Lack of infrastructure mars tourism in Bani
Tejinder Singh Sodhi
Tribune News Service

Kathua, February 6
Dotted with magnificent slopes, thick forests, green meadows, waterfalls, springs of natural water and gushing streams, this beautiful place in Kathua district in Jammu has failed to make it to the state's tourism map.

Known as mini Kashmir, Bani is a small glaciated valley situated at a height of 4,200 feet above the sea level. The town of Bani is engulfed with high mountains and has a distinct type of climate. It experiences severe winters and moist summers and people from the nearby states who cannot afford to visit the Kashmir valley come here to escape the scorching summer, but majority of these must visit areas lack the basic tourism infrastructure.

"Bani is the base camp of trackers for Bhaderwah and Chamba but still the town lacks basic tourism infrastructure, so the trackers avoid coming here for the second time," said Ashok Kumar, a Bani resident.

"This place is so beautiful that if proper infrastructure is provided it could be at par with Kashmir valley," said Gunjan Kumar, a resident of Bani.

Residents rue the successive state governments’ apathy towards developing this place as a tourist spot. Otherwise, they say this place would have been more popular than the Kashmir valley.

"All the successive governments have failed to provide infrastructure that has kept us behind in the race to attract tourists. If developed, this place would have attracted a lot of tourists, besides this place is very peaceful," said Kuldeep Singh, a local resident.

Situated on the top of hills is another beautiful town known as Panyalag, which is at a distance of 7km from Bani. The town is also dotted with steep waterfalls, widespread patches of forests, gushing streams and green meadows, but again it lacks basic infrastructure that could bring it on the tourism map of the state.

"You just forget modern infrastructure here, the government has failed to provide us with basic infrastructure. Many of the areas in our town are still traversed by foot as the road connectivity is worst here," says Sudhir Kumar, a resident of Panyalag.

Another beautiful place in Kathua district is Banjal village, situated within 10 km from Bani. Because of the variety of flowers, the village is also known as “garden of natural flowers.”



VDC members, SPOs without salary for months
Dinesh Manhotra
Tribune News Service

Udhampur, February 6
Notwithstanding the claims of the authorities, members of the village defence committees (VDCs) and special police officers (SPOs), who have played a vital role in containing militancy in the erstwhile Doda district, have been facing hardships due to the non-payment of their salaries for the past five months.

Though the issue has been raised repeatedly during the campaign of the recently concluded Assembly elections, nothing concrete has been done so far. After the completion of the election process, politicians, too, have stopped speaking in the favour of these men, who have been valiantly fighting militancy on one hand and on the other facing indifferent attitude of the administration.

Though Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP), Bhaderwah, TR Katoch admitted that there might be some delay in the payment of the salaries, the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Doda, refused to comment.

“In fact, the authorities have decided to deposit salaries of the VDC members and SPOs directly in their bank accounts, but majority of them are unaware of the operating process,” said ASP Bhaderwah and claimed that the salaries have been given to these members.

For the past four months, the authorities have failed to release the salaries despite repeated representations by the VDC members and SPOs.

Reports say the salaries of some SPOs in Doda have been cleared, but the situation is worst in Kishtwar district where there are over 250 VDCs comprising five members each and about 1,000 SPOs deployed in the remote areas. Most pickets of the security forces in the inaccessible areas are manned by SPOs and the authorities have admitted a number of times that militancy in this district was contained due to this “civilian force”.

Since the eruption of militancy in this belt, VDCs have been courageously fighting with militants in the remote and inaccessible areas. Despite their effective role in keeping a check on militancy, the authorities seem to be unconcerned towards mitigating the woes of these brave men.

Last year, similar situation was emerged after the authorities failed to release the salaries of these members. It was only after protest by the affected persons that their salaries were released.



Real estate slump in Jammu
Dealers blame meltdown, Amarnath row
Seema Sharma
Tribune News Service

Jammu, February 6
The far reaching effects of global meltdown and Amarnath land agitation are now being felt in the real estate business in Jammu, which has been hit badly in the past few months.

Nischint Sawney, a property dealer, says, “In these winter months, people from cold hilly region such as Doda, Kishtwar, Poonch, and Uri would come and stay in Jammu in rented accommodation and some of them also buy property to have permanent accommodation. But this year, because of violent agitation and divide caused due to the Amarnath row, very few people have come, which has directly affected our business”.

“The agitation has certainly made people living outside Jammu wary of buying property here. Indeed, the insecurity has crept deeper inside”.

If the disturbance in the region was not enough, economic downturn further deepened the crisis.

Pardeep Bhagat, a real estate agent, who says that the property business has plummeted by as much as 80 per cent. He says, “Very few people are selling property as the prices are at all-time low. The sellers want to wait for the right time. But even if someone is selling in urgency, there are hardly any buyers in the market. To worsen the scenario, the market of new investment has almost closed down. It is very difficult time for us”.

Besides, property dealers, who pinned their hopes on deriving some benefits from making money on commission on rent dealings, are feeling the pinch from that side as well. US Jamwal, another property dealer, “Lot of people who were working in the private sector have lost their jobs due to financial crisis. A large number of them have vacated the rented accommodation, thus creating a vacuum in the city”.

But still there is a ray of hope. Due to the shift of the state government/administration in Jammu for winter, the demand for rented accommodation has gone up to some extent. Kuldeep Kumar says, "Since the entire staff move with the movement of the government in Jammu for four to five months, landlords are charging higher rent, keeping the short duration of stay in consideration. It is during these month, we make little money on that behalf”.

Given to the entire situation, some of the property dealers have sought solution in other ventures to support their income. Nischint Sawney says, “Many of my counterparts has put money in transport business, shops etc. Until the situation improves, we all have to earn our livelihood from other businesses”.



Private docs for ethical practice
Ehsan Fazili
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, February 6
With the unique concept of starting an academically oriented forum, a group of private doctors in Kashmir have floated the Kashmir Academy of Private Physicians (KAPP). Its motto is academics, ethics and patient care.

“We always wanted to start an academically oriented forum where like-minded doctors would sit and discuss,” states an introduction to the KAPP. The founding members have decided that members of the academy would be chosen from private practitioners of the state who believe in scientific and ethical practice.

The KAPP has chalked out five-point objectives to provide proper medical care to the patients, said Dr Sarosh Khan, vice-president of the KAPP.

These are: To inculcate the sense of ethical practice in doctors to ensure efficient patient care; to promote informal training of members in the academy and to publish a monthly journal online; to promote excellent doctor-doctor and doctor-patient relationship to uphold the dignity of both patients and doctors; to inculcate the habit of analysing day to day experience and making efforts to have research and publication of the data; and to have a platform for discussing various problems faced by private physicians.

The total number of registered doctors was about 3,94,068 in 1991, it states. The number of doctors employed with government agencies at the end of 1991 totalled 78,373 or about 20 per cent of all registered doctors. “From this data, we find that about 80 per cent of the registered doctors are working in the private sector,” said Dr Sarosh Khan. However, this is a relatively new concept in Kashmir, although it has picked up elsewhere.

Dr Khan said the academy was established over two years back with Dr Mohammad Yusuf as its patron and Dr Ghulam Hassan Malik as the president. “There are 25 members of the KAPP in all while it plans to involve clinical laboratories and paramedical staff in its network”.

“The need to establish the KAPP had arisen with the huge number of over 5,000 private doctors in the state. While more than 400 fresh doctors are produced every year, only 10 to 15 doctors are adjusted in the state government annually,” Dr Khan said.

Apart from the two government medical colleges in Srinagar and Jammu, two private colleges, one each in Kashmir and Jammu divisions, and colleges from outside the state and foreign countries add to the increasing number of doctors, with least number of jobs.

Presently, the academy brings out a monthly journal, holds a monthly interactive meet with guests from outside the KAPP to share the experiences, Dr Khan said. He adds, “We do not want non-professionals as medical practitioners treating patients, and BAMS doctors prescribing allopathic medicines. These things are a threat to society. We want good treatment, with medical ethics and fully academic backup,” he opined.



Round-the-clock library centre on Kashmir University campus
Ehsan Fazili
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, February 6
Kashmir University has taken a number of initiatives for improving the standards and facilities for its students and scholars at different levels. One such first step was taken here recently with the opening of round-the-clock library centre on the campus.

The library was inaugurated by vice-chancellor Riyaz Punjabi. Students and scholars have warmly responded to the initiative, as more than 100 students are using the centre after 6 pm every day and on an average, 20 to 25 students stay in the centre throughout the night, chief librarian Reyaz Rufai said.

The vice-chancellor said its establishment was a long-pending demand of the students.

The centre has been provided with internet and proper heating facilities. Another unique feature of group discussion room has been added for the students. In addition, transport facility till late hours and subsidised tea and coffee stall have been provided for students accessing the library after 8 pm.

Reyaz Rufai said books of competitive exams like IAS and KAS were available. The 24x7 centre is the first of its kind in the country, although some of the universities like AMU, Aligarh or JNU, New Delhi, have libraries open only up to 2 am, said the chief librarian.

Allama Iqbal Library of the university along with its network of libraries is the largest library system in the state, which caters to the academic needs of a large number of faculty members, research scholars and students of various disciplines.

While several measures have been taken to improve the educational system in the state during the past six years, desired results are expected in the long run. The previous Congress-PDP coalition government set up 40 degree colleges, 22 in 2003 and 18 in 2007, and three more universities were established during this period. Weeks after taking over, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah got the sanction for the establishment of 18 new polytechnics in the state, followed by sanction for 11 new colleges in educationally backward areas.



Telecom war hots up in state
Tribune News Service

Jammu, February 6
With the entry of Reliance Communications in Jammu and Kashmir within days of the launch of Tata Indicom, the telecom war has hot up in the state.

However, customers are all smiles as they are the ones who will make the most of the cut-throat competition between different mobile service providers.

While the state had three providers till now in the form of BSNL, Aircel and Airtel, an equal number would be added to the list by the end of this year. Tata Indicom was the first to enter the state in 2009. With an investment of over Rs 100 crore in the circle, the company has installed nearly 105 towers across the state, each of 800 megawatt frequency. The company is aiming to capture 25 per cent of the total market in the next few years, said Rakesh Singh Salathia, additional manager, Tata Indicom.

Reliance, on the other hand, has also brought in lucrative offers to woo the customers. It is offering SIM card at Rs 49 and free local talk time worth Rs 450.

Obviously, the customers are a happy lot, especially teenagers and the salaried class. "I've recently switched over to Tata Indicom for its high- speed Internet service. It is faster than what I had earlier and what’s better it comes at a cheaper price," said Rohit Kumar, a college student. "I've changed my mobile service provider twice in the last one year due to better and cheap services being offered by new entrants in the market," said Mahinder Gupta, a government employee.

Meanwhile, the third player to enter the fray this year would be Aditya Birla Group's Idea Cellular which is eyeing to begin operations in five service areas, including Jammu and Kashmir, by the yearend.



Manda Deer Park
Animals in miserable condition
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Tribune News Service

Jammu, February 6
Even as the state government has plan up its sleeves to launch the project snow leopard to save the endangered species, the Manda Deer Park on the outskirts of the winter capital resembles more of a torture cell for at least the fastest animal on earth, leopard and two black bears.

A visit to the park brings to fore the pitiable condition of these "imprisoned" wild animals and birds confined to small cages.

"Though, the Department of Wildlife Protection has an official motto of "conserve wildlife", yet going by the miserable plight of the animals and birds here, it appeared that government has no soft corner for them," said Monica Gupta, a visitor to the park.

“Leave aside 20 odd panting partridges (Chakor), 15 rabbits, over 24 ducks, two to three leopards, two black bears, a lonely vulture, 15 to 16 owls and some full grown peacocks in small cages is simply cruel”, she said.

Echoing similar views, another visitor Dr Neha Sharma said it has been disappointing to see pitiable condition of leopards and black bears. "They traverse miles in jungles and live life to the fullest preying on their own but here they have been confined in small cages reflecting criminal neglect by those at the helm of affairs," she said.

This cruelty should be stopped. It is high time that government shifts them to parks and wildlife sanctuaries in Qazinag and Dachigam in the state and outside the state if needed, she added.

The two black bears, though have been kept in a shaded cage, one wondered if they could together get into a small sized pond to beat the heat during scorching summers. Sources in the Wildlife Department admitted that the Manda Deer Park doesn't have sufficient land to house wild animals and birds.

"Obviously, these animals need vast jungles, which is their natural home, to live. Confining them in cages is inhumane. But rising man-animal conflicts in the state and fast depleting jungles has resulted into this situation," they said.

“In recent times, man-animal conflicts had been showing an upward trend, where either the people or the wild beast were getting killed or injured,” said a Wildlife Department official, adding that considering rise in such incidents, it would be better to keep the wild animals in the "safer places” like the Manda Deer Park.



Mismatch woes of Kashmiri Pandit couples
Rise in divorce cases post-migration
Rajesh Bhat

Jammu, February 6
Unable to adjust to a different socio-cultural set-up and in the event of growing inter-caste marriages, there has been an alarming increase in the divorce rate among Kashmiri Pandit (KP) migrants.

This is evident from the fact that a large number of divorce petitions by mismatched Kashmiri Pandit couples are pending in the matrimonial court here.

Prior to the exodus from the valley, to think of a divorce in the community of over three lakh was considered a taboo, as less than one per cent of such petitions were pending in the courts. During the past 18 years of migration, the number of such petitions among the community has swelled to 40 per cent.

According to advocate Rakesh Rattan, he encounters at least 15 cases in a month wherein young KPs, mostly girls, press either for drafting divorce petitions or maintenance suits, primarily for the reasons that it was extremely difficult for them to adjust to a different cultural set-up where they feel alienated from their roots.

“Prior to the migration, very few would prefer marriages away from the community with remote chances for maladjustment. Since migration came with so many miseries, the community youths were forced to adjust in a new cultural set-up, although unsuccessfully," argues Rakesh.

He says in 1990, there were just 12 such petitions pending in the matrimonial court. “Now, despite our best efforts for rapprochement and counselling, the disillusioned couples still press for drafting such petitions for varied reasons,” says Rakesh.

There has also been a mention of the increase in the divorce rate, among the community, in a report submitted by the J&K Centre for Minority Studies (CMS) to the state government.

The report, submitted by former IAS officer ML Kaul, in the capacity of the chairman of the CMS, deals in detail on the impact of the migration on the socio-economic conditions of Kashmiri displaced people.

It says out of the total 250 divorce petitions filed in the state in 1995, 30 were from Kashmiri Pandit couples. In 2001, the total number of divorce petitions that came before the court was 976 of which 300 (30 per cent) were from KPs. The figures further suggest unprecedented increase during the corresponding years, as in 2002, out of the total 600 divorce petitions filed in the state, 200 were from KP youth from the age group of 25 to 40. “Since 2002, the percentage has been scaling up, as last year, 40 per cent petitions were filed by the migrant community youth, mostly by the Pandit women," the report says.

It further says the elders in the community are disturbed by this alarming trend. "In the absence (or destruction) of the joint family system, through which elders used to intervene constructively to sort out problems, the couples find themselves unable to make minor adjustments and settle certain differences," says the report.



Jammu-Srinagar highway in bad shape

The frequent closure of 300-km long Jammu-Srinagar national highway during winters gives a nightmarish experience to commuters, but the successive regimes continue to ignore the issue. Despite tall claims of the successive governments to make it a four-lane highway, the road link remains in bad shape, forcing stranded people to fend for themselves in sub-zero temperature. Though wire meshes have been erected atop a mountain at the most troubled spot of Panthial to prevent shooting stones, there are over 24 stretches on the ‘killer’ highway where one-way traffic is still a routine. Being a frequent commuter on this highway, I have witnessed such blockades. The treacherous road link continue to take away several human lives every year, but the government has not bothered to make it an all-weather road. The National Highway Authority of India has been entrusted the task of widening the road and digging a 9-km long tunnel from Kud to Peera, but for laid-back attitude these schemes still remain a distant dream.

The government should not let the commuters at the mercy of God and instead of mouthing platitudes, it should deliver results on the ground.

Varinder Sharma, Sarwal, Jammu

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