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proloybagchi
Knifing the "Maharaja"
2019.05.21 18:13:24

The news has just come in that the Government of Maharashtra has offered Rs. 1400 crore for the iconic Air India building at Nariman Point in Mumbai. Though the amount offered is Rs. 200 crore less than what was declared as the reserve price the Air India authorities were seemingly inclined to give away the building to the state government. The Life Insurance Corporation had offered Rs.1375 crore and the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust had put down its offer at Rs. 1200 crore. Hence, by June-end one could hope the Maharashtra Government offices to move into the building. Perhaps even the chief minister is likely to relocate to this building and one might find the National Flag on top of it instead of Centaur of the logo of Air India.

This building has been a remarkable structure dominating the business district that came up on what came to be known as Backbay Reclamations. I can recall that during my first visit to Mumbai (which was then Bombay) in 1955 tetrapods used to be built there as the work of reclamation went on. It was a vast expanse of sand and tetrapods would be lined up for being placed next to the parapet of Marine Drive along the Arabian Sea. Then this iconic building slowly took shape designed by an architect from New York. Facing the beautiful Marine Drive it came to dominate it, adding more sophistication to an already sophisticated artery lined by art-deco buildings.

Air India is steeped in debt of around Rs. 50,000 crore and had decided to monetise its physical assets. It had put up its lease-hold rights over the land and the building for sale last December with a reserve price of Rs.1600 crore. The sale was open to only the various governments, their departments and public sector units. None of these entities, however, could muster an amount equal to the reserve price; the offer of Maharashtra Government happened to be closest to it. In all probability, therefore, the Maharashtra government offices are likely to move in in a few months time.

Air India hit this sad predicament largely because of politicians who came to control the airline. Time was when Air India, to use a cliché, used to rule the skies and other up-and-coming airlines would try and learn micromanaging their assets from none other than its chief JRD Tata. Tata was a freak in so far as flying was concerned. His commitment to the airline from its initial days when it had only 2 pilots and a few sundry employees was basically the reason for its becoming an exemplar for others. In the 1960s when Air India was still flying propeller-driven planes connoisseurs would still opt for the slower Indian planes than the faster jets for the simple reason that the Air India would pamper them. For the sake of the high quality service they would think nothing of sacrificing a few measly hours that could earn them a few thousand dollars.

That is when it suffered the first assault from a politician. In the 1970s Morarji Desai as the prime minister issued a dictat that no alcohol could be served on Air India’s international flights. JRD Tata fought the fiat tooth and nail but had to resign as Morarji was as, if not more, resolute than Tata. With the exit of Tata, service standards dived southwards and the clientele that Tata had built up progressively deserted the Airline. At the same time competition hotted up and those who were pigmies when Tata was around put more heft in their operations and left Air India miles behind.

Then came the era of “coalition compulsions” – UPA’s two terms at the Centre that administered blow  after blow to the Airline that had the sobriquet of “Maharaja” and was soon enough to lose all the trappings of royalty leaving, people asking “who killed the Maharaja?” No, none from the outside; it was a well executed inside job.

While unaffordable order for as many as 111 planes were placed the Airline inexplicably surrendered profit-making routes to Middle-East/ South-East Asia and Europe to its competitors. The Public Accounts Committee, when seized of the matter, found that it was the Ministry of Civil Aviation that would not listen to protestations of the Air India and Indian Airlines and surrendered to their competitors what were essentially milch cows for them. Thus we had a situation where Indian planes would fly half empty to these destinations airlines like Emirates would rake in unconscionable plane-loads of air traffic from the Indian hinterland in the new environment of generous “bilaterals” under India’s curious version of “Open Skies”. Air India, thus, lost out to foreign airlines under the direction of the Ministry of Civil Aviation the traffic that legitimately was its own.

Everything that was done to bring the Airline down was done by the Ministry of Civil Aviation which in those turbulent days was being headed by Praful Patel who was a contribution to the United Proressive Alliance I government of Dr. Manmohan Singh of, ironically, Nationalist Congress Party, headed by that old predator Sharad Pawar. No “nationalist” with the slightest of feelings for the nation and its people could ever have shot down a high flying asset of the nation like Air India in the way Praful  Patel did.

R Jagannathan, Editor in-chief of the perceptive First Post wrote in a feature the technique adopted by Patel to kill Air India. Basic proposition was to load it with heavy loans that it could never raise its head again. An airline with a revenue of Rs. 7000 crore was asked in 2004 to take on debt of Rs. 50000 crore – the cost of the new aircraft the number of which was arbitrarily inflated from 28 to 68 without any revenue plan or route map for deployment of the additional aircraft.

Likewise, Jagannathan says Patel was a great promoter of merger of Air India and Indian Airlines by pitching up the synergetic operations of both. However, in the process he forgot that both the airlines were incurring losses and were in every other way were unequal. Their manpower was differently trained, the compensation mechanisms were different and so on. The ultimate result was neither could pull the other up from the morass each was sinking into. No wonder, both, together, have run up a huge resources crunch that, many experts feel, is impossible of mitigation.

In the midst of this unmanageable crunch again the Ministry (read Patel) decided to withdraw Air India from the profit making routes that largely sustained it. What one gets to feel is that it was the best example of crony capitalism; for example, the lucrative S-E Asian routes were surrendered to Kingfisher Airlines – an airline that Patel used to patronize while flying between Delhi and Mumbai. Vijay Mallya was apparently much more than a friend; in fact, a crony.

While bringing down the “Maharaja” Patel seems to have covered his tracks very well. In achieving what he achieved he moved his files at supersonic speed from one authority to another. Every establishment concerned was kept in the loop so that the murder of the airline could be presented as a “collective and consensual” effort.

Even the prime minister was kept aware of the moves. Any other right thinking PM would have sat up and taken note of the merry hell that was being played around by one of the reps of his coalition partners. But under his dictum of “coalition compulsion” he kept his eyes, ears and mouth tightly shut and allowed the loot to go on not only in the civil aviation sector but in many other sectors too. One is probably yet to see a man presiding over an Indian government oblivious of the rot that his cabinet colleagues were facilely inflicting on sector after sector of the economy.

He now has the temerity to say that Modi has ruined the economy. Huh!



Tags: airindia | sinks

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proloybagchi
Modi's elusive "achche din" (good times)
2019.05.06 13:29:00

As the 2019 elections approach the terminal phase, campaigning for candidates is acquiring fever pitch. While candidates are being nominated rallies have become the order of the day. Newspapers are full of reports of who said what against whom. The two major parties, Bharatiya Janta Party and the Indian National Congress, are generally at the throat of each other, one accusing the other of corruption. Apart from the abuses for the opposition, there are sops galore for the people, particularly those constituting the weaker segments of the Indian society. The promises, extravagant in nature, are being made and, it seems, were the Congress to come to power it would have precious little left for improvement of infrastructure and other sundry services.

 

Prime Minister Modi seems to have learnt a lesson from the 2014 General Elections when he made extravagant promises which he could not fulfill during the five years that he ran the government at the Centre. He was mauled by the Opposition on two of his promises – one was about bringing back the reported piles of black money and putting Rs. 15 lakh in each Indian’s pocket and the other was about ushering in “achche din” (good times) with the defeat of the “corrupt” Congress. Though Modi won the elections fulfillment of these two promises have remained elusive. He, therefore, seems to have been more circumspect this time and has refrained from making hard-to-fulfill promises.

 

Many of his supporters have criticised Modi for his failure to bring in “achche din”. Newspapers have been running reports and comments on his inability to usher in good times. The people’s expectations had been raised sky high by these profligate and lavish promises and when they saw that these were nowhere in sight they were thoroughly disappointed. Even a rightist commentator and generally a Modi supporter, Gurcharan Das, expressed his disappointment the other day at Modi government’s utter failure in bringing about “achche din”. Das pities that Modi’s was a golden opportunity to make the best of a chance that he got but seems to have squandered it by failing to capitalize on it. Das says some good work was done but the most basic thing – jobs – that were not being created are still nowhere in sight and hence the dividend offered by the favourable demography was lost.

 

The difficulty is that nobody ever defined “achche din”. Even BJP or Modi never ever clarified what would be their components. As it is, ours is an aspirational society. Even those who live in shanties have aspirations of living a better and dignified life. They were so much taken in by Modi’s promises that they started dreaming of a far better life, far removed from the daily grind of poverty and perpetual want. With all those dreams disappearing in thin air they have been disappointed and frustrated. Their frustrations will surely cost Modi some votes at the forthcoming elections.

 

The extravagant promises generated runaway expectations. Modi did not have a magic wand with the wave of which he could bring about all round happiness and prosperity immediately on being elected the prime minister. If I expected that I would become as rich as Mukesh Ambani, live in a 27 storied (effectively 60 storied) mansion with six floors for the collection of my cars on Modi winning the 2014 elections I would be nothing but an inveterate fool. An intelligent man would realize that ”achche din” takes a lot of effort and dedicated, honest work to materialize and five years is too short a time for any government to work through the rot and mess that was left behind by the previous government.

 

The ignorant and unsophisticated were not able to appreciate that the promise of bringing “achche din” was only a handy thick and heavy stick to beat the Congress with which, honestly speaking, it thoroughly deserved. It wasted ten years of the country and instead of progressing towards a better life and greater prosperity it made the country regress and brought it close to a precipice.

 

Elections are times when all kinds of promises are made. Sops for farmers and the poor continue to be showered, this time, even by the Congress. But then they need to be taken as so much of trash. It is what the political parties do after winning the elections that matters and not what they promise before they form the government. “Achchey din” was a ploy to win the 2014 elections and nothing more, just as “Garibi Hatao” (remove poverty) was a ruse used by Indira Gandhi to win the 1971 elections. Hence, those who are disappointed need not shed tears for no-show of “achche din”.



Tags: din | achche | modi

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proloybagchi
Coalition governments are no good at governance
2019.05.06 13:13:22

These are election times and hence perhaps it is opportune to recall what happened only less than a decade ago. The erstwhile Comptroller and Auditor General of India wrote a book “Not Just an Accountant – Diary of the Nation’s Conscience Keeper”. A revelatory book that was also described by the media as a “Brickbat Book”. The book describes how the political system was exploited to violate laws in 2G spectrum case, Krishna-Godavari gas basin contract, Commonwealth Games scam, Indian Coal Allocation Scam and the controversial purchase of aircraft for Air India putting the exchequer to a loss of several billion rupees.

 

All this is recent history and everyone knows that scams and controversies that accompanied the last government out of the Central Secretariat were the nemesis for the second-term Congress-led UPA Government led by Dr Manmohan Singh, a famed Economist. The voters were so overwhelmed by the unmitigated scams and loot of public money by politicians of various shades co-opted to run the coalition government that Narendra Modi, an alleged chaiwalla, romped home with a handsome majority.

 

In the bitter fight being fought between the two major parties for the forthcoming elections name-calling of the opposition candidate has been a common factor. While the Congress Chief calls Modi a “chor” (thief), the compliment is returned by Modi in equal measure. In almost every election rally Rahul Gandhi contrives to get to an occasion to brand Modi a thief. Likewise, Modi attacks the “family” – meaning thereby the Gandhi family and recalls all the alleged cases of corruption (and there are many of them) in which the Family was involved one way or the other.

 

While there is no apparent reason to treat the integrity of the prime minister as suspect, there is enough number of papers which have linked Gandhi Family in corruption cases and the consequential money trail leading to the Family. Rahul Gandhi himself was allegedly involved in a foreign exchange case when he was found to have had in unauthorised possession $160000 at Boston Airport. Reports say it was the intervention of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister that saved him, otherwise he could have gone behind the bars for an estimated 78 years. Then, of course, there are the Mitrokhin diaries that discuss the wheeling and dealing by the Family.

 

In this connection, it seems to be worthwhile to recall the interview of Vinod Rai, former Comptroller & Auditor General of India by Ritu Sarin of Indian Express wherein Rai was literally grilled. When told that the reasons for writing the book was to defend the attacks on CAG for being partisan and for delivering a blow to a  slowing  economy, Rai countered by saying he would have in that case written the book soon after retirement. He wrote the book to remove the misgivings from the minds of younger auditors who were getting demoralized by the way their reports were being treated.

 

When told that his attacks on Manmohan Singh were direct and that the Congress was calling it motivated he replied that as for the Prime Minister he said all the “information and papers” did reach his desk and in the 2G and Coal Mining case the ministers in-charge kept him informed then how could he say he wanted transparency?

 

Further Vinod Rai blamed the Prime Minister for taking a “distanced” view of subjects like spectrum distribution and coal allocation which are matters needing “deliberation”. Whether it was the matter of the conduct of Commonwealth Games or coal mines allocation “it was necessary for the leader to speak out”. He should have “guided the decision making process in a certain direction but he did not. He was completely overpowered by the compulsions of co-alition politics”.

 

While voting at elections people,therefore, need to be warned that coalitions do not perform for the welfare of the people. It has been consistently noticed that men with their parties operating in the fringes get into coalitions only to make money for themselves, their parties. It is a process of wealth creation for the parties and that is why they demand lucrative portfolios. One can recall that DMK of Tamilnadu specifically insisted on Telecom Ministry which is considered a lucrative part of the government that can be milked. I remember the minister A Raja once saying in his defence that he had a party to take care of – as if the political parties should be taken care of by siphoning off government funds for the purpose. Another instance is of Madhu Koda, former chief minister of Jharkhand who made millions out of the state’s mining operations while running a multi-party co-alition. He kept the mining portfolio even when he became the chief minister and made unconscionably excessive amount of money. No wonder the wheel of justice turned and he was later jailed. There are other instances also all of which cannot be mentioned due to constraints of space.

 

Hence, voting by people desirably needs to be for the parties considered to be established and those that have a history. The small parties with riff raffs should not be favoured with the valued votes of the people. If necessary, it should be either Congress or the BJP that should be voted for in order to obtain better results at governance when a government is formed post-elections.

 



Tags: coalitions | india

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proloybagchi
If only we had Rafale
2019.03.05 19:00:23

Somebody has filed a petition in a court in Mumbai asking the government the reason for making our pilots fly old and obsolete flying machines. Wing Commander Abhinandan was flying such a machine and was chasing a much modern aircraft in a dogfight high over the POK when he came under ground fire and was hit. He had to eject himself but, unfortunately for him, his parachute came down in enemy territory. He was lucky that he was not lynched like his Pakistani counterpart who, it seems, was so badly roughed up by the local people that he reportedly succumbed to the injuries he suffered, unfortunately for him, on the ground in his own country.

The petition in the court is apparently born out of frustration among the general public about government’s inability to provide a sense of security to the people. Defense procurements have always been controversial, steeped in corruption by the politicians and connected officials and sundry others, including middlemen. Political machinations also keep the governments busy in finding the truth to give convincing reply to those who oppose such deals. Procurement of fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF) has been a victim of political acrimony so much so that the situation regarding need for new fighter aircraft has been desperate for quite some years.

In the circumstances, the IAF has to use the vintage aircraft from its stable in times of need. Mig 21 is one such aircraft which Wing Commander Abhinandan was flying before he was brought down to earth. These aircraft are considered as second generation aircraft that appeared on the scene in 1950s and are being pitted against fourth generation fighters like F-16 that Pakistan operates. These aircraft are therefore generally referred to as “flying coffins” as they would seem to have no chance against a more sophisticated current generation aircraft. So far 177 pilots have been lost flying these obsolete aircraft. It is because of this reason that Wing Commander Abhinandan has created history by downing a F-16, the first ever F-16 that was downed by an aircraft as puny Mig-21(Bison).

Prime Minister Modi has recently asserted that with Rafale the results of the air attack on the Jaish e Mohammed jihadi training facility would have been different. Perhaps, it would have been so. Rafale is the most modern aircraft and India has been trying to acquire 126 of them for quite some time. It is a long story. Perhaps no case of procurement of defense equipment has taken so much time as this onr. The proposal was mooted more than 20 years ago during the time when Late Atal Behari Vajpayee was the prime minister. Then came UPA I when nothing much happened except some negotiations.

UPA I short-listed various bidders and only in 2012 during the reign of UPA II Rafale was declared as the L 1 bidder. The negotiations were stalled on technology transfer for manufacture of 108 aircraft at HAL. The Rafale manufacturer Dassault, however, was not prepared to offer quality assurance in respect of those that were to be manu- factured by HAL. Besides, HAL estimated it would require 3 crore man hours to manufacture the planes which Dassault said was three times more than its own estimate of man power requirements. This also, they said, would inflate the price of each plane. HAL was probably not wrong in estimating the huge requirement of man hours as it kept in view the Indian public sector work norms and work ethics.

The contention of the Congress president that the prime minister had taken away Rs. 30000 crore from HAL and put the amount in the pocket of Anil Ambani is, therefore, patently false. It is also false on another count: Dassult’s off-set partners are 70 in number including Anil Ambani and hence he will not be the only recipient of the goodies if and when they come. Giving away by Modi of Rs. 30000 crore to Anil Ambani is another fable woven by the Congress president

There is no denying the fact that defense procurements have always been controversial and a lot of people make mindboggling sums. It is never easy for the government to navigate through the maze of accusations and counter accusations and in the process it spends enormous sums to investigate the complaints through its investigating agencies like Central Bureau of Investigations and the Enforcement Directorate. The delays that take place frustrate the investigations and  retard the country’s preparedness to meet external threats. The delays also are reasons for hike in total financial commitment of the government for the acquisitions. But then that is the democratic process and there are no two ways about it.

Thankfully, the prime minister has felt that the things would have been different had the country had the Rafale aircraft with it. Hopefully, politicians across the board would realize the damage that their political posturing cause to the country – and its the common people who have to work with the outdated and obsolete equipment including such vital things as howitzers, flying machines and various kinds of warships.

While one can only wish good luck to the party that has gone to the courts, it is felt that nothing much can be achieved except some platitudinous advice to the government and politicians. Courts cannot expedite the process of procurement of defense equipment unless the political class changes its mindset and the opposition, instead of throwing spanners in the works, cooperates with the government to acquire new defense equipment without any let or hindrance.

What the system needs is honesty right across the spectrum of governance. But, that is, perhaps, impossible as in today’s world honesty among the politicians is a rare commodity

 



Tags: belakot | rafale

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shahsabg
Cpec bring investment
2018.12.13 23:12:25

Wasif Ali Wasif said about Pakistan Future (Pakistan noor hai, noor ko zawal nahi) Future of Pakistan would be bright, InSha Allah. We all should work with full devotion, motivation and honestly for the betterment of our dear home land .

The Importance of Infrastructure for Economic Growth, Jobs, and Access to Markets and Services in Solomon Islands. ... From air and marine transport links, to good roads, telecommunications and energy generation, all are needed for provision of reliable services, and to enable local businesses to grow and expand.

The Importance of Infrastructure for Economic Growth, Jobs, and Access to Markets and Services .Infrastructure refers to the fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, city, or other area,including the services and facilities necessary for its economy to function.. Infrastructure is composed of public and private physical improvements such as roads, bridges, tunnels, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, and telecommunications.

two general types of ways to view infrastructure, hard or soft. Hard infrastructure refers to the physical networks necessary for the functioning of a modern industry.

This includes roads, bridges, railways, etc. Soft infrastructure refers to all the institutions that maintain the economic, health, social, and cultural standards of a country.

includes educational programs, parks and recreational facilities, law enforcement agencies, and emergency services.CPEC is estimated to bring $62 billion in Chinese investments to Pakistan over the next 15 years for building transportation networks, special economic zones and power plants to help Islamabad improve its manufacturing capacity and overcome energy shortages.

Chinese investment has helped Pakistan upgrade and construct new highways and power plants that have effectively addressed electricity shortages in Pakistan. Its  created more than 70,000 jobs for locals.

CPEC is the outcome of Pak-China friendly relations. Pak Army shall ensure security of CPEC at all costs, on china vist army chief said that  BRI with CPEC as its flagship is destined to succeed despite all odds and the Pakistan Army shall ensure security of CPEC at all costs,

Pak-China Friendship is higher than the Himalayas. Both countries are bound in diplomatic, political social and economic relations spreading over decades which are constantly gaining strength with the passage of time.China Pakistan Economic Corridor has further strengthened this friendship.

Chinese and Pakistani investors will get an equal opportunity to invest in economic zones that will be established along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The CPEC will open doors to immense economic opportunities not only to Pakistan but will physically connect China to its markets in Asia, Europe and beyond. Almost 80% of the China’s oil is currently transported from Strait of Malacca to Shanghai, (distance is almost 16,000 km and takes 2-3 months), with Gwadar becoming operational, the distance would reduce to less than 5,000 km.

Gwadar will promote the economic development of Pakistan and become a gateway for Central Asian countries, including Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, linking Sri Lanka, Iran and Xinjiang to undertake marine transport. linking 3 billion people in Asia, Africa and Europe, part of a trans-Eurasian project

France prepared to invest in CPEC projects. Volkswagen and Siemens have shown their desire to invest in Pakistan,companies were interested to invest in diverse fields especially Information Technology and auto manufacturing.

UAE likely to make new investments in Pakistan.  United Arab Emirates based group will invest US$ 970 million to build a Medical City in Islamabad to help growing medical needs of the citizens.

Saudi Plans to Invest in CPEC Project With Pakistan.Riyadh will be looking into setting up of an oil refinery at Gwadar, invest in a copper and gold project in Balochistan’s Reko Diq and LNG-based power projects in Punjab.Shanghai Electric Power and evinced keen interest of SEP to in power sector of the country. Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing has said that Chinese government would continue its efforts to bring more investment in Pakistan.France is opening French language institutes in Peshawar, Faisalabad and Karachi.

Pakistan is on track. gaining the status of an “emerging market”.  attract foreign investment into Pakistan.inshahallah Pakistan into an Asian emerging market.

CPEC develop and expand Pakistan’s economic base, infrastructure, industry, agriculture, trade, information technology and tourism on modern trends to help transform the country into an ‘Asian Tiger’ soon.

Founder Pakistan Muhammad ali jannah said- There is no power on earth that can undo Pakistan .We are now all Pakistanis . not Baluchis, Pathans, Sindhis, Punjabis and so on, and as Pakistanis we must feet behave and act, and we should be proud to be known as Pakistanis and nothing else.mce_markermce_marker



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proloybagchi
Kashmir 50 years ago :: 2 :: Below the Peer Panjals
2018.11.19 16:30:41

In early October I had to go to Anantnag. None, except the stenographer, accompanied me. An inspector in-charge of the sub-division, one Ganjoo, came from Pulwama to assist me. After a three day-stay when it was time to get back to Srinagar Ganjoo asked me why not travel along the Peer Panjal and peep into Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian before  returning to Srinagar. I thought it was a good suggestion. I would not only be able to look at larger numbers of field offices, I would also be able to see these sizable towns. Shopian, of course, I had visited in 1957 when we had come over to the Valley along with the family. I still have a photograph that my late brother had taken with his then newly bought Agfa camera. He was a mere probationer then – and now he is dead and gone after serving 34 years in the government and another 20 odd years with an NGO run by Dr Karan Singh.

After informing my office about my new destinations Ganjoo and I started off in my car towards Kulgam. The place was around 20 kms from Anantnag (also named Islamabad by Kashmiri Muslims). We had, however, to cross the Jhelum and move closer to the Peer Panjals and then head north. The road was, as was usual in Kashmir those days, very picturesque, sometime plain and at others undulating, generally lush green. Evening fell as we got closer to Kulgam. Ganjoo had already made arrangements for our stay in a rest house which was not far from a stream which I gather is known as Vashaw beyond which were the foothills of Peer Panjal. In the gathering dusk these hills seemed to be intimidating and brooding over Kulgam.

Next morning after completing my official chores as I was having tea back in the rest house and contemplating about the return journey Ganjoo asked me whether I would like to take a shot at Aharbal Falls. I had heard of Aharbal Falls in 1957 but we could not make it convenient to visit it, Ganjoo said it was very close – across the River over which there was no bridge. I was reluctant to go as I did not want the car to wade through the water. But he convinced me saying the river had very little water and he offered to go to the midstream to direct me. Reluctantly I agreed. Ganjoo walked upto the midstream and showed me the water was as high as his uncle. I put the car on low gear and drove into the river. It wasn’t exactly a cake walk. The Heralds used to be low slung three box cars and hence lots of stones and pebbled hit its bottom. But I made it and then we drove on green grass close to where the fall was hitting the ground

It was a fantastic pastoral scene I was witness to as we crept as close as we cold to the fall. The mossy dark hills from top of which the water was gushing out in a cascade were spectacular in the evening sun. Somewhere in the distance there was a white capped snow-covered peak shining in the sunshine below turquoise blue sky and down below my red Herald with its beautiful sharp lines looked stunning on the grassy green ground with the white sheep grazing nonchalantly nearby. We pottered around for some time and rued the absence of a camera to capture the beautiful sights. The next best thing I could do was to internalize the whole scene so that the visuals remained etched In my memory. The Aharbal Fall was of impressive proportions – the water cascades down about 150 ft in torrent making a big splash on the ground the surroundings of which were as beautiful as nature could make them. A fantastic sight!

We returned to the rest house just as dusk was falling. I had no words to thank Ganjoo for initiating this remarkable outing. He had endeared himself to me and so I asked him to accompany me. He used to have his family at Srinagar and he agreed to take the trip back home with me.

Our next halt was Pulwama which was about 50 Kilometres away. The road was as everywhere in Kashmir picturesque. What was more, one drove literally under the shadows of Peer Panjal.  Kashmir was yet to develop and hence vehicular traffic was negligible. It was a pleasure to drive on generally good roads. As one didn’t have to bother about the traffic one could take in the natural beauty on two sides.

Pulwama town until then had only a municipal committee and the surroundings offered little by way of attraction for a visitor. As the town was small our outfit too was small. As I was looking through the documents a call came through from my boss Director P&T Jammu  & Kashmir. He wanted some Delicious apples which Pulwama was famous for. In fact, Pulwama was known for its apples and was also known as the rice bowl of the state.

Our people told us about the best Delicious grower and we headed towards him. This was my first ever visit to an apple orchard and it was fascinating. The sweet fragrance of apples permeated the orchard and the red apples hanging from branches in bunches looked beautiful. The grower accompanied us and took us to the tree which produces the best apples, and would you believe, he charged us just Rs. 20 for 5 Kgs of apples?

I understand that old apple trees have since been axed as their productivity declined with age. The district now is strongly into growing high-density apple trees as suggested by Italian collaborators who claim that the productivity would improve several times over. The beginnings have been promising. Perhaps, in a few years time the state will flood the entire country with apples grown by the high-density Italian method.

We covered the 20 kilometres to Shopian in less than an hour. It is at a higher elevation and hence colder than Pulwama or Kulgam. It is a historical town in as much as it was the entry point into Kashmir via what was known as the Mogul Road which Emperor Akbar is supposed to have taken to visit Kashmir. This road fell into disuse once the Banihal Cart Road gained in importance as the only access to the Valley. The Mogul Road is now being revived so that another route becomes available relatively free from landslides and other obstructions.

A night’s stop and we hit the road again, this time for Srinagar. I covered Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian, the three places which have currently become very turbulent. Militants – foreign or domestic – frequently attack the Police or the policemen. Kidnappings and snatchings of arms from the security establishments are a matter of daily occurrence. Instigated by the so-called Separatists, school-going children come out in large numbers to pelt rocks at the security forces. The atmosphere is vitiated and the area has been converted into killing fields. Killings of terrorists, security establishments or the common people continue unabated. One does not know when and where it will lead Kashmir to. For an outsider the killings look meaningless as nothing is going to be gained by bloodshed - certainly, not the heavenly peace and tranquility that I witnessed in these areas half a century ago.

 



Tags: kashmie50 | killingfields

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proloybagchi
Kashmir 50 years ago :: 1 :: Diwali at Prang
2018.11.18 19:20:33

Diwali was celebrated the other day with lavish purchases but muted celebratory fireworks. The subdued celebrations were due to the terrible atmospheric pollution that prevails in Delhi. The air there has become virtually un-breathable, visibility reduced to a few hundred metres with the sun making a disappearing act.

My mind, more agile than my body, swiftly travelled down the broad memory lane, latching on promptly to this thread of Diwali and traversed half a century to 1968 when I was posted in Srinagar. It was a pleasant Diwali morning and surprisingly very cold. It was I think 20th October but it was very cold rather prematurely. It was a holiday and I had no worries of dressing formally for office. It was going to be my first winter in Kashmir anyway. Like a good child I donned my woollen socks and a woollen pullover and, after breakfast, went straight under the quilts. The glazed windows of my bed room on two sides were tightly shut yet the cold breeze seemed to penetrate them without any let or hindrance. Lying on the bed I could see the canopies of the trees in the yard swaying in a rather strong breeze. I was looking out at them through the glazed windows as random thoughts flitted through my mind.

I was lost in my thoughts so completely that sounds of steps on the wooden staircase outside the tightly shut door shook me and out of my reverie. The door opened and in walked Hindal Tyyabji (IAS 1965), a very good friend who was with the J&K Government. He was four batches junior to me. He wanted me to get up and get dressed as he wanted to picnic with some of our common friends at Prang a few miles away. I pleaded with him that it was too cold and, besides I was short of cash. He would have none of it and said whatever cash I had could be used for buying gas for my vehicle - a 1962 Standard Herald. Knowing that he had legged it all the way from his house in Jawahar Nagar about 3 or 4 miles away I didn’t have the heart to say a stern “no” to him.

Hindal used to be a great organizer. He had everything mapped up in his mind and shot off to buy provisions. In those days Srinagar was different and far more tolerant than it is today. Everything used to be available then without any reservation – from pork sausages to other non-vegetarian tinned stuff and liquor. Hindal went and bought a handful of things and by the time he came back two other friends, Udipto Ghosh, again of the J&K Government, an IAS probationer (now unfortunately no more) and Jyoti Mathur, Dy. Accountant General with the Accountant General of J&K, had also turned up. Apparently it was a well conceived plan and Hindal seemed to have planned the entire outing in his mind and had informed them before he came to me.

I suppose, by !! AM we were on our way to Prang which was around 30 Kms. away in the district of Ganderbal. Being a holiday, there was not much of traffic. We made it well under an hour. Hindal had already decided on the place where we would halt by the side of the River Sindh. We stopped next to a grassy plot and Hindal quickly moved towards the boot, took the beer bottles out and went across the road to the river bank to submerge them in the deliciously cold water taking care that they did not literally go down the river with its flow. Others got busy in making arrangements for all of us to relax.

Fifty years ago Kashmir used to be virtually a paradise and the landscape, whichever direction one happened to look, used to be captivating. Population was low and vehicular traffic used to be scarce, more so, on the highways. A stray omnibus or two, seemingly losing their way, would occasionally appear on the scene messing up the view. Every turn on the road would offer a new vista, more beautiful than the one that just went by. Greenery and, flowing streams by the sides of the roads shrouded under the canopy of weeping willows took the breath away.

I remember when once I was going to Anantnag I came across, after Pampore, an astonishing scene. The fields were yellow with the mustard crop, above them were the green trees at an elevation and still further up were the blue hills capped by the snow-clad white mountains. That was not all; all these were stacked up one over the other as if arranged mindfully, as if knowing that the firmament above was azure blue. It was such a dramatic and amazing sight that I stopped my vehicle and parked it on the roadside to take in the incredible view. I think I remember the scene so well even after half a century because I stopped and took it all in to carry it with me for the years that have gone by and perhaps I will carry it during the years that are yet to come.

Kashmir was different then on another count. There was no militancy although 1968 was only three years after the 1965 Pakistan choreographed war. There were, however, some elements who were against the presence of Indians and the Indian Army. Their opposition was mostly manifested by writings on the walls. There was no violence. I recall having once walked back past a winter midnight from Mathur’s house in Jawahar Nagar without any mishap. Only some stray dogs kept barking at me.

Prang was supposed to be a remarkably beautiful place on the way to Sonmarg. It was said that it was a nature-lovers’ delight. I have always held that hills with water bodies, together, make nature exceedingly beautiful. Only we, humans, should know how to maintain them in their pristine state. The place Hindal had chosen offered a delightful view of the river and the fields beyond with the mountains seemingly brooding over them. One couldn’t really take one’s eyes off the sight as it was so enchanting and fascinating. In those unmatched surroundings we gossiped, snacked on what Hindal had bought over bottles of ice-cold beer, thanks to the River Sindh,

After lounging around for a few hours we made our way back to Srinagar. It was a day well spent, out in the lap of nature at a place where nature could be ravishingly beautiful. Thanks to Hindal, it was a terrific Diwali – and that too in Kashmir.

 



Tags: kashmir50 | diwali

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proloybagchi
Trending : Defiance of Apex Court verdicts
2018.11.03 16:07:26

What is currently being witnessed is total defiance of the decisions/orders given by the Supreme Court. While the Apex Court takes its own time to examine a matter threadbare to arrive at the bottom of the problem to look for a solution and then gives its well considered decision it is the political class that tries its best to nullify it. They do not try to do so by taking the legal route available to them.

Tags: court | apex | defying

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proloybagchi
Trees are not dispensable
2018.07.25 13:28:02

When things reach an edge Delhi’s civil society comes together to rally and protest for public causes. In 2011 the rampant corruption in the Manmohan Singh government threw up a Gandhian Anna Hazare who was agitating in Maharashtra for years against local corruption and then came to Delhi with support of various civil society leaders.

Tags: trees | felling

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proloybagchi
Need to abandon Hate
2018.04.26 16:00:32

The ongoing debate that is raging basically on the progressive extinction of the, “Idea of India” in the Indian Express’s the “Ideas Page” is fascinating. The debate in the newspaper was provoked by Harsh Mander to which a rather aggressive response came from Ram Chandra Guha, the noted historian and columnist. The field then somehow widened up and numerous, according to Guha’s count around 14, independent thinkers ventilated their own thoughts.

Tags: harmony | needs | society | indian

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proloybagchi
Parliamentary Disrptions - Time for Hammer to Fall
2018.04.02 15:41:05

The serial disruption of the Indian Parliament has caused anger and anguish all over. While some people have been condemning the Congress for its thoughtless blocking of all business in the Upper House others have been blaming even the BJP – the ruling combine- of doing the same when the UPA was at the helm. If one comes to think of it, the politicians of all shades are the same. They only have craving for power and, if they cannot corner it, they would not allow those in power to govern. BJP, quite seemingly, is getting paid back in its own coin.

Tags: disruption | parliamentary | indian

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proloybagchi
Denim catches India's fancy
2018.01.20 18:33:30

Denims today have become items of universal wear in India. These seem to have become favourites of every one – whether a billionaire or a lowly workman, urban socialite or a rustic plebian. The differences, if any, will be only in the quality of the cloth or its design and stitching - the basic material however remaining the same, the fabric.

Tags: denim | india

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proloybagchi
India's scourge -malnutrition
2018.01.20 18:26:21

“Save The Children”, an NGO is seeking donations for helping out the mal-nourished children in India. By ‘malnourished” it obviously means severely under-nourished children. It claims it has been saving children’s lives since 2008 and that last year it provided medical care and nutritional support to 1.46 lakh children.

Tags: malnutrition | india

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proloybagchi
The neighbourhood bully
2017.08.28 19:14:45

How naïve Nehru was! Soon after independence he asserted India needn’t have an army. He proclaimed there was no use for an army in India as the country had no enemies. This he stated even as the state and non-state actors from across the newly drawn borders were attacking in the North in strength to grab Kashmir.

Tags: face-off | doklam

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proloybagchi
Never knew tiger was so valuable
2017.07.30 15:41:14

People like us who are uninitiated and unversed in matters relating eco-system services rendered by tiger reserves could not have imagined that a detailed study as conducted by an Indo-Australian team would throw up such astounding results in regard to the benefits that accrue by saving tigers in their natural habitat. The Indo-Australian study team was headed by the distinguished professor Dr. Madhu Verma who is in the faculty of the renowned Indian Institute of Forest Management located in Bhopal. Perhaps the babus who work the environment or wildlife wings of various governments too would have been unaware of the facts that have come to light now as a result of the study.

Tags: value | tiger

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Joy
Zionism: timeline
2017.07.10 08:33:49

The Six-Point Star: A timeline of the creation, relationship, and co-dependency between the state of Israel and the movement of Zionism.

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proloybagchi
Of Indian cars and their market
2017.07.07 19:19:25

For some time I had been thinking of changing my vehicle which I had had for more than seven years.  It was an Estillo from the Maruti Suzuki stable and had rendered me decent service. We do not dare to travel out of Bhopal on account of the reported road conditions. It, therefore, ran all through within the confines of the city. It was good and economical but was small – only of 3 cylinders and was of under 1000 cc. We wanted a slightly bigger vehicle wherein we could sit with greater comfort on the rear seats, now that both of us seldom drive.

Tags: cars | indian

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proloybagchi
Of Indian cars and their market
2017.07.07 19:19:23

For some time I had been thinking of changing my vehicle which I had had for more than seven years.  It was an Estillo from the Maruti Suzuki stable and had rendered me decent service. We do not dare to travel out of Bhopal on account of the reported road conditions. It, therefore, ran all through within the confines of the city. It was good and economical but was small – only of 3 cylinders and was of under 1000 cc. We wanted a slightly bigger vehicle wherein we could sit with greater comfort on the rear seats, now that both of us seldom drive.

Tags: cars | indian

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proloybagchi
India decides to privatise Air India
2017.07.01 14:41:29

Happy tidings have arrived from Delhi indicating the decision of the Central Cabinet to privatise Air India. A very bold decision for a vital economic reform that, perhaps, only this government could take blocking the drain that it had become on government finances.

Tags: privatisation | india | air

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proloybagchi
Of transgender and their plight
2017.05.10 18:48:51

One has to give it to the local mayor for taking a very courageous step. He announced recently that he had decided to use the services of the transgender community for recovery of property tax from defaulters. For want of any more details, it is hoped the Mayor of Bhopal has seriously thought about the matter and bring about a change in the lives of the transgender community and people’s perception about them.

Tags: plight | transgender

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