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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Promise of paradise that didn't come true

The absence of a comprehensive rehabilitation policy for surrendered militants has made life hellish for those who decided to give themselves up and join the mainstream

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz


Jammu & Kashmir’s first “Surrender Policy” was floated by Governor Gen. (retd.) K.V. Krishna Rao’s administration in 1995. It was almost identical to the policies introduced for militants involved in the North East and Naxalite insurgencies: Rs.1.5 lakh worth of fixed deposit receipts payable after three years, a monthly stipend of Rs.2,000 for three years, Rs.15,000 for surrendering an AK-47 rifle and Rs.3,000 for a pistol or revolver. It held little promise about rehabilitation.

On January 31, 2004, the Mufti Sayeed government introduced a fresh policy. Accepting India’s “integrity” and “Constitution” were flagged as a precondition for surrender. It was offered “to those terrorists who undergo a change of heart and eschew the path of violence and who also accept the integrity of India and [the] Indian Constitution to encourage them join the mainstream and lead a normal life and contribute towards prosperity and progress of the State as well as the Nation.”

It did not work either. Much like its prototypes, it did not carry an assured promise of rehabilitation. Not many militants were enticed by it.

Designated routes

Those who did surrender were used by the police, armed forces and intelligence agencies to set up counterinsurgency groups to wipe out not only separatist militants but also civilians perceived to be the sympathisers or supporters of separatism. Some of them, like the Ikhwanul Muslimoon, founder Kukka Parray and his lieutenant Javed Shah were installed as legislators. Many, including Parray and Shah, were subsequently killed by unidentified gunmen.

Those who survived found themselves in the infamous Red Index of the CID, a confidential register that contains names of over 400,000 Kashmiris “suspected” of links with militancy and terrorism. Very few on the list have ever got a passport or a government job.

Even so, from about 2005 to 2009, over 4,000 “retired militants” and their families in Pakistan were enthusiastic about efforts by pro-New Delhi political leaders to get them back into the mainstream in the State. Politicians, including Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, played a key role in promoting New Delhi’s package for returning militants. On November 23, 2010, Omar Abdullah’s government launched the “surrender and rehabilitation policy” specifically for this lot. 

But the recent arrest of Syed Liaquat Shah for an alleged terror plot as he came into India through the Nepal border has shown that this latest scheme has more problems than its predecessors. 

By Mr. Abdullah’s own admission, not one of the 241 militants came back through the designated routes of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, Attari [train], Wagah [bus] besides Chakan-Da-Bagh and Kaman Post in J&K.

In Srinagar and New Delhi, officials knew well that the Pakistani establishment would never permit these people to return through the Delhi airport or Wagah. That would have been used by India to establish that the Kashmir insurgency was a Pakistan-sponsored “proxy war” rather than an indigenous separatist struggle.

As Chief Minister Omar Abdullah stated in the Assembly, 241 militants along with over a thousand of their family members crossed into India from Nepal to take up the government’s offer.

What is strange is that no one in J&K or India thought it fit to recognise the Kathmandu route and set up coordination between Srinagar, Delhi, Gorakhpur and Kathmandu to facilitate the surrenders.

Flourishing racket

What is clear is that under the noses of intelligence agencies in both India and Pakistan, the surrender policy was a flourishing business for a whole network of middlemen, from Karachi, Islamabad, Muzaffarabad, Kathmandu to cities in India, including Srinagar.

Nazia, an undergraduate from Government College Islamabad Pakistan, who married former Aljihad militant Mohammad Sahafi Itoo and reached Drusu, Pulwama along with her husband and two children in February 2012, recounted her brush with the agents.

“They take responsibility for getting us through the Pakistan side. They arranged our passports and visa, managed our travel to Karachi, booked our seats on the Karachi-Kathmandu flight and facilitated further our passage from Gorakhpur to Jammu and Pulwama. We spent a total of Rs.8 lakh,” says Nazia.

Losing identity

But in less than a year, both Itoo and Nazia have realised their return as “the biggest blunder of our life.” After suffering a great deal of tribulation, Nazia managed to get her 11-year-old daughter, Kinza Noor and 5-year-old son, Hanzla admitted in a local school.

Itoo, who does not know how to read or write, and claims to have been at a militant training camp for just 13 days, used to earn Rs.5,000 while working with companies and shopkeepers at Bara Koh, a suburb of Islamabad.

“Had suicide not been forbidden in Islam, I would have done so last year,” he says. “I have no work to do, nothing to earn and eat.”

Itoo’s parents have given him a single room at their house. Nazia runs a boutique and earns Rs.2,000 to Rs.3,000 a month. While the men are treated warily by family members, especially by siblings, and looked upon as another mouth to feed, or as a potential rival in property claims, their wives are seen as “outsiders,” as the language, culture and way of life are quite different from the Kashmiris in the Valley. Mohammad Yousuf alias Jamsheed, who returned to his home at Turkawangam in Shopian along with his wife Shahnaz and four children in December 2011, has been earning Rs.4,000 a month for working at the local taxi stand. Like the Pulwama family, Yousuf and Shahnaz have not found ready acceptance by the family. They have been given a room to live with their children. Guests too stay and sleep in the same room. The washroom doubles up as a kitchen.


“We have been duped into this blunder [of returning to home] by Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. They came to Pakistan and announced that [the] J&K Government had a rehabilitation scheme for us. When we reached here, we learned that there is none,” says the couple. Most schools deny admission to the children of the surrendered militants.

“We have lost our identity. We don’t know the land and the people we belong to,” Shahnaz adds. “It’s a completely different language and culture here. We can’t adjust ourselves. Nobody invites us or mixes with the women and their children from Azad Kashmir or Pakistan.” She sounds more disillusioned with the people in Kashmir than the government.

Both the families maintain that they had been denied everything — driving licence, elector’s photo identity card, ration card, passport, government and private job. 

Other surrendered militants have the same sorry tale to tell. 

Nisar Ahmad Kawa of Nund Rishi Colony Bemina crossed the Line of Control to join the training camp of Ikhwanul Muslimeen in 1991. In 2002, he married Ishrat Fatima of Khwajamal. The couple, with their two sons and a daughter, returned in September 2012. Kawa, who earned Rs.15,000 running a shop at Madeena Market in Muzaffarabad, now earns a paltry Rs.3.000 for his labour at a restaurant in Srinagar.

“We have ruined our life. Whenever someone calls us from Pakistan, we tell them not to fall into the trap. There’s no surrender or rehabilitation policy here. Whenever we’ll get a chance, we will go back,” says Kawa.

Ishrat sounded shattered. “Ham ne suna thaa yeh jannat hai, lekin yeh to bilkul dauzakh hail (We had been told Kashmir is Paradise. But we have found it worse than hell.”)

The impoverished couple had no hesitation in saying that they spend most of their time quarrelling in the room they have been temporarily given by Kawa’s brother.
“We just pray for our death. Everybody here has ditched us. Kashmir has changed fully from what it was in 1990. There is total individualism now. Nobody thinks about others.”


The Hindu web link:

Umeed, Himayat in all rural blocks of J&K

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz


SRINAGAR, Apr 5: Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh made it clear on Friday that two of his ambitious projects — Umeed for empowerment of women and Himayat for capacity building and employment of youth — would be soon extended to all 143 rural development blocks in Jammu and Kashmir.

Buoyed by massive response in the four blocks, two each in Kashmir and Jammu divisions, Mr. Ramesh is now planning dovetailing of the Umeed with the J&K youth-specific Himayat initiative “to turn the strife-torn State into an Amethi.”

J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah visited Amethi to see how Rahul Gandhi’s constituency was being transformed. “That’s the model we are using in J&K,” Mr. Ramesh told The Hindu after launching the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) in the once militant-infested area of Khansahab in Budgam district.
Umeed had been launched from Khansahab (Budgam), Lar (Ganderbal), Chinani (Udhampur) and Basohli (Kathua) last year.

“Our experience in U.P, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh is being enriched in J&K. Expanding the project to all the 143 blocks, we are now forming 90,000 self-help groups — thus involving as many as 9 Lakh J&K women,” Mr. Ramesh said. He said that an outlay of Rs .755 crore was earmarked for the women empowerment initiative. Ninety percent of the funding would flow from the Centre and ten percent would be contributed by the State government.
The Andhra-based CAP Foundation has already set up a Himayat Centre at Sopore — the north Kashmir township known only for apple, encounters and stone pelting. 

Mr. Ramesh is visiting the CAP centre on Saturday to hand over certificates to the Kashmiri youth trained in Sopore area.
Addressing the gathering of nearly 1,000 rural women at Khansahab, Mr. Ramesh said all the 90,000 SHGs would be involved in setting up low-cost toilet units. Each unit would cost Rs. 10,000. With Rs. 1,400 of the State contribution and Rs. 900 as the beneficiary’s responsibility, the Centre would provide rest of the Rs. 7,700. 


The Hindu web link:

Friday, April 5, 2013

Rotten agents spoil the Kashmir apple barrel


A NABARD survey says middlemen funded by banks have kept growers captive to high-interest loans


Ahmed Ali Fayyaz




JAMMU, Apr 4: Kashmir’s acres of undulating apple orchards may soon be waste lands, a survey by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) accessed by The Hindu shows. The Rs. 4,000-crore industry has been brought to its knees by a network of middle-order market functionaries comprising pre-harvest contractors (PHCs), commission agents (CAs) and wholesalers — who are the real and the only assured beneficiary of the Valley’s apple produce, not the farmers.


The survey on "Marketing System and Price Spread of Apple in Kashmir", according to sources, will be released here on April 17 by Chairman of NABARD Dr. Prakash Bakshi before its passage to the State Level Bankers Committee. The survey may compel Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to reframe its guidelines and directives to the financial institutions in Jammu and Kashmir as it has shown that the banks have been continuously "encouraging feudal system and usurious lending by commission agents" in violation of rules and regulations.


Burdened by the usury imposed by PHCs and CAs, the grower ekes out a marginal income despite the end-user in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore buying the product at three times the cost. The Kashmiri grower is constrained to sell the apples at just Rs. 40 or Rs. 45 a kilo – Rs. 5 more than his production cost — but the consumer in Mumbai pays between Rs. 90 and Rs. 120.


According to the survey, there are around 3000 CAs — 250 in Parimpora (Srinagar), 250 in Narwal (Jammu) and 2,500 elsewhere in Kashmir division. The Fruit Mandi of Sopore, known as APMC Market Sopore, which is Asia’s largest fresh fruit market after Azadpur in Delhi, has 500 CAs. The wholesalers and CAs, mostly based in Delhi, employ the local PHCs for the purpose of making the growers "captive" and "distress sellers". The survey calls the modus operandi as ‘interlocking of informal credit and output markets’.


It has been significantly pointed out that in flagrant violation of the Jammu and Kashmir Agricultural Produce Marketing [Regulation] Act of 1997, even in 2012 it is the grower in valley who is forced to pay commission to the CA in Delhi for forwarding and trading of apple. It is the other way round in the rest of the country.


The local commission agents (and forwarding agents) of Kashmir are flush with the money — Rs. 1-2 crore — the banks generously lend them. They lend it to the captive growers at a higher interest or charge a commission based on the value of apple sold, which at 12% is interest charged but goes by the name of commission charges.


"In this way banks are (indirectly) contributing to survival of the old traditional system of informal funding by commission agents; this malpractice by commission agents is unknowingly doing three types of harm to the apple economy: (a) Encouraging economic feudal/ slavery type system of lending by commission agents; (b) Misuse of bank capital for usurious lending by commission agents; (c) Encouraging continuation of unmonitored system of captive orchard owners paying commission to commission agents in violation of APMC Act-1997 of J&K Govt. because of their over-dependence on commission agents in market", it adds.


Of the Rs. 1024 crore advanced to the Kashmiri growers in 2010-11, Rs. 645 crore came from Delhi-based CAs and wholesalers, Rs 207 crore from Kashmir-based CAs and Rs 172 crore from rest of the country. The total formal credit provided by all banks to the Kashmiri growers was just around Rs 200 crore. However, J&K Bank’s ‘Apple Project’, which is believed to be the outcome of RBI’s repeated snubs to the bank for maintaining a low level of 11% as against the stipulated 18% funding to the priority sector of agriculture, has changed the situation to an extent in the last two years.


It was because of this default that J&K Bank was once forced to park an amount of over Rs. 300 crore with NABARD against the punitive interest rate of 3%. NABARD in turn lent same money to J&K government’s agriculture sector at 6.8% interest rate.


In the initial year of 2011-12, J&K Bank achieved its 100% target by advancing Rs 363 crore to 17,336 growers but restricted its "Apple Project" to just the two districts of Baramulla and Shopian. The NABARD survey has recommended that the project be extended to all other districts in Kashmir in a phased manner.


"Over-dependence and exploitation of these growers in the market stems from their over-dependence on funding from the commission agents. These commission agents have devised ways of scuttling the approach of small growers (who are separated and independent) to the banks. Banks somehow find it more convenient to have business dealing with traders and commission agents than with small growers although from culture point of view both are locals and Kashmiri. It is apprehended by the study team that Apple Project of J&K Bank could possibly also meet the same problem if onward lending by commission agents/ traders to small growers is not checked, which is not possible except through legislation or provision in the existing APMC Act", the survey has recommended.


"Industrial farming", "contract farming" and "corporate farming" have been visualized among the futuristic solutions. "Other alternatives that could emerge alongside banks and commission agents for financing of apple growers in the existing set up is corporate sector, i.e. industrial companies entering in apple sector. This could take the shape of contract farming or corporate farming. In case of contract farming, the grower himself would have to arrange finances while the marketing of the apples and purchases of inputs problem is shared by the company. In case of corporate farming, the grower is set free from all encumbrances, including the borrowing".


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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

J&K Ministers declare war on each other

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU, Apr 2: Infighting within the Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) turned dramatic on Tuesday as two of the party’s Cabinet Ministers, Taj Mohiuddin and Sham Lal Sharma, traded charges publicly and filed complaints before Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and the All India Congress Committee headquarters in New Delhi.

A day after Chairman of Legislative Council Amrit Malhotra refused to set up a House Committee and he endorsed the Public Health Engineering Minister (PHE) Mr. Sharma’s action of holding a departmental inquiry into the irregularities in the procurement of pipes and an awareness programme, Mr. Mohiuddin targeted his successor at a news conference.

“This is a plot of settling personal scores as my name is under consideration for the position of JKPCC chief. My successor [Mr. Sharma] and some others in my party are out to defame me to achieve their purpose,” Mr. Mohiuddin said.

“The Cabinet meeting is taking place today [Tuesday]. I’m going to take it up [with the Chief Minister and other cabinet Ministers],” Mr. Mohiuddin disclosed. He added that he was going to take up the matter with the Congress high command. However, it was not clear whether or not the issue came up in the Cabinet meeting later on Tuesday.

In the last four years, Mr. Mohiuddin handled the PHE and Irrigation portfolio while Mr. Sharma held the charge of Health and Horticulture departments. In February this year, Mr. Abdullah shifted Mr. Sharma to PHE and Irrigation and Mr. Mohiuddin to Medical Education. In reply to the discussion on the PHE grants, Mr. Sharma had revealed in the Legislative Council on March 26 that he had set up two departmental inquiries to investigate the “large scale irregularities” noticed in the procurement of pipes and the funds drawn on account of the expenditure on Communication and Capacity Development Unit (CCDU) of the PHE.

Mr. Sharma revealed toThe Hinduthat the CCDU officials, headed by a retired Chief Engineer and Mr. Mohiuddin’s close relative Najibullah Mir, allegedly swindled Rs. 45-47 crore for generating awareness about the quality control maintenance among the PHE department’s staff in the last three years.

“Even this year, Rs. 22 crore had been earmarked for CCDU. Out of that, Rs. 14.72 crore has been drawn from the exchequer till date. But there is no work, no account of the money drawn,” Mr. Sharma said.

Mr. Sharma claimed a Jharkhand-based NGO’s banner had been used to swindle the CCDU funds. He said a four-member departmental inquiry, headed by Chief Engineer Irrigation Jammu K.K. Gupta, had already taken over the investigation into the CCDU scam and the alleged irregularities in the procurement of pipes.

At the news conference, Mr. Mohiuddin, however, described himself as “the most hardworking and successful Minister in PHE.” He claimed that all the works and supply orders in his tenure were “as per law, rules and procedures.” Calling his detractor sarcastically as ‘Raja Harishchandra’, Mr. Mohiuddin alleged that Mr. Sharma had violated the principle of collective accountability of the Cabinet by saying in the Upper House that there had been “too many thieves” in the department.

“As the PHE and Irrigation Minister, I collected water usage revenue of Rs. 1,000 crore a year from the NHPC [National Hydroelectric Power Corporation]. What has he [Mr. Sharma] done in the last few weeks? All the crucial works have been stopped. NHPC has begun to default,” he said.


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