Streets of Srinagar have turned ugly and dangerous: Broken footpaths, dislocated curbstones, missing signage, and potholes affecting traffic and pedestrian movement is a common scene in Srinagar. In Srinagar’s heart, Lal Chowk, the under construction drainage system near Regal Chowk is giving commuters a tough time. The stretch starting from Lambert lane up to Ghanta Ghar is in shambles making the walking tough even for the pedestrians. The road infrastructure is weak almost across the city which gets exposed during rains when the entire streets and markets turn into a lake due to water-logging. This is the scenario of a city that is not just the capital of the state but has even been declared as smart city. Two years have passed since the city along with Jammu, the winter capital, was declared to be developed as smart city 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 is found cleaning only those 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. 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. It is expected that the Governor takes note of this grim situation and takes measures to save Srinagar. Making it smart is going too far away.
The shame they stand for
After the shameful Lal Ded hospital episode in which a pregnant woman of a far off Kupwara village was denied and she finally delivered the baby on road, a face book user had a telling comment on the attitude and behavior of the doctors. He wrote: doctors are given medical education for five years. It would have been quite good to give them moral education for six more months. When viewed in the backdrop of daily behavior of doctors, the comment cannot be passed off as casual. It is a serious reflection on the overall medical culture which encourages assertive behavior, arrogance and a sense of entitlement among doctors. Few would dispute with the fact that behaviours (good or bad) are learnt during training and then pass on to the system. The truth is that perhaps doctors have a little right to be arrogant and assured in being right. After all, patients trust their doctors to take care of them and to have experience and competence so that they can recommend treatment and advice.
Patients follow the advice of doctors blindly. They never question the doctors’ right to be right. But the way doctors conduct themselves is most of the time questionable. There are definitely exceptions but those are very limited and restricted. Majority of the doctors are arrogant, supercilious and self-important. Lack of moral training apart, the commercialization in medical profession too is largely contributing to the bad behavior of the doctors. The greed for more and more money is hugely affecting their ethics and morals. Pharmacist and medical representatives are seen queuing outside doctors’ chambers in dozens even during not only at their private practicing shops but also in hospitals during duty hours as well. They, against monetary considerations, prescribe substandard drugs, and on occasions even identify the medicine shops where ‘prescribed’ drugs can be purchased. These doctors are also allegedly paid commission for referring patients for x-ray and other medical tests by clinics and laboratories. Kashmir is huge market for fake and substandard drugs. It is an undeniable fact that doctors are part of this criminal business. The drug control department, on occasions, takes some cosmetic measures by declaring to have cancelled the licenses of fake drug dealers. But this has also turned into a profitable business for the corrupt officials of the department. All they mean by such measures is to extract more and more money from these dealers.
A random survey in valley’s drug market can reveal this grim reality that more than half of the drug sellers and medicine shop owners do operate without licenses from the department. Corruption, of any nature, is a social evil and crime in any society. But it becomes more heinous when done at the cost of human lives. They could well be qualified as murderers and killers, who needed to be dealt with like any killer. But it is quite agonizing that the government is doing little in dealing with these criminals. The incident at Lal Ded hospital should have served as a igniting push for the government to crackdown on erring doctors since there was a human life had lost in it. The doctors should have booked for murder as the baby the lady delivered died because of the cold and lack of medical treatment. But the government went with usual business, ordering enquiry. The doctors or doctors responsible for denying admission to the lady should have been suspended and arrested till enquiry.
Government instead went in reverse gear. The most shameful is the silence of the doctors’ community. The Doctors Association of Kashmir (DAK) remains always in ready gear to protest anything that happens with the doctors. Recently, they raised every kind of hue and cry against deputy Mayor of Srinagar Municipal Corporation for castigating a doctor at SMHS. But the way they maintained silence on the death of baby at Lal Ded showed that humane cultural is missing in the entire medical fraternity.
Rise in air fare
It is usually the price in petroleum that determines the cost of air tickets. But in Kashmir the rise and fall of air tickets is subject to weather conditions. Airline companies are making the most of the ongoing bad weather condition in Kashmir by charging exorbitant airfare three to four times more than the actual prices from the flyers. There are no fixed airfares. Fares are driven by demand. With Jammu-Srinagar highway remaining blocked for traffic due to landslides at several places, the demon of arbitrary fares is back to haunt and fleece the stranded people in Jammu. It is highly shameful on the part of airline operators that they misuse the weather conditions in Kashmir to their advantage without caring about the degree of burden and miseries it brings to the local residents.
In normal days, the air fare between Jammu and Srinagar rolls between Rs.2600 and Rs.3200. But it goes up four to six times once the Jammu-Srinagar highway gets blocked due to bad weather. On Friday when the highway got closed due to landslides on many parts of the only road link, the air line operators increased the air ticket (from Jammu to Srinagar) to Rs.10000 to 15000. It is cheaper to travel to some foreign countries than from Jammu to Srinagar. A look out at international fares reveals that traveling from Delhi to Dubai is cheaper by almost 8000 than traveling from Srinagar to Jammu. If one wants to travel from Srinagar to Jammu on Tuesday, he would have to pay Rs.14, 285 whereas the ticket for Delhi to Dubai on the same day is just Rs.6311. The air tickets to other Asian countries is even less. Thousands of people are presently stranded in Jammu and Srinagar as the highway remains close due to landslides. They cannot dream of traveling by air as the airline operators have increased air tickets to a swooping high. The airline companies appear to be accountable no none. They are law unto themselves. Every time there is a natural disaster or other unforeseen event, airfares seem to shoot up. It can be said with great convenience that the airlines are like vultures preying on the misery of travelers left with few options given that road and rail links are often also cut in these conditions.
Nobody is questioning them for the wrongs they do with the passengers. Ironically, the government is also mum over their outrageous conduct. It is all the more necessary for making these airline operators answerable. The state government should take up the matter with civil aviation ministry and other authorities who have control over these companies to fix cap on air fare. The Competition Commission of India (CCI) should step in and put the airline operators to task for their irresponsible conduct. Steep hike in airfares has raised serious concern in Kashmir’s tourism industry as well, with stakeholders accusing the airliners of deliberately trying to make Kashmir the costliest and least preferred destination to cut out tourist inflow. This has now become a pattern with the airliners that at the inception of every tourism season in Kashmir they unilaterally and arbitrarily increase the fares on this sector making Kashmir packages unaffordable.
Ironically, the airfares for other destinations both within and outside the country are much cheaper as compared to Kashmir. The hikes have affected not only our tourism sector these have also hit students and patients who have to travel outside the state not for luxury but because of necessity. It is all the more necessary for making these airline operators answerable. Governor S P Malik, who enjoys great confidence in Delhi, should take up the matter with relevant people to get the menace of fare-hike under check.
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.