Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mahmooda sees it right

Earlier last week Mahmooda Mufti’s speech was being telecast live by India TV.  I wanted to check where did she speak in the vein that she did which appeared to be highly rational. I scanned all the newspapers that I get – Hindi as well as English – but I could not find it covered in any of them. The Times of India, of course, did not report it and even The Hindu – a newspaper that reports in detail everything of national interest uttered by a person of the stature of a chief minister – seemed to have glossed over it

I do not recollect where Ms. Mufti was speaking but she was certainly addressing a public meeting. After a curfew lasting 50-odd days or so she appeared to be trying to look objectively at the entire situation prevailing in the Kashmir Valley. In not trying to throw homilies at the people collected in front, she was only trying to talk about the more-than-a-month long violence that has brought all the social, economic, educational and political activities to a standstill in the Valley.

 Wondering how the problem flared up after the killing of Burhan Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen jehadi, she said virtually every day there is some militant or the other is killed but this kind of disturbances had never taken place before. For what happened earlier there used to be a reason or two like in 2010 the alleged rape of two women in Shopian which eventually was disproved as it was found to be an ordinary case of drowning. But the Kashmiri separatists had whipped up an agitation which lasted for days and the Valley was completely shut down. This time, however, there was no reason for such an eruption. No Kashmiri innocent was killed as the man killed was a militant – a potential killer of Kashmiri policemen or Kashmiri innocents..

She thought this time it was not spontaneous as it appeared that a certain amount of preparation had gone into it. Evidently, the organizers of the violence were waiting for an opportunity to inflame passions and Wani killing provided just the right one and was opportune. Obviously it was the work of the separatists and their cohorts. She said, yes, police were also violent but what could they do against dire provocations. “You snatch away their guns and keep pelting stones on them”, she told the people assembled in front of her, making them fear for their own lives. Under such circumstances any security force would try to quell such ghastly civil violence using whatever methods they could muster. In the process, some civilians were killed but some from the police forces were also killed and a large number of them were wounded.   

What is more, she said the agitationists were using women and children as shields. Children as young as 10 years old were wounded. Ms. Mufti wondered what a 10-year old was doing in the agitation. If the child was hit by pellets the blame should go to his parents who did not take care of him by keeping him at home. Allowing the child to join violent demonstrations was not only unwise, it was also criminal, presumably, as it was abetting violent demonstrations.

She repeated the same arguments at the press conference the other day addressed jointly by her and the country’s home minister. She even got worked up and appeared to be accusatory and snapped at a reporter bringing the conference to a close. She apparently had caught on to the machinations of the separatists who were till now not able to organize a long drawn-out confrontation. This time, as is evident, a large number of militants have been pumped into the Valley by Saiyed Salahuddin’s Hizbul Mujahideen, a proxy for the ISI of Pakistan, located in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. A thousand of its trained militants were claimed to be in the Valley and another thousand were waiting to infiltrate at an opportune moment. The figures could be exaggerated as the militants tend to exaggerate their prowess. But, there is no denying the fact that it is the foreign militants, ably assisted by the mischievous separatists Jeelani and Co., are behind this stretched out confrontation.

At the back of it, however, is the ISI of Pakistan which is the mastermind of such disturbances. I have immense faith in what AS Dulat has written in his “Kashmir – the Vajpayee years” because he was one official who met and developed a kind of trust amongst the militants about his bonafides. They would come to him and talk to him about all things regarding Kashmir militancy. During one such conversation a senior and influential militant had told him that at Dubai an ISI official had told him that nothing happens in Kashmir without the ISI’s initiatives. It is ISI that “Calls the shots in Kashmir”. From sending terrorists across the borders to organizing chaos and mayhem, it is the ISI which does it all. Everyone is, therefore, aware that the whole thing is inspired by the Pakistanis and their agencies with the assistance of their proxies in Srinagar. Only innocent Kashmiris are being used as cannon fodder.

Be that as it may, one can, nevertheless, fail to appreciate the attitude of our so-called secular press. While The Times of India did not report the speech of Mahmooda Mufti at a public meeting referred to earlier, it reported in detail stretching across columns the alarming views on the present unrest in Kashmir of Musaffir Hussain Baig, a former Dy. Chief Minister and a mere member of Parliament from Mahmooda’s PDP. He has said that the local “struggle” runs the risk of becoming a (kind of) religious extremism – of losing its political goal and getting a “religious vision”. He seems to be quite ill-informed as the separatists know their political goals are never going to be achieved.

 As Dulat has recorded, even President Musharraf, whom they had met in Delhi, had told them there cannot be re-drawing of the boundaries as India would never allow that. Hence they needed to change their thinking. Besides mercifully, religious undertones are presently absent in the movement. He sees a danger of the unrest becoming a part of the “international struggle”. Perhaps, he is away from Kashmir, he seems, therefore to be utterly out of depth with whatever is happening there. The newspaper, however, has found it worthy of a long report with an eye-catching headline which, in fact, is nothing but alarming. Being a member of parliament from the PDP perhaps such a comment was not expected from him. If he harbours this kind of a perception it would have been wiser for him to communicate it to Ms. Mufti instead of airing his apprehensions in public through a newspaper column to set alarm bells ringing.

The whole thing is nothing but Pakistan’s way of inflicting those “thousand cuts” of Zia ul Haq on India. As Mahmooda repeatedly said it is the 5% of people, presumably the separatists, who create these problems. The remaining 95% of Kashmiris want to live in peace and harmony. India has, therefore, to ride out the present difficulties by being firm and dominate over the disturbed areas.

*Photo: from internet

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 38 :: "Jan-bhagidari" - Bhopal style

This year the monsoon has been rather severe. According to the latest reports it has rained about 150% more than the long-term average of rainfall in Bhopal. This was expected as the MET Office had forecast as far back as in March above normal rainfall during the monsoons this year. Since then I knew we would be having horrendous times with our Ridge Road which was in very bad shape. Even some rural roads are better than it. It was so even around two years back when the then newly-elected Mayor visited it. It was then that he had promised that he would have such a road made here that one would be able to dine off it – presumably using it as a full plate. Later, he made the same statement elsewhere too which made it clear that he was another of those rotten politicians who only made promises and did nothing. That, from all evidences, is proving right.

It seems, when some of the residents had taken up the matter with the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) they were told that it would be prepared to do up the road if the residents agreed to chip in with half the cost under “Jan-bhagidari” scheme. The scheme involves people’s participation in financing for creation of infrastructure. People are expected to contribute 50% of the cost. This was a radical departure from what the Mayor had promised. The members of the Ridge Road Association after agreeing to the proposal asked the BMC to prepare estimates. There are many in Ridge Road who are familiar with this kind of work having done such work themselves. Given the resources, they would be willing to carry out the work and they would make a far better job of it than the corrupt BMC. The Corporation prepared estimates of Rs. 50 lakh which was agreed to with the condition that it should transfer 50% of its share to the Association and that the work would be constructed under joint monitoring.. This was not agreeable to the Corporation and the proposal fell through. They wanted the Ridge Road share to be handed over to them and it would be they who would build the road. Quite clearly, they were not prepared to miss out on their cut(s).

I know for sure that the roads in Nishant Enclave (below the 74 Bungalows) where three of my siblings reside were built under “jan-bhagidari” scheme about five years back. The residents are an affluent and influential lot. It was to be a cement concrete road. But the work was so shoddy that it is now hardly better than the Ridge Road. There is no sign of the cement that was used and one gets a shaky and bouncy ride. This is “jan-bhagidari” Bhopal-style, a concept, if I recall, was promoted by Sheila Dixit, one-time chief minister of Delhi. For the BMC engineers, however, it is another source of making money

So, as one climbs up for Idgah from the old Nawabi era gate, now called Bhopal Gate, one feels as if one is in a satellite orbiting Mars. The ditches, the one-time river valleys and the mounds on some of which the Mars rover “Curiosity” had an excursion are all there. Here, however, the pock marked surface with gashes and small mounds is only too close giving one a bouncy ride in a vehicle that rattles to high heavens regardless of its age. These roads are hard on the men who ride the vehicles, hard on the machines that drive them and hard on their wheels.

This town is increasingly becoming out-of-bounds for the seniors. They just cannot get out of the house. Neither can they use their two legs for fear of causing damage to the aged skeletal shock-absorbers nor can they use their vehicles that constantly buffet from pothole to pothole needing much more strength to manipulate the steering than what an elderly can muster.

Thanks to our municipal engineers and their supervisors, we have evolved into a society in which those who are charged to build urban roads wouldn’t build them unless their cut is ensured. Hence till their deep pockets are filled only the brave, muscular and enterprising young men and women can venture out on to the city roads. As for our Ridge Road, I think the residents here have a long, indefinite wait ahead for it to become fit for being called an urban passage. 

*Photo from internet

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bhopal-Notes :: 37 ::Grabbing prime Bhopal lake-front land

Municipal functionaries removing encroachments 
Living in Bhopal, it would seem, people are obsessed with the city’s biggest water body, the iconic Upper Lake. It is more so in my case as every hour of the day I find it spread right out in front of me. It is such a fascinating sight. I have been seeing it for the last twenty years in its various moods – lit up in sunlight and azure under a cloudless sky, somber in the moonlight, dark and grey during the monsoon with black forbidding clouds hovering over it, soft-focussed and diffused when it rains. My first published journalistic effort was on it; I can never tire of writing about it. No wonder, I follow everything that is written about it in the dailies.

The current reports reveal the callousness of people who are supposedly charged with the responsibility of taking care of it and other random thugs of the town who have been out to exploit its surroundings for personal gain by nibbling away on its fringes or grabbing its bed when the water recedes during the dry season. Thankfully the 9th July floods occurred when, providentially, the case of encroachments on the Lake was also being heard in the National Green Tribunal. The heavy rains filled up the Lake to its highest level, i.e. 1666.80 ft. and many of the places grabbed that were being passed off as outside its boundaries were flooded. As there was a controversy about its spread a decision was taken to check the “full tank level” (FTL) of the Lake and teams were sent out to verify the cement markers that were reportedly planted by the municipal corporation to indicate the extent of its spread. Four teams were constituted by the district administration for the survey.

Reports started trickling in every day about the results of the survey only to reveal the mass-scale grabbing of the Lake’s area in almost all directions. The surveyors could not locate many markers, numerous others were found submerged in the waters of the Lake and several others had been overtaken by the spreading water. All these years people have been merrily encroaching in the areas that basically belonged to the Lake and this was surely made possible by the support and connivance of the municipal officials. The municipal councillors concerned also would have got their cut. Thus, those who were charged to ensure the integrity of the Lake actively subscribe to these illegalities resulting in shrinkage of the Lake, pollution of its waters and, of course, damage to its eco-system.

From shanties to fairly big houses, liquor shops to shops to eating joints, warehouses to shops selling marble slabs occupying large areas, all kinds of establishments were found merrily functioning and well entrenched in their illegal occupations. Some of the authors of these illegalities along the artery heading north even assaulted the municipal officials in their agitation when they appeared with their equipment to bring down the unauthorized and patently illegal structures. Policemen, who were present, handled them with patience and a lot of understanding.

Demolition of houses in Khanugaon (Cf: Bhopal Notes :: 32 :: Uncivil people of Khanugaon) were to be taken up but were postponed on the orders of the Mayor. Here, it seems, not one marker was found by the surveyors. These must have been destroyed by those who illegally occupied the land that rightfully should have been within the FTL. The reason for not proceeding with demolition of the illegal constructions is not quite clear; the most charitable explanation could be the human problem of people becoming homeless if their structures were demolished. It was in Kanugaon that its residents had earlier misbehaved with the members of the Bhopal Citizens’ Forum who had gone there to check the location of the retaining wall that was being constructed by the municipal corporation. The Citizens’ Forum and later even the chief minister found the wall well within the Lake. The project was supposedly prepared to provide a 2 kilometre-long pathway and a cycle track for the people with a boat club thrown in near about. Quite clearly, as it now seems, the whole project was formulated to protect the illegal houses from ingress in them of waters of the Lake. A minister too reportedly supported the project. The idea was, clearly, to push back the boundaries of the Lake. And that is why, perhaps, the residents were so wild at the visit of the members of the Citizens’ Forum. Even the area’s councillor was probably involved in it as he too had, reportedly, threatened the members of the Citizens’ Forum and told them to refrain from visiting the area again.

The findings of the surveyors are yet to be placed before the Green Tribunal. It seems there were all-told 943 cement markers all around the Lake and only a few more than 820 or so have been accounted for. Obviously the missing ones have been done away with by those who waded into the Lake’s territory to satisfy their greed. The Bhopal Municipal Corporation has shown nothing but all round incompetence in discharging almost all its functions; it has done more so in respect of the Lake despite being charged with the responsibility of being its custodian. Disappearance of the markers and whole-sale encroachments which were allowed to continue for years are testimonies of its utter ineffectiveness. Reports have been circulating about hefty amounts that were being paid to the municipal and government officials in lieu of their favours.

Apart from sundry encroachments, it allowed establishment of the Chirayu Hospital & Medical College in what now seems to be the area within the FTL. It must have been flooded this year as the rains have been more than normal as it was flooded even last year when the rains were sparse. A case filed against it but seems to have had wrongly alleged that it violated the catchment area; in fact, as it now seems, it is well within the FTL of the lake Nonetheless, the case resulted in  conviction and the Hospital got away very lightly as it was directed to plant a few hundred trees as punishment.

With the exposure of the lackadaisical and careless attitude of the municipal official one can only wait and see what action is taken against those who are responsible for the encroachments and their continuance over the years. The Upper Lake, apart from being a vital source of water for the denizens of Bhopal, is also an important environmental asset for them. It has a far greater role in tempering the city’s micro-climate than what is appreciated. To tinker with its expanse and to allow the pollution of its waters would seem to be a serious crime against the citizens of the city.

One only wishes the National Green Tribunal makes a comprehensive assessment of the measures taken (or not taken) by various authorities concerned, including Bhopal Municipal Corporation, to apportion blame on them for their failure in maintaining the integrity of the Lake and for imposition of suitable penalties. One also wishes t the Tribunal takes into account various tourism activities that are being conducted in and around the Lake by the MP State Tourism Corporation against the environmental norms and issues suitable directions.

*Photoo from internet

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Dysinformation leading Kashmiris astray

Najeeb Mubarki, a former journalist with the Outlook magazine  has contributed a piece in the 25th July issue of the magazine in which he has described Indian Army’s presence in Kashmir as “most brutal and deceptive occupations of modern times”. The Outlook magazine, in its efforts to run down the current regime in Delhi, often asks such journalists or dignitaries to contribute pieces particularly if they add fuel to an already raging fire. That, however, cannot be questioned; it is, after all, a free country and everybody including the magazine and Kashmiris have right to air their views regardless of the shade they represent. But describing the Indian presence in Kashmir as “occupation” is certainly travesty of facts. Perhaps, this has been said either out of sheer ignorance of the state’s recent history or a deliberate effort to mislead the reading public.

There can be numerous opinions on whatever the Indian security force are doing in Kashmir. The perspectives are always different depending on the side one is on. But one thing must be realized that the Army is functioning in Kashmir as a part of its duty to the country and Kashmir is a part of the country. To suggest that it is an “occupation” army is an utter falsehood as the country never fought a war against Kashmir and it was never conquered by India.

That part of the history is never mentioned and blinkered commentators never try to dig into it and bring it before the Kashmiri common man to disabuse his mind of the wrong propaganda by vested interests. At the risk of repetition, one has to bring home to the Kashmiris that the question of merging with Pakistan or enjoying “aazadi” had been decided once and for all almost seventy years ago and in this decision the then Indian government played fair and absolutely by the rule. It is all there in recorded history that the late Maharaja Hari Singh was toying with the idea of remaining independent after India’s partition. His procrastinations made Pakistan under Mohammed Ali Jinnah impatient who organized a raid on Kashmir by the tribal warriors, ably assisted by Pakistani regulars and irregulars. On feeling threatened by Pakistan the Maharaja requested for Kashmir’s accession to the Indian state. Indian government refused to accept the request until the Maharaja obtained the consent of people’s representatives. The most popular people’s leader Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah was then languishing in a jail. The Maharaja consulted him who whole-heartedly supported the move to merge with India. In the process a lot of time was lost and the raiders were almost at the threshold of Srinagar. With herculean efforts and enormous sacrifices the Indian Army pushed the raiders out of the Valley which had by then become Indian territory. That is how Kashmir became an Indian state and not a territory occupied by India after waging a war. Describing the Indian Army as an “occupation” army, therefore, is not only false, it also is sinister and seditious.

 Perhaps, in this respect the Indian administration as well as the state administration failed to inculcate in the people of Kashmir the urge to view what the truth was. In the Pakistan-inspired chaos and mayhem created from time to time Kashmiris are instigated by its ISI or its proxies to take an antipathetic, even hostile attitude towards the Indian security forces as this is in the interest of Pakistan. Kashmiris need to remember that if terrorists infiltrating from across the Line of Control and are instigating them to cause disorder and confusion the security forces would not be sitting on their haunches to watch the show. They have the duty to deal with them as effectively as they can even if meticulously collected brick-sized stones are hurled at them by the maddened, unthinking young men who are victims of whipped up emotions. 

Kashmiris seem to have forgotten that it was Pakistan which made at least three attempts to annex Kashmir and every time it was foiled by them. The first attempt was, of course, the one when it tried to grab Kashmir by force in 1947 but succeeded in capturing only half of it and, that too, because of puerile and immature policies of the then Indian prime minister. But then the fact remains that at that time it was the sovereign power of the state came seeking help of the Indian government. The second time was in 1965 when the Ayub Khan-designed Operation Gibraltar was rendered a failure by people of Kashmir who exposed and handed over the Pakistani infiltrators sent across to engineer an insurgency in their Valley. Pakistan has been relentlessly trying somehow to dislodge India from Kashmir. It unsuccessfully tried again in 1998 in the Kargil War. Perhaps, the ongoing turbulence is another effort to lead the Kashmiris astray and work up enough loathing for India to weaken its hold on the state.

Pakistan is doing all this notwithstanding the terrorist attacks it is facing from Taliban. Having sown terror it is now reaping terror. Yet, when militant Burhan Wani was killed on July 8, 2016 he was declared a martyr in Pakistan and the date of his death was declared as Black Day with Pakistan prime minister assuring the Kashmiris of his country’s help till Kashmir became part of Pakistan. Even during the Indian Home Minister’s brief visit to Pakistan for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meeting protest rallies were organized in Islamabad and the Lashkar e Taiyyaba chief incessantly spewed venom pledging support to Kashmiri resistance. The Hizbul Chief admitted it had 1000 militants operating in Kashmir Valley.

It is a pity that many of the Kashmiris  actively participating in agitations against their own Police and the Central security forces have not read the recent book  “Kashmir – the Vajpayee years” by the top Indian sleuth AS Dulat  - now retired. He is one sleuth who talked extensively to everyone including militants of all hues trying to subvert the administration. Some of the quotes of the militants would surely act as eye openers for those who have become extremely allergic to India:

Hashim Qureishy, hijacker of Indian Airlines flight in 1971 said, “… Hurriyat people should give up accession to Pakistan, as should our people. 65 years have passed, another 500 years will pass, Kashmir will never become Pakistan. You can write it down... and people, (you) don't sacrifice your children.” Abdul Majeed Dar, another militant was so disillusioned with the ISI that not only he contrived to come away to Kashmir but also refused to take its calls. Obviously the ISI found him very precious for their designs in Kashmir and didn't want to let go him and eventually had him killed. Firdaus, assistant of Shabir Shah one of the leading separatist leaders told Dulat that each and every Kashmiri he met in Pakistan felt they were in an alien land. They also advised him to never merge Kashmir in Pakistan. When he was denied SAM missiles by the ISI he realised that it was not interested in escalating the proxy war and was not interested in the fact that the “Kashmiris had gone all out to fight their dirty war”
Kashmiris need to pay heed to these few nuggets delivered by their own extremists as they tell all that is there to know about Pakistan’s diabolical intentions. Hopefully, wisdom will dawn on those who have fallen prey to its mischievous disinformation and propaganda and are needlessly wasting away their lives.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 36 ::Ecologically Threatening Upper Lake Wall To Go

Readers must have come across on several occasions references in these columns to a retaining wall that the Bhopal Municipal Corporation was constructing well within the iconic Upper Lake of Bhopal in an area that goes by the name of Khanugaon. The stated purpose was to create a pedestrian pathway and a cycle track of around two kilometres for the benefit of the locals. What was clearly unstated was the plan to build a new boat club at Khanugaon. Newspapers criticized it, environmentalists as well as local NGOs and Bhopal Citizens’ Forum were up against it. The Bhopal Municipal Corporation was, however, unrelenting and went ahead with the construction 

The matter eventually went to the local bench of the National Green Tribunal where it is still pending. Its latest directions, given around a fortnight earlier regarding survey of the “Full Tank Level’ (FTL) of the Lake and marking of its boundaries after the survey, remains unimplemented so far. Initially the Municipal Corporation dilly dallied in complying with the Tribunal’s orders for various reasons. Eventually, it directed the District Administration to form teams for the survey. This process itself took time as the municipality was again evading the calls to attend the meetings. After a great deal of procrastination four teams were formed to go about identifying the spread of the Lake and mark its boundaries as currently the Lake has attained its FTL of 1666.80 ft. The survey is now expected to commence from 3rd August 2016.

In the meantime, however, the Chief Minister took time off to see for himself what the problem was. Actually, such matters generally do not generate enough interest among the politicians, especially the political head of the state. Perhaps, there was a deeper political game behind it as the pedestrian pathway, a cycling track and a new boat club at Khanugaon was the brainchild of the erstwhile Minister for Urban Administration who has since been stripped off of his ministerial position. The serial adverse reporting in the local press about the controversy that brought the Municipal Corporation into very bad light also must have played a role. The Corporation was not only unwilling to comply with the orders of the Tribunal, it had disdain for the contentions of the NGOs and the Bhopal Citizens’ Forum who asked it to demolish the “ecologically dangerous” retaining wall, reportedly 10 ft. tall at some places obstructing the free flow of water and was claimed to be on the FTL but was surreptitiously constructed well within the boundaries of the Lake. The Commissioner stopped the ongoing work but did not order the demolition. In this connection readers will recall the mention that was made of uncivil behavior of Khanugaon residents with the members of the Citizens’ Forum (Cf. Bhopal Notes 32 dated 23rd June 2016). Obviously, the residents of Khanugaon had much to gain from the wall and the boat club. Hence thei anger against the members of Citizens’ Forum.

Ultimately it took a visit to the site by the Chief Minister to push the matter towards finality. One look at it and he directed demolition of the wall. The Mayor, all the district officers, , the Municipal Commissioner and other sundry officers were present. He gave directions to not only to demolish the contentious wall, he also directed the officers concerned to act according to the directives of the NGT. He also happened to see the submerged markers and ordered that these had to be removed and planted at the places where the Lake had spread itself to to mark its boundaries. What is more, he also directed thatforests should be developed along the Lake shores and that strict action against violators of the sanctity of the catchment area.

This is perhaps the first time that the Chief Minister has intervened in a matter regarding conservation of the environment of the city. The intervention will be fruitful if the whole thing is thoroughly probed to identify the officer who was responsible for this misadventure. The earlier commissioners of the Corporation have reportedly denied any responsibility. The one who approved the project is reported to have said that he was told the wall would be at FTL. Obviously, he had not checked the detailed project proposal. Quite clearly the project was being implemented in deviation of the proposal approved by the Centre. The charges of the vernacular press that the very custodian of the Lake was out to strangulate it are largely true. Worse, in the process public money and public resources were wasted on a project that could never stand against a proper environmental scrutiny. Exemplary punishments for the guilty officials for erecting the wall well within the FTL of the Lake need to be taken. Simultaneously those who have encroached into its catchment area have to be ousted.

Hopefully, the state government will not allow the matter to rest with the issue of oral directives of the Chief Minister. It needs to ensure that such unwise constructions never again take place in and around the Lake, its surroundings are covered by plantations to the extent possible and the catchments are cleared of encroachments in compliance of the directives of the Chief Minister. It also needs to release the report of the Centre for Environmental Planning & Technology on conservation and development of the Lake for the information of the general public.

DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION Rama Chandra Guha, free-thinker, author and historian Ram Chandra Guha, a free-thinker, author and...