Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Blog Moved to Wordpress

Hola Dear friends and my dear friends, I would like to inform you that I have moved my blog from Blogspot to Wordpress. So this is going to be my last update here but the journey continues at Wordpress so if you haven't been bored by me, your are welcome to visit me there.www.alhaqumurun.wordpress.com

Saturday, May 5, 2012

May Day, Mayday!

1st of May has been celebrated as a springtime festival since 13th century and later on from 1880 it also was celebrated as labor day, to give due recognition to the working people. Here in Kashmir we are not sure whether to celebrate it or not, we haven't seen much of spring yet nor are we known for giving due reorganization to people for their work.

Since ages Kashmir has been very famous for its handicrafts, woodwork, paper-machie , silk, Saffron etc., but recently all these arts are dying a silent death. The taste of people has changed, the architecture has changed, priorities have changed and in the middle of all this change our culture is vanishing. The craftsmen have tried and are trying to survive this wave of change but the question is how much have the successive governments helped to promote these crafts. To summarize all the help that these skilful people have received nothing more should be required to be said then that these people are making every effort to make sure that their sons and daughters do not get into their father's & grandfather's trade. Recently a genius of a craftsman, the creator of "The Lonely Tree", Khazir Mohammad Qasba, died but none noticed. With death of the masters, the death of art itself will follow and with it another part of our rich culture is destined to die a silent and lonely death.

In Kashmir the thinking minds and the able bodies are being exploited in open day light and nothing is being done about it. Well what can one do when the Government who is supposed to be the protector of week is actually facilitating this exploitation.  Government took the saying "something is better than nothing" a bit too seriously and the young generation is bearing the brunt. Teachers, agriculture graduates, forestry graduates etc (many a times even PhD's) are being hired by government on temporary basis on remuneration of fifteen hundred rupees per month, yep you read it right just Rs 1500/-. This has acted as a blessing for the private players (NGO's, Private companies etc) in the state, now they have made this remuneration amount as a benchmark. Teachers in private schools are being paid around Rs 3,000/- per month but the amount that these schools show to their benefactors and Government authorities (from whom they receive grants & Donations) is not less than Rs 10,000/- (as salary per teacher). It is an open secret not hidden from any one, but still no action is being taken against the perpetrators. The Labor Department who are supposed to take action against these violators of law is a just namesake department. Just outside the office of Labor Commissioner, Batamalo ,we can observe child labor; children are working in the mechanic shops, they are working as conductors / helpers in public transport vehicles. When the labor department is so blind to something in front of their eyes then how can we expect them to check whether "Shops & Establishments Act" or "Contract Labor Act" or "Remuneration Act" etc are being implemented and adhered to or not.

The government never lets an opportunity go begging when  it comes to claiming accolades (even for someone else's work) but when it comes to punishing the corrupt, well a probe is setup and nothing more is done. This has had a very bad effect on the whole setup. Nothing moves forward unless you grease some palms. Now a day’s even the Jobs are on sale and there is a proper rate list. All this is being done unofficially but governments is even through its official policies promoting only certain class of people (elitist). The government is not providing equal opportunity to everyone to compete in competitive exams or in government jobs. The government uses High application fee for competitive exams and for applying in the government jobs as a deterrent. To describe the situation in a better way let me give a comparative example of fee structure for different posts and exams recently advertised by J&K PSC and UPSC:

Recruiting Agency
Fee (RS)
Asst. Provident Fund Commissioner
Court Manager
IFS (exam stretched over 10 days)
Asst. Surgeon (Veterinary)
Now you can yourself see and compare the exaggerated charges that that J&K PSC is charging from the candidates (who do not have a source of income). It is a general concept among the youth of J&K that whenever the government doesn't have funds to pay salary of it employees it advertises couple of posts and then forget about these post just to be remembered in time when most of those who had applied have become over-aged, then the process is repeated over again. An intelligent plan for a continuous source of income one can say.

Now coming back to the question whether to celebrate May Day or not, I think you all will agree that we here in Kashmir have nothing to celebrate. We can only cry Mayday hoping that someone will hear us, is anyone listening!

Also Appeared in "The Kashmir Monitor" http://kashmirmonitor.org/kashmonitor/05052012-ND-may-day-mayday-25802.aspx

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Forbidden Valley

From my childhood I have been hearing & have been writing umpteen number of times, that the world has transformed into a global village, but it seems to hold true only outside our forsaken valley. With each passing Day, coming to or going out of this valley is becoming a herculean task and not everyone is up to it.

 Jammu-Srinagar Highway is one of the most dangerous highways with an enormous fatality rate (almost 100%) in case of an accident. If one survives an accident on this highway it is a miracle. Now due to this reason not many people prefer to travel by road, but the only other option i.e air travel, is fast becoming out of bounds for the common people. Air travel to & from Kashmir is becoming an elitist activity. The “Maharajah” syndrome is kicking back in, due to the prohibitive cost of air travel, the only people who can afford it are the rich and powerful.

In the early nineties with Indian economy opening up, the Air Corporation Act, 1953, was repealed to end the monopoly of the public sector and private airlines were reintroduced. This was done to promote healthy competition and it was thought that the benefits would trickle down to the common people. This has been proved true for rest of India minus Kashmir.

On the Srinagar route the airlines have monopoly and the customer has no say. It is the airlines only that decide the fares and there is no one to question them. The airlines are acting as a cartel and seem to be deciding the pricing with mutual consultation, which illegal & completely nullifies the basic goal with which the Air Corporation Act, 1953 was repealed.

The civil Aviation Ministry, Central & State governments are turning a blind eye towards this issue. It is not only an issue of me not being able to afford air travel but a lot of other things are interwoven with this issue. We get a better idea what other things are being affected by the airfare by taking a look at the objectives of civil aviation ministry which are:

a)                 To ensure aviation safety, security
b)                 Effective regulation of air transport in the country in the liberalized environment
c)                  Safe, efficient, reliable and widespread quality air transport services are provided  at     reasonable prices
d)                 Flexibility to adapt to changing needs and circumstances
e)                 To provide all players a level-playing field
f)                    Encourage Private participation
g)                 Encourage Trade, tourism and overall economic activity and growth
h)                  Security of civil aviation operations is ensured through appropriate systems, policies, and practices

Let's discuss the objectives one by one:

a)      Talking of safety & security that seems to be only part that it is being taken seriously in Kashmir, in fact too seriously leading to inconvenience to commuters and they wish they had never come here.

b)      We can call the environment in which the companies operate on Srinagar route anything but liberal. If prefer to call it monopolistic because customers have no say in it and they have to accept each and everything that is being offered to them by the airlines.

c)        If we can call the prices on Srinagar route reasonable then what do we call reasonable! When one can get a stay of two nights in Bangkok, plus the travelling cost from India in about Rs 11,000 and at the same time the ticket fare from Dehli to Srinagr or vice versa is above Rs 15,000, is this what we call fare pricing (in tourism season the prices go as high as Rs 30,000). Is it that Kashmir is on a different planet altogether!

d)      Government has never been flexible to anything when it comes to Kashmir so how can we expect them to flexible with respect to air travel. People have been demanding for long for making Srinagar Airport operational 24x7, instead of the current operating window of morning till evening. This will increase the availability of the seats thus matching with the demand and taking away the undue advantage that the airlines have currently due to which they are able to charge so high charges.

e)      Government with its attitude is providing more than a level playing field to the airlines, they are giving them undue leverage to operate as they wish and to charge people as much as they can.

f)       Government is not allowing any public transport to travel from city to the airport, if you don’t own a car then either you have to walk approx 3 km's uphill or hire a private cab (extremely costly), so what encouragement can be expected to be given for private participation.

g)      Many studies and researches have shown that air transport has a direct effect on trade, tourism and overall economic growth of any region. Now at one hand Government is trying to show that it is trying to promote all these things in Kashmir but on the other hand is having a very dismal approach towards the Srinagar airport. It is not bringing its foot down on the airlines and telling them that they cannot charge customers over the sky prices. After all that was why the Air Corporation Act, 1953 was withdrawn in the first place. (h) So the civil aviation ministry & state and central Government’s have to set their systems, policies and practices with respect to Srinagar airport right.

The condition of the Jammu-Srinagar Road and the extremely high airfares to & from Srinagar only act as deterrent for people from coming or going out of the valley. This completely negates the governmental rhetoric of them promoting economic development, tourism or people to people contact. It is not something that authorities are unaware of but what amazes me is their inaction, unless it is exactly what they want, turning Kashmir into a forbidden Valley! 

Also appeared in  "The Kashmir Monitor"