As the BJP’s mandate for 5-year rules is concluding in next five months, the party’s smart cities promise for Jammu and Srinagar—the capital cities of Jammu and Kashmir—is still at the under-consideration stage. There is not even a modicum of movement on this front so far. There is no official word as when the work on making these cities “smart” would begin. In all probabilities, it appears a forgotten promise. In 2016, the central government declared that, both, Jammu and Srinagar included in the list of 100 smart cities that BJP had promised to develop during general election campaign in 2014. The Smart Cities would have automatic traffic signal, better public transport facility, quick accident relief, smart traffic system, data centre, face identification system to catch criminals, control room for crime, health, services and traffic for better coordination to provide quick help to the people besides series of other facilities for which several millions would be spent by the Central Government. Now have a look at Srinagar—the face of Kashmir. It is turning uglier with each passing day. Mounds of stinking garbage strewn in every nook and corner, Dug up roads, overflowing drains, coverless manholes, and swarms of wild and vicious dogs prowling everywhere is a common sight in Srinagar. The famous River Jhelum is like a sewerage drain of all the towns, cities and villages on its banks. Presently, Srinagar is considered as the dirtiest and the most polluted city in India.
In May this year, an international survey on the health of cities showed Srinagar 10th most polluted city in the world. The findings are startling and speak volumes about decaying health of Srinagar. Dirty surroundings, heaps of garbage, dug-up roads and streets, packs of dogs roaming in city chowks make a horrible look of the city. The daily look of such nasty stuff has made us insensitive and makes no difference for us. The city, once known for its spaciousness and cleanliness, has turned into a congested dirty place not fit for human living. The encroachment by greedy people with complete connivance of concerned officials has choked the roads and streets causing trouble even for pedestrians to walk about. The footpaths have been occupied by shopkeepers and street vendors forcing pedestrians to walk through the middle of roads enhancing the dangers of accidents. The officials responsible for keeping the footpaths clean and clear appear to have submitted to the will of street vendors and shopkeepers against monetary considerations. It looks as if these have been rented out to the occupiers. Inspector General of Police (Traffic) Basanat Rath’s campaign for traffic regularization died down within days it was started in May when the state administration moved from Jammu to Srinagar. There was some visible change on roads with regard to traffic management. But the situation is back to square one again as the police is little more seen now managing the traffic. The prominent city intersections like Lal Chowk, Jahangir Chowk, Hari Singh High Street, TRC chowk, Exhibition and Naz Chowk present a grim scenario. The situation is no different at other city spots. It looks as if the authorities concerned with maintaining the city have ganged up to destroy the city.
Srinagar Municipality has been making hue of shortage of manpower. This is only a ruse being used for not doing the duty. The Municipality staff is found cleaning the roads and streets which are being travelled only by senior state officials and VVIPs. What further mutilates the city is presence of street dogs. No lane, by-lane or street in the city could be found without dogs. Even Lal Chowk, the face of the city, is not without dogs. One finds dozens of stray dogs occupying Lal Chowk. The city outskirts are presenting more horrible picture. The famous Dal Lak is virtually on the last throes of death. Its area is squeezing and water stinking. There is urgency of sorts to arrest this increasing rot. The people in power are well aware of the deteriorating state of the city. They need to wake up to their responsibility.
January 21, the day when it all started
January 21 is the unforgettable day in today’s Kashmir. It was on this day in 1990 that around 50 unarmed civilians were savagely killed and more than 100 others wounded in indiscriminate use of firearms by the central reserve police force (CRPF) at Gawkadal in Srinagar. It was a peaceful procession by all means. Thousands of unarmed civilians from uptown localities of Raj Bagh, Jawahar Nagar, Batamaloo and other surrounding localities had taken out the procession and were marching on the streets when CRPF men encountered them at Gawkadal. The state administration, then or now had never been able to reason out as what made the CRPF men to go berserk.
A common refrain in the peoples’ circles in Kashmir is that the massacre had the state approval. It was meant to cause horror among local population to submit to the authority and power of Jagmohan, who had taken control of the state government as Governor just two days before. Jagmohan was appointed governor against the wishes of chief minister Farooq Abdullah. He took it a ruse and resigned from the government. This was second time that Jagmohan was appointed as governor of Jammu and Kashmir. People of the state had a mixed bag of sweet and bitter memories of his first stint. He acted as Indira Gandhi’s stooge to dislodge Farooq Abdullah’s elected government in 1984 to bring Ghulam Mohammad Shah as chief minister of the state. In 1986, he dismissed Shah’s government under an engineered pretext of communal clash at Wanpoh village in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district to see himself at the helm of affairs. This way he came to be known as anti people and anti democracy bulldozer. After taking control of the state administration, he however, tried to rework his image by taking some developmental initiatives. However, his communal instinct awoke when majority of Muslim candidates were ignored in admissions in professional colleges—medical and engineer in particular. This created a massive unrest in the valley which ultimately led to restoration of NC-Congress coalition government.
In 1990 he was reappointed as Governor in the backdrop of very volatile situation. Armed uprising against Indian rule had started with massive public support. Since no action was ever taken against the guilty CRPF men involved in the carnage, it is widely believed that Jagmohan had very obnoxious and lethal plans to undo the Kashmiri movement. Most people in Kashmir believe that the January 21 massacre was a part of this plan. Two days before (January 19), just a few hours after he took over as the state reigns, Kashmir Pandits started migration from the valley. Most of them were provided transportation facilities by the state government itself, and in many cases security was also provided to the fleeing Pandits giving the impression that the state administration had vested interested in assisting Pandits to leave the valley. Gawkadal Massacre was followed by other half a dozen even more heinous incidents of mass killings. The Tengpora Bypass and Zakoora Crossing killings on March 1 in which around 46 persons (26 at Tengpora and 20 at Zakoora) were done to death by the CRPF. Around 30 people were killed in yet another massacre at Karfalli Mohalla with more than 20 others at Handwara. The Hawal massacre was the culmination when around 50 persons were massacred during funeral procession of Mirwaiz Molvi Mohammad Farooq. Though Jagmohan was recalled after the Hawal carnage, the bloody footprints he left behind are still visible. Since the bloodshed continues unabatedly, it is unlikely for the valley people to forget the day when it all started.
Politics of deceit
Far away from the ideal perspective, success in politics demands one to have the ability to control truth and lies and, more importantly, the middle ground between the two. These days, the politicians of Jammu and Kashmir are clearly following this ‘success mantra’. We see them cautiously choosing their words depending upon the audience they are addressing. In the valley, they pose as the messiahs of the people, trying to warp the listeners with their politicking of deceit and double-talk. Elsewhere, they conjure tricks up their sleeve: When in Rome do as the Romans do. While ‘autonomy’ and ‘Kashmir struggle’ become a dominant part of their glossed glossary here, elsewhere, it is ‘Kashmir belongs to India’ parroting that defines their boondoggle of political careers.
Be it the leaders of National Conference or Peoples Democratic Party, their seemingly heartfelt gestures on and about Kashmiris and Kashmir these days are a perfect example of this paradox. Few would dispute with the fact that politics of deception has become a fundamental technique for survival in politics. This is practiced by almost all the politicians in the state. In the midst of all this experimentation is the commoner in Kashmir finding him/herself turned into a lab-rat, peeled and pricked, ridiculed and tricked, again and again. Politicians here are stricken with recreating the tapestry of their fake achievements embedded in the notion of selective amnesia. They pull and tear each other down in an attempt to what is being referred to as ‘regaining lost ground’. What ‘gain’ on which ‘ground’ depends where they stand and deliver their cantankerous speeches–ones that make a lot of noise but change not a bit. We are dog-tired questioning the politicians, who zealously pursue their politics of balancing truth and lies. It is the seemingly sheep of a people here (read every section of the society including the media) that makes an interesting case. Bedazzled and bamboozled we become each time the politicians juggle in front of us. Their tricks are old and repeated, bereft of any pledge, turn and prestige. But as nonchalantly as ever, we always rouse to them in tumultuous applause. We march on their chants exactly how Orwell’s ‘sheep’ did to ‘Napoleon’ in ‘Animal Farm’. The world apparently knows Kashmir as a place of confrontation and struggle, but the rules here are not that hard and fast. They are always moulded in the cauldron of lies and fake hopes. It is not surprising that politicians come back to people, impenitent and equally poised, knowing that they will ultimately get what they want from them. Suggestions aside, it is time to shatter that poise and make them aware of their wrongdoings. It is time to stand-up, ask those tough questions and not take trickery or blabber as an answer.
For the immediate attention of the Governor
It is an oft-repeated story. The winter’s only blessing and charm—snow—always turns into curse in Kashmir. People, who, generally, crave for the snowfall in winter, rue when it actually happens. Not that there is something wrong with the aesthetic and arty sense of the people, but because of the problems they are subjected to after the snowfall. It goes without saying that the snow is the only attraction for people in winter. This year God has been quite gracious to bestow His blessing on Kashmir in the shape of snow. It is for the third time that the valley witnessed a rich snowfall adding a new charm to this beautiful part of the world. The entire valley and its surrounding mountain peaks give a striking charm with white snow capping and covering them all. Social media is agog with photographs and videos of snow accumulating on streets, house lawns, trees and house tops. Videos capturing citizens celebrating the snow fall with awesome charm gave a new meaning and sense to the winter. The whisper of swirling and falling snowflakes evoked a sense of extra delight, marking the arrival of a new feeling to hold onto, this charm captures the imagination and beauty of winter. The snowfall gave a respite to the valley people in some other way as well. The valley had been reeling under harsh cold coupled with dryness causing serious problems like scarcity of water as water bodies and taps had got frozen under sub zero temperature. The snowfall has lessened these problems to some extent. But the peoples’ joy, as always, proved short-lived as new and more problems serious in nature and consequences are staring at their faces. In fact the problems of the people begin with the fall of the first flake of the snow. Power and road connectivity are the first to become the casualties, exposing the traditional lackadaisical and easygoing attitude. As the authorities were yet to overcome the problems that overtook the valley due to January 7 snowfall, this week’s snowfall (on Wednesday) came as another ruse for them to conceal their worthlessness.
Kashmir is snow prone region since its existence. It is not something unexpected or unforeseen has happened. The basic question is why the power supply system is so fragile that three or four inch snow dashes it to the ground. Kashmir is not the only place where there is snowfall. But Kashmir is the only place where everything gets buried under snow—the government in the very first place. Snow falls every winter in Kashmir, and the problems get repeated every time there is a snowfall. The government should have taken all this into consideration well before the time, and efforts should have been made to make maximum of the minimum. But here everything goes in reverse direction. It is not only the power supply that has affected the lives of the people. The road connectivity has also got badly affected in the wake of the snowfall. Most of the roads and streets in capital Srinagar are under snow. Nobody from the Municipality or Public Works department is seen anywhere on the streets clearing or monitoring the road clearance. Srinagar Municipal Corporation, which has an army of people to meet such eventualities, appears to be under deep slumber.
What has made the situation even worse is the water logging on crucial city centers. The exhibition chowk, Jahangir Chow, Hari Singh High Street, Lal Chowk, Regal Chowk and several other surrounding localities have turned into water pools and lakes due to water logging. The drainage system seems to have failed completely.The state government which has moved to Jammu for the winter season is basking in the sunny and warm weather. The valley has been handed over to a few bureaucrats with divisional commissioner as their head, who have ensconced themselves to their cozy offices. The essential commodities and eatables of daily use too have disappeared from the market. They are being sold in black against whopping prices. There is no control over prices. Governor S P Malik, who is currently head of the government, needs to take stock of the worsening situation in the valley, and activate his machinery to mitigate the peoples’ problems. He speaks on everything that comes his way but is turning a blind eye to the daily problems of the valley people.