Pie in TOURISM
In the Barbar Shah area of old city, some locals have turned their residential houses into guesthouses and inns.
There are budget hotels like Heritage Inn and Royale Resort, which are famous in the area. “Those who own these hotels and guesthouses are looking to reap benefits from the upcoming tourist season,” Showkat Bhat, a local in Barbar shah locality, says.
Significantly, last year 14 lakh tourists visited Kashmir, and for this year, tourism department predicted a figure of around 20 lakh. But reportedly, people from old city remained least benefited from last year’s “tourist bumper season”.
Last December, after inaugurating the newly renovated Zaina Kadal Bridge, Omar Abdullah termed old city the heart of Srinagar. He reportedly said that this heart is ailing with many problems that need to be cured by the government. “At least 14 lacs tourists visited Kashmir in 2012, but only few visited old city. Our efforts are to make the down town a major tourist attraction,” Omar said.
While advising people to forget the disappointment and to strengthen state government’s hands, he said old city houses, many shrines and the area can be projected for the Pilgrim Tourism.
In June last year, state government announced that a 2 kilometre stretch from Nawakadal to Chattabal would soon have a heritage craft pedestrian trail for tourists on the pattern of the Big Apple. It will house craft bazaars, retail outlets, kiosks, production centres and other facilities. The concept was borrowed from the similar heritage trails in New York, China (Chengdu), Muscat (Oman) and Sabarmati.
“It was last year’s tourist flow that actually motivated people to convert their residential houses into commercial spaces. In fact, some people in the old city offered their residential spaces to accommodate tourists,” Shabir Khan, a local in old city said.
What started with much public fanfare, is now apparently heading towards oblivion. At least, that is what seems as Mutahida Majlis-e-Mashawrat (MMM) failed to come up with the expected calendar on Sunday. This led to the belief that finally MMM’s chips are down!
A day after on Monday, a calendar did show-up, but the proposed strategy in it again raised many questions. Many say “there is no clear strategy about what the amalgam intends to achieve.”
On February 24, the separatist parties with the representatives from both the factions of Hurriyat Conference, Bar Association and others had formed a ‘joint advisory council’ which they termed MMM. The mandate of the group was to chalk out a ‘joint strategy’ to seek the mortal remains of Afzal Guru.
However, instead of thinking out-of-box strategies to press their demand, the group is apparently relying on protest and hartal calendars which have lost their significance with the common people.
It seems that the death of two students, one in Hyderabad and the other in Baramulla, changed the roadmap for the amalgam. The MMM which had to work for the return of the body of Afzal Guru became involved in the emerging situations across the valley.
When the amalgam was in its infancy state, ‘fissures’ in it became quite evident. After the first protest calendar was issued, Hurriyat (G) distanced itself from the calendar, stating that they “were not taken into confidence”. Though, later Hurriyat (G) leader clarified that their representatives were present in the MMM meeting, but till then a large message of ‘divided house’ had reached the masses.
Leaving aside the fact that MMM faced controversies from day one of its formation, it has never been openly supported by Hurriyat (M), Hurriyat (G) or JKLF. There is not a single instance where separatist groups have used the word ‘MMM’ in their statements issued to the press.
Pertinently, MMM is the second joint committee between the separatist groups after 2008 Amarnath land row. The then coordination committee headed by the known lawyer, Mian Abdul Qayoom, successfully spearheaded the agitation against the government order of shifting 400 kanal state land to the Amarnath Shrine Board. The government later succumbed to the demands and revoked the order.
Water, Water EVERYWHERE
Whenever Kashmir gets rain, all the roads, lanes, by lanes, parks get flooded with the rain water adding to the problems of people. It was from the mid night of April 15 that Kashmir received its seasonal rain but when it didn’t stop till April 16 afternoon, it created panic among people as till then all of the roads and even highway was inundated with water.
People blamed the poor drainage system in the city and uptown for water logging.
From April 15 till April 16 afternoon about 38.4 mm rain was recorded in Srinagar district which made areas like Safa Kadal, Eidgah, Nowshehra, Soura and Ali Jan Road inaccessible. Similar reports were received from Gulshan Nagar, Mehjoor Nagar, Gogji Bagh, Wazir Bagh, Jawahar Nagar, Rajbagh and Bemina areas. Not only residential areas but the important roads, lanes and by lanes in commercial hub Lal Chowk were also submerged due to water logging thus making the movement of pedestrians and traders difficult. Adjoining, Regal Chowk was also flooded.
By 4 in the evening most of the shops were closed in the business hub of Lal chowk, Magarmal Bagh and other adjoining areas. The locals in the flooded areas were annoyed with the administration and alleged that they failed to tackle the situation emerging from continuous rains.
It was not only that normal life remained out of gear but electricity also remained disrupted in most parts of the Kashmir. The power supply was snapped due to a wind storms and it took the department about 12 hours to restore the electricity.
On April 16, upper reaches of Kashmir valley including Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Shopian received moderate snowfall which added to the woes of people by taking toll on the fruit industry. At least 15 villages in the Islamabad district were reported to be hit by hailstorm.
The horticulture department had estimated the losses ranging from 20 percent to as high as 80 per cent in apple rich Shopian areas because of untimely snow and hailstorm. The worst hit areas according to the local media are Khasipora, Ranipora, Matribugh, Talupora, Zaipora and Pratappora. In these areas the loss to the apple and other crops is about 80 per cent.
Mufti Meets PM
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed met the Prime Minister of India urged him to refocus on J&K to resume the process of restoration of trust. In the meeting the duo discussed the upcoming elections as well. Mufti urged him to ensure free and fair elections in the state saying this was not done during 2008.
Mufti reportedly told PM that Atal Behari Vajpayee during his tenure as PM had fulfilled his commitment of conduction free and fair elections in 2002, but unfortunately same could not be said about the 2008 elections when ‘manipulations’ in many constituencies affected the results and clouded the credibility of electoral process. He again hinted that 2008 elections were manipulated.
He even alleged that because of the present government in the state of Jammu and Kashmir all the immense investment in peace and development in the state made by Manmohan Singh himself had almost evaporated. So he urged the PM to ensure free and fair elections in 2014.
The PDP patron has apprised Singh of the fallout of the hanging of Afzal Guru and the manner in which he was sent to gallows without letting his family have a mandatory last meeting with him. He told the prime minister that how the entire issue had “adversely impacted the people of Kashmir and added to the trust deficit between Kashmir and rest of the country that was painstakingly reduced to some extent after 2002.
The main opposition PDP boycotted the assembly as a mark of protest for not retuning the mortal remains of Guru and the patron informed the Prime Minister how the summary rejection of the demand for return of Guru’s mortal remains, even while the state Assembly was still discussing it, came as a serious setback to its credibility. The party spokesperson said that the patron has said if democratic institutions like the assembly continued to face such trivialisation, any forward movement in restoring people’s confidence in them would become impossible.
As per PDP spokesperson the duo are believed to have discussed the external dimension of the problem of Jammu and Kashmir with particular reference to the need for implementation of bilateral decisions with Pakistan on expanding the scope of travel and trade across LoC. Sayeed said the decisions to expand the facility of LoC travel beyond divided families, increasing bus frequency and reopening of the Kargil-Skardu link needed to be speeded up.
It seems that the controversy surrounding the secret hangings of parliament attack convict Afzal Guru in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail refuses to die down. This time around it was a valley based RTI activist Dr. M. Afzal, who exposed the double standards adopted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) while dealing with the Guru’s mercy petition.
Interestingly, a day after Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said that the mercy clemency of DS Bhular was ‘under consideration’ after Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal presented a memorandum to PM seeking clemency for Bhular.
RTI activist Afzal, blamed union Home Ministry of giving “incorrect, ambiguous and contradictory” information to the RTI queries in Afzal Guru’s case, ‘and even refused to share certain information, thus violating the RTI Act’. Afzal accused Union Government of resorting to ‘double standards’ vis a vis Kashmiris. “It is ironic that they (MHA) gave two contradictory replies to our RTI queries pre and post Guru Execution”, valley based RTI activist Dr M Afzal told a local news agency.
According to the information provided by the Judicial Secretary (Judicial) & CPIO, Ministry of Home Affairs on 22nd of September 2011 to RTI application filed by Dr M Afzal, the Parliament attack Convict Afzal Guru was on serial 23 in the list of person waiting for the execution.
Afzal was told that the ‘List of the cases has been prepared w.e.f October 2009 on the basis of the date of the judgment of the trial court for submission/ resubmission of the cases to the president’s secretariat. In this list, queries case of Mohammad Afzal Guru is on 23rd position.
Interestingly, the Ministry of Home in a fresh RTI filed by Dr M Afazl, post Guru’s execution states that there wasn’t any serial number existing at all.
Afzal blamed MHA of giving contradicting replies regarding the grant of clemency by different Presidents.
“In the earlier RTI application in 2011, the ministry had mentioned that no clemency was granted by former President Pratibah Patil, however the recent news reports published in dailies quoting RTI application filed by S C Agarwal, Patil granted clemency to 34 convicts during her five year term as president.” Dr M Afzal told a local news agency.
Dr M Afzal has now approached the appellate authority with a complaint of concealing the information under RTI Act by home ministry.