In 2016, the central government declared that, both, Jammu and Srinagar—the rotational capital cities of Jammu and Kashmir—included in the list of 100 smart cities that BJP had promised to develop during general election campaign in 2014. Even as over two years have passed since but 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 as “smart” would begin. 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. Santek Consultants Pvt. Ltd for Union Ministry for Tourism has very startling revelations to make about the city. In a survey, conducted last year, the agency found that the city is below mark in tourism related facilities as well. Gathering opinions from the visitors—both domestic as well foreign—the agency has found that besides the dirty surroundings, shortage of pure drinking water and power supply is also cause of worry for visitors. The findings are startling and speak volumes about our insensitivity towards our own surroundings. The daily look of such nasty stuff has made us insensitive and makes no difference for us. In a much more recent survey Srinagar listed in 15 dirtiest cities of the world. 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. Srinagar Municipality has been raising 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 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. Various governments in the past and present have time and again claimed to work for restoration of the glory of the lake. Hundreds of crores of rupees are reported to have been spent on cleaning the lake but its deterioration could not be arrested. It is generally believed that the officials responsible for taking care of the Dal have siphoned off most of the funds listed for it. There is absolutely no accountability. There is no co-ordination among various departments of the government. The only one thing where co-ordination and cooperation seems supreme is passing of underhand transactions. The people in the higher echelons of power should awake to the pangs of this dying city and take immediate measures to save the city. It would be great if the Governor takes note of this grim situation and take measures to save Srinagar. Making it smart is going too far away.
Religious freedom curtailed
The ban of Muhharrum processions in Kashmir is clear violation of religious rights of common citizens. On a day, observed with great reverence and religious passion, the authorities in Srinagar held people hostage in their houses in and around Lal Chowk on Wednesday. The shops and business establishments are closed and the pedestrian movement completely restricted in Lal Chowk, Abi Guzre, Court Road, Koker Bazar, Maisumma, Bund, Gaw Kadal, Red Cross Road and other surrounding localities. People from outside localities too were not allowed to enter the area. It is completely a curfew-like situation not just around Lal Chowk but in areas coming under seven police stations in uptown. Men in uniform from the police and CRPF have been deployed in large numbers to restrict the peoples’ movement. All these repressive and undemocratic measures are being taken to check Shia mourners from taking out a procession. Members of Shia community used to take out a ritual procession on 8th of Muharrum from Abi Guzre to Dalgate. However, the state government imposed ban on the procession in 1988 following shia-Sunni clash in the wake of Pakistan President Gen Zia-ul-Haque’s death in a plane crash. Though the situation returned normal soon and the Shia-Sunni brotherhood remains the creed of our social fabric, the government continued with the ban over the years. The government used to take refuge in abnormal situation caused due to militancy. Now by government’s own standards the situation has considerably improved and there is no fear of militants mingling with mourners, there is no reason to ban the mourning processions. It is quite unfortunate that while all other religious prilmrimages are allowed with full security of the state, the Muharrum procession is not only banned but Shia members of put to all kinds of severity and repression to remain away from taking out the procession. Militants have never issued any threat to the Shia processions still government keeps a tab on it in the name of security. But that is not the case with Amarnath yatra. Militants have issued threats and even attacked Amarnath yatris on several occasions but government never stopped the yatra under the ruse of security threat. The government rather facilitates the yatra by providing different security covers—army, paramilitary forces and police—at different levels to make the yatra a safe journey. Why the same pattern is not practiced with regard to the Muharrum procession. Practising religion is a fundamental right and it is the state Governments responsibility to facilitate it, but sadly they are doing exactly the opposite. The state Government, in fact, is scared of these processions, as they feel it will be changed into pro freedom demonstration. In January 2008, the Kashmir based Shiite organisation Ittihadul Muslimeen filed a petition in the Jammu Kashmir High Court seeking quashing of the ban clamped by the former Governor but the state government did not respond. In December 2009, J&K high court once again directed the state Government to file the objection, but again did not get a response. It is extremely sad that when whole world promotes freedom of religion, our state Government bans the important religious procession. The procession is taken out to commemorate the martyrdom of Prophet Mohammad’s (s.a.w) grandson Hazrat Imam Hussain (a.s) and his 70 other family members and relatives at Karbala in Iraq at the hands of the tyrant ruler Yazid. It is the most effective psychological weapon and mechanism to mobilize masses against the evil, injustice and repression. What could be it said of when the state plays the oppressor and the subjects as oppressed.
Road rage in Jammu and Kashmir
The death of 17 persons in a road accident in Kishtwar last week has again showed up that human tragedies occurring on the state road do concern little to the people in power. At least, 15 other persons were injured in the accident. That was the third major accident in Kishtwar in the past one month. On August 21, 13 persons were killed and 12 others injured when their vehicle plunged into a gorge in the same district. Jammu and Kashmir ranks second across India in the tally of road accidents per 10,000 vehicles with an average of over 900 deaths every year in the last five years, according to the union ministry of road transport and highways report released recently. Sikkim and Madhya Pradesh are the two other states with the highest number of road accidents. The average number of deaths in a year has been over 900 in the state during last 5 years. Last year 926 persons have died in over 5,000 road mishaps across the state. Year 2016 witnessed 958 deaths in road accidents, while 917 people have died in 2015. During 2014 and 2013 the number stood at 992 and 990 respectively. The study also revealed that any accident in Jammu and Kashmir has 64 percent chances of being “death prone”, the worst among Indian states. Vehicle design, speed of operation, road design, road environment, driving skill, and drivers’ behaviour are picked up as some of the main factors that lead to deaths on roads. Nearly one-third of all road accidents can be attributed to rash driving. Dilapidated and half constructed roads do also contribute to this grave human tragedy. Most people would probably agree that travelling above 80 kmph is on the state roads is dangerous and would lead to a disastrous accident. The tipper and Sumo drivers are feared as most dreaded. In chase for making most of their business and reaching their destinations ahead of their fellow drivers, they are causing scare on roads. They race in extraordinary speed. Given the condition of our roads, even moderate speed can drive one to death. It goes without saying that Jammu and Kashmir has the worst roads. These are not just narrow but also in poor condition. Most of these roads are dilapidated and rundown. That is not true about rural areas only but the main cities of Srinagar and Jammu too have poorly managed narrow roads. To cap it all, the government is quite indifferent to the mess on roads and rising deaths. Government in virtual terms has done nothing to minimize deaths. Beyond announcing token relief in some bucks, government thinking appears to have got frozen. The government awakes to such horrific incident on the day of happening only. Issuing statements of concern and sympathizing with the families of the dead and announcing relief is all government has been doing. All that is needed is that government should move beyond it if it in real terms cares for its people. It needs to take stringent measures to restore peace on roads. In the first place, the road maintenance and management should be improved. Roads are the face of development. Bad roads not only speak of bad governance but also put the lives of citizens at risk. In the last assembly session, the state government introduced a bill in the House to provide for the constitution of an all powerful State Road Safety Council and establishment of a Road Safety Fund. But nothing more was heard or done on the subject as follow up action. The government also needs to galvanize and discipline its traffic management machinery. Traffic police and other organs of the state responsible for regulation of traffic are not doing their job honestly. They have turned their duty into business. Rather than putting a hold on unauthorized driving, they encourage it by taking money from un-licensed drivers. Overcrowding and overloading in passenger vehicles is another source of income for them. Many traffic policemen could be seen on prowl for such drivers at strategic points. In final analysis, the picture is quite grim. Government need to have a re-look and rethink of what it has been doing rather undoing in restoring peace on Kashmir roads if it really cares for people
The great humanitarian crisis
As the world’s attention remains focused on the possible catastrophic humanitarian fallout from any Syrian army offensive on rebel-controlled Idlib province, Yemen is already facing worst kind of humanitarian disaster. After the collapse of United Nations-sponsored negotiation between the warring groups, last week, the situation in Yemen has turned catastrophic. The Saudi Arabia and UAE-led forces have resumed attacks on the Iran-supported Houthi-controlled areas. UN officials have stated that hundreds of thousands of lives hang in the balance in the city of Houthi-controlled Hodeidah. The resumption of aerial bombardment and shelling is creating fears that food mills in the city could be damaged or disrupted. Saudi-led forces are reported to have seized the main road leading to the city, weakening the Houthi control over the supply of humanitarian aid into the country. Hodeidah is the gateway to aid supplies to the country and the renewed war would hamper the entire aid activity. The UAE, which is part of the coalition, has affirmed its stand that the liberation of the port from Houthi’s control is essential for a political solution of the Yemen crisis. Yemen is already considered the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, with 22 million of its 28 million population considered to be dependent on aid. As the Saudi-led forces are just outside the door of the city and reports are that the forces may lay siege of the city to put pressure on the Houthi rebels, the aid supply route would be completely blocked. A recent UN report said that more than 11 million children in Yemen face food shortages, while almost 1.8 million of them are malnourished. The absence of serious peace efforts from the international community is adding to their misery. It looks like little will change in the short term. It is quite unfortunate that instead addressing the growing humanitarian crisis, United States and Russia are busy in army the warring factions.
According to the UN, at least 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015. The death toll, however, has not been updated in years and is likely to be much higher. Yemen was considered as the poorest Arab country before the war. It was surviving on external economic aid mainly by Saudi Arabia. But the Iran-backed Houthi rebellion and Saudi ASrab’s retaliation have battered whatever little the country had. The latest reports warn, the cholera epidemic in the country, which had begun to recede, may re-emerge due to the collapsed sewerage system and rampant unsanitary conditions. Nobody can deny Saudi’s right to defend itself but punishing hapless and innocent people is no solution. It would not be wrong to say that the Yemeni war has turned into a stalemate, and the longer it grinds on, the worse the conditions for Yemen’s people will get. It is a well known fact that the Yemen imbroglio is a foreign-made. It is, in fact, Iran that instigated and supported (militarily and materially) to Houthi Shias rise against the country’s established government. Saudi Arabia completed the catastrophe by deciding to stop Iranian march. It is in the interests of humanity in general and people of Yemen in particular to stop the hostilities in the country. Both Saudi Arab and Iran should immediately withdraw from supporting rival forces, instead work as peace brokers. Considering the expansionist ambitions of Iran and Saudi Arabia, it would appear a distant dream at this point of time but both the countries can agree on ceasefire to allow humanitarian relief to reach to the starving people. United Nations should take a lead in this matter and prevail upon warring groups to cease fire, at least, temporarily to address the human crisis in the country.
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