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Srinagar—a dying city

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Srinagar—the summer capital of the state—once known as the most beautiful place on earth for its landscape, fresh air and water bodies, spaciousness and cleanliness—now figures among world’s 15 most dirty cities (14 of them existing in India only). The World Health Organization (WHO) findings for 2016 place Srinagar at serial No 10 among 15 worst polluted cities. These findings are based on the quality of air and respirable suspended particulate matter in the air that enter lungs. The same year Santek Consultants Pvt. Ltd for Union Ministry for Tourism made startling revelations about the city. In a survey (2016), the agency found that the city was 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. With heaps of garbage and filth choking roads, market places and streets bear witness to the fact of Srinagar being the dirtiest and most polluted place. Heaps of trash and garbage on roadsides, parks and streets is a common sight at every inch. The daily look of such nasty stuff has made us insensitive and makes no difference for us. The city 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. Police, municipal officials and other concerned government departments appear to have ganged together 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 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 LalChowk, the face of the city, is not without dogs. One finds dozens of stray dogs occupying LalChowk. The Chowk is filled with mounds of stinking garbage strewn in every nook and corner. The city outskirts are presenting more horrible picture. Dug up roads, overflowing drains, coverless manholes, and swarms of wild and vicious dogs prowling greet the residents everywhere. River Jehlum, once known for its pristine and fresh water has turned into a sewerage drain. Every drain of human waste flows into the river. Its stinking water is cause of many diseases among the people living on banks of the river. Take a look at Boulevard and Dal Lake. The Dal is virtually in its last throes of death. 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. The departments concerned with the maintenance of the character of the city and keeping it clean are doing just the opposite. There is absolutely no accountability. There is a free for all prevalent everywhere. 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.


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Editorial

Easter Sunday shock

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On Sunday Sri Lanka was rocked by a series of deadly blasts that killed more than 200 people and injured around 500 more. At least eight bombs ripped through three Churches and two high-end hotels in the capital Colombo causing widespread casualties. Seen as one of the worst terror acts in the island nation, the bombing were struck at a time when large number of Christian devotees had gathered in Churches to celebrate Easter. The day is celebrated by Christian across the world as a mark of reincarnation of Jesus Christ three days after his crucification. In a country of 22 million people, Christians form around 10 percent of the population. The scale and savagery of the attacks that clearly targeted Christians have left Sri Lankans devastated and confused. The country has a long history of disenfranchisement among minority Tamil groups, who are largely Hindu, at the hands of the Sinhalese Buddhists led to a civil war in the 1980s. The Tamil Tigers, an armed insurgent group that identified itself as secular, launched deadly attacks, including some of the earliest use of suicide bombings as a tactic of insurgency. The group was active in northeastern Sri Lanka, in areas such as Jaffna. The LTTE was a highly motivated insurgent group which is the first separatist militant group in south Asia to introduce suicide bombings as a means of its campaign. Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was also killed by this group by human bombing.  In response, the Sri Lankan Army carried out brutal campaigns, largely focused on the Tamil stronghold in the northeast. The civil war ended in 2009 after a large-scale operation by the army that defeated the Tamil Tigers and killed its leader—Velupillai Prabhakaran. There is no exact casualty toll, but the United Nations has suggested that as many as 40,000 civilians were killed in the last stage of the war alone.

 No group has claimed responsibility for the latest devastating attack. The police said they believed the bombings were the work of one group but declined to identify it. At least 35 of the victims were foreigners, including several Americans. For years, as Sri Lanka has climbed away from war, it has been building a robust tourism industry. The bombings were the deadliest attack on Christians in South Asia in recent memory and punctuated a rising trend of religious-based violence in the region. In recent years, there have been clashes between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community and minority Muslims, and in March last year the government imposed a 12-day state of emergency to quell anti-Muslim riots. Christian groups have also complained of increased harassment from hard-line Buddhist groups. Buddhists form around 70 percent of the country’s overall population. Sri Lanka is known for its tremendous natural beauty, which attracts millions of tourists every year. The country gained independence from British rule in 1948 as the dominion of Ceylon, and became the Republic of Sri Lanka in 1972. Its people have long borne a burden of violence.  It is yet to be seen who are behind the Sunday bombings and how it does fit in the country’s turbulent history. Much to the credit of the Sri Lankan government, the island nation did not react in panic. Though the authorities had to impose curfew as precautionary measure but the overall situation is reported peaceful. But few would dispute with the fact the rise of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism has resulted in sectarian divides that is growing menacingly, and the country has experienced new waves of violence. A rise in intolerance has been attributed in part to the postwar triumphalism of some Sinhalese majority politicians. The Sri Lankan government needs to look into the Sunday bombing from all angles.

 
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Editorial

Bad news from Islamabad

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Pakistan is in its history’s worst economic crisis. With no end in sight, Prime Minister Imran Khan has removed his finance minister Assad Umar from his position, and appointed a new chief Abdul Hafeez Sheikh for the finance ministry. Sheikh has served as economic advisor in General Musharraf’s government. But keen observers believe that removal of Assad would hardly bring any positive change in the current crisis without a huge bailout package from International Monetary Fund (IMF). While the exact amount of this package has not been determined, Pakistan already owes the IMF billions from previous programs. Since Pakistan is already on Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list, any bailout package from friendly countries too is the most unlikely. It is a serious challenge that is starring at Imran Khan’s face so freighting. Imran Khan’s eight-month-old government has faced sustained criticism from political opponents, independent commentators and the business community over the government’s handling of the economic crisis facing the country. Much of that criticism was leveled against his finance minister Assad Umar. In his bid to pacify his critics and wriggle the country out of these crises, Imran Khan, last week, removed Assad from finance ministry for the lack of effective financial strategy. He was given other ministry but Assad took it as insult and he resigned from the government. Assad’s removal came immediately after he worked out a bailout package with the officials of IMF in New York. An IMF mission is expected to visit Islamabad next month to work out more details though, according to Assad, all major issues had been settled and documented. Assad was made the butt of criticism for taking months to finalize the IMF deal which resulted in serious economic crisis. The critics said that the delay in working out deal with the IMF shattered the confidence of the investors in Pakistan economy.
Pakistan is reeling under huge international debt. It can well be understood from the fact that currently around 31 percent of Pakistan government’s expenditure is earmarked for debt servicing. What ails Pak economy further is the decreasing revenues. Dwindling foreign exchange reserves, low exports and high inflation is adding menacingly to growing fiscal deficit, and current account deficit of Pakistan. The country has no other option but to knock on the IMF doors. It would 22nd bailout loan from the international body to Pakistan since 1980. Dr Kaiser Bengali, Dean of the Faculty of Management Science at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology, in Karachi, last week, warned that Pakistan’s economy has reached the “point of collapse”. “For the first time in four decades of research, I am deeply worried. The alarm bells are ringing. We have no choice but to beg. I fear starvation, poverty and unemployment,” he warned. Pakistan government is likely to present the budget on May 24. Pakistan needs to ensure investment friendly environment to attract the international investors. Pakistan is facing a serious image problem that is scaring global investors. It is in the interest of Pakistan to improve its image as a responsible and credible nation-state by getting better the security scenario of the country to attract foreign direct investment. According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report, Pakistan ranks 136th out of 190 economies. To improve this ranking and draw more investment, Pakistan should ease customs laws and regulations and rebrand and boost its international image as a desirable destination for tourism and industry alike. It should also encourage domestic investment through more flexible tax policies, particularly targeting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Such measures would reposition Pakistan on the international stage as stable, competitive ground for foreign investment.

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Editorial

Ominous signals

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The highway in Kashmir is not just a road these days. It is a statement, a very strong statement that tells the people that they are dominated 24×7. A statement that rings in your ears, reminding you that you may live here but the place isn’t yours. The highway is also a proof of the Kashmir imbroglio at its worst these days. You reside along the highway, you need a permission to cross it. You need to drive to a hospital and use the highway, you need to ask a magistrate first. You dare question the men in uniform, you end up beaten and humiliated, not matter who you are. On Tuesday, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) of Dooru in Anantnag, who’s supposed to permit civilians to use the road, was himself beaten black and blue by army personnel manning the highway. Ironically, the Magistrate was facilitating India’s ‘democracy’ in Kashmir. He was on election duty and also heading towards Qazigund to resolve the matter of traffic congestion on the highway in the morning. The Magistrate and his subordinates, who, as per his written statement, were travelling in a government vehicle, were stopped at Dalwach crossing by the army men ordering them to halt till the convoy passed. The magistrate complied. But for no reason, his driver was dragged out and beaten by the armed personnel. When the magistrate tried to intervene, telling the men in camouflage that he was an SDM and was called in by the District Magistrate Anantnag, who, as per the statement was waiting for him at Vessu, he was picked up by collar, abused and dragged, and then thrashed on gunpoint. The officials, as per the SDM’s statement, were held on gunpoint, their vehicle and other belongings, including their phones and election-related material, were searched and damaged. As if that wasn’t enough humiliation, the officials were then held hostage for about half an hour, during which the army personnel removed the safety locks of their weapons, aimed guns at them and threatened to kill them. It was only after the Deputy Commissioner Anantnag reached the spot that the SDM and other officials were set free. Imagine what a commoner would be facing if a magistrate goes through such disgrace and ordeal! The government forces in Kashmir are not concerned about who, or in what state, you are. You can be a busy government official, who needs to reach some place of importance, you can be a patient in an ambulance, who needs immediate medical care, you can be anyone but for the gun-wielding troopers, you are the same. They treat you as cannon fodder, lesser human beings, who can be jack-booted on the might of laws like AFSPA. The claim is not rhetorical. Only last Wednesday, an ambulance ferrying a cancer patient, was stopped on the highway to let the convoys pass through. The man eventually died. A video of the incident when the ambulance was stopped had gone viral on social media. A person can be seen telling the paramilitary trooper that they were carrying a patient, but the trooper does not allow him to pass through until the long, serpentine convoy clears. Another video that had gone viral on social media shows a young lad being choked down by an armed trooper. Apparently, the incident happened on the Sanat Nagar highway intersection in Srinagar. The youth literally has a fight with the armed forces, who pounced upon him, thrashing him with their long, wooden batons. All these incidents carry a clear message for the people of Kashmir: that the oppressors will treat you as second-class citizens in your own homeland, and they will do so with impunity. Still for the sake of argument and the fact that we believe in the near-hollow image of whatever little freedom is left in this place, the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Satya Pal Malik is expected to use his office and establish some sanity on the ground. How do you expect to conduct elections, an exercise of democracy, in a place where the electorate is suppressed with muscle power? Mr Governor, it is time to do something even if that means just a face-saving act for you.

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