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This Baramulla village voted for ‘freedom from FIRs’

Nisar Dharma

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Photo: M Dawood/KM

Baramulla, Apr 11: Three single-storey blocks spread on a few kanals of land is what comprises the 66-year-old High School in Singhpora, a village of 20,000 people close to Pattan town in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district. 

At 9 am on Thursday, youth and elderly lined up in good numbers to cast their votes in this school. It was A peculiar sight for a village which, over the years, has been in news for nocturnal raids, arrests, boycotts and, of course, stone pelting.

“I have come to vote as I have 17 cases against me. I want to get rid of them,” said 60-year-old Rahim, who did not give his last name.

 

Rahim claimed he was innocent and that the cases were slapped “to extort money” from him.

“I have never cast a vote before. I am 60. We are forced to vote now. I think that is the only way to save ourselves. Hopefully the candidate I’ve voted for will help me get out of this mess,” he said.

If one was to believe Rahim, as many as 350 youth and elderly in the village had police cases registered against them, many filed during the 2010 and 2016 phases of unrest.

“We have always been terrorised. Not just by the government forces, even the politicians here have neglected us,” he said.

As Rahim spoke, a lanky man with glazed eyes, probably in his early 20s, stood next to him, eager to speak.

 “Mere khilaf paanch parche hain (I have five FIRs against me),” he said, finally jumping into the conversation.

“Every month, I have to be present in the court. I wouldn’t have voted, but there is no option left. I have voted for Rashid Engineer, he is a people’s person. He himself has been thrashed many times like me. I think he will take up our issues and solve them,” said the youth who identified himself as Bilal. 

Youth who’d come to vote huddled Bilal, many shouting that the village was also “entirely neglected” by the politicians.

“This high school has been functioning from the last 60 years yet no one has ever tried to upgrade it to a higher secondary. See the state of this school, all littered with garbage,” said a youth in his 20s, who refused to reveal his name.

By 11:00 am, when this reporter left the scene, 160 votes out of 667 were already polled in one of the three polling stations set up in the school.


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Will electric buses mark a turnaround in SRTC?

Mudassir Kuloo

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Srinagar, Jul 21:  Newly inducted Electric Buses have rekindled a fresh hope for turnaround in the otherwise loss making State Road Transport Corporation (SRTC).

A source in the SRTC said the PSU has suffered a loss of more than Rs 160 crore in the last 10 years. Official figures reveal that against the expenditure of Rs 120 crore, SRTC has earned Rs 95.55 crore in 2018-2019.

Struggling to pay salaries, the government has sold SRTC’s land at several places to run day to day affairs of the PSU.

 

Manzoor Ahmad, President, SRTC Drivers Association, said they are without salaries for the last two months. “Our salaries are often delayed,” he said.

Ahmad however hoped that newly launched electric buses would give a new lease of life to the loss making PSU.

“We have been imparted training about how to ply electric buses. We hope these buses will enable the Corporation to earn revenue,” he said. 

Around 20 electric buses were flagged off by Governor Satya Pal Malik on Friday. Malik said electric bus service is a step towards providing eco-friendly public transportation with modern facilities to the commuters. He also emphasized on using e-buses to abate pollution levels.

Established in 1948 with a fleet of 50 buses, the SRTC was converted into PSU in 1976. The Corporation had 1603 vehicles in 1989, including 978 buses and 625 trucks.  However, their numbers have reduced to 847 which included 528 buses and 319 trucks.   Among these, 397 are overage vehicles.

Similarly, the number of employees has decreased from 6650 to 2147 since 1989.

Principal Secretary Transport Department Dr Asgar Hassan Samoon however said government was making efforts for revival of SRTC. “We have also procured 40 electric buses. Besides overage vehicles are also being replaced,” Samoon added.

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Centre approves 381 Cr for new CUK campus

Bisma Bhat

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Srinagar, Jul 21: The government of India has approved financial assistance of Rs 381.68 crore to complete pending construction projects of the Central University of Kashmir.

As per the figures provided by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), the Centre has approved financial assistance of Rs 381.68 crore through Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) to construct the campus in Ganderbal district.

“The university has to approach HEFA board to get the funds released,” reads an official document.

 

Earlier in 2018, the University had to forfeit Rs 800 crores after it could not utilize the funds because the land earmarked for the campus was not found suitable for construction in the Ganderbal district. The funds were later diverted to other universities.

For the last 10 years, the varsity has been operating from rented accommodation at different places in Srinagar.

However, after facing pressure from the higher authorities, the university shifted most of its department to the Ganderbal district.

“Two campuses of CUK are functioning from two separate locations in Behama. In Nunar area, the old DIET building is being used as an administrative block for the University,” an official of the CUK said.

Officials said the varsity had invited a team from outside the state for soil testing. “We are going for G+1 cluster type of constructions which stands approved by the competent body,” the official said.

Speaking to The Kashmir Monitor, Registrar CUK, Professor Fayaz Ahmad Nika, said: “We have to recast the master plan and frame architectural design. There were certain difficulties with the land. Once it is resolved, we will then approach the HEFA.”

“We don’t have any deadline. Developing Campus is not a short term activity. We are focusing on constructing and developing the campus at Tulmulla in Ganderbal.  The construction work is going on at Tulmulla,” said Nika.

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To ‘curb militancy’; VDCs to be revamped in Kishtwar

Press Trust of India

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Jammu, Jul 21: Nearly 500 elderly Village Defence Committee (VDC) members and Special Police Officers (SPO) in Kishtwar district of J&K will be replaced soon, a senior police officer said on Sunday.

The step is part of a strategy to counter militancy activities in the hilly district which was rattled by the killing of BJP state secretary Anil Parihar and his brother Ajeet Parihar on November 1 last year, followed by the assassination of senior RSS leader Chanderkant Sharma and his security guard inside a health centre on April 9.

The decision was taken despite reservations expressed by former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti over arming of civilians in Chenab valley.

 

“Keeping in view the present security scenario in Kishtwar town and the overstaying of SPOs in the district (Kishtwar), an overhauling is being done. A process to replace 352 VDC members and 117 VDC SPOs who are above the age of 60 years has been set into motion,” the officer said.

The SPOs, who have overstayed at a particular place, have also been replaced. Besides this, 9 VDC SPOs have been disengaged from the VDC rolls for noncompliance of orders, the officer said.

In response to the recently held SPOs recruitment, he said a list of around 85 meritorious candidates was sent to police headquarters for final approval.

The VDCs were setup in the mid-1990s with an aim to strengthen the security of Hindus living in remote and mountainous areas of Doda, Kishtwar, Ramba, Rajouri, Reasi, Kathua and Poonch districts of the region.

The members of these committees not only guard the identified villages along the border, but also the infrastructural installations in and around them.

But eventually there were several cases of the VDCs misusing their powers and engaging in human rights violations.

Kishtwar along with several other districts of Jammu province were declared militancy-free over a decade ago but after the recent killings, the authorities have taken various steps to counter attempts by militants to gain a foothold in the Chenab valley. Inspector General of Police, Jammu, M K Sinha recently said at least 10 local militants – eight belonging to Hizbul Mujahideen and two affiliated to Lashker-e-Toiba – were active in the district.

Describing the reported plans of the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir administration to arm civilians in the sensitive Chenab valley as “alarming”, Mufti, who is also Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president, had warned that the move would have “dangerous consequences”.

She said similar experiments of arming civilians under the anti-militancy grid in the 1990s had led to complete chaos and the wounds inflicted upon the general masses were still fresh.

“Reports about the administration trying to arm civilians under the garb of creating VDC in Chenab valley are disturbing and alarming especially at the time when the government has to be inclusive to avoid further alienation of youth across the state,” Mufti had said in a statement on Saturday.

On Friday, police registered a case against former PDP MLC Firdous Tak and some other party leaders after they staged a demonstration against the state administration for strengthening VDCs in the district.

Mufti dubbed the FIR “false and frivolous” and demanded its immediate rollback.

“The party leaders have represented the sentiments and aspirations of the people but it seems that the local administration are working under pressure from a particular political organisation. The registration of the case only speaks about the sorry state of affairs in Chenab valley,” she said.

On July 17, a three-member delegation of senior BJP leaders led by former deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh met Governor Satya Pal Malik at Raj Bhavan in Srinagar and demanded the strengthening of the security apparatus including VDCs and provision of mobile bunkers in Chenab valley region.

They expressed concern regarding growing threats to the safety and security of people, illegal encroachments on forest land, and incidents of bovine smuggling in the region.

The Governor had assured the delegation due consideration of its demands.

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