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?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Kashmir needs resolution, not management!

(As always, people from every side are trying to “manage” the problem in Kashmir rather than resolve it once for and all!)

Image result for kashmir stone pelters

The authorities in Delhi and Kashmir are these days announcing a number of measures to somehow engage the “rebellious” youth all over Kashmir. Firstly, harsh measures are being taken to trace and liquidate militants. In fact, the Army Chief has declared that these operations will continue as long as militants are around. From his point of view, it is a war which has to be fought till the end. However, the moot point is why these militants have taken up arms? Why even after liquidating some, others are ready to replace them. It is here that the real political aspect of the problems comes to the fore!
The basic political problem of Kashmir has now been there for almost 70 years and it continues to be on the agenda of the UN Security Council. It has been there since India approached the UN in late forties regarding Pakistan’s aggression to grab Kashmir which had, as claimed by India, duly acceded to the Indian Union under the instrument of accession signed between the then Maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh and the Governor General of India Lord Mountbatten. As a result of the signing of the instrument of accession, the Indian Army had been air-lifted to Kashmir to halt the Tribal Raid supposedly engineered by Pakistan to forcibly annex Kashmir to Pakistan. India had claimed that the people of Kashmir had supported the accession through their leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. The story after that is well known and documented event wise in dozens of books. The two parts of the former state of Jammu & Kashmir remain under the administrative control of the two neighboring countries. Although both countries claim these to be their parts yet the UN does not recognize the arrangement as the final settlement of the dispute regarding the owner ship of the State. A UN military Observer Group tasked with keeping an eye on the status of the ceasefire line now called the line of actual control is a living proof of the existence of the basic political dispute recognized by the world body. 
On the Pakistani side, the administration has been virtually run from Islamabad by their Minister for Kashmir Affairs and the most powerful person in that part of the state has always been the Chief Secretary, a senior Civil Service of Pakistan officer. In the case of Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly known as the Northern Areas, it used to be the Commissioner for Northern Areas. In the recent past, they have got their own elected Executive Council which has given them some semblance of autonomy. On this side the system has been better with an elected government notwithstanding allegedly the fact of the disputed fairness of the elections. The State did enjoy some sort of autonomy till Sheikh Abdullah was dethroned and imprisoned in 1953. Since that time there has been gradual erosion of autonomy and at present only the hollow shell is left!
Unfortunately, some over eager members of the present ruling set up are bent upon removing this empty shell of so called autonomy.  They want to demolish the special status of the state by totally merging the Indian part of the state into the Union of India. They have declared that they are determined to remove all special privileges including the state subject law which guarantees Kashmiris’ individuality in the vast ocean of the Union of India! The two initiatives cannot go together. You cannot claim to be embracing the youth of Kashmir on one hand and then on the other take measures to destroy his individuality. The right approach would be to accept the existence of the basic problem and take measures in earnest to resolve it by approaching all the stakeholders.
The present unrest which the government has totally failed to curb has actually originated in the election debacle of 1987 when people were denied the right to choose their own representatives under the Indian Constitution. That story too is well documented. The result of that denial was the outbreak of militancy in 1990. According to government figures more than 50,000 people died in that uprising over a period of few years. Unofficial figures put the casualties much higher. About 10,000 people are supposed to have disappeared without a trace. Some of the relatives of the disappeared are still waiting for their return! After those events of the nineties the real peace has never returned to Kashmir in the true sense. A fall out of the uprising of the nineties has been the continuous harassment of the youth by the security forces and the Police. The Burhan Tsunami which was generated by the killing of this popular militant leader was the bursting out of that pent up anger which is still simmering among the youth of the valley. Now, instead of facing the reality, the authorities are once again trying to manage the situation by using the proverbial stick and carrot! It is a crude attempt at firefighting without bothering about the cause of the fire. Well, they may be able to subdue the youth temporarily by using the stick of the security forces and at the same time by dangling the carrot of jobs and so on but the embers of the fire will continue to simmer for another flare up sooner than later! The alienation of the youth is now at the extreme.
Incidentally, during the rule of Congress which lasted almost 70 years since independence, there was always an excuse given by them that they will not be able to take a decisive stand on Kashmir because of the fear of the Hindu backlash. It was opined by many that only a strong Government supported by the major Hindutva parties would alone be able to take a final decisive step in resolving Kashmir as they will not have any fear of the backlash! It is true that with such a decisive majority and the support of the Hindu masses they could easily take a decision to sort out Kashmir once and for all as they would be able to sell any solution to the bulk of the Indian masses without any backlash. Unfortunately, they seem to be more concerned with their vote banks rather than ridding the whole sub-continent of this festering problem. It is a pity that the people do not realize that all efforts to develop the sub-continent in every way will go up in smoke if the spark of Kashmir lights the nuclear fuse!
There is still time to revive a real peace process by active and unconditional dialogue not only with the people of all the regions and with all alienated parties including the youth but even across the border. The only catch is for the process to be for a real and practical resolution of the basic problem and not for its temporary management! Can the present government in Delhi rise to the occasion? If not, the alternative is unthinkable as it would be a disaster not only for Kashmir but for the whole sub-continent as well as South Asia.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Reviving Kashmir’s Ziraat

(Any initiative in reviving and expanding the agricultural base of Kashmir which has been the backbone of our economy is most welcome)
Reviving Kashmir’s Ziraat
A columnist friend Arjimand Hussain Talib has recently launched Ziraat Times both a print publication and an online portal to fully revive and promote the dwindling agricultural economy of the State. The focus of the bi-lingual print publication (English and Urdu) is to act as an information catalyst to promote sustainable growth in horticulture, agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, forestry, sericulture, floriculture and other sectors of J & K’s agro-economy. The special focus is to be on food safety and climate-change resilience. While describing reasons for focusing on agriculture, it is mentioned that, In 2015-16, agriculture sector contributed Rs 13,893 crore, or 15.89%, to Jammu & Kashmir's Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP).  While in percentage terms agriculture's contribution to the GSDP has been reducing, it is not unusual. It is a global trend for agriculture percentage in GDPs to decline as the scale of manufacturing and services grow.  However, we believe J&K still has immense potential in enhancing agricultural productivity”.
There are no two opinions that the agriculture has always been the real backbone of Kashmiris economy for centuries. Even at present the 80% of the population consists of cultivators. Unfortunately, over the years instead of progressing this sector has been rather dwindling and we are at a juncture when we depend on imports for most of our agriculture based products! While on one hand most of the agricultural products and the people engaged in producing these have been declining over a period of time, on the other the only thing which has grown geometrically are the government employees! A sizeable chunk of the State budget goes into the salaries of these employees. Unfortunately, over a period of time we have depleted slowly the dignity of manual labour and created a mind-set of white collar jobs among our youth. According to some estimates almost a million youth are educated but unemployed. Most are waiting for the white-collar government jobs even at the lowest level. This is the greatest disservice that has been done by our rulers for last 70 years or so! The culture of subsidy of fifties was its beginning! The other disservice we have done to our beautiful and naturally resourceful land has been to convert our rich cultivable land into plots to construct houses, shopping complexes and colonies.
Kashmir’s greatest resource is water which could be used to generate power for our own use and sale to our neighbours. Unfortunately, this resource has been mortgaged by our so called leaders and there is no chance of retrieving it. The only way forward is to give full throttle to agriculture and all other related activities. Not only can we be self-sufficient in all these products but we could even export some of these. The sector could also provide jobs to the youth once they are retrieved from the white collar syndrome. Almost half a million outsiders are working in Kashmir in both skilled and unskilled jobs making us comfort loving and lazy. According to some estimates almost Rs. 40 crores go out of Kashmir everyday as the wages of this skilled and non-skilled labour force! Incidentally, the State Government has announced proposals for regularisation of 60,000 casual employees. One would not question the advisability of the step as by all canons of justice people having been kept hanging as casual for more than 20 years need to be regularised. The question is why the governments have been taking this easy route of casual employees continuously? Simply, vote bank politics detrimental to the economic well-being of the state. The easiest way is to create armies of slaves and keep them on the dole! They would be the future vote-bank!
The possibilities in agriculture and related activities are immense. One is reminded of the first tenure of Mufti Sayed during which he visited Dubai and invited some experts from the largest consortium of companies dealing in various food products. A team consisting of some specialists in various agriculture based fields visited the state. They were taken to a number of places including Kokarnag and Laribal Trout farms, Botanical Garden and Floriculture seed farm and Agriculture University in Shalimar. On trout they offered to pick up as much as Kashmir could give! They had been importing trout of much lower quality from Chile. In the agriculture university they were surprised to see some Kiwi Fruit trees and they could not believe that it could grow here! They informed that Dubai was re-exporting Kiwi to India after importing it from New Zealand and Italy. One of the floriculture experts said that they could take any quantity of cut flowers from here. In fact, he remarked that the amount of lavender growing wild in Kashmir could enable setting up of a dozen perfumeries! Unfortunately, all the plans made with Mufti Sahib after their meetings with him died along with his departure from the Government and he could not get a chance to revive these during his second tenure which he may have definitely liked to do!
Incidentally, Kiwi is now grown in Kashmir. Cut flowers are also being sent to different places by some private entrepreneurs. However, the State Government is spending crores on a short time show piece Tulip Garden which money could be utilised to give a boost to cut flower production by private entrepreneurs! Unfortunately, we are fonder of show biz than any productive and gainful work! In these circumstances, any initiative to revive and strengthen Kashmir’s agricultural base is more than welcome. It should not only receive approval from the Civil Society and the Government but total and unconditional support if we want Kashmir to be self-sufficient and economically strong!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Kashmir’s Own Air Service

(The operation of a private helicopter service is welcome but it needs full government backing from the State and the Centre to succeed)
Image result for helicopters

Recently the announcement about the formation of a private limited company, Kashmir Air Services was made by some local entrepreneurs known as Dar brothers. They have been operating a reputed timber company known as Dar Timber Company. They are also in hotel business. According to press reports the entrepreneurs have already done the ground work like approaching the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and so on. They intend to operate a helicopter service to various Tourist Resorts and some other places which sometimes remain cut off especially during winter such as Tanghdar, Drass, Kargil and Uri. They claim to have selected key professionals to operate these services. Initially they plan to induct six helicopters. They may also operate services to Shri Amarnath Ji Cave and Vaishnov Devi Ji Shrine. They have also indicated possible operation of an air ambulance. The initiative is most welcome and timely and is in fact most needed. However, the question is how soon their proposals will be cleared by various authorities?
Incidentally, the State Government itself had taken a decision couple of decades back to start such services. In fact, a Department of Civil Aviation was set up which still exists! Some helicopters and a small plane were procured for the purpose but unfortunately after sometime the state authorities developed cold feet and the fleet of the aircraft remained for the use of the Chief Minister and other important officials. The state government has been going in a see saw manner in this regard. There never was a genuine interest and a really sincere effort even though such air services by helicopters and small aircraft are very urgently needed especially during winter. The state government has mostly been depending upon the Indian Air Force to operate courier services through M-17 helicopters during winter to cut off places like Tanghdar, Gurez, Zanskar and so on. For these services the Air Force charges are quite high. Sometime back the State Government had also taken on lease two helicopters from the Pawan Hans limited. These were operated to Gurez, Tanghdar and sometimes to Kargil and Zanskar. One was later on kept at Vaishnov Devi Ji shrine for taking Pilgrims up from Katra. A small aircraft service was also started between Jammu and Rajouri but was subsequently discontinued. In fact, Ghulam Nabi Azad, the then Civil Aviation Minister also travelled in a small aircraft on a maiden flight to Kargil for a survey but the flight never started. For reasons best known to the government, no one has so far seriously considered operation of a regular helicopter or small aircraft flight to these far flung cut off areas especially during winter.
Incidentally for some years starting from 1987 Pawan Hans helicopter leased by the state government was regularly used in winter to ferry heli-skiers from Srinagar Airport to Centaur Hotel and then from there to Gulmarg and Sonamarg. The French heli-ski expert Sylvain Saudan used his own small French Lama (Cheetah) helicopter in Gulmarg and Sonamarg for heli-skiing. These operations continued even during the turmoil of nineties! A similar operation can be again started for current winter as there would be many foreign skiers interested in coming to Gulmarg. They can be ferried straight from Srinagar airport to Gulmarg.
In view of these possibilities, it is more than welcome if a private initiative has been taken in regard to the operation of a helicopter service to various tourist resorts and cut off places. The state government needs to encourage and assist such ventures. A similar initiative from reputed domestic and international airlines needs to be encouraged for operating international flights from the Srinagar Airport to South East Asia like Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and in the Middle East to Dubai and Jeddah. Even flights to Central Asian destinations like Tashkent, Coolab (the burial place of Shah-i-Hamadan is in Khatlan Province of Tajikistan) could be very viable. Unfortunately, all these initiatives have to pass through the prism of “Security” which shoots these down without any argument. Even night flights from the airport are still hanging fire. One hears that these would be soon started.
 But there is still a “Security” question mark! If Kashmir has to revive Tourism and provide succor to stranded patients in far flung areas, the “Security” grid has to take a broad minded decision and not only allow but encourage such initiatives. However, keeping the past in view, one has to keep the fingers crossed and wait to see if the private initiative really materializes!

The Political “Leeches” of Kashmir!

(Some politicians have been virtually acting as leeches, stuck to the body of “Kashmir”, sucking every drop of its blood and attaching to it again and again even when thrown away!)
“Mainstream” is a very commonly used word in Kashmir these days. It is generally applied to the politicians advocating and supporting Kashmir’s relationship with India. When one talks of streams, the first impression is about the geographical streams. Kashmir’s mainstream is the River Jhelum which flows south and after traversing Pakistan drops into the Arabian Sea! Kashmir’s entire history is woven around this River locally called Wyeth or Jhelum. In ancient times in Sanskrit it was known as Vitasta. Most of the time it used to have clean and pure water but due to “advancement” of the civilisation, it has become most dirty and polluted! There was a time when one could drink the pure water of Jhelum and there used to be lot of fish in it. In fact, downstream in Sopore and Baramulla area the famous Mahaseer fish was in abundance! These days we have mostly polluted water which is not fit even for washing not to speak of drinking!
 Right from 1947, the Kashmir’s Rivers including the geological “Mainstream”, Jhelum, have been carrying all along their course the blood of martyrs. People have given their blood to attain their aspirations of a free Kashmir where they could stand with self-respect and dignity. On the other hand the so called political “Mainstream” has been a two way channel for muck and dirt of all kinds. This stream has given rise to what one could call the “Political Leeches”! As mentioned, unfortunately, the real geographical mainstream too has become murky due to all the waste and filth dumped into it by the people residing on its banks! Even the water bodies which were once a sight to behold have been dirtied and in some cases, totally filled up due the insatiable greed of the people for material things. This is in contrast to centuries old spiritual values because of which Kashmir has often been called the “Resh-e-Woer”, (the bowl of saints)! The pollution process has been presided over by these “Leeches” of the “Political Mainstream” all these years! Forget the Political Autonomy; they have not virtually done anything worthwhile to save the River and the water bodies!
According to Wikipedia, “Leeches are segmented worms which feed on vertebrate blood and most of the species live in freshwater environment. Leeches have been historically used in medicine to remove blood from patients. The practice of leeching can be traced to ancient India and Greece, and continued well into the 18th and 19th centuries in both Europe and North America”. In Kashmir, traditionally, it used to be the barbers who used to carry the leeches to draw blood from people desirous of doing so to cure certain ailments especially high blood pressure. Drawing of blood by leeches used to be a popular treatment for many other ailments. Politically, Kashmiris have faced for last 70 years or so two “Barbers” on two sides of the border who have been continuously drawing their blood through some “Political Leeches” owned or patronised by them not to help Kashmiris but rather to nourish and cure their own ailments!
The greatest misfortune of Kashmiris is that they easily offer themselves for all sorts of exploitation. Instead of taking a stand based on certain principles they follow like a herd of sheep every shepherd even though he may have misled them many times in the past. The story of last seventy years is a typical example of this behaviour. As some foreign authors have observed, the Kashmiris seems to have evolved a philosophy of survival. If you can’t beat them, join them but only for survival and not for the sake of any principles. What they want in reality, they keep it hidden in their hearts and when any opportunity shows up where the resolve of the oppressor appears weakening, they burst out with vengeance!
The tragedy of the present times is that the very political leaders who did everything in their hands to weaken whatever autonomy or independence the State had for their own selfish and short term goals are now crying hoarse for its restoration. There cannot be anything more hypocritical than that! On the other hand, the others who painted some alluring and beautiful utopian dreams of a free and a self-ruled Kashmir are making every possible effort to remove any traces of the autonomy left unintentionally by over sight. The misfortune is that the gullible people would again be taken for a ride by these virtual “Political Leeches”! However, the only light at the end of the tunnel is the new generation which refuses to budge and is determined to reach the goal of ultimate salvation. So if peace is to return to Kashmir, it is this generation which needs to be approached and spoken to in a totally free atmosphere without any allurement or fear. How can that be done and who can do that is a million dollar question!