Friday, July 20, 2018

Tourism gets low priority

(In spite of the fact that one and all claim Tourism to be back bone of Kashmir’s economy, yet the government does not seem to accord it the priority it deserves!)
Tourism gets low priority
Almost all the governments have been declaring from various pulpits that the Tourism is the backbone of Kashmir’s economy. Unfortunately, so far there is neither an approved “Policy of Tourism” nor a long term Master Plan for its development and promotion. Most of the projects and schemes such as setting up of Tourism Development Authorities are taken up on ad hoc basis. Merely a place being very attractive does not necessarily make it a good tourism destination. For any tourism development of an area there are three basic criteria, Potential, Accessibility and Infrastructure. The Government has constituted more than 20 Tourism development Authorities in different parts of the state, mostly on local demand or to satisfy certain constituencies. People have been given a feeling that Tourism is a magic wand and if it comes to their area, they will get prosperity. In fact, some time back, the Comptroller and Auditor general of India in its annual report had severely criticised the setting up of these authorities and creating of infrastructure there. They had stated that Rupees 500 crore spent on this was virtually infructuous expenditure. It would have been better to select only three to four areas easily approachable and having basic infrastructure instead of selecting at once 20 areas or so. In view of the fall in overall tourist figures due to unusual conditions, these new areas will mostly remain unutilised.
While the department is developing news areas, they should not forget the present destinations which are getting over developed and congested. There is urgent need to inspect all the existing tourist destinations and ensure that these do not become virtual slums because of overdevelopment. Especially, there is need to take care of environment which in many existing resorts is getting totally polluted due to garbage thrown everywhere including in the mountain streams and forest areas which are primary the main source of attraction. In this regard, the worst sufferers are our water bodies such as the famous Dal and Nagin lakes which had earlier been known for the purity of the waters. These are now virtually turning into stinking marshes overgrown with weeds!
Well, to take care of various aspects of Tourism one needs a professional Tourism Organisation. All over the world the official Tourism Organisations have specialists in various fields to take care of different aspects. One needs planners, environmental specialists, marketing professionals and legal experts and so on to take care of different areas both for development, marketing and regulation of the trade. The Government itself has only to develop the basic infrastructure and leave the super structure to private enterprise that need to be continuously monitored and regulated. As Margret Thatcher once said, “Government has no business to be in business”! Unfortunately, the State Tourism Department has always been treated as any other department and people posted there have no specialisation but are basically administrators either from the State Administrative Service or the All India Administrative Service. There is no harm in having the Chief Executive or the Head of the Organisation from the Administrative Service but he needs to have specialists and professionals related to different fields to assist him. Unfortunately, the present set up has only administration related officers at all levels. Some time back the organisation did have specialists especially related to Adventure Tourism which is presently the most sought after avenue in the state. Almost all of these have either retired from service or have been transferred out of the department. There is urgent need for the government to revamp the entire tourism organisation and get officers who are specialists in different fields especially, tourism planning, adventure tourism, marketing and regulation of trade and so on. The problem with only having persons from various administrative services is that these people usually have fixed tenure and as a matter of policy have to be circulated in different departments. In view of various aspects it is imperative that the Government takes an overall view of not only proper planning and the development  but also of the tourism organisation so that the activity becomes not only profitable but also environment friendly. Government must aim for sustainable tourism with emphasis on adventure tourism which has unlimited scope in different parts of the state both in summer as well as winter. Mere lip service of calling Tourism as the backbone of the economy will not do. It has to be practically shown on the ground by giving highest priority to activities related to development and promotion of tourism including the tourism organisation responsible for handling these activities!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Nepotism, Kashmir’s worst enemy!

The most destructive element in every sphere of Kashmir Society is the widespread nepotism! For any real progress it has not only to be opposed but eradicated)
Nepotism, Kashmir√Ę€™s worst enemy!
Most of the ills in Kashmir in every sphere of the society emanate from extensive nepotism. It would be interesting to study the rise of nepotism and its prevalence in our parts. The Cambridge dictionary defines nepotism, as “the act of using your power or influence to get good jobs or unfair advantage for members of your own family”. The Oxford dictionary definition is, “The practice among those with power or influence of favouring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs”. However, the real meaning of the term and its origin is given in Wikipedia, “Nepotism is based on favour granted to relatives in various fields, including business, politics, entertainment, sports, religion and other activities. The term originated with the assignment of nephews to important positions by Catholic popes and bishopsThe term comes from the Italian word nepotismo, which is based on the Latin word Nepos meaning 'nephew'. Since the Middle Ages and until the late 17th century, some Catholic popes and bishops, who had taken vows of chastity, and therefore usually had no legitimate offspring of their own, gave their nephews such positions of preference as were often accorded by fathers to son”.
Well, the most practical physical view of this definition on ground can be seen in Kashmir! Nepotism started in Kashmir almost at the same time as the movement for emancipation from centuries of subjugation started. Political nepotism refers to the act by which political leaders indulge in making their relations, often, sons and daughters as their heirs in assuming the highest offices in a state. However, Kashmir is not the only place where it is exercised. This “disease” is prevalent almost all over South Asia. Dr. Sukarno  and Sukarno Putri in Indonesia; Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda Marcos in Thailand; Solomon Bandranaike and Sirimavo Bandranaike in Sri Lanka; Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan; Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh and so on. As regards India, well the Nehru family ruled for almost 70 years! Presently, 100% of Indian MPs under age of 30 are hereditary! Two thirds of Indian MPs under the age of 40 are from political families. Nehru/Gandhi Clan – Congress, Abdullah Clan – National Conference, Amarinder Singh Clan – Congress, Devi Lal Clan – Indian National Lok Dal, Mishra Clan – BJP, Yadav Clan – Samajwadi Party (U.P.), Badal Clan – Akali Dal, Lalu Clan - RJD, Scindia Clan – BJP, Gowda Clan – Janata Dal, Karunanidhi Clan – DMK, NTR Clan – Telugu Desam Party etc. are some of the most popular instances of nepotism in Indian politics. Specifically, nepotism has become a part and parcel of state level politics. Regional parties are observed to have a higher ratio of hereditary MPs compared to national parties. All these sound like successions in a monarchical set up rather than elected parliamentarians or heads of government in democratic countries. Kashmir, of course has not been left behind. We had Abdullahs and now Muftis succeeding each other like in a monarchical set up.
The nepotism in highest political offices circulates down below throughout the government. In turn, it infects the entire civil society. Apart from Government set up and organisations, it has crept into civil, educational, religious and all other organisations, societies and even corporate families. The important positions sometimes get passed on to close relatives or even friends. In a political party normally the best and most capable people should man various positions. Similarly, in a religious organisation, the most learned and religious scholars should be the top leaders. The leadership of such organisations cannot be hereditary! Unfortunately, people always sacrifice principles in order to get some benefits to their own self and their relatives. Due to this widespread nepotism, the ultimate sufferer is the common Kashmiri. He is always taken for a ride by one and sundry! For last seventy years are so, nepotism has been officially encouraged to keep a hold on the political situation. With nepotism in every sphere of the society, it is impossible to get emancipation. If we want things to improve, the first and the foremost task is to eradicate nepotism from every sphere of the society apart from the government. It appears to be a herculean task. Can it be done? Well a beginning has to be made somewhere! In the alternative, we will keep on circling round and round for centuries!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Living with nightmares!

(The trauma caused by the disastrous flood of 2014 makes living in Srinagar’s low lying colonies virtually a continuous nightmare, especially during the rainy days!)
Image result for kashmir's flood channel

The recent flood caused by just a couple of days of continuous rain created a wave of panic among the people living in different parts of Srinagar especially those in the low lying areas of the city. Some of them had even started moving towards safer places and some had taken their possessions to upper floors! This is the third nightmare. The first one was last year and the second one early this year. It is truly living with nightmares!
The capacity of the River and the flood channel has been so much reduced that even a short spell of rain of couple of days creates a flood like situation. Nothing tangible has been done by the concerned departments during these four years. Rather both the River and the spill over channel have got more silted and further reduced in capacity because of encroachments on the embankments. Floods in Kashmir are a part of the history. These have been very devastating in the past also. Historically, Kashmir has suffered immensely due to floods which have often resulted in famine. However, in the recent times the only devastating flood in the living memory was the 2014 flood which inundated the capital city of Srinagar. According to reports a flood of such magnitude had occurred almost after a century! Experts, say such massive flood had been caused by the combination of western weather disturbances with the spill over of monsoons. There were innumerable cloud bursts over the mountains. According to satellite pictures, the main River had almost disappeared and there was a couple of kilometres wide sheet of water moving all along downstream!
Most of the inundated places in Srinagar had over 20 feet of water. All the posh colonies of the capital were under water for almost 20 days or so. Fortunately, there was not much loss of life due to the voluntary efforts of the people and the assistance of the Air Force and Army Engineers. However, there was immense loss of property and peoples’ possessions. The overall material loss ran into thousands of crores! People in some colonies had to stay in the top most floors or in the attics of their houses for almost a week before they were rescued. It was truly the worst nightmare of their lives! Most of the experts who analysed the disaster had observed that the flood was due to extreme vandalisation of the environment in the catchment areas and usurpation of the flood basin of the River.  Incidentally, the River which gave life to Kashmir has been fully vandalised and desecrated by us. The muck and filth of almost entire Kashmir is made to flow into the River. Its banks have been encroached in most places especially in the city of Srinagar. For last half a century or so no one has bothered to dredge it and take away the silt. Over and above everything else its flood basin has been snatched and converted into colonies. Where else will it go except overflow its banks and sometimes may even change course. Most of the wetlands and water bodies have either been filled up or encroached upon. The historical channel Nala-i-Mar has been filled up and converted into a road. We have hardly left any space for the extra water to flow anywhere. In the catchment areas, most of the rain water would normally get absorbed but now it runs down straight as we have totally denuded the catchment area of the River. In view of this we will always face the nightmare of a disastrous flood after every heavy rainfall even if it lasts only for a couple of days as happened recently.
There is no point in declaring Srinagar as a “Smart City” or improving its roads by flyovers and so on. The first thing is to secure it against the disastrous floods which may be visiting us off and on. There cannot be more pathetic and tragic fact than a couple of day’s rain being unwelcome in Kashmir which has always survived on rain! The rain used to be considered as a blessing but now it is a nightmare! There is no time left to apportion blame but the most immediate need is to undertake the urgent measures to secure the “City of the Sun” from floods. Not a difficult or impossible task. Only requirement is to get the job done honestly. It is a known fact that all engineering works are money minting proposals! For a change both the authorities and the people need to be honest and sincere. The task requires sincerity both from the government and the people. The lead has to be given by the popular leaders and prominent citizens supported by the government. Leaving the job totally to the government is virtually making preparations for the next disaster!
It has been often observed that most of the elected so called “popular” governments are corrupt to the core. Incidentally, at present we have a one man government which is honest, strong and a go getter. Having been a mountaineer and headed the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, he knows how to face the risks and get things done! People honestly feel that this system should continue till the city is secured against these not natural but man-made disasters. For a change the hordes of so called “political leaders” who have been virtually acting as leeches need to be sent on a holiday. A large number of non-resident Kashmiris who have been alarmed by the recent nightmare suffered by their kith and kin, in their comments too have observed that the present set up should continue till all the flood prevention measures are fully implemented. Will Delhi take a note of it! Let us hope they do?