Assembly polls
Choppers come in handy for leaders, officials
Perneet Singh
Tribune News Service

Jammu, December 19
With an unprecedented seven-phase elections taking place in three regions of the state differing in topography and inclement weather conditions prevailing during this time of the year, choppers are proving to be a boon not only for the political leaders but also for babudom, all of whom appear to be running against time.

As per an estimate, with parties' star campaigners set to hit the campaign trail in the remaining few days ahead of the last phase of elections on December 24, helicopters have already made over 400 sorties helping the political parties as also the electoral authorities achieve their task in the strife-torn state.

Choppers particularly proved handy in the initial phases of the elections. For instance, the first phase witnessed polling in four seats of the Ladakh region, three seats of Bandipora in the Kashmir valley and three seats of Poonch in the Jammu region. The parties, therefore, had to campaign in all three regions simultaneously. Similarly, except for the third phase, different seats of Jammu as well as Kashmir figured in the poll schedule.

These helicopters are being used mostly by the star campaigners of the key political parties who have to cover more constituencies in the least possible time. The election commission authorities, top government officials and security forces are also using choppers for making poll arrangements.

From the Congress side, apart from its star campaigners like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, AICC chairperson Sonia Gandhi and AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi, its top state leaders - former CM Ghulam Nabi Azad and state Congress chief Saif-ud-Din Soz -have been making the most of the choppers to campaign for the party. Both have flown to various constituencies in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions to garner support for the Congress.

Union minister of state Prithviraj Chavan has also made a couple of visits to the state. Other leaders who utilised the services of choppers to address election rallies include former CM Farooq Abdullah, NC president Omar Abdullah, former Himachal CM Shanta Kumar, senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, BSP supremo Mayawati and LJP president Ramvilas Paswan.



Party time for ‘motivated professionals’
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Tribune News Service

Jammu, December 19
Call it a compulsion of contesting candidates of various political parties, including independents, Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) and excise liquor are much in demand these days.

At a time when the state is all poised for the crucial seventh phase polls, various contesting candidates in a bid to intensify their campaigns have been splurging cash on liquor to keep going their “highly motivated hired professionals”.

These “professionals”, who otherwise do small-time jobs, also make the best of the bargain during elections.

“Apart from striking the deal between Rs 150 to Rs 500 per day we also get liquor that makes it easy for us to canvass support at rallies for the candidates, says Bhushan Lal, a painter.

He says “resourceful” candidates in a bid to brighten their fortunes bother little about money while in case of first-timers they had to bargain hard before settling for the deal.

“Though this time around the administration had played smart not only in ensuring closure of liquor vends on the day constituencies go to the polls but also in the adjoining districts, still there has been no dearth in our supply,” he maintains.

Kala, a taxi driver, hired by one of the candidates in Bishnah says, “Its time to guzzle your favourite drink and celebrate. And on the top of it, the police, too, could not harm you because you are affiliated with politicians, who have been working round the clock to ‘strengthen democracy’”.

“Though I am addicted to opium and liquor had always been my second choice, one doesn't often catch hold of these disgruntled politicians, he says.

Sounding akin, a Poonch route bus driver, Bittu says he had been entrusted the task of pulling crowds to the rallies of his candidate contesting from the Suchetgarh constituency. The candidate had also asked me to arrange a meeting in Suchetgarh for which he had given me Rs 30,000 to meet the expenses, he adds.

“However, I don't work for women candidates, particularly first timers, simply because of two factors i.e. their reluctance to provide liquor and the resource-crunch,” Bittu says.

Elections give a boom to the transporters, who make good money as most of the candidates hire buses, minibuses and cabs for their rallies. A liquor vend owner in Jammu admits that in the backdrop of elections he has been witnessing brisk business. He wishes if the democratic process could have continued a little long.



Initiative to revive art of letter writing
National-level contest on Jan 4
Rajesh Bhat

Jammu, December 19
In an era of e-mail and SMS, is the art of letter writing being relegated to some inaccessible remote corner, especially among the present computer savvy generation?

While some hold such a view, the department of posts, however, does not feel so. As part of the tradition, it is going to hold a nationwide letter-writing competition among schoolchildren on January 4.

In Jammu and Kashmir, this competition is to be held in Srinagar, Jammu, Baramulla and Udhampur centres. Students up to 15 years of age will be eligible to take part and pen down their ideas on “how decent working conditions can lead to a better life?”

Chief postmaster general, J&K Circle, Deepak Budhki, admits that the quantum of mail received by post offices has definitely diminished over the years but letter writing is here to stay, be that a document in the government or private domain. It simply cannot vanish because every communication essentially has to make use of the written words. "Further, letter writing being a creative process, also bears a style and signature of the writer," opines Budhki, who is also a renowned short story writer.

The department of posts, Budhki says, has been organising such competitions for the past 38 years under the aegis of the Universal Postal Union (UPU). "Such competitions are also held in other countries as well,” informs Budhki.

The J&K in charge of letter-writing competition, Noor Mohammad, says prizes are given away both at the state and national levels after the entries are received from all states. "The best entry at the national level qualifies as the official Indian entry for the international competition," says Noor while referring to the guidelines for the competition.

He says the department has approached a number of schools both in Jammu and Kashmir regions to seek their participation for this prestigious competition that has so far witnessed "not so good" response from these institutions.

"The coherence and correctness of the language, originality of the ideas and the style of writing will be some of the parameters to judge the merit of a student’s letter,” explains Noor.

Shivani Raina, a student of 9th standard, says such competitions help in enriching one's vocabulary. "It is immaterial whether one writes or makes an e-mail of a letter. What matters are the ideas expressed," says Shivani.

Her friends, who are also taking part in this competition, however, curse the fast mobile culture that has literally blocked the present generation's letter-writing talent and also made mess of a language.

“It now seems that letters are of no meaning, as the words move from one place to other at the click of a button without the postage stamps,” remarks Ashutosh, a student of a local private school.

Echoing similar views, Anoop, his senior, who is so quick on keyboard and mouse, says even the pen and fingers do not now work in tandem and whosoever ventures to write something on paper, misses even full-stops as they feel short of words. 



Despite strict norms, child labour continues
Ashutosh Sharma
Tribune News Service

Jammu, December 19
Notwithstanding strict norms against child labour thousands of children can be seen doing petty works at eateries, juice corners, kilns, garages, shops, godowns or picking up rags, collecting and rinsing utensils at ceremonial functions or begging at crowded places in the city.

Observers believe that such children indulged in labour for the economic needs. Most of them are supposed to be migrants from outside the state and in some cases they are from Bangladesh or Nepal.

However, local children begging at Bag-e-Bahu are also a cause of concern. Most of them are believed to be encouraged by none other than their families. Such children, mostly girls, attired as Hindu Goddesses are made to sit along the path to temple for seeking alms.

Generally, such children, stated to be orphan or children of disabled parents, who cannot cater to their needs. Instead of their small age, they claim to be the “support” of their families.

12-year-old Sonu, (name changed), working as a helper in an eating joint at Gole Market says, “There was not any earning hand in my family. It compelled me to work. My uncle, who is a bus conductor, brought me here two years back.”

“I am putting up with him and he takes care of me. I get Rs 1,000 per month, besides food and clothes,” he added.

Sonu finds rinsing utensils as very thorny affair. “It becomes more difficult essentially in winter. Water bites the fingers. My hands ache after I finish the day’s job.”

Another seven-year-old boy, Hussain, working at a juice stall at Chowk Chabutra shares the same ordeal. “I wash carrots and cut them into pieces since morning till late evening. Besides I have to clean glasses,” he says rubbing his hands blackened with rashes and cracks.

It is not all. Hundreds of rag pickers can be spotted around dumping grounds of municipality exploring garbage to collect scraps. “We sell it to scrappers and get Rs 40 to 60 each day,” said a group of rag picking children at Nai Basti.

“Mostly people give them employment for their economic gains. As they provide cheap labour they are readily given jobs,” believes head of the sociology department Abha Chouhan at Jammu University.

Advocating dire need for bringing such children in mainstream she said: “The state government should strictly implement the anti-child labour laws, besides ensuring rehabilitation.”

The deputy labour commissioner, Jammu, said: “Under the law only hazardous labour is denied to children. A survey report was recently submitted to the government for rehabilitation of such children.”

“The Udhampur branch of our office has undertaken the cause of their rehabilitation under the centrally sponsored scheme called National Child Labour Project,” he added.



Abdullah’s charisma vs Mufti’s intellect
Kumar Rakesh
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, December 19
The campaigning styles of National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah and his PDP counterpart Mufti Sayeed, both projected as chief ministerial candidates by their parties, are a study in contrast.

Despite being in the thick of political action for over 25 years, Abdullah remains, what many say, the most charismatic Kashmiri leader and even those not keen to vote for his party go to hear his speeches laced with energy and humour.

“My party has ruled the state for decades and it is natural that we would commit some mistakes. I am the first to admit them. But what about those whose short tenures are full of un-kept promises,” he roared at a rally in Anantnag in an apparent reference to Mufti's three-year term, inviting huge cheers from the crowd.

If the four-time Chief Minister is all passion and spontaneity as an orator, his less illustrious but gaining-in-strength rival Mufti Sayeed is none of it. A dour man, Mufti's political career was resuscitated in the valley after he led his fledging party to victory in 2002 elections and since then he is enjoying the prime of his popularity. People see him more substantive if less interesting in his speeches.

He constantly reminds his audiences the works he "did" to bridge the gulf between Kashmir and Pak-occupied-Kashmir, knowing fully well the sentimental worth of the issue in the Muslim-majority region.

Political observers say one of the main successes of Mufti Sayeed has been that he has managed to associate PDP to a more open and friendly relations between the two parts of divided Kashmir, which has always been an emotive issue here and exploited to the hilt by parties of all hues, including NC, in the past.

“Abdullah sahib speaks from his heart while the Mufti does it from his mind. I have been hearing Farooq for decades. He is always fiery and a bit casual. Mufti is more serious and crafty," Salim Sofi, a longtime NC supporter, says.

Abdullah enjoys good support among the older generations, for whom once no party existed apart from the NC, are fond of Abdullah while the younger generation seems to be more taken in by the fiery rhetoric of PDP and its protagonist, Mufti.

People associated with both leaders say Abdullah has an aura and carries people along with his good humour while his rival has an eye for details and knows how people fit in his scheme of things.



Students’ message: Exercise voting right judiciously
Ashutosh Sharma
Tribune News Service

Jammu, December 19
At a time when the political parties are busy wooing the electorate, the Progressive Students Association (PSA) has set out on a campaign to sensitise the people on how to utilise their right to vote in the best interests of society.

Depicting such messages, the PSA has put up posters galore, some witty, some informative, in and around the city. Going by one of such posters that manifests situation before and after the election; a fatty yet humble politician is seeking vote before a bony yet awestruck common man with hands clasped and body inclined in reverence. The other part of posters display scenario after the elections: the same politician has been portrayed as “indifferent and arrogant” while the same common man stands requesting meekly before him.

“The idea was the brainchild of the association that was translated into realty by one of its activists,” reveals association president Rahul.

“The objective behind the idea was to remind people about promises which were not kept by winning MLAs in the last state Assembly,” says Rahul. “It has worked, we are getting good response.”

“Activists of the PSA contributed money for the posters,” Rahul says, adding that they are making door to door campaigns against candidates with dubious credentials, besides staging street plays.

“What people want is efficient leaders but ironically there is dearth of educated candidates. Inefficient leaders instead of focusing on core issues rake up controversies in the name of religion and region,” he remarks.

“Till now, we have staged our plays in villages like Melowal, Chowlla in RS Pura while in the city play would be staged in MAM College and Jammu University on Monday.”

An offshoot of the PSA, Jan Jagriti Manch, has written the plays. Such plays strongly advocate for provisions to sack an MLA during his tenure if the latter fails to fulfill promises. They also ask for making 50 per cent voter mandate necessary for any winning MLA.

“There are as many as 22 contestants in the fray for the Kathua constituency. There are strong assumptions that winner won't get more than 25 per cent votes which means he/she represents only 25 per cent of the people," says Rahul stressing for political reforms.

He further says, “Going by the extravagant spending on election campaigns by different political parties, it is very difficult for any honest candidate to come forward and contest elections”.



Water shortage in Rajouri villages continues
Shariq Majeed
Tribune News Service

Rajouri, December 19
The state government may be planning to introduce e-governance in Jammu and Kashmir, but it has failed to provide clean drinking water to villages on the outskirts of this township. People living in villages near here have to suffer due to the acute shortage of drinking water supply.

Though the water supply department laid pipes in Choudhary Naad, Dhindiyaan, Gharisyan, Dhanore and Danidhar villages located in the vicinity of the town few years back, water is hardly supplied through these pipes and instead the department once in 4-5 days sends water tankers for the purpose.

Villagers complain that the water supply pipes serve no purpose as the department for several years now has failed to supply water.

“Instead of giving us regular water supply, the department supplies water in our village through tankers that too in insufficient quantity every 4-5 days,” complains Shamima Begum of Danidhar village.

“Since water is needed for every household activity ranging from drinking purpose to washing clothes and utensils, we are facing a lot of problems due to acute water shortage”.

The superintendent engineer of Rajouri division admits that these villages are facing water shortage. “I acknowledge that these villages are suffering due to the shortage of water. The department has proposed improvement of water supply to the town and its adjoining villages. A project costing Rs 31.70 crore is awaiting approval from the government,” he claims.

Even as the official did not give concrete reasons behind the situation, sources in the department divulge that these villages are supplied water through Ujjan water source, but people of villages near Ujjan keep pumping water, thus far off villages get less water supply.



Tailor with passion for poetry
Sunaina Kaul
Tribune News Service

Jammu, December 19
Ramesh Rahi, a tailor by profession, has made a mark as a talented Dogri poet in a short span of time.

Interestingly, he is not much educated and cannot write himself, but has immense talent of writing poetry, ghazals and short stories. "I can only write my name," he averred. Inspired by his father late Kartar Nath Manawa, who used to sing religious songs, Rahi wrote his first poem "Aakhri Panna" (The Last Page) in September 1989. The poem drew appreciation from noted Dogri poetess Padma Sachdeva.

A few months later, he became a regular attendant of the meetings of the Dogri Sanstha Jammu. Rahi, thus, started his journey as a Dogri poet. He has written a large number of Dogri poems and ghazals so far. A composition of his poetry is expected to hit the markets in Jammu very soon.

Rahi founded "Navi Dogri Sanstha" in 1996. His poems are now being broadcast by Radio Kashmir, Jammu, and are aired on Doordarshan, Jammu, as well as Doordarshan, Jalandhar, for which he is paid a meagre premium.

Rahi has got recognition as a short story writer as well. He writes stories on social issues. Two of his prominent stories "Manuk" and "Diwali" were widely appreciated.

Dogri Sharaj, a magazine published by J&K Academy of Art and Culture, gives prominent space to the poems of Rahi. His ghazals and poems are also published in a vernacular daily as well.

His poems have also got space in Sahitya AKademi's magazine - Samkaleen Dogri Kavita Sankalan, National Book Trust of India's "Nami Paungar", "Navi Chetna" and "Lo", a Dogri bi-monthly magazine of J&K Information Department.

A nature lover, Rahi has written poems on preservation of forests. The forest department launched cassettes of his poems and ghazals in 1997 for generating mass awareness among the people for environment conservation.

Though he runs a tailoring shop at Kali Jani, Parade, poetry is his passion. However, he lamented while the government felicitated artists, the people like him were ignored.



Floriculture yet to pick up in Kashmir
Our Correspondent

Srinagar, December 19
Despite having a huge potential, floriculture in the Kashmir valley is yet to pick up. Obsolete marketing strategies, high transport costs and above all lack of support from the government are acting as a dampener to activities being carried out under floriculture.

"It is important that new markets are explored so that flowers reach more than one destination within or outside country. Growers pay Rs 14 per kg as freight charges from Srinagar to New Delhi. Ideally speaking, it should not have been more than Rs 5 per kg and it is here that the government should step in," says Fida Ali Alamgeer, floriculture development extension officer.

Fida says that costs on account of marketing are increasing day by day, but not the returns. He adds that cold storage which forms an integral component of floriculture is missing with the government doing nothing.

"Conditioning of plant material, a pre-requisite in today's floriculture finds no existence. There is a need for refrigerated vans and same should be introduced in adequate number. Cold storage should be installed at production units and at Srinagar airport," says the officer.

Stressing upon the need to monopolise exotic and rare flowers, Fida says that same will add a new dimension to flowers which can be grown in agro-climatic conditions of the Kashmir valley.

"Flowers like callalia, lilium and others can at best be grown here and it is important that due attention is paid to same. Post-harvest techniques are missing among growers and same need to be imparted. A good portion of the produce comes from the rural areas and, therefore, it would be in tune to strengthen rural flower markets," says the officer.

Fida says that transparent packaging material should be introduced so that there is no need to open the pack in case prospective customers do not want to purchase it. He suggested putting up low cost on-farm storage facility till transport is available to the main market.



Restore SMS service

There has been a ban on SMS service in the state for the last over four months. The ban was imposed in view of the volatile situation during the Amarnath land agitation. Now, it has been over three months that the land row was resolved, but it seems nobody in the state administration is bothered to initate steps for lifting of the ban, which is causing great hardships to the common man. The situation was back to normal in September , but the ban continues till date. Making a phone call where a Re 1 SMS can do burns a hole in the pocket of the common man. The SMS is the cheapest and easiest way to communicate in this fast-paced world and the government should take note of the people's woes in this regard and initiate measures to restore the SMS service.

Sanjay Verma, Jammu

Readers are invited to write to us. Send your mail, in not more than 200 words, at or write in at: Letters, J&K Plus, The Tribune, Sector 29, Chandigarh-160030.





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