Saturday, May 30, 2009

Land, houses, loans, jobs, more relief...

Parliamentary Panel Recommends Extensive Sops For Pandits

Naseer A Ganai

Srinagar, May 28: The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs that has tabled its report on Kashmiri migrants in the parliament has expressed concern over what it said “absence of comprehensive policy for rehabilitation” of Kashmiri pandits and recommended host of measures for the Pandit community.

The report tabled on February 13, 2009 has charged the centre and the State government of not adopting holistic approach to tackle the problems faced by the community. It has asked the centre government to issue directions to all States and the Union Territories to provide land to Kashmiri pandits for construction of houses under group housing schemes.

The committee said that the actual expenditure on account of implementation of rehabilitation programme for JK migrants during 2006-07 was only Rs 69.31 crores against the allocation of Rs 120 for 2007-2008. The report said that the government was not expeditiously implementing the schemes meant for the Kashmiri migrants.

The report that has used “Kashmiri displaced persons” for Kashmiri pandit migrants and has objected to the word “migrant” used in the context of Kashmiri pandits. It said the using suffix of the migrant for Kashmiri displaced persons was not appropriate. “Because,” the report argues, “the affected persons have been forced to give up their homes and hearths against their own will due to the mayhem caused by the militants.”

The report, copy of which is with the Greater Kashmir, however has different views about the return of Kashmiri pandits to the valley. “The committee is of the view that those persons cannot wait endlessly for normalcy to return to the valley and there is no harm if some such people prefer to settle outside the valley. The committee desires that the government should consider this aspect and announce suitable and appropriate policy measures,” the report said. The report said that Ministry of Home Affairs should explore all avenues to provide employment to Kashmiri pandits under the Prime Minister’s reconstruction package announced in 2004.

The report has opined that the Ministry of Home Affairs should play proactive role to force the State government to formulate the rehabilitation schemes for Kashmiri pandits. The committee has recommended that all the houses of Kashmiri pandits lying in “dilapidated condition” should be rebuilt by the government or a liberal grant be offered to owners of the properties to rebuild them.

“The committee understands that the purpose of monthly allowance given to Kashmiri displaced persons is to ensure that difficulties and hardships faced by them are minimized. But keeping in view of requirement for decent living the committee recommends that the government should consider to increase monthly sustenance from Rs 1000 per head to a reasonable amount,” the report said.

The Committee has recommended host of other measures:

That there should be budgetary provision for Kashmiri Pandits who are residing in valley for fulfilling their genuine needs of housing, employment and self-employment.

That there should be directions from the centre government to all the State governments and union territories to provide relief and rehabilitation to Kashmiri pandits living in their states and UTs.

That immediate employment of 1000 persons and constructions of two room flats at existing places of dwelling in Jammu should be implemented for Kashmiri pandits without delay. That the relief of Kashmiri pandits living outside the camps be enhanced to commensurate with the cost of living index.

 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Development!


In per capita plan investment, Kashmir figures at bottom



Srinagar, May 28: The Kashmir Valley has received less funds for development in different sectors under per capita plan investment in comparison to Jammu and Ladakh. A look at the official figures reveals that the difference in the investment has  either grown or remained constant over the past eight years.
While senior officials in the Planning department argue that Jammu and Ladakh get more funds due to the difficult terrain in the regions and less accessibility to the district headquarters, sources said that there was no proper mechanism and norms for grant of funds.

Per capita plan investment (in rupees)

 

Year       

Kashmir

Jammu   

Ladakh

2002-03

1752.16

2041.87

4000.00

 

2003-04         

1948.19      

2269.22

4304.82

2004-05

2311.18

2652.91

4867.19

2005-06        

2854.72

3207.20

5687.25

2006-07         

2559.61

3092.12

5856.03

2007-08        

3313.43

3948.39

4266.02

2008-09        

4060.48

4798.39

5072.84

Various factors like difficulty of terrain, population and area were the criteria for investment/expenditure per capita, said an official in the department. However, sources said there was no standard formula. “It is usually being worked out on ad hoc basis. Even there were no fixed norms for allocation of funds when new districts were created in 1976 and the problem continued. It again resurfaced when more districts were created in 2007,” said an official. He said in absence of a proper mechanism, there is a disparity in allocation of funds between the three regions of the state.

“For past 20 years Kashmir and some districts of Jammu have suffered immensely for want of development but the impression was being given that more investment was taking place in the Valley,” he said, adding if the argument was that population and area were the main criteria then more investment should have gone to erstwhile Doda district which didn’t happen. As per the 2001 census, the population of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh was respectively 5,467,970, 4,430,191 and 236,539 respectively.
Interestingly, in response to a question in the Assembly, the government had said that state plan was formulated for overall development after taking into account the regional and local requirements and availability of resources.
“Allocation of resources is done in a fair and equitable manner,” the government had said.
Officials said there was a need to understand the issue in holistic manner. There are certain sectors in Kashmir like tourism, conservation of water bodies including Dal Lake which receive more investment in comparison to Jammu and Ladakh, he said. “Likewise in Jammu, more investment takes place in many sectors like lift-irrigation schemes,” he said.




 

 


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

From world's highest militarised zone to India's hottest woman

Naseer A Ganai

The Guinness World Records is a reference book published annually from the UK, containing an internationally recognized collection of world records, both human achievements and some bizarre extremes of the natural world. There are scores of examples of Indian citizens, who over the years tried hard to make it to the Gunnies Book of World records, or who finally made it.

Shridhar Chillal of Pune grows nails. Five nails on his left hand together measured 205 inches. Here no one questions the relevance of the long nails. It is up to the individual who makes it to the Gunnies. Chillal tried to make it through his nails.   
He is not alone. There are others in India, who have grown long moustaches to figure in the Gunnies Book of the world records. Media reports says that Kalyan Ramji Sain of Sundargarh had grown, by July 1993, a moustache measuring 133.5 inches; one of his predecessors, a life convict in a New Delhi jail by the name of Karma Ram Bheel, received the permission of the prison in-charge to keep his moustache untrimmed, which by 1979 had grown to 7 feet 10 inches. And media has repeatedly reported about these individuals and their feats. There is another one. His name is N. Ravi. He stood on one foot for a record 34 hours. As the Guinness Book states, "The disengaged foot may not be rested on the standing foot nor may any object be used for support or balance."
Girish Sharma, we are told, improved his record ten years later by nearly 22 hours. Swami Maujgiri Maharaj of Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh remained standing for 17 years, thereby establishing a world record that no one is likely to break too soon. "When sleeping he would lean against a plank ", says Guinness Book.
The latest is an Indian mother who is set for an entry into the Guinness World Records after eating 51 of the world's hottest chilli in two minutes. Anandita Dutta Tamuly, 26, gobbled up the "ghost chillis" in front of visiting British chef Gordon Ramsay in the north-eastern state of Assam in April 2009. The Associated Press reported that Miss Tamtty "felt terrible", because she had managed 60 in an earlier local event. Ramsay tried a chilli but said "it's too much" and pleaded for water. Ms Tamuly told AP that she used to eat the chilli as a child "while children of my age roamed the village to look for berries".
The Times of India too had carried the story. Atul Lahkar, a local chef, told the Times of India that Ms Tamuly also "smeared seeds of 25 chillies in her eyes in one minute with the crowd simply awestruck". The previous record for eating was held by a South African with eight jalapenos in a minute. Guinness World Records has not yet formally confirmed the record. One Indian portal described her as “India's 'hottest' woman, all set to be 'hottest' in world.”
In nutshell, Indian media has reported every bit of news about Indians who have made it to the Guinness Book of World records. And both print and electronic media has reported these achievements in detail. Nothing wrong with it. However, the Indian media proved us wrong last month that it gives lavish attention to Guinness book of world records. In its 2009 edition, Guinness Book of World Records described Jammu and Kashmir as the ‘largest militarized territorial dispute’ in the world, a fact which didn’t get any space in any electronic news channel or the newspapers. Even in Kashmir the news didn’t get much coverage. 
Here is what the Guinness Book of the World Records, while quoting American Intelligence Agency (CIA) fact book, said about Kashmir: “The dispute between China, India and Pakistan for the Kashmir region is the largest and most militarized territorial dispute currently taking place on the planet earth.”
The record book reads: “At any time, up to one million troops confront each other across the Line of Control that represents India and Pakistan administered Kashmir,” the book mentions on page 137 in the chapter ‘modern life’ under the banner ‘World at War’. This is not the first time when media in India has ignored the militarization of Jammu and Kashmir. In fact most of the pro-India mainstream parties are talking about the demilitarization of Jammu and Kashmir as one of the confidence building measure to settle the dispute. But the Government of India insists that troops in JK are to maintain the ‘law and order’. How long? Neither the J&K Government nor the government of India answers this question. Since 1947, we are being told that Indian troops in JK are here to maintain the ‘law and order’. It’s unbearable that 60 years down the line that same law and order continues to be a problem and it requires huge deployment of troops in JK.  
In 2006, the then Law and Parliamentary Minister Muzaffer Hussain Baig, while participating in a debate on human rights said that “all six lakh troops are not angels.” Baig’s was an exceptional statement that was denied by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir and the Government of India when local newspapers reported it the next day. 
There is no data available with anyone about troops deployment in Jammu and Kashmir, and officials usually avoid the question. However, it is generally believed that the GoI has deployed some 7 lakh troops in J&K. By that logic, it is not only highly militarized area but one of the world’s most disproportionate wars in the world. There are only few Indians that have talked about the militarization of Jammu and Kashmir including the Booker prize winner Arundathi Roy and human rights activist Gautum Navlakha. Roy in one of her articles described heavy presence of troops as war against people of J&K, not against 800 militants.
The question is not what the Indian State is doing in Jammu and Kashmir particularly in Kashmir valley and the Muslim dominated districts of Jammu. The question is how, over the years, Indian mainstream media and its civil society has blocked the information about ground realities in Kashmir and has projected different picture, which is more about tourism and terrorism.
If growing moustaches, growing nails, taking chilies makes headlines in the newspapers and breaking news in electronic media, why this piece of information was suppressed? The question is not what the Government is doing and what it ought to do, the question is on the credibility of Indian media. And why, when it comes to Kashmir, it hardly cares about credibility, objectivity and fairness? It has no courage to tell people what they don’t want to listen. The latest example is Kashmir figuring in the Gunnies book of world records as the highly militarized region in the world.

(The writer is a Srinagar based Journalist working with Greater Kashmir)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ignoring Kashmir no longer an option: Western Media

NASEER A GANAI

Srinagar, May 21: Barely days after the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was voted back to power in New Delhi, two leading newspapers of the west, Times London and the New York Times, have asked the Government of India to increase the chances of peace with Pakistan by resolving Kashmir dispute.

 On 20 May 2009 the influential New York Times termed Kashmir as “festering sore.” It has mentioned Delhi and Kashmir in the same page asking the new government of India to initiate arms control, solve Kashmir, and solve the issues of water.
 An Editorial in the newspaper says “Ignoring Kashmir is no longer an option,” adding, “India is essential to what Pakistan will do. New Delhi exercised welcome restraint when it did not attack Pakistan after the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai by Pakistani-based extremists. But tensions remain high, and the Pakistani Army continues to view India as its main adversary. India should take the lead in initiating arms control talks with Pakistan and China. It should also declare its intention to stop producing nuclear weapons fuel, even before a proposed multinational treaty is negotiated. That would provide leverage for Washington and others to exhort Pakistan to do the same.”
 The editorial further said: “It is past time for India — stronger both economically and in international stature — to find a way to resolve tensions with Pakistan over Kashmir. If that festering sore cannot be addressed directly, then — as Stephen P. Cohen, a South Asia expert at the Brookings Institution suggests — broader regional talks on environmental and water issues might be an interim way to find common ground. Ignoring Kashmir is no longer an option.”
 On May 19 in Times London, the influential UK paper the chief foreign commentator Bronwen Maddox has said the careful, secular tone of Congress is the necessary ingredient for progress in the dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir. “India has stuck to the line that this is a bilateral row in which outside comment is unwelcome. The stand-off, with the line of control acting as a de facto border, largely suits it,” he said in his comment “Indian poll increases chances of peace with Pakistan over Kashmir.”
 He says Pakistan, where parts of the army are obsessed with “liberating” the Indian-controlled section of the territory, desperately lobbies for an outside broker (meaning the United Nations). “It has spent more military effort than it can afford on fuelling the obsession.” 
 Maddox says that the each side is deluding itself. “Pakistan is wrong to believe that the largely Muslim Kashmiris in India, if given the choice, would join Pakistan. Many Kashmiris, when asked in polls, have said that what they want is more autonomy from India. They have not said, on the whole, that they want to join Pakistan — and given its turmoil, why would they?”
 The commentator says India should consider the value of settling the dispute, with US or UN help if necessary. “That would begin to wean the Pakistani Army off its obsession. India, hardly as peaceful itself as these extraordinary elections have implied, is surrounded by conflict: Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal — and Pakistan. It could do a lot to help to nudge its troubled neighbour away from the Kashmir fixation and towards the real crises of extremism and the economy. The rescue of Pakistan, in the end, will depend partly on India,” he says.  He adds that India, too, would be the great winner from any step that makes Pakistan more like a normal country.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Kashmir in Holbrooke's agenda


US Is Problem, Not Solution To Any Problem: Prof Amitabh Matoo
Naseer A Ganai 
Awantipora, May 20: Former vice chancellor of Jammu University Prof. Amitabh Matoo on Wednesday said lobbying by strong Indian diaspora, nuclear deal, and US sensitivity toward Indian concerns after the Mumbai terror attacks pulled back Kashmir from the agenda of the US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke.
Prof Matoo, however, said India and Kashmir would continue to be in the sub-text of Richard Holbrooke’s agenda. 
He described New Delhi’s reaction towards possible inclusion of India or Kashmir in Holbrooke’s mandate as knee-jerk and said New Delhi shouldn’t have reacted the way it did. The United States, he said, was not going take away anything from India which India was not willing to give.
Prof Matto said the government of India should take lead to resolve Kashmir issue bilaterally if it doesn’t want rest of the world to intervene, while predicting possibility of an Indo-Pak dialogue in next three to four months.
Prof. Matoo, who delivered first lecture in Khaldunia Lecture Series at the Islamic University of Science and Technology on “US policy towards South Asia” said there was need to transform Kashmir conflict by restoring to people on both sides of the border their dignity and political power without touching the issue of territoriality. Elaborating, he said, the United States could only nudge India and Pakistan to have dialogue, but it would depend on India and Pakistan to create common initiative by demilitarizing the both sides of Jammu and Kashmir and invest in institution building without addressing the issue of sovereignty.
Professor Mattoo who serves on the Governing Council of Pugwash, the Nobel Prize winning NGO, and is Director of the India-Afghanistan Foundation (established by the governments of India and Afghanistan), said the issue of sovereignty would inflame passions in both India and Pakistan. Prof. Matoo said there was possibility of the dialogue between India and Pakistan over Kashmir issue in next three to four months.
Professor Mattoo was, till recently, a member of India’s National Security Council’s Advisory Board and was also a member of the task force constituted by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Global Strategic Developments.
In his lecture he was critical of the US foreign policy towards South Asia and described it as short-sighted, skewed and lacking sophistication. “We need to address our problems together. The United States is more of a problem than a solution,” he said and termed compartmentalizing the region like Af-Pak, as contemptuous, highly patronizing and without any vision. He said if the present US president Barack Obama who sees himself domestically as successor of Franklin Roosevelt doesn’t take a drastic course correction, then the US policy would continue to be catastrophic having potential of producing thousands of human drones in the South Asia.
The FDR, Prof Matoo said, was the only American president, in the past seventy years, who wanted to genuinely have a farsighted policy towards South and the World during his 12 years of presidency. He however said despite being inspired by the FDR and his foreign policy commonly known as New Deal, president Obama vision has not extended to his foreign policy particularly when it comes to South Asia.
He said the president Obama reached out to Muslims in Turkey and had some nice words for Iran as well, he spoke on disarmament in Prague but South Asia has so far escaped him.
The president Obama, he said, could live up to the legacy of the FDR if he goes back to the vision of the FDR and stops viewing South Asia through prism of cold war.
Prof Matoo said the President Obama has an opportunity as well as challenge in the South Asia. He said pouring money, troops and drones would not help the region of over a billion people. “But investing in stakeholders who have same vision for the South Asia as Obama has for his own country could help in changing the course in the region,” he said.
He said post September 11 there was growing realization in the US that the US hegemony couldn’t be assured through traditional means. Prof Matoo quoted some Pakistani diplomats who have been all praise for Taliban rule in Afghanistan and believe that only US exit from the region was guarantee of peace.

Monday, May 11, 2009

BAR LINKS K-ISSUE WITH SEAT DELIMITATION

UN Resolutions, Instrument Of Accession Likely To Reverberate In Court Today

NASEER A GANAI


Srinagar, May 10: On Monday the Jammu Kashmir High Court would hear a petition of a rare nature. The petition, actually related to increase in number of assembly seats in Jammu division, is likely to stir a discussion on Kashmir dispute, UN Resolutions on Kashmir, and Instrument of Accession.
After government turned down a bill seeking increase in the number of assembly by setting up fresh delimitation of the constituencies in Jammu division, the president of Panthers Party Bhim Singh filed a petition. Among other points Bhim said in the petition that Jammu has a larger geographical area than Kashmir and hence it should have more seats. He had alleged discrimination with Jammu.
But Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association challenged Bhim’s petition, terming it an ‘attempt to capture political power purely by increase of legislative assembly seats in Jammu province.” A division Bench comprising the Chief Justice, justice Bahrain Gosh and Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir heard petitioner Bhim Singh and Jammu Bar in Jammu High Court. The Bench would now hear the Bar in Srinagar.
The Bar has framed a four-point response-- state disputed nature of Jammu and Kashmir, question the petition itself, discuss the issue of discrimination raised in the petition, and elaborate the “politics behind the petition.”
The Bar has annexed documents of Treaty of Amritsar, UN Resolutions, agreements between India and Pakistan, and other documents with its response. The Bar’s objections present historical background of Kashmir dispute and how the State of Jammu and Kashmir has evolved in past 200 years. The Bar has quoted the various Security Council resolutions stating the final disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir would be made in accordance with the will expressed through democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite under UNO.
“Everything said and done, the Indian government maintains that it has legal possession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir by virtue of the instrument of Accession and Pakistani position is based on the contention that the so called accession of the State Jammu and Kashmir was fraud and therefore there was no basis whatsoever for India’s contention,” the Bar said.
The Bar’s objections say Bhim Singh’s petition and other statements have to be viewed in historical perspective. “The writ petition brings to fore intra regional issues and seeks to project them under the cover of constitutionalism and discrimination,” the Bar said. It described constitution of two commissions headed by two retired judges as fall out of discrimination bogey raised by Jammu people. Bar described the writ petition as an attempt to vest political power with Jammu people and repeat the times of Dogra rulers.
The Bar said the writ petitioner has not refrained from making political statements in the writ petition. “Because under the cover of PIL it seeks to espouse altogether different issue and seeks a judicial finding on those issues,” the Bar said. Bar said whether the people of Jammu have been discriminated or not in the sharing the states resources is a matter that should not come up in the present proceedings. The Bar said that intra-regional issues raised in the petition should be dismissed with costs, as they have been sharpened and projected in a way to cause an upset in the State.
The Bar said the delimitation commission can’t be constituted for increasing the number of legislative assembly seats, nor it can be constituted for the purpose of re-adjustment of boundaries of assembly constituencies, or for rotation of reserved legislative assembly constituencies. The Bar has elaborated that it is Muslims of the state who are being discriminated.

On May 11, 2009
The High Court on Monday heard the delimitation case with the High Court Bar Association arguing the petition filed by the Panthers Party president Bhim Singh was neither maintainable nor in the public interest but an attempt “to concentrate political power in a particular section of a particular region of the state.” 

Senior counsel Z A Shah, pleading the case on behalf of the Bar before a division bench comprising the Chief Justice Barin Gosh and Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir said the petition has been filed by a political party apparently to safeguard interests of a particular section in Jammu division. Shah termed the petition an attempt to drag the court in inter-regional issues.

Shah said the Bar firmly stood by the integrity of the State, and believes no region should be discriminated against. Rubbishing the points of discrimination raised by Singh in his petition, Shah said a different picture would emerge if the issue of regional discrimination is touched.

Shah then explained peculiar nature of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the Constitution of the Jammu and Kashmir, Article 370 and its applicability, Indian Constitution and its applicability to Jammu and Kashmir, and international dimensions of the issue.

Zafar quoted the Article 253 of the Constitution of India which says the consent of the J&K state has to be obtained in the event of its final disposition. “Therefore this is implicit recognition of the UN resolutions and the international dimension of the issue,” Zafar said, adding the disposition of the State has not taken place so far. Zafar submitted this aspect should be taken into consideration, and to maintain integrity of the state the Court should uphold the amendment that has postponed fresh delimitation of assembly constituencies till 2026.

Replying to the Bhim Singh’s contention in the petition that suspending delimitation till 2026 was against democracy, Zafar said it has to be seen what kind of democracy the J&K has enjoyed, and whether it could be termed as the democracy that is in vogue in other places.

Shah cited the amendment passed by Parliament that fixed the number of parliamentary seats for J&K at 6, doing away with the criterion of population ratio. He said the State government passed a similar amendment freezing delimitation till 2026.  Shah asked can the president be accused of discrimination vis-à-vis the Parliament amendment.

Shah would argue the case further on Thursday.

Earlier, when the case came up for hearing, the Chief Justice Barin Gosh observed the Court would like to hear legal instead of political arguments; hear whether the amendment was destroying basic structure of the democracy or not.

“If it does affect the democracy then it has to be explained how, and if it doesn’t that too has to be elaborated,” the Chief Justice observed, adding the Court has not taken any of the points alleged in the petition into consideration except to see whether the amendment (that delimitation is postponed till 2026) was in accordance with the constitution or not.

In April 2002, the National Conference government had brought a constitutional amendment in the assembly that explicitly says it was not necessary to readjust the assembly seats till 2026.

The Panthers Party president Bhim Singh filed petition in the Supreme Court against the amendment, but withdrew it after he was told to approach an appropriate forum. Then he filed a petition in the High Court, claiming “present composition of Assembly comprising 111 members with 24 seats reserved for PaK (AJK), was highly biased against Jammu region, which was allocated only 37 seats against 46 seats for Kashmir region.” Bhim Singh and the Jammu Bar argued the case before the Bench in April 2009.

Advocate G.A Lone who requested the bench that case should be heard at heard Srinagar as well was the first to argue today. He said postponing the delimitation doesn’t affect the voting rights.

Former advocate general of the State Altaf Hussain Naik said the delimitation commission of the State has no powers to increase or decrease the Assembly seats. He said the power to increase or decrease the seats lies with the legislature that has suspended this provision for some period. “By doing so it has not taken away any democratic right from anyone,” he said.

The senior counsel Syed Tasaduq Hussain said that a writ petition could be filed only by a “natural person.” He quoted the US Supreme Court judgments and the rules of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court and said that the no political party was the “natural person.” He said the petition was against the rules and not maintainable. 

The advocate general of the State Ishaq Qadri, who was present in the Court throughout the day, had argued the case of State in Jammu before the Bench in April 2009. He had said the petition was not public interest litigation.

At Last Kashmir Dispute Echoes in HC 

May 14, 2009. 

Srinagar, May 14: Kashmir dispute has been discussed in some of the top forums of the world-- United Nations, European Parliament, and other such bodies. But rarely has it reverberated in highest judicial body of the state, the High Court. Today was one such rare occasion. The High Court Bar Association, presenting its arguments in delimitation case, told the court that Jammu and Kashmir was never part of India, and plebiscite in accordance with the United Nations resolutions is yet to take place in JK.
The Bar termed the demand for fresh delimitation, as sought by the petitioner Bhim Singh of Panthers Party, a “move by the government of India to change status quo of JK through its stooge governments in JK and to avoid final settlement of Kashmir dispute according to UN resolutions.”
Mian Abdul Qayoom, president of the Bar, quoting judgments of the Supreme Court argued that postponing delimitation till 2026 was not violation of democratic rights, as it doesn’t affect elections. He said the Delimitation Commission constituted in 1981 submitted its report in 1995 and till then three elections were held in the state without delimitation of assembly constituencies.
Qayoom said the state legislature passed amendments in Section 47 of the State’s constitution and the People’s Representation Act in 2002, and Bhim Singh was party to these amendments. “But in 2007 all of a sudden Singh filed petition to challenge the amendments ostensibly to garner support and popularity in a section of people in Jammu,” Qayoom said, terming the petition malafide and politically motivated.
Qayoom then quoted resolutions of the UN passed on 17 January 1948, 20 January 1948, 21 April 1948 and several other UN resolutions on Kashmir. He said convening of the Constituent Assembly by the National Conference on October 1950 was the “biggest fraud played on people of Jammu and Kashmir.” The NC had convened the constituent assembly to determine the “future shape and affiliations of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.”
He said the Security Council resolutions explicitly say that the decisions of the constituent assembly would have no bearing on the Kashmir dispute.
He then quoted Article 253 of Constitution of India which says consent of the J&K government has to be obtained in event of its final disposition. “Therefore this is implicit recognition of the UN resolutions and the international dimension of the issue,” Qayoom said, adding the final settlement of the State is yet to take place.
Qayoom argued the government of Jammu Kashmir doesn’t mean the government of JK in its present form that is being formed through “farcical election process” to carry “administrative work.” He said JK government in its’ present form has to conduct day to day business and it can’t decision to determine the future of people of Jammu and Kashmir. “The Article 253 indicates about a separate government to be specially created to look how the plebiscite would be conducted in JK under UN,” he said.
He said the constituent assembly of J&K ratified the accession “when Sheikh Abdullah, who sold Kashmir to India, was in jail,” and “another stooge Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad, the then prime minister, was in charge.” This and various agreements between India and Pakistan on Kashmir indicate that Kashmir was disputed territory and people have not been given up on their right to exercise the plebiscite, he argued.
He said the present state of J&K was disturbing where “draconian acts” like Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Disturbed Areas Act were in force. He said there was no democracy in the State and elections were being held in one part and curfew was clamped in rest.
Referring to the discrimination part agitated by Bhim Singh in his petition, Qayoom took back the Court to the Treaty of Amritsar of 1846 when Kashmiris were sold along with land, animals to Dogra Maharaja. He said the rule of Dogra Maharajas was tyrannical. He said Kashmiris have been ousted from bureaucracy and police, and now by seeking readjustment of seats an attempt was being made to gain political power to change the status quo of JK to stall its final settlement. This time, Qayoom argued, Bar has sided with government only to maintain the status quo and prayed that the status quo shouldn’t be disturbed.
The petitioner Bhim Singh, Bar president said, describes in the petition that he speaks on behalf of people of JK. “He represents, if at all he really represents, only a certain section in Jammu,” He concluded his argument by asking for dismissal of the petition.
In April 2002, the National Conference government had brought a constitutional amendment in section 47 of the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir and in the Peoples Representation Act that explicitly says it was not necessary to readjust the assembly seats till 2026.
The Panthers Party president Bhim Singh filed petition in the Supreme Court against the amendment, but withdrew it after he was told to approach an appropriate forum. Then he filed a petition in the High Court, claiming “present composition of Assembly comprising 111 members with 24 seats reserved for PaK (AJK), was highly biased against Jammu region, which was allocated only 37 seats against 46 seats for Kashmir region.”
Earlier the division bench comprising Chief Justice, Justice Barin Gosh and Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir heard senior counsel Z.A Shah who was speaking on behalf of the Bar on the issue.
On last hearing the Chief Justice Barin Gosh had observed the Court would like to hear whether the amendment was destroying basic structure of the democracy or not.
“If it does affect the democracy then it has to be explained how, and if it doesn’t that too has to be elaborated,” the Chief Justice had observed.
Today Z.A Shah answered the question through these arguments. He said a constituency is determined on the basis of population, not on the basis of electors. “It is possible that within a population the electors can be less or more as compared to the population of other constituencies. The amendment doesn’t destroy the identity of the constitution and it continues to be democratic,” he said. Shah said that the legislature has frozen the seats in the same manner as the constituent assembly had done in 1956 when the Constitution was adopted. “For readjustment of the constituencies census is necessary. The legislature has deferred the census till 2026 for the purpose of creation as well as re-adjustment of the constituencies. By doing so the legislature has not deprived any elector any electorate of his voting rights. No electorate has any right to choose any particular candidate, who may contest from some other constituency,” he said, adding that the electorate can choose candidates from the constituency where he is a registered voter.
Shah said the legislature couldn’t amend the constitution if the amendment touches the core of the constitution. The legislature can’t alter the constitution and replace the old constitution by a new one. “But the legislature can within the constitutional framework make changes according to the need,” he said. Shah said in JK creation and alteration of the legislative constituencies has nothing to do with the population. He said in case of parliamentary seats the population has not been taken into the account and the legislature has followed the same logic.
Shah described the petition as mixture of politics and said it was not maintainable. He said prayed for dismissal of the petition and said that constitutional amendment couldn’t be challenged through PILs. With this Bar concluded its arguments.
Bhim Singh, who was present in the Court, would respond to the objections raised by Bar on Friday morning before the Bench. On Friday the Bench heard Singh for some time and then asked him to come up with detailed response in Jammu on May 22. The Bench said that it would deliver the judgement on the case before the summer vacation.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Kashmir protests

Thousands of people today protested against  interference of the government in religious affairs of the Muslims. The government on Friday last imposed restriction in Srinagar and didn’t allow people to offer Friday prayer in Jamia Mosque. The protesters were led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

Photo Aman Farooq

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Grounded

Srinagar International Airport

Srinagar, May 6: Welcome to Srinagar International Airport. The Indian Air Force, which owns it, has leased out a couple of hundred acres to the Airport Authority of India. Here passengers are not allowed to carry hand baggage inside the plane. Woman can’t carry hand bags. There is parking space for only four planes. The tour and travel operators are still confused whether the Airport is named Srinagar International Airport or Sheikh-ul-Alam international Airport. There is no facility for currency exchange, no counter to receive guests, and no public convenience for people who visit the Airport for receiving passengers. Before 1990, the planes would stay overnight, but for the past 20 years they can’t, and flight take off from 11 AM to 3 PM. In summers, 18 flights a day depart and arrive.
In these times when swine flue scare is raging around the world there is no quarantine facility for medical examination of incoming passengers. There is no quarantine facility for animals and plants. Still it is an ‘International Airport’.


CLAIMS
The Director Airport Authority Srinagar, however, claims the airport has undergone renovations: an improved runway, a new terminal for departure and arrival, aerobridges and other operational facilities and several other changes. At present, scheduled international flights operate only to Dubai. Seasonal Hajj pilgrimage charters to Jeddah and regular scheduled flights to Jeddah are expected to start in first half of 2009. International airport with two aerobridges is presently competent to handle 500 domestic and 450 international passengers at a given point, he said.
He said that the six-section terminal building is projected to be the first to have inline baggage X-ray system. He said tarmac area has been expanded to 55, 820 sq mt from 13,045 sq mt and is able to accommodate nine instead of five aircraft simultaneously. Plans are there to have additional parking bays to accommodate wide-bodied jet aircraft and international chartered flights. Based on a Dubai design using less concrete and more glass the basic blueprint was to have six aerobridges, four escalators, 16 check-in counters and a central heating system.


SHORTCOMINGS
The tour operators don’t deny the raising of the infra-structure and other facilities but they say it is too little and lot has to be done. Nasir Shah runs the tour and travel agency. He says there are restrictions for the civilian aircraft between the sunset and sunrise and the IAF controlled Air Traffic Control enforces the restrictions strictly. “If the restrictions are withdrawn and facilities provided to planes for landing at any time it would be a major steps towards the internationalizing the airport,” he said. 
The Srinagar airport is only airport in India that has no facility of the Instrument Landing System. The ILS is a ground-based instrument approach system that provides precision guidance to an aircraft approaching a runway, using a combination of radio signals and, in many cases, high-intensity lighting arrays to enable a safe landing during instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), such as low ceilings or reduced visibility due to fog, rain, or blowing snow. Shah says the facility has not been introduced in the Srinagar and many a time flights have returned to other destinations for want of the facility.
The Airport has earned distinction of being the only ‘International’ Airport where the passengers are not being allowed to carry hand baggage, and with a limited capacity for only four planes. 
The tour and travel operators said the domestic and foreign tourists are shocked when they find they can’t carry hand baggage. A tour operator the restrictions won’t help government to develop tourism sector and conveys a wrong message about the place.
He said such restrictions were not imposed in Mumbai after the carnage there. Even the pilots are angry. “Is this international Airport where you don’t have space for four Airplanes for boarding,” said a pilot pleading anonymity.
The Srinagar International Airport has no direct coach service to ferry the passengers. The passenger has to pay huge amount to reach to their destinations. Nasir Shah says that the bus service to carry the passengers would have helped a great deal. “Every passenger has to pay Rs 400-500 to reach Lal Chowk,” he said. He said Auto Rickshaw drops outside the Indra Gandhi international Airport but in Kashmir it is not allowed.
The operators say there are not special lodges, duty free shops, international bank and no facility for foreign exchange. There are no Urdu signboards and no proper system for the custom checking.
There is advisory committee comprising MP Srinagar D.C Budgam, D.C Srinagar, Director Tourism and Director Airport and the committee has to review the arrangements of the Airport. However the committee headed by the member Parliament Srinagar has not met for last two years.
The Airport which was to be named as Sheik-ul-Alam International Airport instead was inaugurated by the Congress president Sonia Gandhi under its existing name, the Srinagar Airport. The Civil Aviation Ministry Government of India created hurdle in naming the Airport. The Ministry has not approved the proposal of re-christening the airport after the 14th century Muslim saint, Hazrat Sheikh Noor-ud-din Noorani (RA). The proposal is lying with the Civil Aviation ministry for a long time now. Interestingly in some of the brochures the Airport is being mentioned as the Sheik-ul-Alam international Airport. “If there is Indra Gandhi International Airport Delhi, Chatrapati Shivaji Airport in Mumbai, Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad, then what is wrong with naming Srinagar International Airport as Sheikh-ul-Alam International Airport,” said a tour operator.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Manipulation

Manufacturing Consent

Why media describes participation in Assembly elections as a slap on separatists, and why less participation in parliamentary polls is attributed to broken promises of politicians? Isn’t media manufacturing consent in Kashmir, asks Naseer A Ganai


Large number of people participated in the Assembly elections of October- November 2008. In the first phase of elections, despite the Mumbai carnage, when large queues were seen outside the polling booths in Bandipora and Sumbal Sonawari, irrespective of the boycott call given by the pro-freedom groups, the media described it as defiance of separatists. It was one of the big events of the year. It was reported widely and debated for over a month. The target of the debate was pro-freedom groups that had given the poll boycott call. In one of the program Barkha Dutt of NDTV news channel asked a separatist leader that ‘time has come for you to read the writing on the wall.’ Some New Delhi based news channels described the voting as “vote for India.” Pranoy Roy of the NDTV in a TV discussion on Kashmir voting sought reaction from the Pakistani senator Mushahid Hussain from Islamabad. Pranoy argued that now that Kashmiris have come out to vote it is a clear message to all what Kashmiris are for. Secular India!

Mushahid retorted back, “If you are so confident about it, let us have plebiscite in Kashmir tomorrow.” The comment annoyed Roy and he responded by saying, “you are harping about the same thing.” Mushahid just laughed.

Other news channels adopted the same line - that participation of people in elections is the writing on the wall for the pro-freedom groups. However the correspondents based in Kashmir for various news channels described the voting in Kashmir as the vote for development and local issues. But the line was not accepted by the New Delhi based media, and they continued to propagate the theory that people defied the separatists. Fine. Everyone has the right to have his viewpoint even if the ground realities contradict it.

In the Parliamentary elections, situation was not different. The South Kashmir Islamabad constituency was first to go for polls. In the Assembly election there was large participation of people from the South. Like in Assembly elections the incorrigible pro-freedom groups and the High Court Bar Association (HCBA) had given the boycott call. But they were not given any level playing field. They were not. If in a democracy one has right to campaign and ask people to vote and elect him, another has equal right to ask people not to participate. But Kashmir is always different. Those who call for voting enjoy the full protection of the State and those who call for non-participation are put under house arrest or kept in jails. It happened in Governor’s rule, and it is happening now as well.

Now back to the polls.

Surprisingly, there was less participation of people in the poll process. The Tral constituency remained in news in the Assembly election due to 48.78 percent poling. This time the Election Commission says there was two percent polling in Tral. In other constituencies the long queues were not seen anywhere, except in Noorabad.

In Pampore this time it was three percent poling in contrast to 43.42 percent in the Assembly elections. But the media, whether local or New Delhi based, didn’t describe less voting this time as a result of the boycott call. Instead, it argued why people didn’t come out to vote and cited various reasons except the boycott call. This newspaper was no exception. The Greater Kashmir carried a front page three column story by Javid Malik (GK, May 1, 2009) with the headline, “Not Boycott Call, Broken Promises Keep Voters Away.” The Himalayan Mail (May 1, 2009) had lead news story, “Poll Fatigue Keeps Voters Away.” The Times of India carried story about the elections in Kashmir on page I, on May 1, 2009 with headline “Voters Lacked Zeal in Anantnag.” The Daily Excelsior carried the lead on May 1, 2009, ‘Voters Lukewarm Response to Elections.” The Delhi based media adopted the same line and said the response was lukewarm towards the elections.

Now here are some questions. If the participation of the people in the Assembly elections was vote for India, why is the non-participation this time being attributed to ‘broken promises’ as reported by Greater Kashmir, ‘poll fatigue’ as reported by the Himalayan Mail, and ‘Lack of Zeal’ as the Times of India wants us to believe? Why? Why it is not the other way round. There is no doubt that there was large participation in the Assembly elections and the response to the huge participation was projected in the manner, first by the media and later by the State, as “peoples’ final verdict about the Kashmir dispute.” The State and the political parties were not quick to react to the participation of people in the elections and didn’t come up with inferences within hours after the polling started in the Assembly elections in the State.

But the media was ecstatic, particularly Delhi based news channels. They were first to describe the elections as “vote for India.” And then the State reacted welcoming the participation of the people in the poll process and the Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi too welcomed it, while inaugurating the first international flight from Sheikh-ul-Alam Airport (the Srinagar Airport was to be renamed as Sheik-ul Alam Airport.) But it was not said that neighbors (Pakistan) should learn lesson from participation of people in the elections. In fact the Congress in its manifesto describes the participation of people in the Assembly elections in the State of Jammu and Kashmir as one of its major achievements. But the State and the politicians should be given credit for not going overboard soon after the 66 percent participation of the people in rural belts during the Assembly elections. The Srinagar city, towns including Islamabad, Varmul, Sopur saw far less participation in the Assembly election.

If the objectivity and the fairness is criterion of the reporting events then it seems we media persons are selectively objective and selectively fair in reporting. If the poll participation was news during the Assembly elections and the media was quick to describe it as the failure of the boycott call of the pro-freedom groups, why the non-participation this time failed to make any news, and if it made, why it was it attributed to the luke warm response and the broken promises. Why? Are there different standards of objectivity?

If during the Assembly elections media presumed that it was the vote against the pro-freedom groups and in favour of the secular democratic India, why this time media stopped short of presuming anything. Instead, it started looking for hardcore facts that were responsible for the low percentage of the voting. Why these facts were not sought during the Assembly elections? The participation or non-participation in the Parliamentary elections should make bigger news and should be debated because in parliamentary elections the vote means the vote for Indian parliament, and that means vote for India. And general perception is that the Assembly is all about the local issues and development. Moreover, the Assembly elections were debated for over a month on New Delhi based TV channels despite the Mumbai carnage and war like situation between India and Pakistan. Why the parliamentary elections were not debated. Is media manufacturing consent by giving two different reasons for the same process? The answer is a big yes.
(The article was originally published in the media watch website, Thehoot.org. Author is a senior correspondent with Greater Kashmir)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Company Bahadur

Various news reports regarding some shoddy deals entered in to by the State Government with the government of India’s corporation, National Hydro Power Corporation or NHPC have justifiably raised many an eyebrow. It has been observed that the NHPC appears playing the role of the Company Bahadur, the name assumed by what originally was known as East India Company, with some bureaucrats in the state administration playing the role of Mir Jaffers and Mir Sadiqs. The recently signed MoU by the state government with the NHPC is at least suggestive of the dirty role played by these bureaucrats in bequeathing state’s precious resources to the latter. And the state government headed by Omar Abdullah is doing no better than the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah in dealing with the menace called NHPC, a perception fast gaining ground in the public. The MoU that gives the state owned Baghliar project to the charge of NHPC is the most questionable agreement as it is fraught with risks of state losing a chunk of its fortunes that could accrue to it from sale of electrical energy. The explanation tendered by the J&K power Development Corporation that “Baglihar being highly sophisticated and state-of-the-art project, its operation and maintenance was felt to be outsourced for a limited period which would be utilized for training of its own engineers and technicians as the requisite level of expertise was not available in JKSPDC and within the state government to run such a sophisticated plant” is not at all plausible. The question is that why did not the JKSPDC take care of the HRD when the project was under construction.   The arrangement would result in skill development of local manpower. While denying the news report on the shoddy deal the spokesman has chosen to remain silent about shelving of the recruitment process in the in 2004-2005 during the PDP-led coalition rule. The fact remains that the corporation had conducted interviews to select engineers for training them in O&M of Baglihar. Agreed the operation and maintenance of the whole project involved high level of technical expertise in relation to electro mechanical units, civil structures, reservoir management, fire and other safety measures but why shelve a process that would result in creating the trained manpower needed for such operations? By abandoning the recruitment process, the state is sure to incur heavy losses as it has to pay Rs 120 crore to the NHPC for maintenance and operation of the project. Had the recruitment been made and trained the recruits in time, the state would not be beset with such a problem today. The question is had the PDP-Congress coalition government taken the issue seriously, the state could have saved Rs 100 crore and utilized it in developing another project. As per the corporation the deal was struck by an Apex Committee headed by the chief secretary and comprised of financial commissioner, Planning and Development, commissioner/secretary, Finance, commissioner/secretary, PDD, managing director, JKSPDC and JKSPDC senior engineers. Given the nature of the deal it is more pro-NHPC than pro-state. Obviously most of the members of the apex committee are non-stake holders and therefore cannot be expected to take care of the interests of the state. The Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir, a grouping of the industrialists of the state appears justified in questioning recent MoU signed for generating 2120 mw of power from three power projects of Pakaldul, Kiru and Kawar in a joint venture company with NHPC and asking for scrapping it. According to it the projects would require around Rs 18,000 crore to be generated from 30 per cent equity and 70 per cent from public subscriptions. Out of the equity of Rs 5400 crore, the state government’s share would be Rs 2700 crore which shall have to be contributed in 5 years. Even if the government succeeds to adjust cost of land involved in the projects at Rs 200 crore, still they shall have to pay Rs 500 crore per year. The string attached to the agreement entered into with NHPC that in case the state government failed to contribute towards the project, their share would be sold off and in that case the first right of purchase would remain with NHPC. The stipulation that while the state government’s share in the joint venture could not exceed 49 per cent, the NHPC was free to hold up to 98 per cent of the shares, is no way acceptable to the real stakeholders i.e the people. The condition in the agreement that the benefits of power would be shared by the parties in joint venture as per the actual contribution made by them thereby undermining the position of the state. Similarly the condition regarding control and command of the joint venture company would de facto remain with the NHPC. Although the agreement provided for absorption of 100 per cent C and D class employees as also 49 per cent of A&B class employees from among the state subjects, yet the clause was made subject to their suitability, availability and eligibility, which too gives disproportionate share to the NHPC. The allegations leveled by FCIK are too serious to be ignored by the NC-led coalition.

Interference in religion

‘Hoist Black Flag On Masjids, Houses, Vehicles From Monday’

By Arif Shafi Wani


Srinagar, May 1: Anguished at the restrictions on Friday prayers at Jamia Masjid here, the chairman of Hurriyat Conference (M), Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, has urged people to hoist black flags on Masjids, houses and vehicles from May 4 to protest against the ‘religious interference.’

Accusing the government of hypocrisy, Mirwaiz said entire administration is kept on tenterhooks to ensure smooth conduct of Amarnath yatra but it is not so earnest towards religious worship of others.

“When it comes to Muslims, particularly of Kashmir, the government adopts a different yardstick. The successive regimes have snatched all the rights of Kashmiris to suppress the ongoing freedom movement,” he said.

Mirwaiz will chair a meeting of Hurriyat to chalk out a strategy against the repeated attempts to prevent Friday prayers at the Jamia Masjid and other places. “In the disguise of maintaining so-called law and order, police prevented people from offering Friday prayers and snatched their religious rights,” Mirwaiz said.

“I fervently appeal to people to hoist black flags on Masjids, houses and public and private vehicles from Monday to register protest against the religious interference. Even during the assembly elections, authorities prevented prayers in Jamia Masjid for eight consecutive Fridays. We can’t tolerate interference in our religious affairs and are ready to sacrifice our lives for protecting our rights,” said Mirwaiz, who continues to be under house arrest. 

Mirwaiz said it was during the Sikh rule that prayers were restricted in Jamia Masjid. “Acting on New Delhi’s directions, the autocratic rulers had surpassed even the Sikh rule by repeatedly snatching our religious rights. It has exposed the real face of India’s democracy. We appeal the Organization of Islamic Conference and the international community to take cognizance of the grave issue and enforce sanctions against India for the unpardonable crime,” he said.

Mirwaiz said the boycott of parliamentary election in south Kashmir had frustrated the government. “It can’t force the people to vote under the shadow of gun. By remaining away from polls, people have given their referendum that elections can’t be a substitute to their right of self-determination. The sooner New Delhi understands it better it would be for it,” he said.

Earlier this year, the Muslim scholars had threatened to launch a Valley-wide agitation if the government and its security agencies didn’t stop interfering in the religious affairs. Mirwaiz strongly condemned the house arrest of pro-freedom leaders including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Muhammad Yaseen Malik and Nayeem Ahmad Khan. He appealed the people to make the strike calls against the elections on May 7 and 13 successful.