Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Flood Channel, invitation to disaster!

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Kashmir’s Unending Power Famine!

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

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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

End repression before talks!

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

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Promoting Gulmarg Ski Resort

(The excellent snow conditions on world class slopes with maximum sunny days make Gulmarg the most attractive ski resort urgently needing intensive marketing among ski enthusiasts world over!)
Promoting Gulmarg Ski Resort

Not many people may know that skiing in Gulmarg was started almost at the same time when it had become a popular sport in Europe. In fact, the Ski Club of India was established by Major Metcarp and Major Headow, two British Army Officers, in 1927 at Gulmarg. Mr.B.N.Pestonji was its first Secretary. Ski races had been introduced as a sport in Gulmarg area almost at the same time as these were introduced in the Alps. Those days all ski competitions were held at Khilanmarg and the pony track was kept open throughout the winter. There were two major events, the Christmas and Easter Competitions. The famous British Sports Equipment Firm, the “Lilywhites” had introduced some trophies for various ski competitions. In fact one of the ski slopes above Khilanmarg is still called the “Lilywhite Slope”. The attendance in the open competition held at Christmas in 1938 was over 500. Gulmarg had two 100 room hotels and hundreds of chalets. There was a Cinema and a Golf Club House with two eighteen hole courses. One could get everything aristocratic and fashionable in the “Bazaar” of Gulmarg directly imported from all parts of Europe. Families of some of the British Army Officers would come to Gulmarg simply to buy these goodies. Marion Doughty in her travelogue, “Afoot through Kashmir Valley” makes a special mention of the “Gulmarg Tea Dance” and the preparations she had to undergo at the British Residency in Srinagar for participating in the event. Gulmarg was discovered by Yusuf Shah Chak, the last Kashmiri ruler who used to camp here for days with his poetess Queen Habba Khatoon. The Mughal Emperor Jehangir and his Queen Noor Jehan too were very fond of Gulmarg.
The departure of British in 1947 threw the resort into total oblivion. Skiing completely vanished from Gulmarg. The establishment of the High Altitude Warfare School of Indian Army revived the activities of winter sports again. However, it was only after 1965 that the Government of India, Ministry of Tourism, made out a plan for converting Gulmarg into a Ski Resort of International Standards. A National Ski School was set up and “Gulmarg Winter Sports Project” was launched. Even UNDP had got interested and had donated ski lifts, equipment and assigned an Austrian Expert, Otto Santner, to render advice in the setting up of the resort. Dr.Jens Krause, an Austrian ski teacher was appointed the first Principal of the Ski School who trained the first batch of National Instructors in Gulmarg. The first batch of National Ski Instructors graduated from the School in early seventies. Some of these were absorbed in the Central winter Sports Project and School while the trainees from the State became part of the Adventure Tourism Wing of the State Department which was set up in 1973. Thus restarted the Skiing in Gulmarg and a large number of foreigners were attracted in addition to domestic ski lovers.
The main foreign clientele was of the British expatriates working in South East Asia. Both at Christmas and Easter, Gulmarg used to be full of British families enjoying ski holidays. Sometimes, the locals, especially in hotels and on the slopes would appear to be the “foreigners”! The State Tourism Department also invited the top French Ski Professors from their National Ski School at Chamonix for imparting training to local instructors. The level of skiing rose and the first National Ski Championship was held here in March, 1986. Same year some top skiers from Gulmarg participated in the Asian Ski Championship at Sapporo, Japan and won some top positions in Slalom. One of the instructors also participated in Winter Olympics in Canada.
Apart from foreign skiers, Gulmarg became an ideal outdoor location for Bollywood producers. Almost entire winter used to see team after team of Bollywood film producers coming to Gulmarg for shooting on snow. However, all these activities got a severe set back by the upheaval of 1990. In spite of turbulent conditions, skiing continued at Gulmarg. The famous French Skier Sylvain Saudan also known as the “Impossible Skier” for his most difficult descents, continued heli-skiing at Gulmarg. If skiing could continue in such turbulent times there should be no problem in continuing it during the current situation. However, it needs marketing in most well-known ski areas of Europe and Australia. These people had been coming to Gulmarg regularly. In fact, some Russian skiers too have been visiting Gulmarg in recent times. Last year the Chinese Ski Team had shown desire for training in Gulmarg. It could be an ideal place for many national teams to train their skiers for various championships. The State Tourism Department needs to market Gulmarg and also provide facilities on these lines. The Government should back all these efforts to keep Kashmir in circulation in the International Tourism Market.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Kishtwar, a forgotten adventure!

(The valleys of Kishtwar have been proclaimed in many travelogues as mysterious and adventurous but these days the adventure tourism potential of the area has gone totally into background!)
Image result for sicklemoon peak
In 1918, Otto Rothfeld, an Indian Civil Service Officer wrote a book titled, “With Pen and Rifle in Kishtwar”. In the preface, the author describes Kishtwar as, “…the province of Kishtwar, situated between Kashmir and Chamba on the way to Simla, and ruled by H. H. the Maharaja of Kashmir and Jammu, is not only very little known, but is in itself extremely interesting. Its scenery is almost unique; its inhabitants are peculiar; its remains are undeciphered; and its sport is exceptional”. Even though the area is now developed and modernised yet some of the valleys there retain the mystery and adventure. The book can be downloaded free at this link:
Before 1990 Kishtwar was the most sought after destination for adventure lovers especially mountaineers and trekkers from U.K. Almost a dozen expeditions would come for climbing various mountain peaks in the area. The attraction of these mountains apart from being high and difficult was the trek involved in reaching the base camp. In Ladakh especially in Suru and Zanskar Valleys where there are dozens of mountain peaks, there is hardly any trekking involved in reaching the base camps. These are almost all approachable by road with hardly a day’s trekking. This does not give sufficient time for acclimatisation.
The most frequented valleys in Kishtwar area include the Wadhwan and Paddar Valleys. Most of the mountain peaks are in the range of 6000 to 7000 meters and are very challenging. These include Brahma, Brahma’s Wife, Ekfeiler, Dreikent, Sickle Moon, Barnaj-I, II and III and so on. These have been climbed many times. Even Chris Bonnington, the famous British climber has been on Brahma! There is a very famous trek through Paddar Valley to Zanskar Valley over the Umasi La pass. This trek too has been very popular with foreign trekkers. On the way is the famous Cedar forest of Machail. In fact, this trek has historical significance. The Dogra General who conquered Ladakh and annexed it to Dogra Kingdom, General Zorawar Singh went into Zanskar valley through this pass and then conquered entire Ladakh. Another interesting episode relating to the pass is the carriage of huge cedar logs across from Machail to Zanskar by the lamas of Karsha monastery! The monastery has huge wooden columns made from these Cedar trees.
The Wadhwan valley itself is a fascinating trek. It is the most beautiful valley in the entire state. At an average altitude of 8,500 feet above sea level, there are many villages on the two sides of Wadhwan River which flows through the middle of the valley. On two sides are long forested slopes. The River itself has many islands on which there are Pine trees giving a fascinating view. From Kashmir side the valley can be approached through Margan pass across into Inshan village. There are many villages like Tsodraman, Wurwan, Sokhniz on the two sides of Wadhwan River. The valley also lies on the trek to Suru valley of Kargil through Botkol pass. Some treks lead to Lidder valley and one track comes straight over Shesh Nag through Golule Gali. The area has equally good potential during winter for skiing, cross-country skiing and ski mountaineering. It can be an excellent area for different winter sports. Wadhwan valley in winter would be a paradise for cross-country skiing.
The Department of Tourism in eighties of last century after the popularity of Kishtwar as a take off point for multiple adventure trails had set up an equipment store here. Imported trekking and climbing equipment was kept available for trekkers and climbers. However, after the outbreak of militancy in 1990, the store was taken over by the Border Security Force.
Kishtwar also has a landing strip where small aircraft have landed sometimes. Apart from developing adventure tourism, there is urgent requirement of providing an air connection to this area which sometimes remains cut off for days on end due to landslides. Even a regular helicopter service can be of good use both for the tourists and the local population. Earlier Pawan Hans had started a helicopter service which was subsequently discontinued. In view of the set back to leisure tourism due to unusual conditions in Kashmir valley, it is advisable to promote adventure tourism and Kishtwar approachable by road through Simthan pass or by helicopter from Srinagar could be a good alternative in addition to Ladakh. The adventure tourist who goes for all types of hazardous activities is not easily put off by unusual local conditions. Additionally, most of the adventure areas are away from population centres in wild valleys and on high mountains and remain undisturbed by local problems. Let us hope, Kishtwar gets re-activated as an Adventure Tourism destination and the spirit of adventure in Otto Rothfeld’s book gets rejuvenated

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Integration or assimilation?

(Mohan Bhagwat’s declaration of integrating Kashmir fully into India may, on the contrary, begin the process of disintegration of India itself!)
Get your word right
The Oxford dictionary defines “Integration” as an action to bring together different countries, blocks, units and so on for political or economic integration. The best example of the process is the European Union. The integrated countries or states retain their individual characteristics but become part of a whole. On the other hand, the “Assimilation” is the absorption and integration of people, ideas, or culture into a wider society or culture. The best example is the absorption of various races, nationalities into what we now call the American Nation which basically is an artificial creation.
RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat has declared that Kashmir will be fully integrated into India after amending the Constitution. He seems to have confused the words “Integration” and “Assimilation”! In fact, he appears to be saying that Kashmiris would be fully assimilated into the Hindu Nation of the Indian mainland which he intends to turn into Golwalkar’s dream of a Hindu Rashtra. Incidentally, he does not mention Kashmiris who have inhabited the territory for thousands of years but talks about Kashmir, the land. He probably considers Kashmir only as a territorial unit of Hindu origin. Unfortunately, right from the start, both India and Pakistan have been laying claim to the territory of Kashmir and none is really interested or bothered about its inhabitants, the Kashmiris!
In ancient times, Kashmir was known as a separate independent kingdom at the same time when India was known to be a country inhabited by Hindus. No doubt at that time the religion professed by Kashmiris was Shaivism, a school of philosophy of Hinduism practiced only in Kashmir and most of South India. However, even at that time, Kashmir was not associated with the Indian mainland in any way but remained as an independent sovereign kingdom. No doubt, that was a glorious Hindu past of Kashmir but that past has gone by and we are now living in a totally new and a different present. Kashmir is now a Muslim majority state with the most tolerant and accommodative religious practices. History always moves forward and pinning about the past glory is not going to serve any purpose or change the ground situation. That can be done by physically changing the demography with outside settlers and displacing the original inhabitants. That seems easier to say than to do practically on ground. This is especially so because of the restive youth fighting bullets with stones! They have been alienated beyond redemption. Even BJP leader Yashwant Sinha says that India has lost Kashmir emotionally!
Regarding integration, well, Kashmir is already integrated with India. This had happened right after the signing of the accession document and the Delhi Agreement in forties and fifties of the last century. Had the Indian authorities honoured these documents and implemented the same in letter and spirit, there would have been no problem. In fact, Kashmir would have been another Bhutan! Had India honoured its commitment of full autonomy, the other side would have been in trouble. There one central minister of Kashmir Affairs in Islamabad controls everything in supposedly “Azad” Kashmir! The other part earlier known as Northern Areas and now called Giligit-Baltistan is now totally merged into Pakistan for all practical purposes. The setting up of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which passes through Gilgit-Baltistan forming part of the disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir, has made this part unnegotiable both for Pakistan and China! They cannot afford to change its status at any cost for their own survival!
Thus, if Mohan Bhagwat really wants to integrate honestly and genuinely Kashmir and the Kashmiris living there into the Indian Republic, he has to restore the integrity of the agreements which India had signed with Kashmiris rather than amend the constitution to assimilate the state and its people into his utopian Hindu Rashtra! Kashmir can become part of Hindu Rashtra only if all Kashmiris are either converted back into Shaivite Hinduism or they are forcibly displaced from there by new Hindu settlers. This, as already stated, is an impossible task! On the contrary Mohan Bhagwat should advise Prime Minister Modi to start a dialogue in Kashmir if he really wants “Emotional Integration” of Kashmiris!
Incidentally, in view of the above realities, one needs to go deeper into this tirade of Hindu Rashtra and full integration of Kashmir into it generated by BJP and RSS. There is only one plausible explanation. All the BJP and RSS statements and declarations are intended to create a wave of religious euphoria for the next Parliament election which may even be preponed from 2019 to 2018. The declaration of the Election Commission that they are fully geared for holding both the State Assembly Elections and Parliament Election simultaneously in 2018 itself seems an uneasy indication of the real cause for such emotionally charged religious waves. However, such drastic declarations, instead of fully integrating Kashmir into India, may, on the contrary, disintegrate India itself!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Criminal Negligence in Flood Prevention!

(The disastrous flood of 2014 seems to have been forgotten both by the people and the rulers and a worse disaster may be looming around!)
Criminal Negligence in Flood Prevention!
One had sincerely expected that the people and the rulers would learn a lesson from the worst flood of the century which occurred in September, 2014. Even though it did not result in a major loss of life yet it caused extensive economic losses in terms of property and goods. The material loss was in thousands of crores and the poshest areas of the capital city of Srinagar were savagely ravaged. No doubt the flood was a backlash from the River Jhelum and all its associated water bodies which had been vandalised by the people and the rulers. Encroachments on the River’s banks and usurpation of the flood basin by the government in terms of new colonies and establishments had annoyed the River so much that it stuck with a vengeance.
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.  The River which gave life to Kashmir has been 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 in anywhere. In the catchment areas, most of the rain water would get absorbed but now it runs down straight as we have totally denuded the catchment area of the River. One cannot rule out sudden disastrous floods in future especially because of the universal climate change. Reclaiming all the earlier back-ups to prevent floods may take time. We needed to go for immediate preventive and protective measures.
After the devastation and displacement caused by the flood, one would have expected people to remain under shock for a long time. Not only did they restart massive constructions in the flood affected areas of the city but violated all building bye laws and norms with the connivance of the authorities. There has been no chastisement as one would have expected from such a natural disaster attributed by many to be the “Divine Retribution” for our misdeeds! The government has been brooding over many schemes for prevention of floods and protection for the city areas. However, the progress on ground has been abnormally slow. The most important aspect is the dredging of the River and its flood spill over channel and strengthening of its embankments especially in the city of Srinagar a major portion of which was submerged in the last flood. During the short spell of Governor’s rule, the dredging operation had been started through some Kolkata based firm. However, there were some mechanical problems and the progress has been extremely slow as admitted by the Chief Engineer in charge of Flood Control.  If one travels along the Bund in the city or along the embankments of the flood spill-over channel, nothing substantial seems to have been done. Instead, the dug up soil is in huge mounds all along the channel. Just 10 feet of water will spill over the embankments. The worst is the fate of the flood spill over channel. With the deposition of huge amounts of silt and wild growth, it is almost on level with the banks especially in Mehjoor Nagar-Ram Bagh areas. In addition, there has been a spate of bridge construction creating massive hurdles for free flow of water.
Sometime back, the State Chief Minister had constituted a committee for initiating immediate flood prevention measures. She is herself the chairperson of the committee. It is not known whether the concerned engineers are briefing her regularly of any progress on ground? It will be worthwhile for her to just take a round of the flood spill over channel just from Mehjoor Nagar to Ram Bagh Bridge to know the actual ground situation. Given the will and determination, it is not difficult to execute most of the flood prevention measures like dredging, strengthening of embankments and clearing of filled up water bodies on a continuous basis. Usually, in such important projects there is a special monitoring team of consultants or experts who monitor the work on a day to day basis. God Almighty has given us again a grace period till next season. The sooner the government moves at the top, the better. In the alternative, one has to keep fingers crossed for another calamity which will, unfortunately be, of our own making! However, it needs to be emphasised that any dereliction in undertaking these most urgent measures without wasting any further time amounts to criminal negligence!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Promoting Adventure Tourism

(With unprecedented decline in leisure Tourism, the ideal alternative is to promote Adventure Tourism for which Kashmir has unlimited potential)
Promoting Adventure Tourism

Tourism in Kashmir has suffered the most serious set-back during the last two years. The activity during the current season has been virtually negligible compared to some earlier years. The figures were supposed to have touched almost two million just a couple of years back. Even though tourism is not the main economic activity yet it provides employment to a large number of people during the season. Being a service oriented industry all over the world it is considered as a great employer. Apart from employment, the increased number of tourists motivates many people to go for setting up of various tourism related activities. Among these the main ones are the accommodation and the transport. It also gives a boost to the sale of many handicraft products through local retailers.
Considering the potential to attract tourists not only from all over the country but from abroad, one would have expected the figures to go beyond couple of million people provided peace had prevailed. However, in the present circumstances even though the conditions are not as bad as portrayed by the totally anti-Kashmir hostile media, yet most of the leisure tourists who want to enjoy the beauty and peace of the “Paradise on Earth” get easily put off by uncertain conditions. But there is a different kind of tourist, the adventure loving tourist for whom the uncertain conditions are an added challenge! People who brave avalanches, stone falls and extremely freezing temperatures to climb mountain peaks or those who ski down some of the most difficult snow slopes with avalanches following in their trails or those moving in inflatable rafts and kayaks through the most turbulent mountain streams are not scared to come to Kashmir in spite of the unsettled local conditions. Incidentally, some of the most top skiers of the world came to Kashmir in the nineties of the last century during the peak years of militancy for heli-skiing all over the valley!
In view of the tremendous potential in adventure tourism and the urge and eagerness of adventure lovers to come to Kashmir regardless of the prevailing situation, it would be the most ideal thing to promote this specialised type of tourism. Incidentally, the present Director Tourism in Kashmir himself is a man of adventure. Apart from being the President of the Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering and Hiking Club, he is a life member of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure in the country. He has trekked to all the mountain lakes, over the most difficult mountain trails and has participated in every type of adventure. At present the Directorate of Tourism in Kashmir is going all out for inviting top adventure sports persons from all over the world. The most ideal way of promoting an adventure destination is to organise events with participation of top world players and ensure live telecast of these events. There is no better way of convincing people about the potential for adventure activities in any particular area than this.
In recent years, ski lovers have been visiting Gulmarg from many European countries, Australia (where it is summer during our winter) and even Russia. Incidentally, Europe has more than few million skiers who are always looking for new slopes and better snow conditions. Gulmarg now has very good facilities, world class ski slopes and the most ideal off the piste ski conditions. The best selling point for Gulmarg is the number of beautiful sunny days during winter which very few ski resorts in the world have! The most intelligent way of promoting Gulmarg like the sunny beaches of Goa would be to have charters from different potential areas with helicopter lift from Srinagar Airport to Gulmarg. If, Goa’s sunny beaches can be promoted by making available the facilities of charters, why not the ski slopes of Gulmarg?
Regarding other activities such as rafting, kayaking, para-gliding, ice-climbing and even trekking, there is tremendous potential. The Tourism Department has already organised certain events involving some international participation. The Government should accord top priority in procuring equipment, setting up certain facilities like climbing walls, skating rinks and so on. This kind of adventure should be made accessible not only to tourists but also to local youth. On the pattern of the famous Tyndale Biscoe School, all educational institutions both the private ones and the government managed should make adventure sports available to the youth. This can also be a good avenue for employment once adventure tourism picks up. There have been allegations that the security forces are discouraging foreign tourists from trekking in the most attractive area of the famous Sonamarg-Gangabal trek. This needs to be looked into.
Because of uncertain conditions Kashmir has gone out of circulation as an attractive tourist destination. Once a destination goes out of circulation, it is very difficult to put it back in the circuit. However, Adventure Tourism which can be promoted easily will keep Kashmir always in circulation in spite of uncertain condition. The Government instead of spending hundreds of crores on umpteen Tourism Development Authorities which expenditure of about rupees five hundred crores has been declared infructuous by the CAG, should give maximum thrust in improving facilities in the existing resorts and promote Adventure Tourism in a big way.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Protecting Kashmiri identity

(The all-out assault launched by the Hindutva forces in completely wiping out the Kashmiri identity necessitates an equally united front from the entire State to defend and safeguard it)
Protecting Kashmiri identity
The first question is what is “Kashmiri” identity? Kashmiris constitute a nation which is thousands of years old. In fact, a written record of Kashmiri nation penned down by an illustrious son of Kashmir, Kalhana goes back more than 5,000 years! Even before the recorded history, Kashmiris existed as a people and grew up on this planet with the birth of mankind all over the world. The dwelling pits and the megaliths at Burzahome and many other Neolithic (new stone age) sites in different parts of the valley are a distinct and irrefutable pointer towards the origin of Kashmiris. No doubt many other people came into the valley from time to time, yet there is no denying the fact that Kashmiris were born and grew up to be a distinct nation in the valley of Kashmir itself!
Over the years, Kashmiris developed their own unique culture and language. Thus the Kashmiri nation with a distinct culture, language and history has been there for thousands of years. The existence of Kashmir as a separate country in the Himalaya and the unique Kashmiri nation with distinct features finds mention in most of the Greek, Chinese and Arab chronicles. Kashmiris did have a change of religion from time to time. They were earlier Saivite Hindus, then they became Buddhists, then again Saivite Hindus and finally adopted Islam as their religion. Now, the majority of them follow the religion of Islam. However, all the changes were voluntary without any compulsion. In spite of the fact that the majority of the population adopted Islam as their religion, there has never been any conflict with those who continued to profess the Saivite religion. In fact, one of the reasons for such a mass conversion has been the similarity in the basic philosophy between Islam and Saivite Hinduism. The Saivites also follow Monism with belief in one super power creating, sustaining and destroying the Universe. They also believe in ultimate destruction of Universe which they call Pralaya. They are totally different from the Vedanta Hinduism followers of North India who have initiated the Hindutva wave and are bent upon destroying the unique identity of not only Kashmir but entire India!
After the Dogra conquest of Ladakh and purchase of the valley from the British, Kashmir evolved into the State of Jammu & Kashmir. The State has now been in existence for almost two hundred years as a composite unit of three cultures. At present whenever people speak about Kashmir, they in fact mean the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir. Kashmir these days does not denote the valley only but the entire state including parts with China and Pakistan. Till 1947 the three units carried along without any problems. The partition and the war in Kashmir split the state into various parts. On the Indian side even after partition these three parts, Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh carried on without any conflict among the inhabitants. In fact, very strong business relations grew between Jammu and Kashmir valley and these units became economically interdependent. However, certain Hindutva elements sowed the seeds of dissension by clamouring for total merger of the State into Indian Union. This was resisted by the then Central Government which incorporated Article 370 and 35-A in the Indian Constitution to safeguard and preserve the identity of the State of Jammu & Kashmir. The Maharaja while acceding to the Indian Union had specifically asked for accession in only three subjects. He was very keen for preserving the identity of the people of all the three regions. In fact, he had enacted the state-subject law in 1927 not only for the people of the valley but for the inhabitants of all the three regions. He had apprehensions that rich from other parts of the pre-partition India would buy out his subjects who were comparatively poor!
The present assault on these two articles of the Constitution is not only directed against Kashmiris but against all the three regions. There is, therefore, urgent need for the inhabitants of all the three regions to present a united front to defend these articles. Any fiddling with these articles is not only going to affect the identity of Kashmiris from the valley but of all the three regions of the state. In fact, it was this very unity and tolerance among the Kashmiris which had made Mahatma Gandhi to see a ray of hope in Kashmir when the entire sub-continent was burning due to riots. Nehru himself was more than keen to keep Kashmir with India as a guarantee for the secularism preached by him! Thus the attack on the identity of Kashmir is, in true sense, an attack on the very idea of India.
Thus, all Kashmiris irrespective of their affiliations, regions or political outlooks should give a united front and resist the assault on the ages old identity of Kashmir. This is essential not only to safeguard the unity of the three regions of the state and the individual identity of these but also to save India itself from turning into a totalitarian country of one religion only which can ultimately result in its disintegration. All the democratic, secular, and progressive forces in India will definitely support such a stand.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The flyover to nowhere!

(The bits and pieces of the incomplete flyover of Srinagar in fact reflect the true state of Kashmir’s development in almost all sectors!)
The flyover to nowhere!

The most appropriate word to describe the state of developmental activities in Kashmir in any field is “adhocism”! Everything is done on the whims and fancies of the rulers always given to flattery from one and all! The worst fault is of our engineers who instead of giving the correct technical advice and standing by it regardless of the consequences try to please the political masters by catering to their whims and fancies. There are at the moment two fly overs under construction. The longest one has been there under construction for last four years or so. These fly overs which ostensibly are being constructed to ease the traffic congestion are in reality for easing the movement of VIP’s at congestion points and allowing them a quick travel to Airport and Secretariat. The Jahangir Chowk flyover was constructed only for easing the travel of VIP’s to the Secretariat. In fact, it created more congestion for the normal traffic going under it! There is an interesting side light of the project. It was conceived and presented to Dr. Farooq Abdullah when he was the Chief Minister. The authors of the project had a very ingenious plan for destroying the beauty of Srinagar. The engineers had suggested an overhead road right from Badshah Bridge to Rustom Gadi Bridge all over the Maulana Azad Road. Fortunately, the then Chief Town Planner convinced the Chief Minister that it will destroy the most important green avenue of Srinagar City. Luckily he was convinced and scrapped the project!
There are umpteen projects which were started either on the whims and fancies of the rulers or to accommodate some vested interests but were then abandoned half way after the sudden departure of the particular set of the rulers! The skewed bridge is a living example! If one is really interested in easing the traffic congestion, the first thing is to ensure enforcement of traffic rules on the existing roads. Srinagar is a city of crazy drivers who observe no traffic rules. Licenses for driving are issued without any driving tests. Sometimes these can be delivered at your home for a price!
Instead of the fly over, one could have built two parallel wide roads for one way traffic with only one way side entries. A parallel bridge to existing one at Ram Bagh could have ensured smooth traffic both ways. In fact, some citizens including some local engineers approached every one for reviewing the construction of this monstrous and obnoxious long flyover which does not at all gel with the surroundings. They even approached the Asian Development Bank which was supposed to be funding the project. Even a Public Interest Litigation too was filed in the High Court but to no avail. The engineers and the rulers had their way as the project involved huge pay offs! Interestingly, the projects which are really meant to be in general public interest get slowed down for unknown reasons. Take for instance the measures for prevention of future floods like the dredging of the River Jhelum and the flood Spill over Channel. These are moving at a snail’s pace because these may not involve easy pay offs! Recently, there has been a news about the mismanagement of the dredging project by a Kolkata based firm which even after a scandal on the Jhelum River is supposed to be engaged again for dredging of the Wular Lake!
The most recent and a glaring example of ad hocism is the shifting of the Batamaloo Bus Stand. No doubt this Bus Stand which has been there for ages is a huge traffic bottle neck but the shifting has to be in a proper way and not just on ad hoc basis. Firstly, the entire traffic bottle neck could have been avoided if the stand had proper strictly monitored one way entry and exit roads manned by traffic police not ready for compromise at any cost. Moreover, the huge bus fleet of various categories is supposed to be shifted to a stand which can hardly accommodate 286 buses! Again that new stand will create another nightmarish congestion point! The idea is not to shift congestion from one part of the city to another part but to ease the flow of traffic everywhere. The most urgent need is to engage an agency which can give a proper traffic plan and then ensure implementation and enforcement of the plan. Flyovers, over bridges, under bridges will not solve the problem unless there is a will to enforce the law regardless of any considerations. Ambulances and other emergency vehicles have the first right of way than siren blaring VIP’s violating all laws! Incidentally, we have so much Armed Police; a part of it could be easily spared for enforcing traffic regulations at all the crossings and congestion points..
In fact, if one were to write about adhocism in development and even all other state activities, it would take a book. The Srinagar Master Plan especially the land use, building bye laws and so on are all in a mess. These are observed more in violation than in enforcement! These are huge money spinning treasuries for some people involved in the observance and enforcement of various laws! They say honesty and water always flow from top to down below. Unfortunately, both the political will and honesty have always been missing in Kashmir. Consequently, we have to continue to suffer whether by flyovers to nowhere or by sudden floods or unending traffic jams!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Winter heating in Kashmir

(Traditional Hammams are giving way to Central Heating)
Winter heating in Kashmir

Winters in Kashmir especially certain months are very cold with freezing temperatures. Even though the amount of snowfall and the severity of the cold are lesser than the earlier times, still one needs to provide some type of heating arrangement in the homes. Traditionally, many Kashmiri homes have a special room called Hammam. This centrally located room in the ground floor has stone slabs as the flooring. Under these slabs there is a fireplace accessible from outside in which firewood is burnt. The stones get heated up and the room is quite warm. The heated stone slabs remain hot for quite some time. The disadvantage is that it is a solitary room in the entire house and everybody has to sit there for warmth. The rest of the house and other spaces like corridors etc. remain cold!  Another system has been burning wood in cast iron stoves in various rooms. These stoves have a pipe going out through the window for smoke. These are called “Bukharis”! These are quite efficient and get heated up quickly.
However, the most efficient system of heating houses and work places is central heating. Most of Europe, America and many other countries in colder regions have been using this circulated. In some cases, a mesh is buried under floors which are heated through circulating hmethod for heating in winter for ages. The heating is through radiators in which hot water or air is ot water. The water is heated in boilers which can be run on electric power, diesel, kerosene or even wood briquettes. In addition to heating, the system can also provide hot water which is primarily used for heating. The system is self-contained and just a push of a switch inside the house can start it running. Also now there is a programmer on which times can be set for switching on and off the system automatically.
 In Kashmir some of the hospitals were the first to get this system of heating. Now most of the hotels, important offices and some private homes have central heating. If the people of Kashmir were in a position to generate and utilise the hydro-electric power of which we have the highest potential, it would really be a paradise in winter. Everything would be heated nicely in winter on electric power! In the present scenario of acute shortage of power the ideal thing is to have heating on diesel oil which is readily available. In fact, the government should have been inducing people to go for such type of heating both within the homes and the work places. In most of the countries in colder regions like in Europe, the schools do not have winter breaks like in Kashmir. In fact, the winter is the best time to study. They get summer holidays to travel all over the world! Here, because of no heating arrangements in schools and other educational institutions, we have a “winter break”! It should be the endeavour of the government to make heating arrangements in all schools and other educational institutions so that the main study season could be the long winter itself. It is worth spending that money to look after our children than waste it on unproductive things!
During recent years, Kashmir has seen massive construction of private houses many by non-resident Kashmiris. Some of the houses may be worth more than 20 crores or so. However, one hardly sees any arrangement of winter heating in these houses. May be because these people come only during summer? Another interesting thing observed in many houses is the use of architecture suitable for hot places or even sea side. Huge spaces, high ceilings, and internal stairs in round shape or so with lot of free and open space all round. These would be really difficult to heat in winter! Interestingly, people spend lots of money in decorating their homes with tiles, decorative bricks or even marble on the outside but do not keep provision for heating which is the most important requirement in winter! Normally an average house with two floors would not cost more than rupees five to six lakhs for a complete central heating system! May be people are not aware about this aspect.
Coming to personal heating, Kashmiris have a unique system. We have mobile heaters called “Kangris”. It is an earthen pot in a wicker frame in which burning coals with ash on top are carried. This earthen fire pot is carried under a robe called “Pheran”. This has been the traditional system of personal heating from the earliest times. The best and the long lasting fire is from the coal made from dried Chinar leaves which are in abundance all over Kashmir in autumn. Even though the “Kangri” is very versatile and convenient, it has its hazards too. There are cases of developing cancer in thighs and stomach by close contact with the hot fire pot under the “Pheran”. In fact it is known as “Kangri Cancer”! However, the new generation is giving up the concept of “Pheran” and “Kangri”. They prefer Anoraks and jackets which are more comfortable and allow ease of working. It is said that the “Pheran” and “Kangri” was introduced in Kashmir by Mughals to make violent and aggressive Kashmiris docile and lazy! There may be some truth in it? Only our historians can confirm it! Incidentally, the “Kangri” is also sometimes used as a weapon in clashes during winter. A Kashmiri version of the famous “Molotov Cocktail”!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The (un-) Holy Men!

(The controversy surrounding Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and the mayhem caused by his conviction for rape seems only the proverbial tip of the ice-berg!)
The (un-) Holy Men!

For quite some time India was known in the west as the land of snake charmers and naked sadhus. Well, the Sadhus are considered to be the holy men who have been associated with India from the earliest times. The Himalaya, the greatest mountain chain in the world has been called the “Abode of Gods”! Traditionally, most of the holy men have been going up in the mountains to meditate. However, the real spiritual beings about whom one reads in history books have been totally non-materialistic. They, in fact, have always renounced the material world in preference to the spiritual world. However, with the modern progress and development, the spiritual and the holy men too have progressed from the spiritual to the material world. India is home to dozens of these holy men quite a number of whom have been indulging in un-holy things!
In 2014, the carried a detailed article about these holy men under the title, “India’s 10 most controversial Gurus”! It would be interesting to give excerpts from the article. The first one is Sant Rampal, an Engineer who after coming into contact with a seer set up Satlok Ashram in 1999.He owns a fleet of luxury cars and lives in a 12 acre sprawling farm in Barwala, Haryana. He has 25 lakh followers! He has his own Facebook and YouTube page. After a clash with the followers of Swami Dayanand Saraswati he faces charges of murder, attempted murder and contempt of court cases.
Next is AsaRam Bapu. Born in undivided Sindh, he has 425 Ashrams and more than 50 gurukuls and tremendous following in India and abroad. He is accused of raping a 16 year old girl in his Ashram at Jodhpur even as the mother of the girl waited outside. He is also allegedly accused in a 700 acre land grabbing case. He and his son are also accused of death of two boys whose bodies were recovered near from Sabarmati near his ashram.
Another Guru is Swami Nityananda. Popular for his spiritual discourses and meditation programmes, Swami Nithyananda was named as one of the 100 most spiritually influential living people in the world by Watkins ‘Mind Body Spirit magazine.   He claims to be the most-watched spiritual teacher on with more than 14 million views, and the author of more than 300 books published in 27 languages. He landed in controversy after video footage showing him in a compromising position was telecast by some tv channels. He was also accused of rape by Indian born American citizen, Arthi Rao in June, 2012. Rao went on Indian television accusing him of raping her for several years. He denied the allegations!
Then comes Baba Ramdev known for popularising Yoga. He has been very vocal about many political issues in the country. Tehelka Magazine has reported many irregularities and tax evasion by his trust. Brinda Karat, the senior communist leader has accused Divya Pharmacy of using human and animal bones in their medicine. He has been claiming cure for many diseases including Aids through Yoga.
Next is Swami Agnivesh. He is Arya Samaj Scholar and activist and is former member of Haryana Legislative assembly. He has many controversies associated with him.  Agnivesh, during a trip to Jammu, had allegedly said that he "does not understand why people go" for Amarnath yatra and such pilgrimages and had termed the "Shivlingam" that forms inside the Amarnath cave shrine a geographical phenomenon. The Supreme Court condemned Agnivesh for hurting the sentiments of Hindus. “You cannot take sentiments of the people for granted," the bench said, noting that a large number of people go on Amarnath yatra every year.
One of the most controversial spiritual leaders is Rajnesh or Osho.  He is considered to be the most controversial spiritual leaders of 20th Century to have emerged from India. He has been outspoken in his criticism of socialism, Mahatma Gandhi and institutionalised religion. He advocated a more open attitude towards sexuality which earned him the sobriquet of the “Sex Guru”! He has been accused of giving drugs to Sannyasins. Due to controversies in India he fled to USA. However, in Oregon his commune was accused of many violations and he was deported.
Another Guru is Chandraswami, the tantric who was close to Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. He has been accused of many financial irregularities        . In 1996 he was arrested for defrauding a London businessman of $ 100, 000. CBI has also been investigating him for involvement in Rajiv Gandhi murder case as a financier!
Next is  Jayendra Saraswati who is the sixty-ninth Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.  Kanchi seer Jayendra Saraswati and his junior Vijayendra are the prime accused in the murder of Sankararaman, the manager of the Varadarajaperumal temple at Kanchipuram, in September 3, 2004.
One of the most famous God Men is the world famous Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi. He was the most famous Guru with millioms of followers in 126 countries. Often regarded as ‘Bhagwan’, Sathya Sai Baba, who passed away in 2011, ruled the hearts of his devotees through many social service endeavours like building multi-specialty hospitals providing free treatment, schools and colleges among others. However, his life and times were also marked by several serious controversies involving allegations of faking ‘miracles’, sexual abuse and even paedophilia -- all of them vociferously refuted by his followers. There also have been allegations of misappropriation of funds in the name of donations in running the Rs 40,000 crore Sathya Sai Baba trust. Moreover, even after the Baba’s demise, trustees found cash of Rs 11.5 crore, 98 kg of gold and silver articles weighing 307 kilograms from his private room, which again raised eyebrows. The money and valuables took 36 hours to be counted.
Finally, we come to the present Guru whose conviction for rape created havoc in Haryana and some other places. Leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda, a socio-spiritual orgnisation, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has led his organisation to several Guinness World Records. The spiritual leader and preacher has, in association with the American Society of Echocardiography, created a world record for most cardiac echo tests. He had been found guilty of raping two woman followers and has been sentenced to 10 years in prison. Following this, his followers went on rampage in Haryana and Army had to be called out. He wept in the court and asked for forgiveness!
Apart from these well-known “holy” men, there are numerous others all over the country. It will take a book to describe all of them. The main reason for the phenomenal growth of these pseudo-Gurus is political patronage and the lack of true faith in the ultimate being among the masses. They get taken in by these Gurus who claim to be nearer to God. One does not need a lawyer to plead before the Almighty. Basically all religions preach approaching the Highest Being directly. These Gurus exploit the weakness of the masses. In fact, the followers of these Gurus are massive vote banks! There is urgent need to investigate all the Ashrams, Trusts and other organisations claiming to be closer to God Almighty through the National Investigation Agency. Many skeletons may fall from the cupboard! In the meantime, the innocent masses will continue to be exploited by these (un-) holy men!