Gharana wetland falls prey to encroachers
Tejinder Singh Sodhi
Tribune News Service

Gharana, January 30
“This wetland is your property, help us to restore its pristine glory”, so says a billboard outside the world-famous Gharana Wetland Reserve, a premier wetland situated a few metres away from the India-Pakistan international border in the RS Pura sector. The wetland which is plagued by massive silting and encroachment is dying a slow death.

Unchecked encroachment by locals in the area has reduced the size of wetland to almost half of its original size of 0.75 sq km.

“On official records, this wetland is spread on an area of 0.75 sq km, but encroachment by the local farmers have reduced this wetland to less than half the size that it used to be a couple of years ago,” says a senior wildlife guard at the wetland reserve.

Environmentalists, too, warn that wetlands in the state are rapidly shrinking due to official apathy and rampant encroachment, endangering thousands of animals and migratory birds.

The state boasts of 16 wetlands, with seven of them being in Jammu. Experts predict that these will vanish in around three to four years, if the authorities continue to neglect them. Gharana hosted 20,000 migratory birds coming from different countries last year, but wildlife experts warn that the number of winged visitors is slowly declining.

A senior wildlife officer admits that there has been a widespread encroachment in the Gharana Wetland Reserve and the government is taking steps to retrieve encroached land from the locals.

“The locals have encroached upon a large part of the wetland. We have taken steps to retrieve it. The Jammu divisional commissioner and the SDM of the area are demarcating the encroached land and we will soon reclaim it,” the officer says.

According to wildlife experts, shrinking wetlands have also affected the behaviour of water birds. The number of birds, who used to throng this wetland in the past, has gone down because of shallow water.

Officials say the local residents who mostly depend on farming have turned the wetland into a disposal ground where they dump all their agricultural waste, which in turn is silting the wetland.

“The local farmers, who live on the banks of this wetland, put all their agricultural waste into it. They also throw soil in the wetland to convert it into a piece of land, slowly they have made a huge portion of the wetland disappear and pieces of land have replaced the majority of the wetland,” says the wildlife guard.

The experts say for the past few years they have observed that the migratory birds that visit this wetland vie for space.

“Given the shrinking space, the birds that come here have to compete and fight with each other for occupying space,” says Pramodh Kumar, a wildlife expert in Jammu, who has spend 18 years of his life on the research of the behaviour of migratory birds in the state.

He says, “The government needs to take some stringent measures so as to remove these encroachments and to save the wetland otherwise the day is not far away when we would find these wetlands only in the folklores and textbooks”.



Leprosy patients allege ill-treatment
Sunaina Kaul
Tribune News Service

Jammu, January 30
"The problem is not leprosy but rather the feeling of being unwanted," the words of Mother Teresa come true when one visits Kusht Ashram at Bagwati Nagar, Jammu.

55 inmates hailing from border villages of Kishtwar, Doda, Reasi, Rajouri, Poonch and Gulabgarh have been living a life in hell. Leave alone discrimination by the people even the doctors hestitate to attend them.

An inmate of the ashram, Mohammad Latif said, "We are being discriminated by the people outside this ashram. In fact, when doctors hear that we are leprosy patients, they too discriminate with us." He said even their children were "ill-treated" by their mates at their schools.

The inmates have been living in a pathetic condition. They have single water tap connection that is not sufficient for 30 families staying in the ashram. A tube-well in the premises has been lying defunct. "Despite repeated requests to the authorities, nobody comes to rectify the fault," said Nazira Begum another inmate of the ashram. They alleged that the septic tank of the only toilet in the ashram has been overflowing and the authorities have not taken any action till date.

With no source of income, they live on the support of voluntary donors who provide them with clothes and eatables on auspicious occasions. The government pays a monthly pension of Rs 300 to each family, but its payment has been inconsistent. Many physically handicapped persons of the ashram, who are eligible for a disabled pension of Rs 625, have not been paid the same, alleged Latif.

Latif said, "The Social Welfare Department provides us grant of Rs 1 lakh, which is too less for our expenses as the cost of essential items in the market is too high. We need at least Rs 15 lakh per year."

Besides, they demanded construction of a residential colony for their children, adjacent to the ashram so that they get rid of the discrimination they have been facing in the society. Latif demanded that the government should bear the burden of the education of their children, as they have been unable to provide them proper education.

Director Social welfare Laj Ram expressed ignorance about existence of any such ashram in Jammu. However, he said that he would look into the matter and take necessary action in this regard.

He further explained that these ashrams have been run by the NGOs that are directly funded by the Government of India. The Social Welfare Department has no control over them, he said. However, he said the Governor has taken the decision to increase the monthly pension of leprosy patients from Rs 300 to Rs 400 from January 2009.



Hanging wires pose risk
Shariq Majeed
Tribune News Service

Rajouri, January 30
The state government may be making efforts to tap hydel power potential, but it doesn't have proper infrastructure to supply power in a safe manner. In this border township, hanging electric wires from poles are posing a great threat to the lives of residents.

The residents complain that despite repeated requests, the department concerned is not taking the matter seriously and is putting them to great risk. They said that at many places in the town,the wires were at a height of only 6-7 feet and could kill a person. They further said that in some areas electric wires passed through the roofs of the houses and posed a great risk to their lives.

They added that the areas where the electric wires remained close to the ground or passed through roofs were Old City, DC Colony, Jawahar Nagar , Bela Colony and Kheora.

"Not only are the electric wires at some places close to the ground, but in some other areas, the wires run through the floors of the houses. We, on several occasions, have taken up this matter with the Superintendenting Engineer and the Executive Engineer so that they take some action. But they have hardly done anything and are putting human lives to great risk", fumed Majid Dar, a resident of Kheora. "We urge the state government to take the matter seriously as it involves precious human lives".

Aasif Choudhary, a student of the DC Colony area, said: "The main electric wires here are just 6-7 feet high from the ground. If at night, some tall person passes through here, he may get a shock. It is also risky during the rainy season".

Sources in the power department said, "The department had written to the higher authorities for funds for rectifying the problem", they said.



Cricket stadium eludes Jammu
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Tribune News Service

Jammu, January 30
While Jammu and Kashmir has abundant cricketing talent, budding cricketers in the absence of a full-fledged cricket stadium in the winter capital continue to eat dust and toil hard at the multipurpose “worn out” MA Stadium.

Over six years ago, the then Chief Minister and president of the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association (JKCA), Dr Farooq Abdullah, had conceived an idea of having a cricket stadium in Jammu on the lines of Mohali.

However, JKCA general secretary Salim Khan says a vast piece of land measuring 183 kanals has been identified in Bajalta and hopefully work on the ambitious project would begin next week.

In this context, a meeting had been fixed , but it could not be held because of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s preoccupation, says Khan.

The meeting had to be attended by JKCA president Farooq Abdullah and other officials, he says, adding that now it would take place in first week of February.

The revenue department is processing documents pertaining to the project. Once completed, the cricket stadium here would be ideal for international matches and better than Mohali cricket stadium, he adds. In fact, Dr Farooq along with some officials had visited Bajalta in the past, says Khan.

Sources say over six years back, cricket’s apex body in the country, the BCCI, had agreed to sanction Rs 8 crore for the construction of the stadium, but the JKCA utterly failed to avail the advantage.

The BCCI had asked the JKCA to acquire land in its name, a prerequisite to avail Rs 2 crore to purchase the land and Rs 6 crore for construction and development work, they divulge.

They say the state government had to provide the land for raising stadium and other related infrastructure. Initially, the JKCA had conducted surveys in Bhagwati Nagar, Bari-Brahmana and Roop Nagar, but all three places were found unfeasible, they said.

A Ranji team cricketer says though we earnestly want to see a full-fledged ultramodern cricket stadium in Jammu, we cannot trust JKCA officials anymore.

“When Farooq Abdullah was the Chief Minister, he missed no opportunity to dole out promises of having a cricket stadium in Jammu. Now, his son is at the helm of affairs, let us see what he has up his sleeves,” he adds.

“The JKCA is a total mess and it is least bothered about the welfare of the cricketers, leave aside a separate cricket stadium for us,” says another cricketer.



State to follow in HP, Punjab footsteps
Dinesh Manhotra
Tribune News Service

Udhampur, January 30
Punjab and Himachal Pradesh are the two states from where farmers of Jammu and Kashmir, especially those of the Jammu region, have been taking inspiration. Not only farmers but also the authorities are following these two states as far as agriculture and horticulture sectors are concerned.

To make the farmers aware of the crop diversification and advanced technologies, the Agriculture Department is organising tours of farmers in these two neighbouring states to bring "Green Revolution" in the Jammu region.

Climatic conditions of the mountainous regions of the Jammu province, especially of erstwhile Doda and Udhampur, are similar to Himachal Pradesh, while as plains of the Jammu province are as fertile as the land of Punjab.

Director Agriculture, Jammu, Vinod Bala told The Tribune that farmers of the state have learnt so much from their educational tours. She mentioned that visit of farmers to the Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana, proved very fruitful for farmers of this region. Farmers, after visiting these states, are adopting new techniques of farming to enhance their production.

Director Agriculture further said the department had also decided to depute some officers to conduct study outside the state to get themselves aware of latest advancements in the agriculture sector. Next month, more than 20 officers of the Agriculture Department are going for study tour outside the state.

Keeping in view the demands of fruit growers of Udhampur district, the Horticulture Department has decided to import special variety of plants from neighbouring Himachal Pardesh to develop a new apple-growing belt in this district.

The Horticulture Department has reasons to import apple plant from Himachal Pradesh instead of Kashmir valley, as it was long pending demand of the farmers of the Panchari and Lander belt of Udhampur district.

Furthermore, climatic conditions of this belt of Udhampur district and those of some apply-growing areas of Himachal Pradesh are almost similar. Therefore, the authorities, on experimental basis, imported about 300 apple-saplings and planted them at progeny orchard.

As these experiments gave encouraging results, the authorities decided to conduct budding and grafting of these plants. 



Padma Shri to Hashmat surprises all
Tejinder Singh Sodhi
Tribune News Service

Jammu, January 30
After it became official that the central government conferred Padma Shri in the field of art and craft to a “wrong person”, the controversy has brought lesser-known Hashmat Ullah Khan into limelight that refuses to die down.

Hashmat, the man chosen for the award, is an exporter rather than a craftsman for which the award has been conferred upon him.

The announcement of the award to Hashmat has taken even the state government by surprise. It officially maintains that it has not recommended his name. Chief secretary SS Kapoor said, “The state government has not recommended his name for the Padma Shri”.

“Hashmat, a resident of the Nishat area in Srinagar, has no effective background of substance related to this art form and he is just an entrepreneur who had taken the charge of infusing the spirit among Kani shawl weavers to exercise the practice vigorously,” a senior officer of the state government said, adding, “We are surprised how he got the award as the state government was not taken into confidence by the centre on the matter”.

The Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL), the only art institution of the state, is ignorant about having any information about Hashmat Ullah Khan.

Spokesman for the academy Javid Rahin said, “There is no person by that name in the field of art and culture in this state. Also, the academy did not recommend anyone by this name”. “The government has conferred the award to a wrong person,” he added.

The controversy has added fuel to the fire wherein the artistic fraternity of the state has shown displeasure over the home ministry’s move while cutting across the state legislation to rope in Hashmat Ullah Khan for the prestigious award for Kani weaving, an art form practiced by valley weavers for shawl making that includes a fine fabric knitted through wooden needles.

Though experts here are not well versed with the art, this has invited unprecedented ire of the artists throughout the state who are calling it as a bluff played by the centre while overlooking the actual contenders, who are many in numbers in the state.

Hashmat said he was surprised when he got a call from New Delhi saying that his name was announced for the award. He said the award was given to him for his role in the revival of Kani shawls.



Sain Miran attracts people of all faiths
Shariq Majeed
Tribune News Service

Poonch, January 30
Militants may have tried several times to break unity among Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs in the border township, but they have failed every time.

A child offers prayers at the Sain Miran shrine near the LoC in Poonch. A Tribune photograph
A child offers prayers at the Sain Miran shrine near the LoC in Poonch. A Tribune photograph

People belonging to different religions have always thwarted the evil designs of the militants. The unprecedented turnout of devotees comprising Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus at Sain Miran Sahab Ziarat at Guntrian, close to the Line of Control, validates this fact.

Every Thursday, Ghulam Sheikh, a resident of the Surankote area, along with his family comes to seek the blessings at the shrine reverred by people from even the neighboring Rajouri district. "The shrine has a rare attraction. Whenever I have come here, I have always felt some unseen power blessing me", said Sheikh. "Sain Sahab never returns anyone emptyhanded",he said.

Another resident of the border township of Nowshera in Rajouri district, Baldev Kumar, who shares the feelings of Ghulam Sheikh said the shrine was the epitome of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu unity. "He is our savior. We the people of these twin border districts have a great faith in him" he said. "Though militants made every attempt to destroy the otherwise peaceful atmosphere in Rajouri and Poonch districts, our belief in Sain Saheb has always brought us closer".

The area has witnessed many militant attacks on the minorities to divide the people, but the shrine has always united the people and protected them.

It is not only the people on this side of the LoC who have great belief in the Sain Miran Sahab Ziarat, but the people on the other side of the LoC in POK near the shrine too are seen sitting near the fence on Thursday and seeking blessings.

Sain Akhbar Din, who is the mujawir (manager) here, says that pilgrims come here from as far as Mumbai, Kolkatta and Kerala and even from Pakistan. "Every year, the Urs (anniversary) of Sainji is celebrated on November 26 and 27. We receive lakhs of pilgrims annually and have adequate facilities for them".

This Ziarat is located in Guntrian village. A road to link to it has been constructed for facilitating the pilgrims’ visit.



Allaudin award for santoor maestro
Ehsan Fazili
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, January 30
Legendary santoor maestro and music composer Pandit Bhajan Sopori has been honoured with the prestigious Baba Allaudin Khan Award in recognition of his service in the field of music and culture.

The award, comprising a memento, shawl and a bouquet, was presented to him by Jawahar Sircar, secretary, union ministry of culture, in New Delhi.

Bhajan Sopori is regarded as the cultural bridge between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of the country, and is hailed as the “saint of the santoor” and the “king of strings” for being pioneer in playing santoor on national and international platforms. His style of playing, called “Sopori Baaj”, is acclaimed as the most distinctive style of playing the classical instrument.

A highly learned person, Pandit Sopori combines the profound knowledge of music and musicology. He has led the revival of Sufism to spread the message of humanism amongst the masses.

He has composed almost 5,000 songs in different languages with various patriotic songs of India, which are among the masterpieces and major musical hits of the country. His compositions bear the distinctive stamp of his virtuosity and erudition and have featured some of the most eminent musicians of the country. He has used santoor and his compositions to highlight the concept of oneness and foster unity enshrining the idea of national integration, humanism and peace amongst the common man in general and the youth in particular.

Pandit Sopori has received numerous awards, including the prestigious Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Academy Award, Jammu and Kashmir State Award, National Flag Honour of the Arab Republic of Egypt. 



Encroachers back in business

The anti-encroachment drive that gained momentum prior to the Durbar Move to the winter capital seems to have lost steam. Vegetable and fruit vendors are now back in business on the roadsides in the busy market areas. It poses a grave threat to commuters as people park their vehicles around the rehris of these vendors to purchase vegetables and fruits thereby eating into a sizable space on the road. The MC authorities as well as the traffic police should ensure that these vendors do not occupy the road for their business. The MC should also earmark some place for these vendors in different pockets of the city so that they can also earn their livelihood while the people get essential commodities near their homes.

Shiwani Tiwari, Jammu

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