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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 6, New Delhi, January 23, 2021

Whither the Paradise on Earth? It’s a freezing hell actually, courtesy State apathy | MA Sofi

Friday 22 January 2021

by MA Sofi

At the very outset, let us get to the nub of the problem. Institution building is a vital component of nation building. The creation of such premier educational institutions as TIFR, IISc, ISI’s, IIT’s, JNU etc. and now the cluster of IISERs is part of such noble endeavours. Among the more recent instances, IISERs are surely doing well though, however, the same may not be said about all the newly established IITs and more so, the Central universities. Mainly because not much serious thought seems to have gone into it before the coming about of this new crop of institutions on the ground. That is surely not in consonance with the idea of institution building which requires a serious thought, vision, foresight and a clear idea of the roadmap for realising that vision. Which is why it’s futile to expect merit and excellence to foster, at least in many of these institutions in the foreseeable future. Same applies to infrastructure building which would fail to deliver unless the intentions behind putting that in place are bonafide. It’s this malafide nature of intentions that many of the institutions of excellence of yore as mentioned above have barely remained impervious to the machinations of those who are out to destroy these institutions beyond repair. Many other important institutions including the judiciary, police and other investigating agencies have not been spared either. The point is that intentions speak louder than actions.

About my own (erstwhile state of) J&K, the less said the better, because institution building has never been allowed to strike roots here in the first place by successive governments at the Centre. Whether it’s healthcare, education, transport, supply chain or the civic amenities, everything goes for a toss whenever there are hints of a crisis staring into our face. Which is why there is in evidence a complete collapse of the administrative machinery when something which does even qualify being put down as a crisis begins to unfold in Kashmir. Whether it was the 2005 earthquake or the 2014 floods in Kashmir, the response of the government departments which were supposed to be in charge of relief, rescue and rehabilitation operations was found pathetic at best. With yet another crisis on our hands that has unfolded in Kashmir following this season’s heaviest snowfall in the valley, the response of the J&K administration is expected to be no different. Come to think of it, the ’national highway’ connecting Kashmir with the rest of the world which is known to give way, literally, on the mere pretext of a cloudburst, a light rainfall and of course during the most part of winter when it gets closed for days, sometimes for weeks, as the valley gets buried under a thick cover of snow. Not only that thousands of passengers remain stranded on the highway all this while without access to proper food accommodation or toilet facilities, the disruption in the supply chain involving the movement of gasoline, cooking gas and equally importantly the livestock leaves the valley inhabitants high and dry at a time when lack of access to these routine necessities of life could be life-threatening. This is so because the highway remains in tatters for the better part of the year, and gets that much deadlier for the purpose of undertaking a journey during the winter season. That is hardly surprising, considering that the highway has not been designed with the tools of modern technology as is the case, for instance, with the Karakoram highway connecting Rawalpindi in Pakistan with Kashghar in China. Compared to the measly 300 KM’s long Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, the Karakorm Highway, considered as a technological marvel, stretches over 1300 KM’s, located as it is at a maximum of 16000 ft above the sea level and is all-weather friendly, almost!

That brings up an important aspect of the issue under discussion: though institution building is an important part of good governance, the unwillingness to build the infrastructure of institutions or to misuse them in pursuit of a personal/political agenda bespeaks ulterior motives bordering on evil intentionality of those who have the power to exercise control over these institutions. It goes without saying that J&K has been a victim of such thinking right from the word go! Else, the civic amenities as experienced here would not have been in such a dismal state as they are now, with the frequent weather vagaries providing the litmus test to gauge the extent of crisis in infrastructure building. Let me hasten to add that whereas winters without snow in the valley are like summers without monsoons in the plains of India, what stands apart in the context of Kashmir is the sheer apathy and indifference of the administration towards the plight of the people in the valley, especially during such times when life in the valley comes to a grinding halt. The most serious issues arise from frequent and long power breakdowns, water supply issues due to freezing of water pipes and the blocking of roads which are not cleared of snow for days, leading to a suspension of supply lines and the resulting shortage of food and medicines. The story in rural Kashmir is many times more pathetic.

In all this, the general mood of the people here in Kashmir is one of resignation and of an unmistakable feeling to see a method in the madness! For what they have been going through on account of the frequent disruption in the civic amenities, they like to think that there is a design behind the lack of resolve by the successive governments at the Centre to put in place a robust infrastructure of roads and buildings that would include a redesigning of the national highway on modern lines. Leave alone the K-issue which has been the main reason for the mess in Kashmir and also as the main stumbling block in mainstreaming Kashmir, the hard fact remains that an important contributing factor on that count has been a strange line of thinking in the ruling establishments in Delhi to continue to leave the national highway in the shambolic state it has always been in. Else, the highway would since have been modernised as an all-weather highway as has been done in the case of the Karakoram highway.

With little hope of the valley-based government institutions rising to the occasion in situations marked by a complete collapse of civic infrastructure and the attendant disruption of normal life, people in the valley are now staring at a long spell of harsh winter, bracing themselves to come to grips with it while inventing their own ways to fight shy of the impending crisis. They did it so well, and with uncommon grit and dedication, when a massive earthquake had struck havoc in Kashmir in 2005 and did it again in 2014 during the worst ever floods that had caused large scale devastation in Srinagar. It’s fair to grant them the knack for crisis management and the ability to persist and persevere when the chips are down. Had it not been so, the total apathy of the local administration coupled with an almost complete absence of civic infrastructure would have taken its toll upon the people of the valley in ways that they could never rise again. It redounds to their credit that they have risen, and would rise again and again from the dust as it were, thanks to their perseverance and dogged determination.

(Author: Prof. M. A. Sofi, JK Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Srinagar)

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