Moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was not allowed to lay a foundation stone for a martyrs’ memorial and lead a rally to commemorate the death anniversaries of his father Molvi Mohammad Farooq and another Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani lone at Eidgah.

It is for the first time since the Mirwaiz’s father was assassinated on May 21 in 1990 that the government prevented him from holding a rally to pay tributes. Lone was assassinated the same day when he was attending the death anniversary rally of the Mirwaiz’s father at Eidgah in 2002.

However, on the next day, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq along with Bilal Gani Lone and other Hurriyat (M) leaders, was allowed to address a public rally at Kupwara-the People’s Conference bastion.

 Addressing the gathering Farooq said, “Talks should be held between the leadership of Kashmir, Pakistan and India and not at the level of interlocutors. The engagement of interlocutors on Kashmir is nothing but a time-consuming process. For the past one year, we have been hearing that they (interlocutors) are talking to every Tom, Dick and Harry in the state.”

Farooq added, “we (hurriyat M) are ready to walk an extra mile if New Delhi shows seriousness in resolving Kashmir.”

These days when people are seen wearing medical face masks, please do not think that they are suffering from some severe respiratory diseases. People across the valley these days are in grip of allergies because of pollens spread by poplars that contaminated the air and sufferers are from all groups however the elderly and children are the worst-hit.

Experts say that the huge presence of Russian thistle (Russian poplars) is main cause of pollen allergy and they have grown on large scale in valley now. The female species of the plant–populus

deltoids– has left the Valley sneezing and coughing ever since it started shedding seeds in the second week of April.

To counter the problem though government is mulling generic transformation, but the social forestry department is still distributing saplings of Russian variety to the farmers. This particular species was imported by the social forestry department in 1982 from the US, which is banned in the West, but lines the streets of the Valley.

The doctors at premier SMHS hospital said that the pollen allergy has attained horrendous ramifications though the pollen problem has added to the business of medicos. Srinagar’s Chest Disease hospital has seen a sudden spurt in the outpatient department since April, when it
registered 9,200 patients.

Poplar has a life span of up to 40 years and matures in just three years. It grows up to 20-30 feet.

A Bilateral PROCESS?
Under the policy permitting J&K youth, currently living in PaK, to return and resume routine, the central agencies have finally cleared five youth. After receiving 700 applications, the police had processed 100 odd cases of which cabinet cleared 23 but the central security agencies withheld clearance in 18 cases.

However, what is interesting and indicative of the process being bilateral is that the day five names were cleared, officials from Islamabad – for the first time in over 20 years – drove to Muzaffarabad for a ‘ground check’ and met nine youth willing to return home.

All of them, according to reports appearing in the media, are putting up in Busnara refugee camp. They all admitted their willingness to came back home but were concerned over the fate of their families that they have raised. Every family gets a monthly stipend of Rs 1500.

The move has infuriated insurgents. They have decried over encouraging tactical surrender. However, the move has encouraged Muzaffarabad government to announce for the first time in past 22-years a multi-crore rehabilitation scheme. They are being settled in a Satellite Town to be located in a scenic area near the Muzaffarabad airport for which the 320 kanals of land have been identified near Thotalangarpora.

Tragically, however, neither of the two rehabilitation packages could help Mohammad Ashraf Jahra of Branwar, Chadoora who crossed over at the age of nine. Son of a labourer, he lived in PaK and finally married Asima in 2009. Homesick, he decided to come back and crossed over from Poonch along with his wife only to get arrested. For the last 14 months, he is in Kot Balwal. Asima is held in Poonch jail.

 His father told reporters recently that his son was encouraged to return by the same policy that the state government announced after assuming office.

Panchayat UPDATE
With 10 of the 16-phase polls over and the turnout following the already established trend, the Panchayat system is creating news. In Mahind village of Bejbehara, Imam of the local mosque Ghulam Nabi Wani was fired for exercising his right to vote.

In Noorabad areas of Kulgam, a newly elected panch Abdul Rahman Mir was found tied to a tree outside his village after neighbours and police search parties went to look for him when he failed to return home till late in the night. He had won polls with PDP support but soon after defected to NC. He was gagged, lashed, looted, tied to a tree and eventually abandoned.

In Samba, a newly elected Sarpanch, Jaswant Singh was murdered at Chak Salarian near Ramgarh. Father and son were attacked by three persons killing father and leaving the son injured. A day after police solved the murder by arresting a dreaded criminal from Punjab and a local Shiv Sena leader. Killer had an old enmity with the slain Singh that was revived when they had altercations while drinking liquor in a local tea stall.

For the last phase, media in Kashmir focussed on Sopore peripheries where two separatist leaders – Syed Ali Geelani and Prof Abdul Gani Bhat – live. A newspaper reported that while it was total boycott in Geelani’s ancestral Dooru belt, there were long lines in Botengo wherefrom Prof Bhat hails. The belt reported an honourable 45 percent turnout.

After 10 phases, interestingly, PaK based militant leader Syed Salah-ud-Din has issued a statement saying “militants won’t target panches and sarpanches”. He said that United Jehad Council didn’t call for boycott of Panchayat polls as these are for local self arrangements and are different from assembly elections. “You don’t have to take oath under Indian constitution in Panchayat polls,” he was quoted saying.

Regardless of the participation and the controversies involved, an excited government is working overtime for a productive follow up. Additional DGP Civil Defence, Home Guards and Auxiliary Police Dr Ram Labhaya wants all the 4131 Sarpanchs to be trained for disaster preparedness to be followed by training to 29919 Panchs.

Secretary Rural Development, Yedullah said the government is spending Rs 34.68 crores for imparting training to 34000 elected Panchs and Sarpanchs who are mostly illiterate and would require teaching about their roles and responsibilities. In the first go, the government plans to construct 1985 Panchayat Ghars at an investment of Rs 400 crores within next 18 months.

36 Years AFTER
Electricity, off late, has been consuming a lot of newsprint in an energy deficit state, thanks to a pro-active water minister and a sensitive media. Taj Mohiuddin set up a Water Authority and started charging the water users. NHPC, India’s hydropower giant having substantial operations in the state, initially ignored the idea and later petitioned the court against the order. Last week, NHPC was directed by the court to foot the bill that shall remain in a separate account till the outcome of the main writ petition. Taj, in fact, shocked everybody last week when he said there was no MoU on record between J&K and the NHPC. It was a stunning disclosure.

When NHPC was launched in 1975, it was the 690-MW Salal Power Project on Chenab that was its first ‘property’. But Taj dug out – after apparently being tipped off by Industry lobbyist Shakeel Qalander who was chasing it for some time, ‘archaic’ records suggesting the idea behind Salal was a partnership. With J&K having the water resource and the land, New Delhi was supposed to invest so that fifty percent of the energy will go to J&K and for the rest, it would have an equal share in profits. The project was supposed to be returned to state after depreciation period was over against a payment of 10 percent of the project cost.

It was on basis of these records that Taj briefed the cabinet last week and managed setting up of a cabinet sub-committee (Abdul Rahim Rather, Taj Mohiuddin, Ali Mohammad Sagar, Nawang Rigzin Jora) that will work out the modalities for reclaiming Salal in the backdrop of the recent disclosures. Though the exchange of communications between Srinagar and New Delhi started well before 1975, the actual cabinet decision (No 537) was taken only on December 15, 1980.
NHPC that is generating power in the state since 1987 has continued offering a 12 percent royalty, a system that stands extended to all NHPC projects in the state. Salal interestingly was fully depreciated in 2003.

Now when the government has finally found the basics out, the much larger question is how the main agreement was ignored creating a situation in which new system was forced on the state. Since politicians are involved directly, a house committee might not be desirable. It needs a formal commission to look into the entire gamut of issues that should cover last 40 years of the love-hate relationship that J&K had with the NHPC.

Cabling A BRIDGE
It was Rajiv Gandhi who was supposed to lay its foundation in 1989 but somehow he skipped it. It paved way for Mrs Sonia Gandhi to do the honours in 2011. The delay notwithstanding, the cable stayed bridge over Ravi in Basholi will not only be a wonderful piece of engineering and a good tourist attractor, but it will also offer a road that reaches Kashmir while bypassing Jammu.

The first ever cable-stayed bridge in J&K , it will be similar to three similar bridges – Hoogly Bridge (Kolkata), the Naini Bridge (Allahabad) and the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link (Mumbai). The bridge will make Srinagar accessible through Basholi, Bani, Bhaderwah, Kishtwar, Chhatroo and Anantnag while opening Basholi to Punjab and Himachal Pradesh through the 10.5-km Dunera-Bani link road. It will end Basholi’s decades of isolation that setting up of Ranjit Sagar Dam forced on it.

Scheduled to be commissioned by September 2014, the Border Roads Organization has awarded its contract to IRCON-SPS Construction Pvt Ltd for Rs 145 crores. The 592-meter bridge will have 88 metre high tower that would support cables holding the span regions. The bridge with 13.93 meter width will have 1.5 metre footpaths on both sides and the government believes it will promote tourism in the entire region along Ranjit Sagar dam. BRO has already laid most of the road barring parts falling between Basholi and Bhaderwah.


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