Srinagar, Oct 6: Perching on the deck of his Shikara, 34-year-old Rafiq Ahmad recalls last year’s autumn season when the Dal Lake was bustling with tourists. Such was the rush that he couldn’t find time to renovate his houseboat that required a whitewash. A year later Ahmad is at wits end how to make-up for the losses he suffered during the current festive season. “This was the season when we would earn some extra bucks. Every year tourist flow would witness a steep rise in festive season. The rush was such that houseboats would fall short of space to accommodate tourists,” Ahmad said.
Since August, 2 when government issued advisory for the tourists, houseboats, Shikaras and hotels across Kashmir are lying vacant.
Two months have passed, but there are no signs of tourism revival. This is despite the fact that only few days are left for Diwali and Dusshera holidays to start. During the festive season, high-end tourists from Maharashtra, Gujarat and West Bengal used to spend Pooja holidays in Kashmir.
General Manager Heaven Tour and Travels and a member of Travel Agents Society of Kashmir (TASK), Farooq Ahmad Bhat told The Kashmir Monitor that government advisory and communication clampdown are the main reasons for zero arrivals this festive season.
“We would normally witness 70 per cent booking during Diwali and Dusshera holidays. Currently, we can’t even access our emails to know the mood of our clients,” he said.
Bashir Ahmad Karnai, a prominent hotelier said it is for the first time in last one decade when hotels across Kashmir are without tourists.
“We never expected a situation like this at least in festive season. The occupancy is almost reduced to zero. Even some hoteliers have locked down their hotels,” he said.
Tourists, who were planning to spend Pooja vacation in Kashmir said the current situation have held them back. “We are eagerly waiting for the situation to improve. Most of Bengalis have moved to other places including Darjeeling and Sikkim to spend Pooja vacations,” said Arup Mukherjee, a Bengali backpacker in a telephonic conversation.
Rs 4 crore released for strengthening power infrastructure in Srinagar
Srinagar, Jan 16: The Srinagar administration Thursday released Rs 4 crore to the Power Development Department for strengthening power distribution network in various areas of the district.
The funding was released for creation of new sub-stations and augmentation of existing ones at various places across the district.
The new sub-stations which include a total number of 30 are being set up at an aggregate cost of over Rs 2 crore. Most of these also include setting up of HT and LT networks.
The funding has been provided under the Special Area Development Programme of Government of India.
Deputy Commissioner Srinagar Dr Shahid Iqbal Choudhary said that in addition to creation of new sub-stations the existing infrastructure of divisional workshops of electric divisions 1st and 4th are also being upgraded.
The upgradation of these divisional workshops includes installation of modern electro-mechanical facilities aimed at enabling faster repair of damaged transformers. It is being done at an aggregate cost of Rs 1.5 crore.
The DC said these divisions have also been provided an additional Rs 30 Lakh for enhancing buffer stock of transformers utilised during times of damages to existing sub-stations.
The funding also provides for augmentation of existing sub-stations and reclamation of damaged transformers in the electric division 4th which caters to old city areas of the district. It also provides for installation of a 63 KVA power generator at Peer Dastageer Sahib shrine.
Dr Shahid said the power infrastructure is being strengthened across the district adding that deficits and requirements of upgradations are being taken care of wherever required.
ACB arrests NC leader’s son over alleged bank fraud
Srinagar, Jan 16: The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday arrested Hilal Rather, son of National Conference leader and former finance minister Abdul Rahim Rather, in a bank fraud case involving Rs 177 core.
“Hilal Rather was arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Jammu today in a case related to the alleged misappropriation of crores of rupees from the term loans running into Rs 177 Crores sanctioned by Jammu and Kashmir Bank for his ambitious township project known as Paradise Avenue at Narwal Bala Jammu in the year 2012,” an ACB spokesman said.
Hilal”s father Abdul Rahim Rather was the finance minister of the erstwhile state in 2012 when the loan was taken from the bank.
According to the official statement, “ the investigation conducted by the Bureau has revealed that Paradise Avenue, a Partnership Concern of Hilal Rather, Dr Rizwan Raheem Dar of Sanant Nagar Srinagar, Ghulam Mohd Bhatt of Baramulla Kashmir, Daljeet Wadhera and Smt. Deepshikha Jamwal of Jammu was sanctioned a term loan of Rs 74.27 crores in the first phase and in relaxation to the credit policy of the bank which restricts loan to a partnership firm at Rs 40 crores and the loan was approved by the Board of Directors of the J&K Bank when Hilal Rather despite the fact that he had already entered into a OTS with the State Financial Corporation in the past. The remaining loan amount were granted by the Board despite the fact that the repayments of the first loan taken was not complete”.
Hilal Rather, who also owns Simula Group of Companies, was being questioned for the last few months by the Bureau in connection with the siphoning off crores of rupees from the loan amount sanctioned by the New University Campus Branch of J&K Bank for the construction of Flats under the name of Paradise Avenue.
He has been evading details of property raised & others transaction related to siphoning of funds meant for construction.
Smugglers make hay as exploitation of medicinal plants goes unchecked
Srinagar, Jan 14: Three hours into the arduous trek, Salim, 45-year-old forager hailing from indigenous Gujjar community of Sonamarg, lets out a shriek of joy, as he spots a cluster of medicinal plant species called Trillium Govainum, locally known as ‘Tripather’ on the grassy floor. He digs into the roots gently with a spade and carefully places the bulbs in a cloth bag slung on his shoulder.
“I am selling these plant bulbs to a smuggler in Srinagar for Rs 2000-3000 per kilogram. This is how I make my living,” he says.
Every year, in the month of April, Salim gears up for the trek and extracts around half gram of the plant bulbs daily. The mountain, he has chosen is at an altitude of 2,500 metres, as this is the ideal height, where the healing Himalayan green grows.
Similarly, Janna Begum, 40, starts her foraging journey annually in the month of June. Her sought after plant is Fritlaria Roylei, locally known as ‘Sheet Khaar’, which grows abundantly in Gurez Valley, Gulamarg, Lolab and Hirpora wildlife sanctuary. It is used to treat around 80 ailments.
“We don’t know if it is used for curing diseases. We are simply extracting it to make some money out of it. There are plenty of smugglers who are in need of it,” she says.
She, however, notes that they always fear getting caught by the forest guards. “We only sell when we are familiar with the smugglers otherwise there are chances we may be caught,” she says
Likewise, there are scores of local foragers from other areas of Jammu and Kashmir who go out in the quest of finding the rare plant species.
Smugglers send local men and women to the forest to get these plants as it becomes difficult for forest guards to identify these people because they go in forests to collect various things like forest wood and dried leaves.
Kashmir has a rich resource of medicinal plants, which are used in aromatherapy and cosmetics as well as medical treatments. Demand for these plants from Europe, China, Japan and other nations have made Kashmir a fertile ground for smugglers.
More than 80 percent population in developing countries is dependent upon traditional system of medicine.
According to the official data compiled Department of Bio diversity and Taxonomy, Kashmir University, there are 1000 different kinds of medicinal plants available in the J&K out of which 300 are endemic –they are found in particular geographical region. Among them are some high end plants having high commercial value and are dwindling fast due to huge demand.
Sample this: Trillium, which was earlier a lesser known medicinal plan in trade, has gained popularity in commercial utilization these days. It is one of the most sought after medicinal species of the western Himalayan region. However due to high demand and no significant regeneration, it is declining by the day, as per the official data.
“The underground part of the plant, i.e. rhizome is key material of trade containing Trillarin which on hydrolysis yield diosgenin and used in preparation of steroidal and sex-hormones. It is sold in lakhs internationally,” it says.
Similarly plant species like Podophylum Hexandum (local name: Vane Wangun), Sasurra Caustus (local name: Koth), Aconitum Heterophulym (local name: Phatrees), Sasurra Sicra (local name: Jueg Badshah) are on the verge of extinction, as per various studies.
Akhtar H Malik, a researcher at the Kashmir University, attributed “overexploitation, habitat destruction, unchecked deforestation and overgrazing as the primary reasons for the declining rate of medicinal plants”.
“The locals get Rs 2500 to 3000 per kilogram of Trillium. It sells at Rs 70,000 per kilogram. There are some foreigners who come as tourists but carry medicinal plants in their bags. These medicinal plants are being exported in trucks laden with fruits to Chandigarh from where it is being supplied to various parts,” he said.
Former Nodal officer, Medicinal Plant Board, Dr Wahid Hassan said forest department has already reserved 1785 hectares of land for the conservation of medicinal plants.
“This step was taken under a project sanctioned in 2010 and was competed in 2017. Around 4.34 crore rupees were given for the conservation of medicinal plants. For rehabilitation, the department is already planning to collaborate with the forest dwellers. They will be given the mandate of extracting and selling the plants. This will eventually generate employment and help us in securing the plants for posterity,” he said.