Urbanisation poses threat to Samba village
Rajesh Bhat

Kainthpur (Samba), January 23
Shrouded by the concept of the so-called urbanisation, this hamlet on the Jammu-Pathankot national highway has news to unfold. On a rummage, one digs out that all is not well here.

The locals said the village, which falls in the newly carved-out Samba district, had once at least 35 wells on both sides of the highway. But the process of widening the roads had levelled most of such reservoirs while some were abandoned with a decline in their water levels.

“Kainthpur was once known for its well water storage management. But, thanks to the multi-laning of the Jammu-Pathankot road that raised the market value of the land. The locals have already levelled most of such wells,” rues Pritam, a resident of the village.

According to him, the villagers were traditionally dependent on their wells. “Now, the shopping centres and restaurants have been raised on both sides of the highway and the sighting of a well is a mirage now,” says Ram Lal of the same village.

However, in the close vicinity of the village, on the right side of the highway, 25 km away from Jammu, there is virtually an oasis in the desert. One odd well, popularly known as “thandi khui” still exists on the highway, where passengers alight daily to have a glimpse of the “thing of the past”.

There is an ancient banyan tree near the well that forms a natural canopy over it. Beneath the tree, a differently abled 50-year-old Bishan Dass runs a tuck shop. The Vaishno Devi pilgrims and daily-goers, who shuttle on the Samba-Jammu and Kathua-Jammu sectors, halt at the well to have tea prepared from the water of it.

Bishan, who is sharp at his reflexes despite unable to see, would not share the ingredients of “burfi” he sells everyday in bulk. He, however, shares the grief, agony and ills of the fast urbanisation that has taken away the “sweetness” of the village.

“Our village had a number of wells and trees with a rich poetry and folklore associated with them. While the wells have been levelled, the trees have been mercilessly uprooted,” regrets Bishan in poetic Dogri. He is, however, all praise for Manjit Singh, a former Irrigation and Flood Control Minister who renovated “thandi khui” by raising a concrete roof and a platform of the well in April 2008.

At a stone’s throw from Bishan’s shop, a multi-storeyed and fully air-conditioned hotel is fast coming up with all modern amenities.

Bishan does not see any threat to his trade from the owners who have already a chain of such hotels. His primary concern, however, is the threat to the vegetation, as the trees are uprooted to pave the way for raising such complexes.



Patients suffer as govt docs do private practice
Shariq Majeed
Tribune News Service

Buddhal (Rajouri), January 23
Taking advantage of the lack of check on healthcare standards in the backward and far-flung area like this, doctors at the primary health centre (PHC) here prefer to do private practice in office timings even as patients continue to suffer. Not only this, the doctors follow the technique of “rotational duties” wherein a doctor remains in the town for a week and the other one goes on leave without putting it in papers and the practice is followed by the other doctor.

Locals allege that the doctors posted at the PHC come to the centre occasionally and normally do private practice during office timings at the two medical stores nearby. They add that they have lodged complaints to the authorities on several occasions but their grievances are never addressed.

They complain that since this is a far-flung and backward area, the doctors posted here take full advantage of the lack of check. They add that since two out of the three doctors posted here are outsiders, they have devised a technique of skipping their duty and remain at the station on rotational basis for 7-10 days.

“My father suffered a massive heart attack last month and we brought him to the PHC at 3 pm, but as always none of the doctors was present. After that we had to call a private doctor from the Gabbar area who treated my father. The doctors here are hardly seen and instead they treat patients at private medical stores nearby," says Pir Sadiq Shah, whose father Bashir Shah later died of the same disease.

“The authorities in the health department don't seem to be interested in improving the healthcare facilities here and doctors are taking full advantage of this. We are hoping that the new government will do something for us”.

Another resident, a social worker, Fareed Ahmed alleges, “A female doctor posted here is running a nexus with private medical stores for the sale of substandard medicines. The government should take action or we will launch an agitation against the same”.

Meanwhile, director, health service, Jammu, Dr Jasbir Singh has refuted all allegations and said, “Media has the habit of raising negative things”.



Delinquent children
Human rights activists seek legal safeguards
Ashutosh Sharma
Tribune News Service

Jammu, January 23
Since there is no child rights commission in the state, human rights activists have sought judicial intervention into the issue for providing legal safeguards for deprived or delinquent children.

State secretary, Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, Balraj Puri, said, “There is an urgent need for setting up juvenile homes for reforming delinquents instead of putting them behind bars with hardcore criminals.”

Puri expressed dismay over the use of child labour in both hazardous and non-hazardous work. “Although child labour is completely banned by the law, yet it has been going on. The government should take immediate steps to curb the menace, besides ensuring rehabilitation and education of deprived children.”

According to Child Rights and You (CRY), an NGO, the scenario in the terrorism-hit state coupled with weak implementation of legislation related to child rights is very discouraging.

Coordinator of CRY’s Jammu and Kashmir chapter Deepika Thusso said CRY had been stressing the need for four basic rights in the charter of child life which India ratified in the United Nations.

Deepika said in J&K the Juvenile Justice Act, 1996, had been extended on the pattern of the earlier Central Act, which stood repealed by the Children Care and Protection Act, 2000. “But ironically, neither the state government has ratified the new law nor it has implemented the beneficiary provisions of the older act,” she said.

She said nobody had till date took cognisance of the government’s apathy towards non-implementation of the act extended to rehabilitate juveniles in conflict.

“In the absence of any children’s commission, child rights are at the receiving end. So, it’s too important to be ignored and too urgent to be delayed,” Deepika said.

According to a research conducted by Moksha Singh in “Rights of Child and Armed Conflict of J&K” at the department of sociology, Jammu University, children caught at the epicentre of militancy have been the worst sufferers in the state.

The research studies the condition of children affected by terrorism and counter-terrorism activities. “Most of the orphans are staying in government-aided orphanages, the Bal Ashrams or the Nari Niketans run by unprofessional bodies,” it maintains, suggesting welfare measures without any further delay.



Damaged structures await repairs
Ehsan Fazili
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, January 23
A number of structures/buildings in the valley, which were damaged in militancy related violence, are in a state of neglect, thanks to the apathetic attitude of the successive state governments.

Describing these structures as assets, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has assured that these would be made functional. But there are many structures in the winter capital and elsewhere in Kashmir valley that need to be repaired or reconstructed.

A number of these structures had been damaged in different incidents of terror attacks. Since these structures remained in a state of neglect over the past six years, hopes are being pinned on the new government.

Three such damaged structures are at the Lal Chowk, which have been awaiting government’s attention over the past several years. These include Palladium Cinema, Greenway Hotel near CTO Crossing and Estates Department building, which houses PIB and a shopping complex, on the Residency Road.

Palladium Cinema like eight other cinema halls in the city was closed down along with liquor shops and beauty parlours in the wake of militancy in early 1990’s. The building was partially damaged in a fire incident that engulfed the locality following an encounter in April 1993. The only erect front wall speaks volumes about the extinct tradition of cinema in Kashmir, as for the past about 10 years only one cinema hall is functional. The cinema is a few yards away from the Clock Tower at the Lal Chowk, which has witnessed historic events over the past six decades after being renamed as Lal Chowk from Amirakadal. A concrete bunker of the CRPF has come up close to the cinema complex.

The Estates building along the Residency Road was gutted in an encounter between militants and security forces on March 9, 2004. The government building housed the Directorate of State Information Department and the PIB office apart from a number of shops facing the Residency Road. Even as the shopkeepers have been demanding renovation of the building to prevent further damage to their shops, no action has been taken.

The Greenway Hotel near Central Telegraph Office (CTO) was partially gutted in a militant attack on August 27, 2003, when the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was in the town for an interstate council meeting.



A symbol of Hindu-Muslim amity
Dinesh Manhotra
Tribune News Service

Katra (Reasi), January 23
Porters, who are the backbone of the pilgrimage of the revered shrine of Vaishno Devi, are a symbol of the Hindu-Muslim amity as a majority of them are Muslims who carry Hindu devotees to the holy cave shrine.

The porters, popularly know as “pithoos” in the local language, have set an example of secularism and brotherhood as generation after generation they have been helping the pilgrims and earning their livelihood.

Although terrorist groups made repeated attempts to lure these porters to assist them in their nefarious designs, they failed due to the unflinching faith of the porters in the holy shrine. As a result, the terrorists could not strike at the shrine.

"Like our Hindu brothers, this holy shrine is also revered by us as we earn our livelihood from this holy place," said Sajjad, a native of the Sungli area of Mahore tehsil, who has been working as a porter for the last five years. "It is not a question of how much I earn as a porter. The main question is of satisfaction", he observed. He pointed out that under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, he was issued a card for employment but he preferred to work as a porter as this job gave him more satisfaction.

Earlier, it was Sajjad's grandfather who migrated to Katra in early 80s and started the job of porter and now their third generation is doing the job.Sajjad's father, Rafiq, who is nearly 50, has been engaged in this job for the last 25 years. For him, facilitating devotees is the most pious job and he wishes to continue it till his last breath.

A symbol of Hindu-Muslim amity, Sajjad's family is not an isolated case. Out of the total 14,000 registered ponywallas and potters, over 12,000 are Muslims who earn their livelihood by carrying pilgrims and luggage on the Katra-Bhawan track. Without their help, it is not possible to perform the yatra as these porters provide services like carrying of luggages, aged pilgrims on palanquins or on ponies.

For decades, generation after generation of Muslims from the far-flung areas of the Jammu province are coming to Katra and working as porters here. The families of the 12,000 Muslim porters and ponywallas, whose livelihood solely depends on the shrine, further strengthen the secular fabric of the Jammu region.



Hog deer at Achabal sanctuary
Afsana Rashid

Achabal (Anantnag), January 23
At a time when the wildlife department is in the news almost every week for human-animal conflict, a hog deer was reportedly seen for the first time in the Achabal Wildlife Sanctuary here a few days ago.

A variety of wild animals and a few wild birds are seen in the sanctuary, located 65 km from Srinagar. A few years ago, part of the sanctuary was handed over to the wildlife department while the major portion of it continues to be with the department of forests.

“It was reported that a hog deer was seen for the first time in the sanctuary. I have not myself seen it yet, but I will see that its habitat is protected,” says Imtiyaz Lone, wildlife warden, south Kashmir division.

“I have not gone through the records to say whether the animal existed here earlier or not,” says Lone.

The wildlife warden said the sanctuary had a variety of wild animals, including common leopard, black bear and leopard cat.

Quoting example, he said it was believed that serow, a kind of sheep, had gone extinct, “but I saw it in the Dachigam National Park in 1989 and recently people at the Pahalgam Mountaineering Institute reported to have seen it.”

The Achabal Sanctuary is not properly fenced and it is hard to find any concrete demarcation from human habitations that are close to sanctuaries.

Mohammad Amin, a forest guard, who has been in the wildlife department for the past 20 years, says that the Achabal Sanctuary has jackal, porcupine, common leopard and black bear, but the Duksum Wildlife Sanctuary is rich in wildlife.

“Owing to pressure from people, a portion of the sanctuary was handed over to the wildlife department. Protection of wild animals is the concern of the department. Smuggling of timber in the sanctuary disturbs the ecological balance,” says an official in the department on condition of anonymity.”

“With less human resource and improper fencing, strict vigil can’t be maintained,” says the official.



Valley has record number of migratory birds
Tribune News Service

Migratory birds in Kashmir. Tribune photo: Amin War

Srinagar, January 23
Winters in the valley may be harsh for many but for some lives it still offers a warmth which every year makes them travel hundreds of miles from freezing destinations in Europe, northern America and Asia.

Migratory birds and geese in record numbers have descended in wetlands of Kashmir and made them their nest for the winter. Wildlife warden, wetland, Abdullah Baba says they number over 8 lakh, which is a record.

A number of ornithologists and layman birdwatchers can be seen these days around the Dal Lake studying these birds through telescopes. "Their numbers have increased over the years. But the concern is that the variety of species has come down. For an expert, it is more sad than feeling happy about their huge numbers," Abdul Rouf, a bird-watcher, says as he zoomed in on the flocks of birds hovering over a distant part of Dal.

These birds hail from Siberia, Ireland and those parts of Asia where winter becomes too cold to their comfort. Many of them come from Ladakh where a dry spell of freezing winter had set in. It is also a breeding time for many species of these birds and they find the winter in Kashmir, where minimum temperature does not dip much below zero degree unlike their native places, to their liking.

A senior official says the number of species has come down over the years due to militancy as protected wetlands meant for migratory birds like Hokersar and Shalabug are no longer under the control of the wildlife department as militants and security forces roam around. "Things have improved remarkably over the last few years. Their overall numbers and the number of species have gone up and our wetlands are now almost saturated,” the official says.

Rouf says these birds leave for Wullar Lake in the evening for food and return back to the protected Hokersar in the morning.

Officials say their biggest concern is the shrinking area of wetlands as the attrition of silts has increased manifold due to deforestation and encroachment.



Canine problem in Jammu

Stray dog menace has gained alarming proportions in the city over the recent times. Be it any commercial area or residential colony stray dogs are posing a serious threat to commuters as well as pedestrians. This has resulted in an increase in dog bite cases in the winter capital. At times, stray dogs also cause road accidents. In view of their rising number, it has become quite risky to return home late at night or venture out early for a morning walk, particularly in the localities that do not have proper streetlights. The children who take tuitions in the morning also complain about it. The authorities should wake up to the menace and initiate some urgent measures to curb it.

Om Prakash, Jammu

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