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Smoking Capital

smokingA statutory warning on cigarette wraps isn’t seriously discouraging smoking habits in the ever newsy state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is evident from the fresh statistics that have again painted a grim picture of the state. So, roger this: J&K’s 12 per cent population smokes, compared to the nationwide prevalence of 5.7 per cent.

Facts further maintain: the highest proportion of adults (67.9%) exposed to tobacco smoke in offices are in J&K and the lowest (15.4%) are in Chandigarh.

These alarming figures were discussed threadbare Wednesday in a media sensitization workshop for working journalists in Jammu on Tobacco Control Laws – COTPA 2003 by Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI). The objective of the workshop was to sensitize the state level key media persons on the various aspects of tobacco control measures, implementation of COTPA 2003 and related issues.

Binoy Mathew, Media Officer VHAI, explained how the state of Jammu and Kashmir is fast emerging as the smoking capital of North India.

“J&K’s monthly spending on ‘smoking tobacco’ far outstrips the national monthly expenditure averages. While nationally, smokers aged 15 and above spend Rs 399.20 a month on cigarettes and Rs 93.40 on bidis, those in Jammu and Kashmir spend Rs 513.60 and Rs 134.20, respectively, on these tobacco forms. Bidi expenditure in J&K is thus 1.5 times the country’s average. Consequently, health hazards due to passive smoking are also more in J&K than elsewhere in the North,” Binoy said.

Rahul Sharma, Programme Officer Advocacy spoke on the COTPA Tobacco Control Laws, implementation and enforcement in J&K. He explained about the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) India 2009 – 10 released by Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW), GoI. The survey conveys that 26.6 per cent population of Jammu & Kashmir is using tobacco product in one or the other of its form.

“Jammu & Kashmir has 12 per cent cigarette smokers, 3.8 per cent bidi smokers and 8.0 per cent smokeless tobacco users. J&K’s cigarette use prevalence (12%) is almost double the nationwide prevalence of 5.7 per cent. It has come to light that the highest proportion of adults (67.9%) exposed to tobacco smoke in offices are in J&K and the lowest (15.4%) are in Chandigarh,” he added.

Pertinently, an appeal was made to the media present to play an active role to support for the tobacco control programmes in Jammu and to play a very proactive role as agents of positive change in society.

In the face of these grim figures, which are terming J&K as smoking capital of north India, one need to seriously roger that: alarm bells are ringing; it is time to wake up.

Apple Trial

Apple-TreeHere is a flash from early February: apple might be grown in Karnataka in near future! Seriously? Well, have gumption to reckon that. After scientific tempering, a temperate fruit like apple can be tamed to grow in tropics, like Karnataka. At least, this is what the news coming from Indian mainland is suggesting. Though the experiment is still in trail stage, but if it reaches commercial production, it will open up new possibilities to challenge the dominance of Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh over apple.

Interestingly, while apple trees bear fruit in five or six years in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, they’ve started flowering and bearing fruit within two years of planting in Bengaluru and Somwarpet in North Kodagu.

“They’ve started flowering. I should be able to harvest apples next year,’’ one farmer from Karnataka was quoted as saying. The prolonged monsoon and pest attack in this southern state of Indian have stopped them from yielding the desired results. “Apple plant can be grown in regions where the temperature ranges between 10 degree Celsius and 30 degree Celsius.”

The farmers in Karnataka believe the absence of winter helps growers in Karnataka to get two crops a year, “unlike in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, since there’s no dormancy due to winter.” Presently, the farmers get their supply of plants from Himachal Pradesh.

As of now, in Karnataka, apples are being grown on a trial basis in Dakshina Kannada, Kodagu, Tumkur, Bengaluru, Tarikere, Vijayapura and Chamarajanagar. “The experiment has been a success,” one farmer said. “We’ve sought inputs from the University of Agricultural Sciences, horticulture department, to find out which variety is suitable for commercial cropping.”

Messy Coaching

As soon as the winter session started, the education vendors again started to ‘mint money’ by running unorganized coaching centres. And much hue and cry, the issue has finally landed in High Court.

In the recently issued court order, by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, all private coaching institutions were asked to get registered as per certain directives and if they fail it may lead to their closure.

While taking strong note of non-compliance, High Court has now given a deadline of February 10 to Divisional Commissioner Kashmir to submit compliance report regarding private coaching centres.

The Division Bench of the HC comprising Justice Muzaffar Hussain Attar and Justice Raj Kotwal took strong note of non-compliance of its December 30, 2014 order by the authorities and asked the Divisional Commissioner and other concerned authorities to submit the compliance order by February 10.

But compliance report has not been filed by the Divisional Commissioner and other concerned authorities in terms of the Court Order.

In its 30 December 2014 order, the double bench had directed all the coaching centres functioning in Kashmir division to file undertaking before the Registrar Judicial within seven days, indicating therein that they will comply with the mandate contained in J&K Regulation of Private Tuition Centres Rules of 2010.

Except a few coaching centres, most of them have failed to comply with the Court directions. As per the court orders, in the next hearing the Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir has been asked to be present before the double bench in person.

Flood Apathy

world-bankAlmost five months have passed since the floods disturbed life in Kashmir but the locals are still crying for rehabilitation. First the floods were not taken under the category of a natural calamity and then international aid was also not accepted by the state government, it was ultimately the common man who was at the receiving end.

Recently World Bank team, after five months of floods, reached the state for the flood damage estimation, and they were informed by the state, which is presently under the Governor’s rule, that around 2.54 lakh private structures were damaged during the floods, while as damage to the public infrastructure has been estimated to be more than Rs 6500 crore.

As per various reports, the World Bank team is going to provide financial support needed for rebuilding the damaged infrastructure and rehabilitation of the people besides help to revive the business community which suffered on account of the recent floods.

As per this team’s assessment, headed by Saurab Dhani, the plan of the financial institution is to provide the loans to Government of India (GoI) to fund Rs 44,000 crore flood damage package sought by J&K government. World Bank team has carried out its own assessment for providing loans to GoI to fund the special package sought by J&K government.

The state government has projected loss to the tune of Rs 44,000 crore due to the floods.

Recently, Home Minister Rajnath Singh approved the rehabilitation of flood victims and the restoration of the public infrastructure in J&K after a meeting with the state Governor. While as PM Narendra Modi had also announced a grant of Rs 765 crore from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund and a further Rs 1,000 crore as Special Assistance for the reconstruction of damaged public infrastructure. But in the present meeting HM and Governor discussed the to-date status of the utilization of these funds, which were announced by PM Modi.

Although Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, has reported that the disbursement of ex-gratia relief in respect of 162,125 flood damaged structures has been completed and Rs 156.25 crore has been disbursed, but on ground, people are crying for help so that they get the chance to rebuild their lives.

PMSSS Crisis

Ever since its introduction, Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS) is in news for all the wrong reasons. First students who availed PMSSS and are studying in different colleges and universities across India were beaten for sporting a particular cricket team, then came the regional brawls and prejudices, and the recent is when around 90 students were asked to deposit huge amount or pack their bags and leave.

Whatever may be the case Kashmiri students are ultimately sent home, without caring for their academics and future.

This week at least 90 male and female Kashmiri students admitted in a Chandigarh College under centrally sponsored PMSSS were forced to leave the College and spend night in open sky as according to students the College authorities have been demanding hefty fee from them.

These students told a local news gathering agency that they got admission for B.Tech courses under PMSSS in Indo-Global College of Engineering in Chandigarh in 2013. “The College authorities asked us to either pay fee or vacate the College. The authorities informed us that Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has not released the sanctioned amount for the effective implementation of the scheme, thus making them ineligible to study in the said College.”

The students were concerned as they feel their career has been put at stake for none of their fault. They claim that in the grab of free education, they were actually given ‘free mental torture’ for all these years. The students have decided to return to Kashmir as College authorities were in no mood to permit them to sit in the class rooms.

Prime Ministers Scholarship Scheme was introduced by the then UPA Government for the students of Kashmir Valley.

The chairman of this college, Sukhdev Kumar Shingla has said that the College has not received any grant from MRHD as a result the college authorities have asked Kashmiri students to pay from their own pocket.

Bollywood Bhat

Rahul-Bhat-ActorKashmir born Bollywood actor and Director Rahul Bhat who was in Kashmir for shooting his latest movie ‘Fitoor’, Monday said that Kashmir is not a ‘conflict-zone’ but, ‘it is the massive presence of Indian Army that gives the impression of it being a conflict-zone’.

“Who told you it is a conflict zone. It looks so because of the presence of Army here. Army should pull out from here. Kashmir is a tourist hub and beautiful destination and all efforts should be put in to turn this Valley into a world famous tourist destination,” Bhat said during an interaction with the media personnel at Srinagar’s Nigeen Club.

Bhat hailing from Vichar Nag, Soura in the outskirts of Srinagar city said he was overwhelmed by the response and love showered by his native people when he visited his ancestral home in Soura. “I was so emotional and I cried when Kashmiri Muslims hugged and embraced me there. So what I am a Kashmiri Pandit, I must admit that Muslims in Kashmir suffered heavily than Kashmiri Pandits. They suffered all these years more than any community in the State did and the biggest tragedy that tore them apart was the September deluge,” he said.

Bhat criticized State Government for its inaction towards the flood victims. “The Government provided meagre amount to the flood victims that they spent on clearing the debris only. Youth and NGO’s in Kashmir did a wonderful job and helped the sufferers,” he said.

Replying to a question, Bhat said that Kashmiri Pandits who have settled in different parts of India and abroad will never return to Valley. “I am myself a Kashmiri Pandit settled in Mumbai and doing my business. How can I leave that business there and settle here. So, to appeal Kashmiri Pandits on daily basis to return to their roots is a futile exercise and it is time to move on,” he said.

He said that Kashmiri youth are talented ones but the lack of infrastructure and opportunities rue their talent. “In my movie, I have a role for a Kashmiri Singer Ajaz Rah who is very talented and I believe that youth have potential here that needs to be harnessed,” he said and appealed State Government to upgrade and give a new lease of life to the ‘dying’ Cultural Academy.

Bhat said that he is mulling to launch a Cricket Club in Kashmir for the talented cricketers.

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