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2nd November '2008
Misplaced Priorities
(For the present Kashmir, the Environment is priority no. 1)

Both the State Government and the Central Government seem to have misplaced their priorities in relation to the developmental projects in Kashmir. Day in and day out we hear sermons from national leaders, government functionaries, and politicians of all hues and shades about umpteen development projects being undertaken by different agencies in various parts of the state especially in Kashmir valley for the benefit of common masses. They keep on counting thousands of crores being spent on these projects. But unfortunately the selection of priorities is generally governed by vote bank politics and short term gains. The long term aims and overall betterment of the state is given a go by. The Environment of the valley is facing the gravest ever threat at present.

There must have already been numerous editorials, dozens upon dozens of articles by experts of all regions, and even official technical reports about the urgency for the restoration of Dal Lake. Almost every child must be by now fully aware of the fact that the Dal Lake, the heart of Srinagar, and a natural heritage of centuries is threatened with total extinction. The lush green forests, the green gold of Kashmir are being butchered mercilessly by greedy local timber smugglers with the connivance of authorities throughout the valley. Kashmir has been promoted as an enchanting tourist destination and the main slogan has been, “Kashmir, the Paradise on Earth!” But see what has happened to paradise. Srinagar is probably the dirtiest city in the world. The city roads are in shambles. There is no proper drainage. Garbage is lying all over. There is no systematic and scientific way of garbage disposal in this capital city of a million and a half people.

There is a tussle going on between the people living in the localities near the city’s garbage dump and Municipal authorities. More than 4,000 metric tonnes of garbage is lying all over the city and 300 tonnes are added every day. The authorities had to dump the garbage after imposing curfew in the dump area. A project costing Rs 22 crores sanctioned by Asian Development Bank has been gathering dust in the Economic Re-construction Agency for last one year. In the meantime, some members of a land mafia including some politicians are holding the Municipal Corporation hostage. Traffic is in a mess. There are no traffic lights nor are there sufficient parking places. We have a perennial power famine which becomes acute during winter as our rivers have been mortgaged without local people ever been asked about it! In spite of the fact that a 450 megawatt power project has been recently commissioned, the power curtailment has become worse than the previous years.

The National Hydro-electric Power Corporation has the cheek to stop power transmission to the State for not clearing the outstanding dues. They have robbed the state of all its power resources and are planning further loot in future. The local engineer calls all Kashmiris power thieves. What about NHPC? Isn’t it the biggest power thief of the state? The power distribution system can itself be part of Kashmir’s heritage. In many places the power connections emanating from an electric pole are in such a jumble that only the local electrician can identify these. Some years back the Communist Russia’s electric engineers on a visit here after seeing the distribution jumble started believing in God! The health sector too is in shambles.

The hospitals have deteriorated instead of getting modernised. The stark example is the maternity hospital and the children hospital. Additionally, the people still have to go outside state for specialised treatment. Government has failed on one hand has failed to bring the hospitals to some international standard and on the other hand they do not allow non-resident Kashmiris to set up such facilities. In every sector there is no accountability at all. The laws, rules, bye laws, and enforcement of the same is totally missing. There is no control over building construction. Shopping complexes come up in every nook and corner regardless of the fact whether the area is commercial or residential. The height of buildings is the choice of the builders. They can go up, up, and up!

The architecture is also the choice of the owners of the houses. The law enforcement authorities do not bother about these rules and construct even their own establishments without giving a damn to environment, building permissions, and relevant bye laws. The first duty of a government is to ensure the well being of its citizens. For this the primary requirement is a conducive and healthy environment. Unfortunately, not only the government is totally negligent of this primary requirement but the people themselves have become totally insensitive. We can do without a number of things related to comfortable living but we cannot live without a liveable environment. The first priority of the government should be to some how protect our environment. Dal Lake cannot wait.

It is dying and dying fast. After environment, the basic health care needs to be upgraded. The hospitals need to be improved by way of hygiene, equipment and its maintenance, and above all the standard of nursing care. Roads and drainage has to be attended to in most of the areas. Power distribution system should have been the first priority of the Power Development Department. We may generate thousands of megawatts of power but unless we have good transmission and distribution system, we will lose more than half of it. Clean drinking water is another priority. There are still a number of areas without clean and cured water supply. Unfortunately, the government gives priority to a toy train to nowhere. No doubt, a train in the valley is an engineering marvel but it is not the top priority. We would be happy to see it in the movies or on the TV.

Similar is the case with many recreational projects like the Asia’s largest Tulip garden. What is important right now is the provision of basic amenities to the common people. Thousands of crores claimed to be spent in Kashmir relate mostly to central projects the major benefits of which go to people outside the state. It is typical exploitation of resources of a place in the colonial way as the British used to do with undivided India. Those days all the raw materials would be exported to England and the finished products would be sold back to Indians. Slowly people of Kashmir are waking up to these hard realities and have started questioning the colonial policies of the Indian government.

It would be advisable for both the State and the Central Government to reset their priorities. People urgently need better infrastructure like roads, clean water, sufficient power, health care, and above all a clean and liveable environment! After this comes the gainful employment for the hundreds of thousands of educated unemployed youth. Government is planning dozens of projects but unless these provide jobs to local youth these become meaningless and amount to unproductive expenditure. Apart from the government even the so called popular leaders seem to be totally unmindful of these basic problems being faced by the common people. Their struggle would become more meaningful and substantive if they would include all that ails Kashmir and Kashmiris.

They could raise their voices to highlight these basic issues without compromising or losing sight of the goal of ultimate emancipation. One does not have to compromise to speak out the truth. When more and more people fearlessly speak out the truth, it becomes stronger and forces the falsehood to retreat. The “Misplaced Priorities” will get corrected only when the people speak out the truth in the strongest possible way! No one can deny the fact that the “Peoples’ Power” is the strongest power anywhere in the world. If only the people know it and exercise it in the rightful and constructive way to bring the urgently needed change! Any violence and destructive behaviour dissipates the “Peoples’ Power”. Sincere and dedicated leaders are expected to make people aware about these basic facts and lead them on the right path. In the absence of such leaders people have no option but to lead themselves!

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