Briefing (January 12-18, 2020)

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DELHI

The second visit of diplomats to Srinagar had a bad start as the EU envoys stayed away insisting that they need unrestricted access and not a guided tour. They were also seeking access to three incarcerated Chief Ministers, Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar and Mehbooba. However, the US ambassador in Delhi, Kenneth I Juster accompanied 14 others for an overnight trip to Srinagar with night halt at Jammu. They were from USA, Vietnam, South Korea, Niger, Nigeria, Morocco, Guyana, Argentina, Philippines, Norway, Maldives, Fiji, Togo, Bangladesh and Peru. Brazil and Uzbekistan envoys Andre Aranha Correa do Lago and Farhod Arziev were also scheduled to be part of the delegation but they backed out because of their preoccupations. The delegation was accompanied by Secretary (West) of Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup.

After landing in a charter at Srinagar airport, they were driven – through a traffic jam, to the headquarters of the Srinagar based 15 Corps where Lt Gen K J S Dhillon briefed them about the security situation. Later, they drove to a hotel for a luncheon meeting with some local politicians who are being seen as the new political party. Led by Altaf Bukhari, the team included Ghulam Hassan Mir, Rafi Mir, Abdul Rahim Rather, Abdul Majeed Padder, Hilal Shah, Javed Beg, Noor Mohammad Sheikh and Shoaib Lone, all former lawmakers. In the besieged hotel, they had interaction with the civil society and a group of editors.

Media reports suggest they also interacted with some civil society members. US ambassador was seen chatting with owner of Real Kashmir Football Club Sandeep Chattoo. Unlike October, Kashmir witnessed no strike as business establishments were functioning and civilian traffic was plying on the roads.

They later took off for Jammu where the Lt Gov G C Murmu briefed them as the head of India’s newest UT on dinner. On the second day before their departure, the envoys were later driven to the Jagti camp in Nagrota. They also met various delegations from civil society, trade and industry.

NC and PDP fiercely opposed the guided tour. NC said it was “disappointed” over the “guided tour” aimed at getting various countries “endorse” its “claims of normalcy” during which access was restricted to “handpicked individuals who toe the government line”. PDP said the move was an attempt to “normalise its clampdown”.

In Delhi Congress’s Jairam Ramesh accused the government of “adopting double standards” by organising “guided tours” to Jammu and Kashmir for foreign envoys, but not allowing Indian politicians to visit there. Ramesh said this was the second such attempt by the government, after the one planned for delegates of EU Parliamentarians on October 29. “We do not oppose this visit of foreign envoys. But when our own politicians are not allowed to go to Jammu and Kashmir to meet people there, what is the purpose of taking foreign envoys there?” he asked, insisting it was “political tourism”.

In Delhi, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the criticism that this is a guided tour was unfounded. He said the envoys visited several political leaders, met security officials and members of civil society, and interacted with local journalists.

“The first meeting was with security officials to get a sense of security situation in J&K and also the threat posed by terrorism in maintaining peace,” said Kumar. “The objective of the visit was for the envoys to see first-hand the efforts made by the government to normalise the situation.”

DELHI

The MHA appointed former Director General of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Rajiv Rai Bhatnagar as third Advisor to the Lt Gov G C Murmu. A retired 1983-IPS officer of UP cadre, Bhatnagar earlier served as Director General of Narcotics Control Bureau and DG Central Reserve Police Force in April 2017, a position where he retired on December 31, 2019.

QAMARWARI

On August 5, CRPF allegedly chased a mob of youth and one of them jumped into the river and drowned. He was identified as Osaib Marazi, 17. The government denied the details of the family. On December 2, the police filed a status report to a magistrate, who is inquiring into the death, saying Marazi actually has drowned, news portal Scroll.in reported. He was one of the 10 boys who felt trapped in a CRPF chase and jumped into the river. Since he did not know swimming, he drowned and was brought dead to SMHS hospital. The police status report maintains that he jumped off a footbridge spanning the Jhelum at Palpora. Police had been maintaining that the reports about drowning were baseless. This Marazi family, living in New Colony, Palpora, has been shuttling between the Parimpora and SafaKadal police stations to file an FIR so that they could get a death certificate. As they failed to get the certificate, Suhail Marazi, his elder brother, moved to the Chief Judicial Magistrate Srinagar seeking a police investigation on the death. The case is listed for February 3, 2020.

JAMMU

Having missed many deadlines, the world tallest railway bridge on Chenab river is expected to be up and running by December 2021, Sanjay Gupta, Konkan Railway Corporation Limited (KRCL), that is implementing the project, said. The 359 metres tall bridge will be 35 metres higher than the French Eiffel Tower and will require 5462 metric tonnes of special steel for its arch-shaped structures in addition to about 10,000 MT for other structures. It will link Bakkal in Katra and Kauri Reasi. The 1315 meter long bridge has 17-special iron-steel spans. The bridge can withstand wind speeds of up to 260 kmph. The 1.315 km long “engineering marvel” will link Bakkal in Katra and Kauri in Srinagar. Once the bridge completes, it will surpass the record of China’s Beipan river Shuibai railway bridge (275 m).

Meanwhile BRO says it has inducted seven hi-tech snow clearance and cutting machines in Jammu and Kashmir which can clear one kms of snow in three hours. Imported from Italy, these machines have been deployed at Jawahar tunnel on Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, Tregbal in Bandipora-Gurez road, Nowgam in Handwara  and Sadhna Pass in Tanghdar, Kupwara. These machines can operate at an altitude of 18,500 feet and above and have the capability of clearing 5,000 tonnes of snow per hour.

JAMMU

Vehicles are getting costly in Jammu and Kashmir as the Lt Gov’s administration has created the Road Accident Victim Fund (RAVF). It will add half a percent cost of the vehicle to the owners from now on. The fund has been created with an initial corpus of Rs 1 crore and now the Fund will be owned by its contributors. For a vehicle valuing Rs 10 lakh, Rs 5000 will go to the fund and in case it values Rs 5 lakh, the owner will have to pay Rs 2500. It will be a one-time contribution. The Fund will provide a relief of Rs 1 lakh to the dependents of the contributor in case of a death in road accident, Rs 75,000 in case of permanent disability, Rs 50,000 in serious injuries and Rs 10,000 for minor injuries.

MUMBAI

Creating history of sorts, a gang of armed men barged into prestigious JawaharLal University (JNU) and beat boys and girls. In its immediate reaction, people across India protested. In one such protest a young lady at Mumbai’s Gateway of India was seen carrying a placard ‘Free Kashmir’. While police was still indecisive if at all they should register a case in JNU, the TV forced the Mumbai police to register a case against the Maratha girl under IPC’s section 153B (making imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration). She was finally identified as Mehak Mirza Prabhu. Mirza in her name is because of her love for poet Mirza Galib.

The Mumbai-born artist is a story-teller. “The picture created by entire social media came as an absolute shock to me. The placard meant ‘freedom to express themselves, freedom from the Internet lockdown which many people have been voicing for’. I was voicing my solidarity for basic Constitutional right. No other agenda or motive whatsoever,” Prabhu said in a 3-minute video. “I am (an) artist who believes in basic human compassion. If by being naive in understanding the impact it would have, and in the process create this stir, I apologise.” By her poster, she said, she was only seeking to highlight the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, which has been under a slew of communication curbs post revocation of its special status through the abrogation of Article 370 since August 5.

India Today reported that Mehak (born 1982) runs an online storytelling school called Jhumritalaiya. In 2001 when Mehak was still in college, she lost her parents, brother along with an aunt and uncle in a freak accident on Diwali. Her grandfather too passed away on that very day after hearing the news. She was forced by the situation to be responsible for her father’s business. In 2005, she got married and became mother to a daughter but was divorced in 2013. Since then, she has been managing business, writing stories and taking care of her storytelling on YouTube. As BJP mounted an assault on her, Shiv Sena’s official organ Saamanahas come to her defence.

MUMBAI

After 13 years, Vidhu Vinod Chopra is coming with Shikara, a film based on migration of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990s. The film, according to media reports, revolves around two lovers, played by newcomers Aadil Khan as Shiv Kumar Dhar and Sadia as Shanti Dhar, explaining how their dreams turn into a horrific reality when they are asked to leave the Kashmir after militancy breaks out. “More than 4,00,000 Kashmiri Pandits lost their homes and became refugees in their own country. Three decades later, watch their story unfold,” Chopra wrote on social media while releasing the poster of the film scheduled to release on February 7. The trailer begins with Shiv and Shanti, a couple in blooming love, then the discomfort starts to brew with the violence on 19 January 1990. Music Maestro AR Rahman has given a glimpse of the music and sounds to the upcoming film. The film comes at a time when the BJP has brought the Pandit migration back to the centre stage. Already, another filmmaker is working on a different film on the same subject.

HYDERABAD

The twentieth century Kashmir was at full display at the Kalakriti Art Gallery where Kashmir’s premier studio, Mahatta& Co put up an exhibition. Set up in 1915 by Amar Nath Mehta on a houseboat on river Jhelum, Mehta set up another studio in 1948 in Delhi as his younger brother Ram Chand Mehta took over the Srinagar operations. They even owned one studio in Rawalpindi.

Initially the cameras were heavier and did not move outside the studio. Later in 1930s, the Mahatas’ would move around and capture  Kashmir’s landmarks and people. Apart from local elite and the bourgeoisie, the main clientele of the studio were the Europeans who were swarming Kashmir during summers.

Three exhibitions on Kashmir are planned to be part of the Krishnakriti Festival of Arts and Culture 2020: Makers and Meanings; Deconstructing Paradise: Images and Imaginations of Kashmir. An exhibition planned for February will have eighteenth century maps, lithographs and paintings from the era when photography was not invented. The third part of the exhibition will cover contemporary Kashmir.

BENGALURU

Numair Muzaffar, a class IX student from Srinagar’s Burn Hall School has created a Carbonic Smoke Adsorber. He displayed his model at the Children’s Science Congress in Bengaluru. The pollution control equipment significantly reduces volatile organic compounds in low concentration streams as the pollutants flow through an activated carbon bed, trapping them on the surface. The cylindrical structure has an exhaust fan where the polluted air from the chimneys enters. It then passes through a passage infused with activated carbon, which purifies the air. Though meant for Kashmir homes where Hamams during winters add to a lot of smoke load, the idea can be expanded to have wide utility.

NOWGAM

Clashes erupted in Srinagar’s Nowgam area after Tehseen Nazir, 16, was crushed to death by a JKAP vehicle last week. Son of a peon and a student of Candid Public School, Nazir was on way to his tuitions when he instantly died in the accident. The clashes resulted in injuries to four people, including a woman, and a shopkeeper Mohammad Yousuf, 62, who was hit by a tear smoke canister in his thigh. Tehseen’s mother alleged that she was one of the many whom police beat. In order to ensure the situation does not go out of control, CRPF and army quickly moved to the periphery of the area. By then, however, police had brought situation under control.

KERALA

While Kashmir celebrates the arrival of millions of avian guests to its wetland every winter, not many people know that some of Kashmir bird species migrate to Kochi for their winter sojourn. One of them is a rare bird called Indian paradise flycatcher. It stays in Kochi for three winter months, according to the managers of HMT company premises at Kalamassery. HMT owned almost 251 acres of land owned at Kalamassery, of which around 115 acres were reclaimed by nature in last 50 years following its disuse. Now it has emerged as a sort of sanctuary for over 196 species of birds, both native and migratory.

74.79 per cent (48905) of 65393 students appearing for tenth class examination have qualified

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