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In the early nineties with Indian economy opening up, the Air Corporation Act, 1953, was repealed to end the monopoly of the public sector and private airlines were reintroduced.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mutual consultation, which illegal & completely nullifies the basic goal with which the Air Corporation Act, 1953 was repealed.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" 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Of Traffic Jams, Water Transport & Mess

Couple of days ago one of my friend's father while discussing the days gone by told me that back in 1980's he used to travel from Pulwama to Kupwara and back each day. He said that he used to leave from Pulwama around 7 in the morning and reach Chowkibal (Kupwara) by 10 am. And I began to think is it possible to pull off this feat today and I concluded, only in one's dream.

Why is that when the whole world has shrunk (with respect to communication & travel), Kashmir seems to be expanding; places, people seems to be growing farther apart. Well for that credit must go to the highly intelligent people responsible for planning.

There are almost 9,08,083 vehicles registered with the Motor Vehicles Department (MVD) in the state. Of these 5,60,690 vehicles stand registered in the Jammu division and 3,47,393 in the Kashmir division, but as far length & breadth of roads is concerned it is pretty much same as it was in 1980's. With every day the number of vehicles seem to be doubling, a lot of people can't help it but blame J&K Bank for this explosion of vehicles.

Now when the water has risen above our heads we are throwing our hands around. The Govt is talking about water transport, it isn't something new for kashmir. Kashmir, especially Srinagar, came to be known as Vince of East only because of its excellent and extensive water transport. What I fail to understand is how is the Govt going to revive water transport when all the channels have been filled and a road has been build over the main stream (Nallah Mar). Govt can Start water transport only along the river Jehlum and nothing more than that can be achieved. Thanks to some selfish morons the Vince of east has been reduced to a dustbin. These were the people who allowed construction around Dal lake (Boulevard) and removed the clause of mandatory approval from state legislature. Shouldn't these people be put on trial and punished for what they have turned Srinagar into?

Coming back to the traffic issue, Govt has been widening roads but it feels like that it has been going on for ever, never to complete. It feels like ages since the work for widening of Srinagar-Baramulla highway was started and there is no hope that it will be completed soon. The sopore bye-pass bridge even after more than 25 years has not been completed, has some one contacted "Guinness Book of World Record's" yet. Expansion of roads needs lot of effort but what I fail to understand is the underutilization of even the current infrastructure. What is stopping Govt from making both the lanes of all important Qamarwari-SKIMS road operational. These ill conceived and ill implemented projects rather than easing the travel of common people have become pain in the wrong place for them, besides endangering lives. Share of accidental deaths is more than violence related deaths now and people die for the need of timely medical attention because there vehicle was stuck in a traffic jam.

Govt has build flyovers which hardly serve any purpose (Jehangir Chowk) while where there is a real need for one, none is build due to funds shortage. It almost took an eternity for Hyderpora flyover to complete, oh wait it is still incomplete! Or at places (near Pattan) such flyovers were built which I personally am not too sure that they can be called a flyover, overhead foot bridges are broader then them. Shouldn't the Govt. be held accountable for such wastage of public money and people responsible for such wastage punished?

What all this gives us is traffic jams, lots of traffic jams and to add icing on the top the people who are supposed to handle & manage traffic, say that it is all because people don’t have sense of driving. Well my dear friends even God had to invent Hell to try to keep humans on the right path then how do you expect them to drive the right way when you don't punish them for driving otherwise. It is not a secret that traffic police is a namesake department in Kashmir, half a dozen people with nothing more than sticks to manage traffic of a whole state. There is no denying the fact that people themselves to some extent are responsible for this mess but at the same time authorities can't shrug off their responsibility.

Thinking of my friend's father's daily journey in 80's and how successful one would be if attempted today. If he/she is lucky enough will be caught in traffic jam at Pantha Chowk for only about half an hour but then for sure will have to spend another two hours stuck in traffic at HMT which will force him to start the return journey from there only. But why the hell will authorities care, it is not their lives which have been taken hostage by traffic jams.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Let's Bow-wow China

India; a nation which has been presenting itself as the rising power of the East, an economic giant and above all is the world’s largest importer of weapons ! The recent leak of the army chief's letter addressed to the PM must had been enough for embarrassing the whole nation but to add to the insult the ill timed meet of the BRIC countries in the Capital city was more than enough. So again for face saving some diversion topic had to be found and it had to be implied on the visiting dignitaries that India is not weak. Thus resulting in sealing of the entire central Dehli (where meet was to be held)and increasing the visibility of gun totting security personal. Well! this worked, as nobody bothered to check whether the guns had bullets in them or whether the similar looking security personal at each turn along the root of motorcade was a for real or just a life size cardboard cutting and above all China talked peace!

For all the security arrangements still some invincible beings managed to breach the security cordon and what is astonishing is the frequency with which they repeat the act at all sort of platforms; be it at Buddha Circuit or at cricket stadiums or at political rallies or at airports, even these beings were the first visitors of the world renowned Tulip garden of Srinagar (which boosts to be Asia's Largest) when the commoners had just to be satisfied with the sight of frowning security guard only. Our Miss Menika Ghandhi's favorite animal (Dog yes Dogs!) seem to be trying to prove the point that they can't be kept out of any action no matter on what stage it is taking place, now how could I exclude them here and run a risk of being a victim of their covert action. To me they seem to more invincible & cruel than Mossad!

Well coming back to Elephant & Dragon, one can't afford to believe the Dragon, it has often struck with its tail while smile was on its face. So the Elephant can't take it for granted that the Dragon has let this chance just go by, remember Elephants hope of exploring South China sea. Even when the Elephant was scaring the world with its tanks (good enough for scarecrows only) the Dragon had been taking large chunks of land in Laddakh region of Indian occupied Kashmir. Each time the Dragon intruded couple of Miles in the Elephants territory the Elephant was forced just to repeat the rhetoric of friendship and understanding. Well not many understood the misery of the Elephant then, but it is no more a secret.

The Dragon has been terrorizing, openly & secretly, the Elephant for long and all the owls, foxes, etc .etc, who form the Elephants advisory council had been praying to God to give them just a single chance to terrorize the Dragon back, even for a title bit. Well most of them would now be thinking that their prayers are not going to be answered in this life time. While some optimistic ones would be thinking that this is the appropriate time to hit back when the Dragon would expect it least. But hit back with what? India can ill afford a full scale war right now, it can't arm the separatists in Uighur region when it doesn't have enough arms for its own army. Well then what possibly can Elephant terrorize the Dragon.

To the respected advisory council I would Like to suggest unleashing of "Mission Bow-Wow" on China, under current circumstances this is the most feasible, cheap and a proven weapon that the Elephant can afford. Not only will the Elephant be able to terrorize the Dragon but will be able to take back the land annexed by Dragon, In addition to that there is a realistic chance that the Dragon will be forced to give up the claim of its own territory. Wouldn't it be a great win and achievement for the Elephant.

Oh! In my enthusiasm almost forgot that most of the readers don’t know about this secret weapon. Well lets not waste too much time then; this secret weapon is non other than the national animal Mexico (Xoloitzcuintli, a Hairless Dog) . They have been used as a weapon in Kashmir successfully and they have been so successful that some unverified reports are claiming that the Kashmir's are ready to give their State Subject to these angels of terror and thus their claim to Kashmir. Which means what the huge army of the Elephant couldn't do in 65 years they have done in less than 10 years, Kashmir issue resolved!

The Bow-wow brigade has been able to thrust such fear in the hearts of the Kashmiri's, who even dare one of the largest army's of the world with nothing but stones, that they don’t dare to leave their homes before or after daylight. The areas that have been claimed by the Bow-wow brigade, no one dares to tread around them. To keep their terror fresh in the hearts of these people they have made it a point to mutilate some one or the other each day. And no one dares to take action against them, unconfirmed reports claim even the no more young CM of the state doesn't dare to speak a word against them. Even If by chance some authorities try to reign the Bow-wow brigade, Menika Ghandi with some friends from New York comes to their rescue even without them requesting for it.

Now you tell me can this this mission fail? Yep that is what I said, not a chance in this world. So what is the Elephant waiting for, let's Bow-wow China.

This also appeared in "The Kashmir Monitor"