Anantnag, Apr 13: As parliamentary elections are underway, National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah Saturday repeated his rhetoric of abolishing Public Safety Act (PSA) if his party comes to power.
The former chief minister, during a rally in Khanabal, Anantnag, said the party will withdraw all the cases against the stone pelters and will also abolish Public Safety Act (PSA) if it is voted to power.
“We have already made it clear during campaigning in north Kashmir that if voted to power, NC will abolish PSA and will withdraw the cases against the stone pelters,” he said.
Interestingly, the party has made similar promises in the past as well but once attaining power, it, like its rival PDP, has put the issue on the back burner. Instead, the draconian law that PSA is has been used with more impunity than ever in the recent years.
In north Kashmir alone, official data reveals that as many as 779 persons have been slapped with PSA from 2009 to 2017.
Omar and president of his rival party PDP, Mehbooba Mufti, both served as J&K’s Chief Ministers during these years.
The law was introduced during the Sheikh Abdullah government in the 1970s, initially to discourage timber smuggling. However, it has often been used by the successive state governments against their own people, drawing severe criticism from human rights groups at home and abroad.
At present, according to January 2019 figures, there are as many as 230 people who have been booked under the Public Safety Act in 2018 alone.
Recently, after Government of India banned the socio-religious group, Jamaat-e-Islami (J&K), the authorities detained hundreds of its members and slapped PSA against many of them.
Barring the promises talk in the rally, Omar also seemed confident of his party’s victory in the Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency, which went to polls last Thursday.
Talking to reporters, Omar said “it has won the Baramulla seat with a good majority” adding the party is confident that it will emerge victorious on all the three Lok Sabha seats in Kashmir.
“We have started campaigning for South Kashmir seat and we hope the boycott effect will be less as it would certainly help the other candidates to emerge victorious,” Omar said.
As has become a routine, Omar also took on PDP for its eternal gaffe of allying with BJP.
“We had warned late Mufti Sayeed and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti not to forge an alliance with them (BJP) but later our apprehensions came true.
“The BJP’s anti-Muslim policies are known to all. That’s why we had appealed the PDP to not give space to BJP in Jammu and Kashmir,” the former J&K chief minister said.
Stating that BJP was continuously attacking the Articles 370 and 35A, Omar claimed that whenever National Conference was out of power, “such forces took advantage of the situation following which Jammu and Kashmir bore the brunt.”
“We want assembly elections to be held soon after the culmination of parliamentary polls so that people get a chance to elect their representatives. If voted to power, NC will fight against all the issues including the highway ban and attack on special status,” Omar said.
Guv launches ‘market intervention scheme’ for apples in J&K
Srinagar: Governor Satya Pal Malik launched the ‘Market Intervention Scheme for Apples of J&K’ with the objective of providing optimum prices to the growers. This Scheme has been approved by the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India, under the aegis of Ministry of Home Affairs, for the current apple harvesting season.
This Scheme will be implemented in J&K by the Directorate of Planning and Marketing, supported by the Directorate of Horticulture (Kashmir) and Jammu and Kashmir Horticultural Produce, Marketing and Processing Corporation Ltd.
Vijay Kumar, K.K. Sharma and Farooq Khan, Advisors to Governor; B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, Chief Secretary; Baseer Khan, Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir; S.K. Singh, Additional M.D. National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd. (NAFED) were present on the occasion.
Highlighting the vital importance of Horticulture Sector in Jammu and Kashmir’s economy, Governor observed that with a turnover of Rs 8000 crore per year in this sector and close to 7 lakh families directly and indirectly associated with it, this Sector needs focused attention on providing every possible support to the growers right from their orchards to the market.
Governor noted that with the launch of this scheme many of the issues relating to the grading of apples, procurement, storage and marketing will be taken care of by the Government. He said that the NAFED will procure and market the apple produce and the apple growers will be getting many times more remuneration for various Grades of apple.
Governor expressed that this Scheme will help the growers to save their crop from distress sale.He also stressed the need for the farming community to become aware of their rights and strengthen themselves so as not to get exploited by the market forces which are causing farmers to suffer losses.
Governor expressed gratitude to the Union Home Minister for swiftly getting done the whole exercise to launch this initiative in support of farmers of Jammu and Kashmir within two weekss time and sought every stakeholders cooperation in making it a success.
Farooq Khan described it as a momentous occasion for the apple growers whereby they have been assured for a Minimum Support Price for their crop. He described it as a significant initiative to save the growers from the market exploitation and distress sale. He said that this step will also help in making apple from Kashmir a ‘Brand’ thus adding to its value manifold.
‘Kashmir incurs Rs 3900 Cr loss in 39 days of lockdown’
Srinagar: It was after years of hard work that 32- year -old Mushtaq Ahmad, who worked as a chef in Srinagar’s prominent hotel, started his own eatery in the city outskirts.
Inspired by valley based food entrepreneurs, he borrowed money from bank and his acquaintances with a promise to repay it before January 2020.
However, his dreams came crashing down when uncertainty gripped Kashmir after Centre abrogated Article 370. For the last one month, Ahmed is at wits end how to repay monthly instalment to the bank to avoid default.
“Starting business in Kashmir has become a risky job. One doesn’t know when situation will turn bad. I am a small businessman and one can only wonder about the losses faced by hoteliers and transporters,” he said.
Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) put the business losses at whopping Rs 3900 crores in the last 39 days of lockdown.
“On an average daily, Kashmir loses at least Rs 100-120 crores due to the lockdown. Tourism industry, which is worth Rs 4000-5000 crores and handicrafts that yields Rs 1500-2000 crores annually, are the worst hit. It is not just this year but the aftershocks of this situation will be felt in coming years as well,” Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad, President KCCI, told The Kashmir Monitor.
What complicated the situation is the snapping of cellular communication and internet, which determined functioning of most of the businesses particularly Information Technology, courier services, tourism and some of the traditional businesses in the valley.
Prior to August 2 government advisory, more than 5.21 lakh tourists and 3.40 lakh pilgrims had visited Kashmir. July witnessed the maximum arrivals when 1, 70,000 tourists visited the valley. Following government advisory, more than 20,000 tourists left the valley in just 24 hours.
Tanveer Ahmad, who owns SNS travel agency in Sonawar, said that losses of tour operators, hoteliers and houseboat owners could increase as gag on internet continues within the valley.
“Our business is completely dependent on internet. If this internet gag continues, our losses may go up. For instance if I incurred Rs 20 lakh loss this month, it may cross Rs 50 lakh in another month,” he said.
Empty shikaras, vacant houseboats and deserted hotels presents a grim picture of the tourism sector.
Hundreds of the youth have lost their jobs so far as majority of the hotels in the valley have downed their shutters in absence of tourists.
Shikaras, which would witness a hustle bustle in autumn, now ferry vegetables from the inner parts of Dal to Boulevard.
“Just some 40 days before I was earning Rs 2000 to 4000 daily. Now I am earning just Rs 200. Nobody was prepared for this situation,” said Shakeel Ahmad, a shikarawala.
Horticulture sector, the biggest economy and employment generating sector of Kashmir, too is in the red. “We have no contact with growers and outside state dealers for almost a month now. A box of Babgosha variety of Pears, which last year cost Rs 700 to Rs 800, is sold at Rs 150 to Rs 400. The growers are unable to negotiate the rates with prospective buyers as there is no phone connectivity. We are suffering huge losses,”said Fayaz Ahmad, an apple grower.
Harvest of Delicious variety of apples will begin from September 10 and the communication blockade is already making things worse for the farmers who are unable to contact dealers in Delhi and other states. “No trucker is ready to ferry the produce to other markets of Mumbai, Kolkatta, Chennai and Goa,” he said.
As per the growers, the transportation charges per apple ox from Srinagar to Azadpur fruit Mandi in Delhi has increased by Rs 53.
“Before the current situation unfolded we had fixed Rs 27.40 as transportation charges for each fruit box from Srinagar to Delhi and Rs 65 per box from Srinagar to Mumbai. This time, however, rates have gone through the roof with truckers charging Rs 80 per box from Srinagar to Delhi and Rs 110 from Srinagar to Mumbai. Plus”, said a dealer at Parimpora Fruit Mandi.
The commercial transport services equally report huge losses since August 5.
An official from the Transport Department said that at least 6000 commercial vehicles have not plied on roads for the last 37 days. “Not a single commercial vehicle has plied since last 39 days in Srinagar and other districts. Majority of these transporters bought vehicles after lending heavy amount from banks. This sector is reporting heavy losses,” he said.
Traditional handicrafts including pashmina and carpet are also witnessing slump with no fresh orders coming from outside dealers in view of the communication gag.
“I have almost seven carpets ready but there are no buyers because internet and mobile phones services are shut. We lost contact with our dealers and in turn suffer heavy losses,” said Basheer Ahmad, a carpet dealers from Pattan.
There are reports of lay-offs in courier and other e-commerce companies in Kashmir as well. “There are around 3000 youth working as courier boys in the city alone. Most of them have lost their jobs,” said Adil Ahmad, a courier boy.
Back to Village programme: It is raining cash for Panchayats in JK
SRINAGAR: Taking a big leap in empowering Panchayats, Jammu and Kashmir government has authorized Panches and Sarpanches to use funds for developmental works under ‘Back to Village’ programme.
Under this programme, finance department has sanctioned Rs 121 crore for different developmental projects across the state. Each district would be receiving Rs five crore to kick start the works.
The first of its kind, ‘Back to Village’ programme was held from June 21 to 27. During this period, government officers panned out across the state to receive feedback from Panches and Sarpanchs about the developmental needs in different Panchayats.
Sources said the exercise was primarily aimed at energizing the 4483 Panchayats. This follows Centre’s directive to J&K government to ensure empowerment of Panchayats in the state.
“The funds for developmental works will be used by Sarpanches and Panches. District development commissioners will only monitor the funds. They (DCs) have been directed to prioritize the developmental works. Repairing of roads, transformers, high tension lines and schools are some of the works which would be taken up initially under this programme,” sources said.
Earlier, Centre had enhanced financial powers of Panchayats from Rs 10,000 to Rs 1 lakh. Besides, financial powers of block councils were enhanced from Rs 25,000 to Rs 2.5 lakh. This was part of the initiative to empower around 40,000 Panchayat representatives in the state.
However, there were complaints in the past that funds meant for Panchayats were not reaching to the grassroots.
Waking up to the complaints, Director Rural Development Department Kashmir shot off a letter to the concerned officials asking them to ensure transparency of funds meant for Panchayats in the valley.
“It is mandatory to ensure that the funds in the account of the Halqa Panchayat are properly used. And that the funds balance available in these Halqa Panchayat account prior to the notification of constituted Panchayats or appointment of administers, are in order and every transaction in the said Halqa Panchayat account is as per the financial rules,” reads an order issued by Rural Development Department, in July.