Friday, December 5, 2008

Of Budget and Batamaloo bus-stand

Naseer A Ganai
I am not an economist. I would never try to explain others nuances of the Budget, its flaws and benefits. But sheer figures surprise me. Everywhere in Budget there are crores and crores of rupees only. Lakhs of jobs for unemployed, growth in every sector, and development everywhere. In budget every man has a house, every child is in school and every doctor attends his patient. In five years the coalition government (of course on papers) established 40 colleges.  If establishing of colleges continues with this pace, after 10 years every colony and every village will have its own college. There will be an end school system.  Because our education system would really go top down. It would start from college.
In budget every Mohalla has a bus and all buses have proper terminals, which are neat and clean unlike filthy Batamaloo bus-stand. Budget is really a wonderful world of statistics and figures.
For last five years whenever ‘zero deficit’ budget was presented, I thought it would change the destiny of Batamaloo bus-terminal. But five years down the line, the terminal changed from bad to worse. Figures in the budget went up and up and trenches in the Batamaloo bus-terminal went down and down. Upward growth in the budget proved to be downward slump for the Batamaloo bus-stand. And Sensex of the Batmaloo bus-stand always crushed.
Who is responsible for the crash of Batamaloo Sensex exchange. Let us examine it. The FORMER Finance Minister Tariq Hamid Qarra in his last budget speech (he is only two budget old) said the Coalition Government has changed not only the political discourse in the state but also its economic destiny.”
Coalition government, he said, has been able to add about Rs 1,000 every year for the last five years to the pocket of an average person in J&K. And then added emotionally that it means a lot more to him than his cutting debt intensity or running a high overdraft. Indeed a smart political statement. For last five years the successive Finance Minister’s have failed to respond to an argument of the leader of the opposition Abdul Rahim Rather who says if the Budget is zero-deficit then why overdraft from Jammu and Kashmir Bank is increasing every year. Rather Sahib here is political answer of your purely economic question.
In 2007  FM also gave a wonderful budget speech commencing it with name of God. I thought now there would be change and Batamaloo bus-stand would represent that changing and Khushal Kashmir.
But nothing Changed. Peoples Democratic Party’s slogan of peace with dignity neither brought peace in the bus-stand nor dignity to thousands of passengers and commuters whowalk into the Bus stand. On Salfia College road there is huge bunker and it has made the two-way road a one way. But it was there before the peace with dignity slogan. PDP replaced slogan and coined demilitarization and Azad came up with Khushal Kashmir but bunker remained on the road.
The road approaching the Adda (bus-stand) was never repaired, and it continues to be hell for vehicles and commuters. In winter and rainy seasons it is worst place with mud and muddy water everywhere. Those who pass through it in day (rough estimate is some 50000 people) have now developed a sort of love with this mud of Batamaloo bus-stand. I have seen number of commuters who pass through this Ada cleaning their heads with handkerchief. I was always wondering what kind of ritual it is. Then one day a fellow handed me his handkerchief and asked me to clean his head. It had accumulated some mud.

In summer it is so dusty that at times nothing is visible. Even not one’s own nostrils.
If Qarra says coalition government has changed political discourse, it has changed. He is absolutely right on this account. Like thousands of other commuters who pass thorough Batamloo bustand, I everyday in the morning and evening wonder for fate of those who pass through this Ada and wonder what is the fate the vehicles. Their drivers and their owners, and their conductors. It goes on. I also think of health of shopkeepers and health of motels located inside the Ada. And then at my workplace I discuss it with my colleagues. And now I see that instead of politics they discuss Batamaloo Ada. Really coalition has changed the political discourse. Five years back we were discussing politics, freedom, India, Pakistan, Middle East crises, China and its influence and five years down the line we are consumed by discourse of Batamaloo Busstand and what led its decline and fall. 24*7 it goes on. The credit should go to the coalition government.
Any one who has see picture of Guantanamo Bay on TV, and wants to see how it really looks like should once in his lifetime visit Batamaloo bus-stand. Here at every entry point are security personnel with long sticks and rifles. Barbed wire at every entry and exit points. Inside the Ada there are marked spaces, which are controlled by force personnel only. The drivers when enter the Ada are petrified where to stop and where not to. He has to follow unwritten instruction of sentry.
I have sort of love-hate relationship with Ada. Just like I have for budget. I don’t understand it but I have to read it. The Batamaloo Ada I don’t want to visit but I have to. The bus I board lands in the Ada. And its’ landing is backbreaking. Soon the bus reaches near the bus-stand; it develops ‘convulsions.’ The road has holes, trenches, ditches and they don’t only ‘break’ the vehicle but it also breaks the back of all those who are on board. And when the vehicle reaches near the bustand, its driver has dilemma, whether to stop outside or inside. He has many questions and angry passengers to face. Just like Finance Minister has to face opposition who describes his budget as anti-people. In the same manner passengers accuse driver of being cunning, anti people if he stops outside and those who intend to board down outside level him same accusation if he stops the vehicle inside bus terminal. The passengers do not know about the unwritten instruction to the driver by force personnel.
In this budget I remember the Finance Minister saying that seeds of our electoral success have been sown in our six budgets and those are now flowering across the state in the form of developmental work done on ground. Of course, needless to add, that this would not have been possible without the vision of Jenab Mufti Muhammed Sayeed and the dynamism of Jenab Ghulam Nabi Azad, he had added.
His predecessor too had stated many times about dynamism of the Azad Sahib and vision of Mufti Sahib. I was presuming that this would lead to joint statement. That would be called a visionary and dynamic statement and the statement would have some impact on ground zero at Batamaloo bus stand. The development is flowering across the State, says Qarra. But one wonders why it has not reached to Batamaloo bus-stand.

The former Finance Minister once talked about Kashmir having its own currency. Great idea. Let us have Reserve Bank of Kashmir. But where it should be constructed? At Batamaloo Ada, says my colleague.
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