking with one and all for a political solution of the problem. To enable that the first and foremost thing is to repeal AFSPA and allow total freedom of expression. The sooner it is done, the better. The alternative the present blood bath in Kashmir engulfing the entire sub-continent!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Stirring the Communal Cauldron!

(After getting rebuffed in various other programs, the trend seems to be to stir the Communal Cauldron once again for the next Parliament Election!)
Image result for saffron flags

The horrendous episode in Kathua is allegedly having some hidden objectives. It has been given out by some that the conspiracy, kidnapping, rape and murder of the eight year old Bakerwal girl was to drive away the Bakerwals from the land. However, in an interview with Barkha Dutt on Quint, Advocate Talib Hussain says that the land is not the issue. The Bakerwals are never interested in owning land permanently at a place. They are always on the move. They need the land only for the grazing of their cattle. They have been regularly paying for the land as grazing charges to the real owners. They stay in winter in Jammu and in summer they move to Kashmir and some even to Kargil and Zanskar. According to Talib Hussain the entire episode had been to create a communal issue. From the very start a Hindu Ekta Munch was started with top politicians including ministers leading it, giving the impression that the whole issue was a Hindu-Muslim issue. Why could not the interested people set up a Jammu Ekta Munch? Why a Hindu, a religiously oriented organization? Apparently the aim was to communalize the Jammu atmosphere with some ulterior long term motives.
These days there is a debate going on as to what would be BJP’s plank for the 2019 Parliament Election? Some say it will be welfare of the people. The last election’s main plank was the development or vikas. However, BJP has as per overall assessment of different experts miserably failed in providing vikas. On the contrary, some of the so called revolutionary and drastic measures have adversely affected the majority of the people. The demonetization and the imposition of GST have virtually devastated the lower classes. Moreover, one was expecting jobs but these too are nowhere! On the contrary, the corporates have not only fattened themselves but some of them have run away with thousands of crores of peoples’ money deposited in the banks! Indian economy is not in a very good shape as observed by many global economists.
Even though the slogan in Gujarat was,“ Jeete ga Bhai, Jeete ga! Vikas hi Jeete ga!!” which means “Development and only development would win” but there is doubt if this slogan will move the people during the next election. Vijay Dandiwalla says in an observation on the topic in Quora,“ BJP will begin 2019 election on Development Plank … But Opponents, who will have no other issue, will force BJP to drag BJP in the dragnet of Hindutva ..The scenario will be something similar to Mahabharata War, which started in the name of Dharma but ultimately won through Adharma on the pretext of preserving Dharma …” It is said that in India a wave decides the Parliament election. However, it may be too early for a wave. In the meantime, RSS has been trying to create conditions for starting the thing at which they are past masters and that is a Hindutva Wave. The preparations for starting the construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya could be one of the important elements for this wave as the destruction of the Babri Masjid was for the last wave! 
Again as an answer to the question, “What will be the outcome in the 2019 general election? Posed in Quora, Snehamoy Roy observes, “From the continuing painful deaths in Gorakhpur and around and the BJP act as if nothing had happened, to the multiple gau raksha vigilantes and BJP’s tacit support, the public has been quite agitated. You can try to corner Hindu votes by branding yourself as a Hindu party; but you can’t make Hindus rejoice deaths and killings. Hindus would then rather vote for anyone else. And that’s exactly what’s happening. From Delhi University elections to JNU elections to Allahabad University elections to the Gurdaspur elections to the Gurgaon Municipal elections, it’s been a spate of back-to-back humiliating losses for the BJP! Add to that the global criticism on the failure around demonetization, the massively criticised poor implementation of the GST and the attempts to hijack the Congress-initiated Aadhar scheme through over-the-top hype, have converted the three biggest flagship steps of the BJP in three years into nationwide jokes.
As it is, the Putin-type building of oligarchs in India that has been taking place like never before in the last three years, has been hitting BJP’s image quite hard, with everyone questioning the Adanis, Ambanis and Ramdevs. But nothing has hit BJP harder than the latest Shah-n-Shah of all problems. The entire BJP story was built upon the narrative of “neither will I become corrupt, nor will I let anyone else become corrupt”. Whatever explanations the defamation suits are filled with now, the Rs.50, 000 to Rs.80 crore story of Amit Shah’s son has caused BJP the maximum irreversible damage. The jokes are flying thick and thin and no one will ever believe the non-corruption narrative of BJP again.”
There is no better place to start the stirring of the cauldron than Jammu. The Kathua episode clearly seems a link in the chain. In fact, it could be the spark to light the fuse. Incidentally, the anti-Muslim riots in Jammu 1947 which changed the entire demography gave real birth to Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the pre-cursor of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh remained active from 1951 to 1977. The Jana Sangh’s major campaign began in 1953 centred on the total integration of Jammu and Kashmir in India. After the Emergency of 1977, the Jana Sangh merged with some other parties to form the Bharatiya Janata Party or the BJP.
Fortunately, the Kathua episode has failed to become a communal issue in spite of the fact that certain elements are trying their best to stir the cauldron. The visit of the Bar Council Delegation and their giving a clean chit to the supporters of the rapists indicates the ulterior motive. Their demand for the CBI investigation also shows the aim as most of the cases investigated by CBI have not resulted in any conviction in the State. The worst part has been the induction of the main instigator into the State Cabinet and the new Deputy Chief Minister’s remarks belittling the issue.
In spite of all these attempts at communalisation, the incident not only got universal condemnation but almost all right thinking people in the whole country regardless of the religion, condemned it including the media. It has now become a totally humanitarian issue with almost all sections demanding capital punishment for the criminals. Even though the instigators are not giving up, the communal cauldron which they want to be stirred for the next year’s election may not start from Kashmir. They may have to look for an alternative site to light the fuse!

The Rath “Effect”!

(The success of the new IGP Traffic in partially streamlining the wayward traffic is result of the “Rath Effect” of instilling accountability badly needed in the entire administration!)
Image result for traffic mess in srinagar

The new IGP Traffic Basant Rath is in news these days. By and large, people are appreciating his efforts in trying to streamline the wayward traffic in the State. There has been an appreciable change. However, the waywardness of decades cannot be undone in a matter of days. This is especially so because the problem apart from being steeped in massive corruption has many other angles to it. The traffic problem does not stem only from lack of honest supervision in regulation but from a number of other related issues including those of traffic engineering. The various causes given for the mess include the disproportionate growth ratio between roads and vehicles; irrational planning; illegal occupation of foot paths; irrational transport policy; insufficient parking slots; inadequate vehicle stands, and so on. It also points out the lack of traffic engineering measures; inadequate technology; lack of co-ordination among allied agencies, and above all unplanned urbanisation. However, one of the most important causes is the lack of traffic sense and mass education about it. Finally, the unpleasant security scenario restricting free movement on all city roads is also an important factor.
About 50 years back or so the population of Srinagar was less than 2 lakhs and now it is almost 15 lakhs. Those days there were less than a hundred cars in Srinagar and now we have more than 2 lakh vehicles. Kashmir itself has over a million vehicles. Those days there were no three wheelers. Now we have all kinds of vehicles of all shapes and sizes. However, the worst culprits are the departments and organisations responsible for various civic services. They not only refuse to enforce the basic criteria of urban development and planning but on the contrary themselves create intractable problems. The agencies which should have been concerned with land use, zoning of urban areas, planning and expansion of roads, and enforcement of various rules and bye laws of town planning are on a spree of constructing shopping lines, complexes, malls, and other such huge and mega structures. The plea given is earning of revenue for the state or the respective organisations. The state as well as the concerned organisations could very well do without these revenues which never reach their coffers in full! It would have been better had they performed their primary duty.
The Roads have been encroached everywhere. In some places almost half of the road on either side is used by shop-keepers to display their wares. Foot paths are invariably under illegal occupation forcing pedestrians to walk on the roads which reduces the space for the vehicle drivers. Most annoying is the double sided parking on virtually all roads. The driving space gets reduced to virtually a single lane and causes traffic jams.
Now let us take the topic of traffic sense and knowledge of rules. The less said about it, the better! Fast lane, slow lane, zebra crossing, yellow line, double yellow line, and similar other basic words from the traffic terminology are unknown not only to common public but even to the traffic constables directing and monitoring the movement of vehicles on roads and at different crossings. One does not need any technical or other knowledge of driving to get a licence in Srinagar. It can be safely delivered at your home provided you have the means and the resources. It does not matter even if you are a minor. The same holds good for the fitness of vehicles including their pollution control. One can easily see trucks and buses running on the roads belching thick black plumes of smoke. Kashmiris are also very fond of klaxons. In Europe or America people feel slighted if someone blows a horn at them. These are used in dire emergency or if someone commits a gross violation of traffic rules. Ordinarily everyone uses light indicators.
Seeing the immensity of the “Traffic Mess” it seems doubtful if we would be ever able to sort it out. It requires political will of colossal proportions. It may be better to replace the Traffic Police by Armed Police. One often observes that the security forces convoys have always a smooth flow as their men stop all traffic and ensure safe passage of their vehicles. No one, including even the VIPs’ travelling in Flag cars dare challenge their writ!
In such a situation, any positive initiative is welcome. Some people have been criticising the methodology adopted by Basant Rath. They say it is unconventional and even high-handed. Well, they say there is a maxim in policing. A gentleman who unintentionally or even intentionally breaks a law must be approached and handled as a gentleman. However, a rogue is a rogue and needs to be handled as such! These days there are rogues who wear a gentleman’s dress and manners but are in reality worse than dacoits and corrupt the entire society. They need to be handled as such. One hopes that Basant Rath is allowed to straighten the roguish traffic and drill some sense among the violators. Normally, such well-meaning people have a short life span in their posts. One wishes, the “Rath Effect” which is the revival of accountability is not only respected but carried into all the wings of the administration especially those meant for peoples’ welfare.