New Assembly brings young blood in politics
Perneet Singh
Tribune News Service

Jammu, January 20
The swearing-in ceremony of the newly elected MLAs here today has also ushered in a generational change in the state politics, as there are 14 MLAs in 30-40 years age group and 24 MLAs in 40-50 years age groups in the 87-member House.

Coincidentally, the generational shift has also taken place at the top with 38-year-old Omar Abdullah becoming the youngest Chief Minister of the state. Interestingly, out of the 14 MLAs in their 30s, eight have won the elections for the second time. The youngest in the lot is 31-year-old Ajaz Ahmed Jan, National Conference MLA from Poonch.

Next on the list is 32-year-old Agha Syed Roohullah, Budgam MLA. He belongs to Kashmir's influential Shia family and has won from the Budgam constituency for the second consecutive time. NC MLA from Rafiabad Javed Ahmad Dar, who is also in his 30s, emerged victorious by defeating PDP stalwart and former minister Mohammad Dilawar Mir. Another NC legislator, 36-year-old Nazir Ahmded Khan, has won from the Gurez Assembly seat for the second successive time.

The NC has a maximum of seven MLAs in 30-40 years age group, including CM Omar Abdullah. The party also has two young women MLAs in Noorabad legislator Sakina Itoo and Habbakadal legislator Shamima Firdous.

Other MLAs in this age bracket are Choudhary Zulfikar Ali, Javed Mustafa Mir, Zahoor Mir (all PDP), Ajaz Ahmed Khan, Vikas Rasool (both Congress), Yash Pal Kundal and Balwant Singh Mankotia (both Panthers Party).

Though the people of the state are happy to see young faces in the Assembly, they feel that still a lot needs to be done to encourage youth to take up politics. They opine that most of the young MLAs are political heirs, while there are only a few with no political background. "Making it to the state Assembly at such a young age is difficult for those having no political background in India where most of the ministers are above the age of 50 and a leader in his 80s is PM-in-waiting," said Ranjeet Singh, a college student.

While Omar's political background needs no mention, Sakina Itoo is the daughter of former Speaker Wali Mohammad Itoo. Ajaz Ahmed Jan’s father Ghulam Mohammad Jan had won from the Poonch Assembly seat in the past two elections while Javed's father Muhammad Yusuf Dar had won from Rafiabad on Congress ticket in 1972. Roohullah's father Aga Syed Mehdi had contested as Congress candidate against Omar during the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. Similarly, Zulfikar is the son of five-time Darhal MLA Chaudhary Mohammad Hussain.



Darbar Move
It’s boom time for city restaurants
Rajesh Bhat

Jammu, January 20
With the shifting of the Civil Secretariat every winter to Jammu, most of the city roads lead to the Residency Road, primarily for two reasons. This road is a corridor to the Chief Minister's residence and secondly, it has a number of hotels and restaurants on its both sides to serve traditional Kashmiri wazwan to locals as well as Dabar Move employees.

This time, it is again a festive season on this historical road as the new "tasteful" Chief Minister in Omar Abdullah has recently checked in at his official residence and a number of professionally trained chefs are currently busy in presenting a variety of food items at their junctions to those who hanker after the taste.

Many such restaurants are busy in holding food festivals, serving different segments of Kashmiri wazwan, based on meat preparations, to the commoners as well as those who are part of the state bureaucracy. The city's only revolving restaurant, KC Residency, has an offer for its customers to beat the chill by tasting hot and different range of flavored “kababs”.

Its manager, Sanjoo Nair, says about 45 varieties of “kababs" are being served during the ongoing festival that will culminate on January 25. “Rana-e-Multan”, "Nargis seekh kabab", "Kakori kabab" and "Nadoor Shami kabab" are some to name, being served along with complimentary “rumali roti" and "dal makhni" with soothing ghazals playing in the background.

Nair claims there has been a tremendous response to this “kabab” festival that has also to offer something to those who promote vegetarianism. “Tandoor gobi, shane-e-mirche kabab and paneer gulafi seekh are some of the vegetarian kababs served to the customers," says Nair.

The KC Residency management has also changed the otherwise traditional dress of the waiters and the attendants. "For this season, the employees have switched over to Pathani suits and turbans to suit the occasion," informs Nair.

In the vicinity of this revolving restaurant, Naaz Hotel has other than "kababs" to offer. Known for special preparation of Kashmiri "gushtaba", "rista" and "rogan josh", this hotel is also frequently visited by Darbar Move employees and their families who feel "at home" on checking-in. The hotel has Kashmiri "wazas" (cooks), waiters and other staff to speak to the customers in their own language.

Hotel Premier, on the same road, too, receives a number of secretariat employees every evening. Its frontline officer, Vicky, says the number of its customers, who are fond of non-vegetarian food, swells every winter. Other restaurants like Savoy and Mughal Darbar, situated on the same road, also claim good public response.

Both Nair and Vicky argue that the rates at their restaurants are affordable. But Anil Kumar, a middle-rung employee, says he tastes food better at "Billu Di Hatti" or "Pappe Di Hatti", falling in the close vicinity of the Chief Minister's official residence.



Buddhal’s naib tehsildar works from Koteranka
Shariq Majeed
Tribune News Service

Buddhal (Rajouri), January 20
As Chief Minister Omar Abdullah seeks to introduce e-governance in the state, this niabat (lowest administrative wing in the state) remains “without” a naib tehsildar for the past six years. Though the state government has posted a naib tehsildar for this niabat, he doesn't sit here and instead operate from the tehsil office in Koteranka.

Sources in the local tehsil office said the naib tehsildar had an office here but despite that he occasionally came to this niabat (once in a fortnight) for addressing the problems of the people.

They said the tehsildar of Koteranka had attached the naib tehsildar Buddhal with his office and had stationed him there.

Residents of the Buddhal area (with a population of about 30,000) said since the naib tehsildar did not sit here they had to rush to Koteranka, 15 km from here, for even petty works. They added since majority of the people were poor they could not afford to travel to Koteranka for every minor work.

“For the past six years, we have been urging the deputy commissioner and tehsildar of Koteranka to station naib tehsildar here but they don't seem to listen. We have to travel to Koteranka for minor works like for getting ration cards and income certificates. Besides, there are other administrative affairs which need to be addressed by the naib tehsildar, but since he doesn't sit here we all are facing problems", said a resident and senior National Conference leader, Abdul Rehmaan Bhatt.

“Though the naib tehsildar come here once in a month, it is insufficient time for solving the problems of people of this remote and backward area. Now that Omar sahib has taken over as the Chief Minister, we hope that the naib tehsildar will be stationed here".

Even as senior officers in the district administration and tehsil office in Koteranka declined to comment on the issue, a junior-level officer in the district administration said the post of naib tehsildar was lying vacant in Buddhal niabat for quite some time. But, niab tehsildar of Kandi had been given the additional charge of Buddhal, who visited Buddhal once in a week, he added.



Working women’s hostel houses govt offices
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Tribune News Service

For the past five years, offices of the social welfare department continue to function from the working women’s hostel in Jammu. Photo: Inderjeet Singh

Jammu, January 20
A hostel for working women constructed five years ago at a cost of Rs 1.12 crore at Lower Roop Nagar here reflects a sordid tale of government’s laidback attitude.

Inaugurated by then Social Welfare Minister Mula Ram in 2004, the hostel, in contravention of its objective, houses three offices of the social welfare department.

“There are several working women who want to avail the accommodation but none has been entertained so far,” casually remarked an employee of the social welfare department basking in sun in the premises of the hostel.

He said since the new government had taken over the reins, things might change.

Though a female employee feigned ignorance about the criteria to avail the facility, she, too, was hopeful that the structure constructed on centre-state basis would soon serve its purpose.

"We have heard that the offices would soon be shifted out so as to pave way for working women to get accommodation here," she said.

The hostel with daycare centre for children of such women was constructed under a centrally sponsored scheme of the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development.

Official sources said the Jammu Development Authority (JDA) had completed the building in March 2004, with a capacity to accommodate 120 women.

The union government had estimated the cost at Rs 71.44 lakh doling out its share of Rs 53.58 lakh and rest had to be funded by the state government, but the delay resulted in cost escalation and eventually the project was completed at Rs 1.12 crore, they said.

However, they candidly admitted that the inordinate delay on the part of the social welfare department had defeated the purpose of raising the structure.

“After the JDA completed the project there had been a delay of one year in taking over the possession because we had to hand over the balance amount of Rs 46.62 lakh,” they added.

Three offices of the social welfare department, including an office of integrated child development scheme, continued to function from the building.

A department official said, “Anticipating encroachments in the absence of rules to give the accommodation, we shifted ICDS offices here”.



Kashmir lacks facilities for differently abled
Afsana Rashid

Srinagar, January 20
Friendly environment for the differently abled population in Kashmir valley remains a distant dream. Though some beginning has been made with the construction of ramps here and there, most of the facilities are missing.

Such facilities are not available at important places like shopping malls, commercial establishments, public places, public transport and educational institutions. There is also no provision on roads.

Not much relief is available to over three lakh differently abled population in the valley. Few city-based special schools, particularly in the non-government sector, and schemes made available by the department of social welfare fail to leave a mark.

"The government seems least interested towards the welfare of such people. They are a part and parcel of our society and we need to take them together,” feels Mohammad Yasin, a social worker.

Aadil Ahmad, general secretary, Humanity Welfare Organisation Helpline, an NGO, says the organisation has presented a number of projects to the government for the benefit of the differently abled, but it does not seem interested.

In 2005, the organisation filed a public interest litigation (PIL), seeking friendly environment for the differently abled. "We succeeded in getting ramps constructed in various departments in the University of Kashmir. We want new constructions to have such facilities, besides barrier-free public transport. We hope new government would look into the matter," says Aadil.

He says awareness is required in the rural areas. “We are planning to construct a school exclusively for the special children and have acquired land for the same. Right now we are functioning in a rented accommodation with 12 students. Thirty students have been so far identified by our organisation in six villages in Anantnag district. We can't reach out to everyone as transportation is our biggest challenge," says Aadil.

He adds that out of three lakh differently abled population, 1.84 lakh are visually impaired.

Meanwhile, the Jammu and Kashmir Handicapped, Widow and Old Age Association seems much enthusiastic only about the timely payment of monthly pension and availability of motorcycles.

Pinning hopes on the new government, GM Lone, president of the association, demands monthly pension to be enhanced and released in time. “For the past 15 years, we have been demanding motorcycles for the differently abled but nothing trickles down to grass-roots level," says Lone.



Bridge fails to improve commuting
Ashutosh Sharma

Tribune News Service

Akhnoor, January 20
Despite the country’s longest cantilever bridge for almost one year and an already existing steel bridge on the Chenab, boats continue to surf the river water for commuting people, thus saving their time and money.

The Chenab bridge site, about 27 km from Jammu, is located in Akhnoor on the Jammu-Rajouri highway. The bridge spans the mighty Chenab providing connectivity between the Jammu area and Rajouri, Poonch and Pallanwala.

Bodh Raj and Kailash Sahu, who have been rowing boats for the past 30 years, have apprehensions that the two-lane and 280-metre-long balanced cantilever bridge, an alternate to the existing single-lane multi-span steel bridge of 1932 vintage, would cast a shadow on their business.

“People had a hope that the new bridge would provide faster and smoother flow of traffic, but that did not happen,” they said, and added that while long-distance passengers board buses, locals still preferred to cross the river by boat.

The permanent bridge across the river gained strategic significance in the aftermath of 1971 conflict with Pakistan and a bridge scheme was finalised and approved in 1977, but construction was suspended due to several factors.

“Apart from regular commuters, people come here for shooting or photography in boats as it is the only river in and around Jammu where boats are still used for travelling,” Sahu said.

Passengers commuting on the Jammu-Poonch highway generally rue that they have to wait for the green signal as the Army regulates traffic on both bridges. The road to the new bridge also runs through the Army area. “There is no improvement in the travelling scenario even after the commissioning of the second bridge. Travellers are made to sit in buses to wait for the turn of their vehicles. After every 15 minutes, the traffic flow from one side is stopped to make way for the other. Patients and elderly people have to suffer on account of strict security measures at the bridge site,” said Vijay Sharma, a resident of Sunder Bani.

Sharma suggested that to end the traffic woes, the government should make an independent approach road to the new bridge.



Jammu needs more parks

The city has witnessed a massive increase in its population as also the number of vehicles on roads over the last two decades. Subsequently, the pollution level has also gained alarming proportions. However, the authorities have done nothing to create well-maintained parks for the citizens of the winter capital. Though the city boasts of Bag-e-Bahu, a huge garden adjacent to the Bahu Fort, it is not possible to visit it every day. Also mismanagement mars this otherwise beautiful getaway for the people. There is hardly any place for the citizens where they can breath fresh air. Green belts serve as lungs of any city in modern times. The government must take initiative to create such facilities in different areas of the city.

Balvinder Singh, Jammu

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