All eyes on Omar
Ashutosh Sharma
Tribune News Service

Jammu, January 2
With 38-year-old Omar Abdullah set to become the youngest Chief Minister of the state, the new generation has high hopes that he will infuse some fresh blood into the otherwise “sick” administrative body of the trouble-torn state and address their woes.

The younger generation believes that Omar is committed and straightforward having a broader outlook and inclusive approach. The junior Abdullah is expected to revamp the entire system making it more transparent and accountable.

“Though he is likely to face the compulsions of coalition, he would bring change as he had committed to work at the grass-root level,” said Amit Sharma, a researcher at Jammu University.

“Apart from administration, he is sought to look into the grievances of people caught in the after affects of armed insurgency,” he said and suggested that he should continue with peace initiative to bring down the level of alienation in the Kashmir valley.

“We hope that unlike previous Chief Ministers he would not keep him withheld to power echelon. Instead of relying on sycophants, he will reach out to the people at the grass-root level, socialise with them and heed to the problems of common man,” said Susheel Gupta, another researcher.

Omar, who would be entering the state Assembly for the first time, is also expected to remove the notorious status of the second most corrupt state of India.

“We hope that he will give power to the accountability commission, women commission and set up the minority commission,” said Susheel, anticipating that the new CM will stand by his resolve to implement the Right to Information Act in letter and spirit.

A student of MCA, Rohan Mahajan, said, “He is sought to set up software technology parks and develop our cities on the pattern of metropolis.” “Being a young and energetic leader, he should take innovative initiatives by opening up vocation centres for women, besides taking measures for women empowerment,” said Jagmeet Kaur, a researcher in trade routes in ancient Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.

Jagmeet said the creation of more employment avenues should also be on the top of his priority list.

“His emphasis should remain on equitable development coupled with special focus on infrastructural development in the hilly districts of Rajouri and Poonch,” said Syeed Mumtaz, a KAS aspirant.

“We also expect that the dignity of higher education would be restored by equipping colleges and schools with infrastructure and manpower during his tenure,” he said.



Jammu’s cable car dream set to come true
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Tribune News Service

Jammu, January 2
At last, Jammu people may be able to get cable car rides over the Tawi this year, as the Jammu and Kashmir State Cable Corporation Limited has started another round of fresh exercise to begin the work on the much-delayed project.

Conceived way back in 1996 during the regime of the National Conference, the cable car project, costing Rs 20 crore, would connect the heritage monument of Mubarak Mandi with ancient Bahu Fort across the river.

“After we invited tenders for the third time, three companies from Kolkatta and Chandigarh quoted their bids and on January 31 tenders would be opened,” said managing director of the corporation Farooq Khan.

These companies have sought more information about the project and the director, tourism, Jammu, Sarita Chauhan, would provide that to them and hopefully by February this year tender would be allotted, added Khan.

He said if things materialised, the work on the project would start by March this year.

He admitted that the project had been delayed but maintained that the cable car corporation had been doing everything possible to make it a reality.

“Once completed, the project would become a source of permanent revenue earner like cable car project in Gulmarg,” he said.

In 2005, much hype had been created by the corporation to start the project but since then it has been hanging fire.

Official sources said the project would be given to private players on BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer) basis and the state government would only provide land.

The cable car corporation, in fact, had held thorough discussions with RITES Limited for preparing a detailed project report and floating tenders, they said.

A few private firms had come forward but later they backed out because they thought it to be financially unviable, they added.

They said under an agreement that had to be executed between the private party and the cable car corporation, the former after constructing the project had to pay royalty to the corporation for 30 years before transferring it to the state government.

However, this time around the cable car corporation has been pondering over dropping certain conditions from previous tenders so as to convert it into a reality. 



Winter vacations
Cheer time for some, tough luck for others
Ashutosh Sharma
Tribune News Service

Mansar (Jammu), January 2
It is really a great time for children everywhere. Schools have announced winter vacations and children are enjoying sunny days. Their mood is upbeat as there would be no monotonous classes, no fear of teachers or strain of routine homework.

In the city, children are hooked to pastime hobbies or watching cartoon channels or playing indoor games. They want to enjoy 10-day vacations to the hilt with a dint of playfulness and ruckus.

Nevertheless, vacations have not brought similar cheerfulness to this class VII student. On the bank of Mansar Lake, around 50 km from Jammu, he, unlike most of the children of his age group, is doing petty work for the subsistence. Since morning he is selling out small wheat flour balls to the tourists who feed to the fishes and ducks in the water body.

Meet shy and unassuming Mohinder, who lives on the bank of the lake. These days, he has taken a petty job to eke out some quick bucks. His father is a labourer and poor economic conditions force him to work for the entire day.

As the day breaks, Mohinder buys wheat flour from the nearby shop, adds water to it and processes it to make small balls out of it. Then he meticulously arranges them in a plate and starts roaming around asking visitors to purchase plateful of material for Rs 12.

For the entire day, he barely manages to sell 7 to 8 plateful of material, as he is not fortunate enough to have monopoly over the peculiar business. He faces a tough competition from others, who belong to his age group and share the similar poor family conditions.

“We work during holidays. Whatever we earn, we give it to our parents. They take care of our every needs,” he said. “Our business picks up with the onset of summer but turns cold in winter,” he adds.

However, occasional rains “play foul” with them, while the sunny days “prove favourable”. Doing the same job, each of their holidays ends with the last ray of sun dipping into the lake and starts as it emerges from it yet again.



Kangri, pheran hot picks in cold weather
Sunaina Kaul and Afsana Rashid

Jammu/Srinagar, January 2
With the onset of harsh winters and dense fog during morning and evening hours, the sale of kangri (a traditional firepot) and pheran (a long woollen robe) has picked up in the winter capital.

Kashmiris have been using kangri and pheran to beat the cold for centuries. Both are a part of the Kashmiri culture. Kangri has remained with people throughout, although its shapes might have undergone several changes.

Willow wicker craft is considered incomplete without referring to Kangri. Kangri, a small fire pot containing inner brick-red earthenware called "kundal" in the local dialect, is skillfully covered from outside by willow weaves. It is held with the help of handles by both hands.

Kangris are portable and burning charcoal lasts for six to 10 hours depending upon the quality of charcoal. During autumn some people after collecting leaves and twigs burn it to make coal for kangris, others purchase it.

"A sack of coal costs Rs 200 to Rs 250 and as winter turns severe its rate goes up,” says Ghulam Qadir, a local.

Kangri making is described as creative embellishment of utility craft by a skillful artisan. The art of making kangri is carried out in almost every district as its use is integrated with lifestyle of a common Kashmiri.

The department of handicrafts describes kangri as an improved version of an earthen firepot called manan. Manan, a baked earthen-pot, does not have any willow coverings but is used same way as kangris. The continuous use of manan exposes skin to direct heat that causes rashes. This shortcoming was overcome by weaving a twig lining on its outer side that later took shape of kangri.

The name of different varieties of kangri originate from place of its manufacturing like Charie kangri, Bandipur kangri, posh Kani kangri etc. Kangris produced in Charari Sharief (Charie kangri) are elegant and of fine quality. Dyed wicker is often used in making Charie kangri. Green, red, blue and yellow colours are used to dye wicker strips. Various geometric patterns are produced by multidirectional weaves of willow strips by a willow craftsman. The number of woven rounds assign name to kangris like ze-zal kangri, tru-zael kangri and likewise. An elegantly decorated kangri is presented to a newly wed bridal on her first winter experience in her in-laws house. “Practice is so deeply associated with our cultural ethos that it continues especially in the rural areas,” says Shazia Akther, a local.

A bridal kangri is decorated with many rings, willow chains, shiny, coloured foils and small mirrors to make it more presentable. A metallic or wooden like spatula (called tchallan) is tied at its back to help in stirring of embers while heat turns low. The cost of kangri varies according to weaves and intricacy involved in its making.

Kangri appears first as and when there are festive moments in any household in Kashmir. “Isband” (in local parlance) is put on burning charcoal in a kangri to show sharing of love and bestowing good wishes and greetings both by hosts and guests.

Meanwhile, pherans are also registering strong sales. In winter, Kashmiris can be identified in any part of India by this dress. After migration, Kashmiri Pandits have carried these two items of Kashmiri origin along with them to wherever they got settled in India. It was apprehended that Kashmiri Pandits may lose all their ethnic belongings outside Kashmir but that has not happened so far. Kangri and pheran are still a part of their lifestyle even outside Kashmir. They have not only used kangri and pheran with pride but have also influenced other communities to go for them in the winters.

“Although kangri is manufactured in the valley but it draws business for three months of winter season in Jammu after Darbar Move. Kangri is affordable for every income group that is why its sale always remain high,” said Janak Chand Sharma, a wholesale shopkeeper at Jammu bus stand.

He further said, “Every year, we sell around 30,000 kangris and this time we have sold around 20,000 till now”.

“We use kangri because it is the best source to save electricity and to keep our body warm,” said Krishan Sharma, a resident of Janipur.

PL Razdhan, a resident of Muthi, said, “Kangri is quite affordable for everyone as it is available at cheapest prices in the market. One can get it at Rs 30 to Rs 50.”



Battle for survival
Relocation woes haunt Puldoda residents
More than 8,000 families have so far been displaced after commissioning of the Baglihar project
Dinesh Manhotra
Tribune News Service

Doda, January 2
As uncertainty looms, fear is writ large on the face of Sunil Kumar, who is running a medical shop at Puldoda, the central point of Doda district, as he has to shift his business at an alternative place.

After the completion of 450 MW Baglihar hydro electric project, inhabitants of Puldoda, located on the bank of the Chenab, have been asked to evacuate after being paid compensation for their immovable properties.

Sunil and 60 others small businessmen and shopkeepers have been allotted alternative land to restart their business but they are not sure whether their business will be as good at the new location.

“It is not the question how much compensation we got from the administration. We are more concerned about setting up of business at new place”, Sunil pointed out, and added that Puldoda was central place while the alternative place allotted by the authorities was an isolated one.

Echoing similar apprehensions, Abdul Razak, a garments shop owner, observed, “It will take at least 10 years for us to set up our business at new place. For us it is a new beginning and we are not certain about success at new place,” he said. It is all due to uncertainty that a good number of shopkeepers are still running their business at Puldoda despite the fact that the area has been already declared as “danger zone”.

Once considered as the business hub of Doda and Kishtwar districts, Puldoda town and nearby villages would be submerged under the Baglihar dam’s artificial lake as the reservoir is filling with the water. Although the authorities claimed to have formulated a comprehensive plan for the rehabilitation of affected families, displaced people are battling for their survival due to casual approach being adopted by the authorities.

The creation of new town for the displaced families of Puldoda altered the social, economical and cultural dynamics of the entire belt. The erstwhile Puldoda town was a symbol of communal harmony and brotherhood as a Mosque and a Temple constructed on the bank of the Chenab shared a common wall.

Meanwhile, three months after commissioning of the Baglihar hydro electric project, the residents of this dam’s catchment areas complain that they were not properly rehabilitated as promised by the authorities. Notwithstanding repeated denial of the allegations by the authorities, a number of displaced people alleged that they were yet to be rehabilitated.

Not only the inhabitants of Puldoda but also approximately more than 8,000 families have so far been displaced after commissioning of the Baglihar project. People living in a 60-km radius of the dam have been relocated and a majority of them are battling for survival.



Sunderbani, Nowshera residents seek trauma hospital
Shariq Majeed
Tribune News Service

Sunderbani (Rajouri), January 2  
Even as the killer highway in this part of the border district continues to snuff out precious lives month after month, the successive state governments have turned a blind eye towards the need of a trauma hospital having a blood bank here.

A few days back, a person, identified as Satyam Gupta, suffered serious injuries in a road accident near here while he was on way to Poonch from Jammu. Bleeding profusely, Satyam was shifted to a local hospital here where doctors attending on him asked his family to arrange six units of O negative blood compatible to the patient. Since the hospital here lacks blood bank, the family tried hard to arrange the blood of the otherwise rare group and managed to get it from Jammu. He, however, died an hour before the requisite volume of blood was transported here. Doctors felt had there been a trauma hospital his life could have been saved.

Even though the state government admits that this area is highly prone to road accidents, it has failed to set up a trauma hospital. A former Chief Minister who took pride in constructing "quality" hospitals across the state during his term admitted that this area was highly accident prone to accidents and announced a trauma hospital, but never executed the word made to the people here.

The locals here said on an average, there were around 12-15 fatal accidents every month and since there was no trauma hospital in the area, a majority of the injured die. Though doctors at the sub-district hospital here manage to treat persons with minor injuries, but when it comes to treating critically injured patients they simply give up, they added.

The locals added most of the critically injured patients die on the way to the district hospital (about 80 km away) in Rajouri or to the well-equipped hospitals in Jammu. "To worsen the things, the sub-district hospital here doesn't have ortho-paedicians and blood bank,” said Manoj Gupta, president of Sewa Bharti, an NGO.

Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP), Nowshera, RK Bhat, under whose area of responsibility Sunderbani area falls, confirmed that the Sunderbani and Nowshera areas are highly accident prone. "As per our records, every month 12-15 road accidents occur in these areas and of these 4-5 are fatal,” the ASP said.

Director, health services, Jammu province, Dr Jasbir Singh, admitted that these areas needed a trauma hospital. "These areas along the Jammu-Poonch national highway are highly accident prone and need a trauma hospital. We have recommended a trauma hospital at Sunderbani and are awaiting nod from the state government,” he said.



Wetland conservation plan awaits approval
Seema Sharma
Tribune News Service

Jammu, January 2
The problems in Ghrana wetland, spread across 0.75 km of marshy land in Jammu, continue even as the wildlife department tried to involve the local people in its conservation attempt. With no other alternative, sewage still flows into the wetland leading to the proliferation of weeds and increased sedimentation.

The department has now prepared a management plan for Ghrana for Rs 6.60 crore for five years and submitted it to the ministry of environment and forests for approval.

Chief wildlife warden AK Sharivastava said, “The measure involves declaration of the wetland as a protected area. We hope to get approval and funds from the ministry soon”.





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