Bridging Without ROADS

Bani belt of Jammu is in crisis these days. Owing to massive rains, nearly 3000 meters of vital 65-kms Basholi-Bani road was washed away in the first week of June. It lead to shortage of essential commodities and hike in prices of potatoes, onion, pulses, oils and kerosene.
Initially GREF officials said they would set up 300 meter Bailey bridge near Kardoh and later manage rest of the stretch.

Now the officials have started managing supplies partly through the Bani-Bhaderwah road. But the administration in Jammu is facing the music for neglecting the Bani-Bhaderwah road for a long time. It is barely motorable and just a few Sumo vehicles use this dirt trek for during three months of summer. The population that needs to be fed is around 50,000.

Though GREF has employed five machines to clear the debris, they are facing problems as the entire mountain range is sliding and blocking the road. Officials have set the deadline of July 1 for restoring the road link but locals dispute it given the pace work.

The crisis has come with its own opportunity. The local horsemen are minting money. The government is driving supplies to the sliding point and they are lifting the load. For every kilogram it is Rs 1 and helping an LPG cylinder cross the mess is Rs 50.

In a related revelation, the government has spent Rs 18.25 crore to create a bridge at Kathar in Akhnoor. While the bridge is ready, there are no access routes on either side. The 5.5 meter carriageway of 414-meter span was set up over Manova nullah with an objective of offering shortest and alternate road connectivity between Akhnoor and Pouni areas of Reasi. The bridge is being built since March 2003 but nobody thought of having a road as well. Engineers say they would require Rs 20 crore for laying the road on either side of the bridge.

After three consecutive summers were lost to the unrest, it is rush hour now. There is no space in hotels or the houseboats and the rates are going through the roof. The arrivals are four times up if compared to the peaceful pre-unrest days of 2010. While getting a hotel room in the city has become a heady task, the lodging capacity in Pahalgam, Gulmarg, and Sonamarg is totally booked. Weekends become a major crisis as locals visit peripheral picnic spots filling up the entire space.

Almost all the packages of the tour operators are sold out. All the houseboats and rented helicopter services from Pahalgam to the Amarnath cave are sold out completely, trade insiders said. Flight bookings have seen a nearly 75 per cent jump.

Officials said since January they have received 485828 tourists of whom 442540 were domestic and 13207 foreigners. Besides, 30081 tourists visited the Ladakh region during this period with most of them using the Srinagar-Leh highway to reach there. July would witness massive rush because of the start of Amarnath yatra. So far 300000 pilgrims have registered themselves.

As Srinagar airport lacks night landing facility, the authorities have managed opening the airport early. Now the airport receives the first flight at 7 a.m and last of the 18 flights leaves by 4 p.m.

However, it has created a problem for the government as more and more official delegations are flying to Srinagar. So far Srinagar hosted four parliamentary committees and innumerable conferences. Apart from spending heavily on housing them, the government has recently issued an order taking away the official cars from 100 officers to manage the VVIPs. It in fact adds to their problems in routine functions. Some of the officers manning crucial positions are spending late night hours to manage their routine work as some officer see massive backlog to clear on their tables.

At the same time, however, they are making money as well. The cable car in Gulmarg has crossed all its records of earning and the JKTDC that mostly houses the officials in its prime infrastructure in Srinagar has also started making small profits.

Hostage of a MINDSET
This is not for the first time that they did it. The security agencies in Rajouri detained a young girl last week. The arrest of a 19-year-old girl was made in Darhal belt. A school dropout in tenth standard from Maloot hamlet, Rashta Tabusum was questioned at length and selective leaks to the media suggested that she was an agent of ISI working in the sensitive border belt. There were no reports of any formal case against her.

After spending two days in custody she was set free as she proved innocent. “Call it lack of expertise on part of the state police personnel to intercept Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls, or the ability of militants to spoof their caller IDs with the help of advanced technology, but a teenaged girl from Rajouri had to spend two days in police custody for no fault of her own,” reported Indian Express.

Tabasum was in the market on Friday when the local SOG picked her up. She was taken to the police station and the questioning started immediately. Somebody in the station rang up her father Tufail, a PHE employee.

The arrest followed SOG intercepting a VoIP call made to a mobile number, which was already under surveillance on suspicion of being used by a militant commander. The VoIP calls made across the Line of Control were tracked to the girl’s mobile number. But the subsequent investigations proved her innocent. While setting her free she was asked to respond if and when she is called for questioning in future..

The Indo-German cooperation in the field of vocational training and skill development is providing Jammu and Kashmir a chance to benefit from the programme. Germany, a world leader in vocational training is establishing an office called “Training made in Germany” in Delhi.

The German ambassador, Thomas Matussik, who was recently in Srinagar urged Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah and Governor, NN Vohra  to avail the opportunity and get they valley youth trained under the agreement.

The agreement was among three MoU’s signed in 2009 between German Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.

Germans call it the ‘dual system’ training in which they teach theory and then impart the real craft on the job. The emphasis is on training (65 percent) as theory makes only 35 percent of a particular training capsule. In a six-day-week, it is two-day class work and four days practice training.

According Matussik, Germany is considering modifying negative advisory to its citizens on travelling to Kashmir. His visit to Kashmir is an effort to assess the situation and look at the possibility of modifying the travel advisory. Apart from interacting with the governor and chief minister, Matussik had some meetings with separatist leaders as well.

During his meeting with the local leaders, Mutssik expressed his urge to form a possible partnership between German businessmen and locals in sectors like fruit packing, fruit processing, travel, tourism, woodcarving and hospital equipment. “We are already working in Jammu and Ladakh regions of the state but we would like to be involved in business and travel sectors in Kashmir Valley as well,” he said.

Learning by doing, says the official, gives a sense of achievement and provides a special source of motivation for the trainee. “It promotes independence and a sense of responsibility,” he said.

The German government is partnering with the National Skill Development Corporation in creating sector skill councils and training for trainers. On the operational level, Chambers of Crafts, Frankfort is partnering with Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services to build 100 multi skill training establishments in the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor. The centres will impart skill training to the local industries.

Baat ‘Ban’ JAYE
After being approved for the second-term the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon seems too interested to resolve the long standing Kashmir dispute. Moon recently expressed his willingness to discuss the issue with the leaders of India and Pakistan.

“I am aware of the positions of both India and Pakistan leaders. They have been discussing this matter at foreign secretary level, and foreign ministerial level meetings have taken place. I understand there is going to be one soon,” Ban said.

The secretary-general was specifically asked whether he would take more active interest in his second term in helping to resolve the Kashmir dispute over which the United Nations has passed several resolutions. The United Nations Secretary General, who was recently in Pakistan, termed the resolution of Kashmir issue through dialogue among his top wishes.

Moon’s statement came as a breath of fresh air for the separatists in the valley. Welcoming Moon’s statement, Hurriyat Conference Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, termed it as encouraging and reiterated that Kashmir dispute needed to be resolved peacefully through dialogue. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the hardline leader, urged Ban Ki Moon to understand the ‘hard reality’ that Kashmir dispute pertains to the future of thirteen million people. Calling upon Moon, Geelani said that United Nation should “implement the 18 resolutions passed by the World Body on Kashmir,”

After his approval by the 192-member Assembly for a second five -year term, Ban took the oath of office, placing his hand on the original UN Charter and promising to discharge his functions in the interests of the entire UN and to not seek or accept instructions from any government.

Last week a couple of functions were held in remembrance of Sajid Iqbal Khanday, the young lawyer and rights activist, who died in a tragic road accident near Awantipora last month.

A collection of his articles compiled in a book “Long drive to Freedom” on the 2011 unrest in Kashmir was released in SKICC by his grand parents, Shamusudin Ganai and Abdul Ghani Khanday.     

On the other hand, a summit report on culture, rights and economic recovery in Kashmir prepared by an international developmental organization, Mercy Corps, was dedicated to Sajid by “One Young Kashmir”, a group of 20 boys and girls who have dedicated themselves to social causes in the valley.

The program also witnessed an electric performance by the band “Zero Bridge”. Three Kashmiri artists – Bilal, Irfan, and Zahin – also joined the band for the concert here.

The event “‘Lets Paper Bag!” saw the performance by a Kashmiri rapper Roushan Illahi also known as M C Kash. The lawns of the Institute of Hotel Management at Rajbagh were full of curious college going youth.

“To perform in Kashmir is like a dream coming true,” Mohsin, a drummer of Zero Bridge band, told Kashmir Life. The musical event, also witnessed the comeback of Ladishah in front of the youngsters, who barely knew him. Ladishah was once popular in Kashmir and part of folk culture.

The enthralled young audience waited eagerly till the end for the Kashmiri rapper Roushan Illahi (M C Kash). “I Protest”, one of his songs popularized in Kashmir during the last year’s unrest. It had become an instant hit among the youth after it was released. “I Protest”, a rap song included the names of dozens of young men who died in the summer protests in 2010.


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