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Lurking in darkness, PDD’s arm cannot explain why T&D projects are going no where

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Srinagar, Jan 20: Next to the confluence on the highway near uptown Hyderpora, the rented multi-storey office of the Chief Engineer (CE) Projects of Power Development Department exists quietly, a few cars parked within its boundaries.
Inside, half-a-dozen men are busy working out wires, batteries, and invertors to put in place an alternate power system, which wouldn’t be a surprise if it was a consumer’s house in Kashmir, where power supply is next to nothing, people largely rely on similar, reliable alternatives for electricity.
However, the officer expected to implement power transmission and distribution (T&D) projects depending on it, suggests how livid the commoners must be.
More worrying should be the sight of the officials struggling to light up their own office instead of improving T&D, for which, at least on papers, three central schemes and crores of rupees stand invested.
One of the schemes is Rs 3491.93-crore assistance of Prime Minister’s Development Package (PMDP).
The state is in the process of getting the money for “augmentation of infrastructure for distribution systems”.
Official documents show that the government of India released Rs 654.7 crore of the sanctioned funds till November 2017.
It, as per the official documents, was to be spent on strengthening distribution systems in selected urban and rural areas of the state, while also enhancing the intra-state transmission.
The state, however, has utilised nothing of the amount released, the documents reveal.
Just a cursory look at the records shows that completing even half of the target could have given relief to the public.
The distribution-strengthening project entailed crucial works including electrification of un-electrified villages, installing new transformers, spreading underground cables, and setting up meter testing labs and separate feeders for agriculture irrigation.
Ask the CE (Projects) JKPDD, Daljeet Singh, he blames “prevailing circumstances” and “weak response to tenders” and “other problems”.
Azhar Waqil, his technical officer, agrees that many of the works are yet to start.
Among the works the CE (Projects) office was supposed to implement included the strengthening of the distribution network in as many as 13 circles of Budgam, Baramulla, Ganderbal, Anantnag, Kupwara, and Bandipora districts.
The project is yet to begin.
“The tenders were cancelled by the administration. There is a court case,” Reasons Waqil, refusing to divulge any further details.
Official status on papers corroborates his view: “Bids in respect of 13 circles being executed by JKPDD had to be cancelled and Notice Inviting Tenders (NITs) will be issued by 30 October 30, 2017.”
Asked whether the fresh NITs were issued, Waqil said they were, but “hardly any bidder was interested”.
He, in fact, claimed that JKPDD (Project) has “not received anything of the Rs 654.7 crore released by the government of India”.
“If it (money) has come, it may be with the state’s planning department. All we received was around Rs 50 crore, the state share of the project,” he claimed.
Asked to mention a few works that had been implemented, the official could only count the “ongoing underground cabling at Gulmarg, Pahalgam and, Sonamarg.”
“We have got the material, and the work is in progress,” he says, adding that the work is supposed to be completed by May.
“Hopefully, it will be completed on time,” he says.
A source in the office, however, quoted two reasons for the “mess” and “non-seriousness”.
“First,” revealed the source, “the state does not large enough private contractors who could take up these vital projects. The national and multinational firms don’t want to work in Kashmir or with the authorities here.”
Result, the source says, is that the tenders are extended four to five times with hardly any response.
“It will be apt to say that neither the department nor the state government has the technical competence to do the job itself.”
Second reason is bureaucratic diktats, the source says.
“The department is facing a lot of bureaucratic pressure when it comes to implementing projects in the valley,” he says.
“We have seen cases where a bidder came forward but the entire project was shelved at the last minute by the high officials in Jammu. It also resulted in annoying the companies who now are wary of working with the state government.”
The source added that apart from PMDP projects, as many as nine GoI-sponsored projects sanctioned to the state under two different schemes—DDUGJY and IPDS—too faced bureaucratic hurdles.
“Kashmir alone was expected to get around Rs 600 crore under these two schemes for strengthening of power distribution system,” the source said.
“After several months, the projects were finally awarded to successful bidders, but soon after the authorities cancelled the tenders for reasons untold.”


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CROSS LOC TRADE SUSPENSION: Traders in panic as losses likely to run in crores

Firdous Hassan

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Srinagar, Apr 19: The Government of India’s decision to suspend cross LoC trade indefinitely in Jammu and Kashmir has panicked at least 597 traders, whose goods worth crores of rupees are currently in transit on the route.
Ministry for Home Affairs (MHA) Thursday ordered immediate suspension of LoC trade via two routes- Salamabad and Chakan-da-Bagh in Jammu and Kashmir, citing its “misuse” by Pakistan.
The action claimed the “misuse” involved “illegal inflows of weapons, narcotics, and currency”.
The suspension has left traders furious and worried, who say there should have been prior information from the government to avoid losses of the traders.
Abdul Ahad Mangral, a resident of Uri, who is associated with the cross LoC trade since 2008, was all set to receive goods that he ordered for the month of Ramadan.
Since Thursday evening he is restless, as his goods worth Rs 4 crore won’t be traded now after the MHA diktat.
“I will be bankrupt. I have stocks of zeera, chilli seeds, bananas, pomegranate, which had to be bartered against almond, pistachio, oranges and mangoes. I don’t know what to do with these stocks since government has closed the route indefinitely,” he said.
Mangral said the decision by the central government was “political in nature rather than a security threat”.
“There should have been some intimation from the government as our losses will run in thousands of crores. Apart from 229 traders, there are around 1000 truckers and 200 labourers from different parts of Kashmir, who too will lose their livelihood,” he said.
Another trader, Tariq Khan from Uri, said they had already suggested the government to establish an advanced mechanism at the trade facilitation centers to check the claimed illegal flow of drugs.
“We had suggested the availability of such facilities through memorandums back in 2010 and 2016. The LoC trade is continuing for the last 10 years, which means it has become a source of livelihood for many families,” he said.
Khan suggested the government to allow the trade till the bartering is equalized by traders from both the sides.
“We will cooperate with the government. But at least let us recover our investment,” he said.
Krishan Singh, a trader from Poonch said many of his colleagues have borrowed heavy loans from banks to invest in their businesses.
“We hope government resumes cross LoC trade as soon as possible. The ban will push many families to starvation and they owe huge amounts to banks,” he said.
Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) called the suspension a “regressive” measure adding they will take up the matter with the government.
“We have suggested full body scanners years ago. It is certainly going to impact the economy of the state and we shall take up the matter with the government,” said KCCI senior vice-president, Nasir Hamid Khan.
The Cross-LoC trade was started in 2008 as a major confidence-building measure between the two countries as two Trade Facilitation Centres located at Uri’s Salamabad in Baramulla district, and Chakkan-da-Bagh in Poonch were started.
The trade took place four days a week. It was based on barter system and on zero duty basis.
Twenty-one items were currently bartered from both the sides.
While India traded-out carpets, embroidered items, furniture, handicrafts, saffron, dry fruits, Kashmiri spices, rajmah, honey, medicinal plants, fresh fruits and vegetables, Pakistan in return traded-out rice, prayer mats and tasbeeh (rosaries), precious stones, Peshawari leather sandals, maize and maize products, imli, moongi, black mushroom, and dry fruits.
The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route in the valley and Poonch-Rawalkote in Jammu has over 600 traders registered, who are plying their wares between J&K and Pakistan administered Kashmir.

‘Ban will be reconsidered after stricter measures are put in place’
Monitor News Bureau
Srinagar, Apr 19: A day after cross LOC trade was suspended, reports quoting MHA sources Friday said “infiltration of third party goods, channeling funds for militancy, clandestine trade of drugs, supply of Arms to support militants in the valley and pumping fake currency notes were the main reasons for suspending the trade.”
The LoC trade across Chakan-Da-Bagh and Salamabad was intended as a confidence building measure for the population living in remote areas of Jammu and Kashmir and living across LoC.
“However, third parties manipulated the trade and misused it for trading goods being produced from outside the State of Jammu and Kashmir. For example the almonds produced in California finding their way through LoC trade involving a large transport network spread in many countries,” reports quoting MHA sources said.
They added that NIA has “decoded the modus operandi of dubious hawala transactions for terror financing.”
“The inimical elements on Pakistan side identify a suitable Pakistani trader firm and hand over the money that is to be transferred to the anti-national elements and militant organizations on the Indian side. Pakistani trader under-invoices the product like California almonds to the extent of money received by him. On receipt of the consignment, trader on the Indian side sells California almonds at the prevailing market price and makes extra and undue profit to the extent of under invoicing. Extra money so generated is handed over by the trader to antinational elements and militant organizations in the valley to fuel anti-India operations,” the sources added.
They said that a significant number of trading concerns engaging in cross LoC trade are “being operated by persons closely associated with banned militant organizations, especially Hizbul Mujahideen.”
“Some Indian nationals who have crossed over to Pakistan and joined militant organizations have opened trading firms in Pakistan. As a result, many trading firms under the control of militant organizations are doing LoC trade with Indian traders firms who are operated their own relatives in the Indian side,” they said.
“Cross LoC trade is also being used as a regular channel of funneling of drugs such as cocaine, brown sugar and heroin into the valley adversely impacting the youth thereby converting many of them into addicts of such life threatening drugs. In a recent example, 66.5 Kg of heroine was seized from a valley-based consignee and the drugs came through the LoC trade,” the sources added.
They said that the trade is being “exploited for periodically smuggling arms and ammunition into the valley”.
“Numerous seizures have been made of pistols, grenades, spares and ammunition. Recently a large cache that was concealed in a consignment of bananas was seized from a cross LoC driver from Kulgam in the valley,” they said.
“In different consignments passing through LoC trade, Rs 57 Lakhs, Rs 20 Lakhs, Rs 15 Lakhs and Rs 7.5 Lakhs of fake currency notes have also been seized and over a dozen of people have been arrested. In the light of such large-scale misuse and loopholes being exploited for illegal and anti-national activities, Government of India has been compelled to suspend the LoC trade,” they added.
The Government, the sources said, will revisit the issue of resuming the LoC trade after stricter measures and systems are put in place to address these issues.
“New measures are expected to restore benefit of LoC trade to local population only, rather than allowing militant organizations and unscrupulous traders based far away from these trading points to syphon off the benefits and fuel instability in the valley,” the sources said.

 
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Will support all initiatives aimed to address K-issue: Mirwaiz

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Srinagar, Apr 19: Hurriyat (M)) chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq Friday said that people staying away from the electoral process was a peacefully conveyed clear message to Government of India that Kashmiris want a serious political initiative towards the resolution of lingering Kashmir issue and that the people and the leadership will support all initiatives that are aimed at addressing it.
Addressing the congregational Friday prayers at the historic Jamia Masjid, Mirwaiz, in a statement, said that he has time and again reiterated that the Kashmir issue “deserves serious political handling but all the successive regimes that ruled India and Pakistan so far have failed to resolve it.”
He, the statement added, said that the people of Kashmir are facing tremendous hardships for the past 70 years in general and 30 years in particular, hoping that some serious efforts would be made to resolve the issues so that peace prevails in the region.
“It’s not that people of Kashmir don’t believe in democratic practices that electoral processes entail or don’t believe in its empowerment but people want to understand to what end do they participate? Has it in any way changed anything on ground for them? Has it helped in ending the uncertainty in our lives? Has our true situation ever been conveyed to people in India or any effort made in that direction?” he said.
Expressing concern over the suspension of cross LoC trade by MHA, Mirwaiz said it was “extremely unfortunate that instead of enhancing people to people contact as families of both sides of LoC stand divided and improving trade and other ties, even whatever little had been achieved since Vajpayee time is being blocked and stopped.”
“Such measures for short term gains come at a huge price that people of the subcontinent pay for long term peace and progress,” he said.
Mirwaiz also announced that on the eve of Shab-e-Baraat(night of reverence), Isha prayers will be offered at the grand masjid at 9:30 pm on Saturday and soon after the prayers he will address the gathering and shed light on the importance of the night and also lead touba-e-istigfaar prayers.

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Modi wants to demolish whatever Vajpayee achieved: Mehbooba

Mudassir Kuloo

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Srinagar, Apr 19: Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti Friday warned that closure of routes across the Line of Control with Pakistan administered Kashmir will have dire consequences, claiming that whatever Atal Bihari Vajpayee achieved in Kashmir, PM Narendra Modi wants to “demolish it”.
Reacting to suspension of cross-LoC trade by Ministry of Home Affairs on Thursday, Mehbooba said that New Delhi had adopted a “muscular policy” for polarization in India.
“Atal Bihari Vajpayee extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan. He believed that Kashmir issue can be resolved in the ambit of humanity. He took an initiative for opening of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road. But it seems that we go backwards due to policies of Narendra Modi government.”
“Whatever Vajpayee had done, Modi wants to demolish that. All the steps taken by Vajpayee Ji, whether it is cross LoC trade, cross LoC bus service, opening of other major routes and the related CBMs, it seems the NDA government is hell-bent to demolish all those CBMs,” she said.
Mehbooba said when she was the chief minister of J&K, the Centre tried to suspend the cross LoC trade.
“But I resisted,” she said.
“If they want to choke routes and space to people of J&K then there will have serious consequences. Jammu and Kashmir problem will be solved if all routes are opened. We want all old routes including Kargil-Skardu, Sialkot-Muzaffarbad, which connect us with South and Central Asia before 1947, to be restored,” she demanded.
The government of India on Thursday suspended trade on two routes from Salamabad in Baramulla district and Chakkan-da-Bagh in Poonch with Pakistan administered Kashmir.
“The action has been taken as the Government of India has been receiving reports that the cross Line of Control trade routes are being misused by Pakistan based elements for funneling illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency etc,” the Home Ministry said in a statement.
The cross trade was meant to enable exchange of goods of common use between local populations across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. It attracted zero duty and is based on the barter system.
Mehbooba said that J&K was a very complicated issue.
“We saw what happened in Pulwama. We have to find a solution to Kashmir problem. BJP has involved J&K in elections across the country. They want to show people they have adopted tough and muscular policy on Kashmir and this all being done for polarization,” she said.
She also slammed the Sadhvi Pragya Thakur for her remarks against Hemant Karkare.
“These are the worst days for the country that you have fielded a candidate despite her remarks against a martyr. What you want to communicate that whatever lady says is the stand of the BJP,” she added.
“Mumbai terror squad chief Hemant Karkare died after I cursed him,” Sadhvi had earlier said.

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