Briefing (December 01-07, 2019)

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PAMPORE

The bumper Saffron crop this season came with an interesting development – Kashmir’s monopoly over the costliest spice on earth is about to end. The Palampur-based Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)’s Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (CSIR-IHBT) is experimenting with the cultivation of saffron in Bharmour and Seraj Valley (Himachal Pradesh) and various areas in Uttarakhand. Himachal

Agriculture Department is also planning to start pilot projects in Lahaul and Spiti and in Seraj Valley.

The idea is aimed at reducing dependence on Iran and Afghanistan to meet 100 tons saffron requirement against the production of seven tons in Pampore and Kishtwar.

The CSIR-IHBT and Ladakh Farmers and Producers Co-operative Limited (LFPCL) have entered into an MoU to grow saffron in Ladakh. CSIR-IHBT Director Dr Sanjay Kumar told The Indian Express that “trials have been very successful in Ladakh” but they would wait for “three consecutive successful crops” to declare the area is fit for saffron cultivation. The plan is to take saffron cultivation to 500 hectors. Under the pilot project, according to LFPCL chief executive officer M L Mantoo, “50 kg of bulbs were sown and there was almost 100 per cent germination and flowering.” He said the crop had very long stigmas (threads) of saffron, a parameter which defines good quality. In association with CSIR-IHBT, the LFPCL is planning setting up of a dedicated tissue culture laboratory to increase the planting material required for 5000 acres.

The CSIR-IHBT, the newspaper said, is using tissue culture technology for production of disease-free, healthy and flowering sized corms in the trials it has been conducting in what it calls “non-traditional areas of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Leh, North East and hilly regions of Tamil Nadu”. The areas were selected after details about climate, latitude, longitude, soil data, morphological data were fed into a modelling method. The modelling results categorised the places into high probability, medium probability and low probability. Unlike Ladakh, North East falls in low probability areas for the spice cultivation and the experimentation carried out vindicated it.

In Bharmour (Himachal), trials were carried out on 250 square meters for three consecutive years and results were positive. CSIR-IHBT has also successfully cultivated the crop in a village in Sangla Valley, in Jhanjeali and Bakshial areas of Seraj Valley, besides Palampur and Jogindernagar areas of Himachal. Since rains damage the corm, Dr Rakesh Kumart said they have intervened by uprooting the corms during rains and once rains are over; these are re-sown in Palampur and Jogindernagar.

CSIR-IHBT analysis suggests that the crop is highly beneficial to farmers. Against Rs 1.25 lakh, the cost of cultivation per hectare per year, the gross returns are at Rs 6.25 lakh.

Kashmir is expected to produce almost 15 tons of saffron this season despite the early November snowfall damaged more than one-fourth of the bumper crop. In Kashmir, the authorities have successfully cultivated saffron in Kishtwar and the most recent experimentation was being carried out in upper reaches of Udhampur.

38.2% is the female unemployment in Jammu & Kashmir, the highest in India, as per the latest Periodic Labour Force Survey

TRAL

A shrine belonging to Mir Syed Ali Hamadani was partially damaged in a fire that completely destroyed a mosque where women faithful were praying. The “mysterious fire” was reported from Krusbal Mohalla during the intervening night of November 25 and 26. It appeared from a room dedicated for woman visitors. Residents protested. Police said they have taken cognizance and the investigations are on. Lt Governor GC Murmu condemned the incident and called for peace. This is said to be the second such incident in Tral belt. Earlier on November 17, there was an alleged attempt of desecration to mosques and shrines at Dadsara, Amirabad and Sangrama areas.

SRINAGAR

Police have registered a case and investigations have begun in the recovery of 11 cell phones from the 33 politicians detained in the MLA Hostel, designed as the sub-jail. The recoveries were made in a raid. “The ADGP (Munir Khan) said that a case will be registered and investigations conducted as these phones have been used for many different things,” Jammu newspaper Daily Excelsior reported. “He said that investigations will also find out as to how the detainees managed to smuggle these cell phone, inside the jail.”

Relatives of political detainees coming out of MLA hostel Srinagar - KL Image by Tahir Bhat

Relatives of political detainees coming out of MLA hostel Srinagar – KL Image by Tahir Bhat

The cell phones were recovered during a weekend afternoon raid, according to police; they received inputs about the use of phones in the sub-jail. This was despite the fact that authorities installed a cell phone jammer in the premises of the special jail. Searches were mounted two hours after the inmates met their visiting families. Their families visit them on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The recoveries came after a high drama when the officials frisked the inmates soon after they were shifted from the “5-star” Centaur Lake View Hotel jail to the MLA hostel. Iltija Mufti, daughter of Mehbooba Mufti, again alleged, according to The Indian Express that a detainee’s three-year-old son was “nearly strip-searched”, which led to “an altercation between political detainees & JK police.” However, it quoted SSP (Security), Kashmir, Imtiyaz Hussain denying the allegation.

The newspaper quoted various family members of the detained politicians alleging harassment. “The security personnel deployed there are very rude and the families are being unnecessarily harassed,” the newspaper quoted Mehr Imran, Srinagar Deputy Mayor Sheikh Imran’s wife, saying. “We come from reputed families. They can’t behave [with us]in such a manner.” Nuzhat Ishfaq, the wife of National Conference leader Ishfaq Jabbar, was quoted saying: “They (police personnel) even ask us to remove the socks… if a detainee’s uncle goes to meet him, he is not allowed. We only ask, why humiliate us this way? We all come from reputed families.”

“The MLA hostel is a notified subsidiary jail and as part of anti-sabotage check drill…we have recovered 11 cell-phones that were smuggled [in]illegally. The investigation will be conducted…,” ADGP (Security and Law & Order) Munir Khan was quoted saying. “We have to follow the drill. We cannot allow anyone to go un-frisked. How do you know what is going inside?”

36% is the revenue shortfall in GST collections in Jammu and Kashmir in the first 5 months of 2019-20. Punjab is highest with 44%, followed by Himachal and Goa with 37%.

SRINAGAR

Yeshwant Sinha, former BJP minister, who is into serious Kashmir activism, has said, he does not know the way forward as August 5 decision has “wiped-out the middle ground” in Kashmir. Sinha led a group of Concerned Citizens’ Group (CCG) members including Wajahat Habibullah, former Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, journalist Bharat Bhushan and activist Sushoba Bharve to Srinagar for three days. They met traders, some lawyers, civil society members and Kashmiri Pandits living in Kashmir but were prevented from visiting Budgam, Shopian and Pulwama. They were served a written advisory saying Pulwama is “highly volatile” and there was an “impending terrorist threat”. He alleged that people who met CCG were monitored as they were “confined” to their hotel.

“Internet is shut and political prisoners are under detention, are things normalizing here?” Sinha was quoted by the Daily Excelsior saying. “How are things normalizing? Political prisoner including three former Chief Ministers are in detention.”

“The home minister has claimed that they have not fired a single bullet, the credit for that goes not to the government of India or to security forces. Credit for that goes to the maturity with which people of Kashmir have behaved,” The Hindustan Times quoted Sinha saying. “If they follow the same Gandhian method and make their point, the government of India will have to bend and undo the damage.” Talking to The Telegraph, he explained normalcy: “Normalcy is a state of mind. People must feel normal, they go about their business normally, they earn their wages normally, their children go to school normally. That is normalcy. None of this is happening here.”

Soon after his arrival, Sinha spoke to Dr Farooq Abdullah on phone and said he was in “high spirits”. Later, he was denied a meeting with Jammu and Kashmir’s 5-time Chief Minister currently in custody under Public Safety Act. They were also prevented from meeting Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Yusuf Tarigami. They, however, had a meeting with Khalida Shah, Dr Farooq’s elder sister.

On September 17, Sinha was stopped at the Srinagar airport and sent back. Now the Lt Governor G C Murmu permitted him to Srinagar. However, Sinha described his visit as “very successful”. “Even as we were not allowed to visit, for instance, Pulwama or Shopian, but people from Pulwama and Shopian met us here [in Srinagar],” Sinha was quoted saying. “We met Panchayat representatives, Bar Association members, farmers, youth, and we met a very large cross-section of the people.”

PANAJI

As the Srinagar Raj Bhawan has resumed its traditional silence, Satya Pal Malik, its former inmate, still gets in the news because of Kashmir. Speaking on the Constitution Day, Malik has said that several top elected politicians in Jammu and Kashmir, including a Chief Minister, could land in prison on account of corruption, which enabled them to buy homes and stakes in hotels across the world. Malik is Goa governor.

“The people there, who were democratically elected, two generations earlier their grandfathers were school teachers. Today they have houses in Srinagar, Delhi, Dubai, London, France and there is no count of partnerships in numerous hotels…They are being probed; some of them will go to prison. I have done it with the stroke of a pen,” Malik was quoted saying, in a reference to Abdullahs’.

Later, speaking at the 50th International Film Festival of India closing ceremony, Malik said, “I am still suffering from a Kashmir hangover.” In his  Kashmir tenure, Malik said he would remember a ghazal from Pakeezah (1972) every night before sleeping. “There’s a line in it, which was particularly relevant during my time in Kashmir, Aaj ki raat bachenge to sahar dekhenge [If we survive this night then we will see the morning]’,” Malik was quoted saying.

He continued: “When I used to discuss with bureaucrats that we may have to revoke Article 370, they would scare us that we will have to shoot a thousand people and even the local police might revolt. But just a week after revoking 370, I went to the markets and public places and there was peace so much so that a boy walked up to me and said ‘Come I will make you tea’.”

GULMARG

When Kashmir was restricted to the home, many people in Gulmarg were busy in enrcoachments. Now the High Court has directed all the illegal constructions and encroachments must be removed. The court had taken note of news item in Jammu based Daily Excelsior and treated it as an application. The Registrar General had visited the picnic spot and detailed the “illegal constructions, encroachments as also deviations by the owners of the hotel, hutments and Government departments.” Now the report has been sent to the SHO Gulmarg for action. The report being served to the alleged encroachers as well has mentioned Khillan Hut, Green Tree Hut, the Police Hut, Hotel Pine View, and certain constructions by the Special Forest Division Tangmarg and Fisheries Department.

JAMMU

Jammu’s singer-performer Anjusha Sharma, 25, has emerged a rage in Punjab as her Punjabi song Suit Patiala Shahi got 60 million views. A master’s in English Literature, Anjusha was schooled in Dehradun and has various Punjabi numbers to her credit as lakhs follow her on social media. She has picked up music from her mother and later done Prabhakar in music. Earlier, she participated in TV reality show Saregama.

Asked why she prefers Punjabi over Dogri, Sharma said that while Punjabi is flourishing, “Dogri is just confined to a few self-proclaimed champions, who do not have the vision, substance and quality to come up with something stimulating. I would love to perform in Dogri, but I fear if I could get any path-breaking opening there.”

MONTANA

Ami Vitale, one of the world’s best women photographers’ has said that her four years in Kashmir shaped her personality as a professional. “Perhaps the toughest time during that period was in Kashmir, where I lived for four years from 2001,” Vitale told a Hong Kong media outlet. “It’s one of the longest conflicts in the world, it’s been going since 1947, and the most militarised conflict. Kashmir was always told in geopolitical terms and the people caught in the middle of this much greater conflict were left out of the story. I wanted to tell their stories. My time there shaped who I am.”

From being a voluntary war journalist to a National Geographic photographer, Vitale (born 1971) has covered the conflict in Kosovo, Angola, and other places. “The stories I told in Kashmir were very different from the ones you get by parachuting around being a war correspondent. I chose to live in a community and deeply understand the issues and I have continued to do that,” she said in a talk at the Eaton HK, in Yau Ma Tei. She currently lives in Montana and spends free time working in Kenya.

NEW YORK

As if the MEA was tension-free after abrogating Article 370, India’s Consul General in New York, Sandeep Chakravorty triggered yet another controversy by suggesting the “Israeli model” for rehabilitating the migrant Kashmiri Pandit population in the valley.

“You give us some time, and you will see what is going to happen. I believe the security conditions in Jammu & Kashmir will improve, it will allow the refugees to go back, and in your lifetime you will be able to go back and you will be able to visit your villages… and you will find security because we already have a model in the world,” Chakravorty told in the private address to the group of Kashmiri Pandits, many of whom have left Kashmir in 1970s. “I don’t know why we don’t follow it. It has happened in the Middle East… if the Israeli people can do it, we can also do it. I think we should just follow from them and push our leadership. We have to push our leadership to do that, otherwise what is the benefit?”

Chakravorty further said: “Somebody spoke about the Jewish issue and the Israel issue. They kept their culture alive for 2,000 years outside their land and they went back. I think we all have to keep the Kashmiri culture alive. The Kashmiri culture is the Indian culture; it is the Hindu culture…”

Terming the withdrawal of special status to Kashmir and the subsequent downgrade of the state into two UTs as a “big international risk” that could have led to “international opprobrium”, Chakravorty asserted India has “successfully stalled” an “international diplomatic struggle” on the Kashmir issue and the Kashmiri Pandit refugees will be able to return with time.

Criticizing the international community’s efforts to focus on the Kashmir issue, Chakravorty said India “never used our strength as the majority community”, the “strength of our Hindu culture, of our ancient civilisation in diplomacy”. “..when we are using it today, then people have problems, there are resolutions against us and it is being taken to the (UN) human rights council and the US Congress,” he was quoted saying. “A delegation wants to go. Why don’t they go to other places? Go to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan… you don’t talk of going there. Why do you want to come to our country? They don’t like it that we are now asserting ourselves.”

Chakravorty, who, according to The Hindustan Times is believed to be a front-runner to become the ministry’s next spokesperson, tweeted that he had “seen some social media comments on my recent remarks”, which he said, “are being taken out of context”. He concluded by saying: “What has happened on 5th August will have long term repercussions for Kashmiri people.”

The weekend New York event was organized to discuss Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri’s proposed film Kashmir Files on the Kashmiri Pandits who left Kashmir in the 1990s. Actors Anupam Kher, Pallavi Joshi and members of the Kashmiri Pandit community settled in the US were part of the event. The hour-long video of the event was posted on Facebook by Agnihotri.

Agnihotri himself was in controversy ever since he landed in the US. On November 22, 2019, when Agnihotri delivered a talk on his proposed film at an event organised by the Rutgers Hindu Students Council at the Umiya Mata Temple (New Jersey) – it was cancelled at Rutgers University, a Kashmiri-American teacher, Shajei Haider alleged, he was heckled after asking questions that made the speaker uncomfortable. Part of this drama’s video was also uploaded by Agnihotri that shows the mike being taken away from the questioner. Later in a write-up that appeared on Medium, he alleged that he was escorted out while being abused, physically and verbally.

WASHINGTON

After Ilhan Omar, it is the Rashida Tlaib, the new American lawmaker who has gone active on Kashmir. The Democratic Congresswoman has presented in the US House of Representatives a resolution alleging human rights violations in Kashmir. Criticising Delhi for the abrogation of Article 370 “without any consultation or the consent of the people”, Tlaib’s resolution seeks to ensure contact between Kashmiri-Americans with their families living in Kashmir. It also asked Pakistan and India to engage in dialogue to settle tensions. The resolution, according to PTI, sees the “arrest and indefinite detention of thousands of people” violating article 9 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Apart from suggesting against any “interference with the provision of medical treatment”, the resolution asks Delhi to lift all remaining elements of the communications blockade and restore phone and internet access in Jammu and Kashmir; release “unjustly and indefinitely detained people” and to cease “arbitrary and politically motivated” detentions.

The resolution alleges that India has failed to hold it’s military accountable and perpetuated a state of impunity for its armed forces. It also points out that outlaws like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen and Harakat Ul-Mujahidin have “contributed to the harsh conditions and dire human rights situation faced by civilians”.

However, PTI reported that the resolution titled Condemning the human rights violations taking place in Jammu and Kashmir and supporting Kashmiri self-determination lacks co-sponsors and has been sent to the House Foreign Affairs Committee for necessary actions.

Meanwhile, Dawn reported that US Congressman Brad Sherman, who heads a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, has written a letter to US State Department asking the Trump administration to persuade India to allow US diplomats to visit and review the situation in Kashmir.

DELHI

Sudhir Dhar, the Kashmir origin, the cartoonist whose This Is It was a regular feature in The Hindustan Times died of a cardiac arrest at 87. His career was spread over 58 years and belonged to India’s second generation news cartoonists. Born in Allahabad (1932), Dhar had masters in Geography. He actually started his career as an announcer with All India Radio. In AIR, once he drew a sketch of The Statesman’s editor during a radio talk and that led to the editor offering him a job as a cartoonist in 1961. The self-taught draftsman joined The Hindustan Times in 1967 and retired in 2000 from The Pioneer. His work has appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times. His popularity can be gauged from the fact that the Queen of England, British actor Richard Attenborough, Yehudi Menuhin and other celebrities around the world own his originals. As an illustrator, he worked on Kashmiri Cooking, a book by his father, Krishna Prasad Dhar.

UDHAMPUR

Northern Command is withholding payment worth Rs 16.77 crore to a Punjab company that had supplied 6250 Boot Anti Mine (Infantry), anti-mine boots known as BAMI in Army parlance, in July 2018 because the shoes were defective. The shoes were supplied to the soldiers deployed on Line of Control that has vast minefields since 1947. “The defective shoes did not offer adequate protection and caused severe injuries to army personnel deployed on LoC following mine blasts,” The Indian Express reported.

Meanwhile, JKP Constable Khushvinder Singh was arrested for allegedly firing a couple of rounds in the air after being questioned by his senior for reporting late to duty at a railway station in Udhampur. He was deployed at Sangarh Railway Station post in the Manwal area for bridge protection. Post investigation, he was found to be in an inebriated condition.

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