Ahead of the crucial Legislative Council elections, the PDP-BJP coalition received a setback today as the Independent MLA from the Zanskar Assembly constituency, Sayed Baqir Razvi, today refused to back the PDP-BJP candidates. Razvi’s decision has spoiled the PDP-BJP combine’s arithmetic because he was earlier a part of the coalition.
“The PDP-BJP coalition has betrayed us on a number of occasions so there is no logic to support the government’s candidates in the Legislative Council elections,” Razvi told Kashmir Post. However, he said the decision to support the opposition candidate would be taken only after consultations with his supporters. “It is too early to say that whether I will participate in the elections or not. Let the Opposition come forward with its proposal,” he said.
Lambasting the coalition for not fulfilling its promises, Razvi said, “I had voted for the coalition candidates during the 2015 Rajya Sabha elections as the PDP and the BJP had promised to give representation to Zanskar in the Council of Ministers but it is yet to be fulfilled,” he said.
The committee for development of the Zanskar Assembly constituency, headed by Razvi, had given an ultimatum to the coalition to induct him into the Cabinet to get support for the elections on or before April 11. After the expiry of the deadline, the Zanskar MLA announced to sever ties with the PDP-BJP coalition this evening.
As reported earlier three candidates are in the fray for two Legislative Council seats. They are Abdul Qayoom Dar of the PDP, Vikram Randhawa of the BJP and Thakur Balbir Singh of the Congress. The polling will be held on April 17.
As per the composition of the Assembly, the PDP candidate is likely to sail smoothly but the fight will be between Randhawa and Balbir Singh for the second seat.
The PDP-BJP coalition had 58 votes for the two seats but after Razvi’s announcement it has lost one vote. The NC-Congress alliance has 27 votes for a single candidate. Four MLAs, namely MY Tarigami of the CPM, Hakim Yaseen of the PDF, Engineer Rashid (Independent) and Pawan Gupta, former BJP member, hold the key in the election. Now, Razvi too has joined this group.
Snowfall triggers multiple avalanches burying Army Post in Batalik Sector, 2 soldiers out of 5 rescued; rescue ops for 3 in progress
At least five soldiers got trapped on Thursday after multiple avalanches triggered by heavy snowfall hit an army post in Batalik Sector in Jammu and Kashmir.
According to media report, two out of the five soldiers have been evacuated while rescue operation to bring out remaining three is in progress.
The official Twitter handler confirmed the report and tweeted, “Unprecedented snowfall triggers multiple avalanches; a Post in Batalik Sector buried, 2 soldiers out of 5 rescued.
“Rescue operation for balance three soldiers in progress. Specially trained & equipped Avalanche Rescue Teams employed.
This year, in January, at least 15 soldiers were killed after two avalanches hit a military post and a patrol along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. Between 2014 and 2016, 58 soldiers died in natural calamities.
Bidders have shown reluctance to execute the ambitious South East Asia’s longest Zojila tunnel project, connecting Kashmir with the strategic Ladakh region, owing to “uncertainty” in the Valley and “very hostile weather conditions”.
This is in spite of change in the mode of execution from the Design-Build-Finance-Operate-Transfer (DBFOT) (Annuity) basis to Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) basis. Under the new EPC model, the government is fully funding the project.
“Uncertainty hangs over the execution of the project as bidders have shown strong reluctance to the project due to large-scale tension in the Kashmir valley and very hostile weather conditions. No local and foreign bidder is ready to make a huge investment in a scenario which has always been marred by uncertainty and turbulence,” a senior officer of the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL) said.
The Union Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways (MORTH) has entrusted the NHIDCL, its fully owned company, with the task of undertaking and completing the tendering process of the Zojila tunnel project.
The NHIDCL officer said, “Now, the government has changed the mode of work to EPC under which it (government) will fully fund the project but we are still waiting for a response from bidders. This is for the fifth times that tenders have been floated. We don’t know what will be the fate of the project.”
Under the EPC mode, the NHIDCL invited fresh international-level “Request of Proposal” (NIT) on January 9 and decided to award Letter of Award (LOA) to the final bidder on March 3. However, the corporation has extended the date of tender till May 1 due to poor response from road developers.
Under the DBFOT (Annuity) model, the 14.08-km-long tunnel was to be constructed in seven years with an estimated cost of Rs 10,050 crore. The project has also been included in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Rs 80,000 crore development package for Jammu and Kashmir, which was announced on November 7, 2015.
“The estimated cost of project is Rs 5,950 crore under the new EPC model and 84 months deadline has been fixed for the completion of the project from the date of its commencement. The assessment of actual costs, however, will have to be made by the bidder, who will also be responsible for maintenance and operation of the project for a period of 10 years from the date of completion of the project,” the officer said, adding, “There are hostile climatic issues attached with the project as Zojila is the most devastating stretch on the Srinagar-Leh axis.”
“The stretch between Gagangir and Sonamarg on the proposed tunnel has 24 avalanche sites, while there are 52 similar sites on the Sonamarg-Manimarg stretch, which records heavy to heavy snowfall. It will not be easy for any executing agency to execute work on the project,” the officer said.
The MORTH has envisaged the construction of a two-lane bi-directional Zojila tunnel with a parallel escape (egress) tunnel, including approaches, on the Srinagar-Leh section on the EPC mode. The project assumes strategic importance for the defence forces as Ladakh shares its vast borders with China and Pakistan.
It also holds the socio-economical importance for the region as two vital national highways — 434-km-long Srinagar-Kargil-Leh and 474-km-long Manali-Leh — remain closed for six months due to accumulation of snow in harsh winters.
The Srinagar-Kargil-Leh road traverses through two major mountain ranges. It first crosses through the great Himalayas at Zojila and then the Zanskar mountain range at Fatula to enter Ladakh. Apart from its tough geography and topography, the mighty Zojila pass witnesses a maximum standing snow of around 5-6 metres every year and the temperature sometimes plummets to -28°C to -25°C.
The proposed tunnel will pass through the Zojila Pass, which serves as the gateway to the Ladakh region. The pass, located at an altitude of about 12,000 ft (3,530 metres), is the fourth highest pass in the country. Out of 30 km from the tourist resort of Sonamarg in Kashmir to Gumri near the Zojila pass, the 10-km stretch is tough because of steep ravine and vertical mountains, prone to avalanches.
Civil Aviation Ministry non-committal about subsidised air tickets
With Ladakh bracing up to host domestic and foreign tourists, the exorbitant air travel to the arid region continues to be a cause for worry for all stakeholders as the Civil Aviation Ministry is yet to make a formal commitment on “rationalisation of airfares” for Ladakh during peak tourist season from May to September.
Their only hope about some relief lies in the expected increase in the frequency of flights to Ladakh in summer. Besides Vistara, a domestic airline, has also decided to start its operation for Ladakh this month.
According to sources, the number of daily flights to Leh from other parts of the country would go up to 14 during the summer season this year against the seven-nine flights a day during the corresponding period last year.
Pertinently, the Leh Council had in December, 2015, raised the issue of high airfares and less frequency of flights to Ladakh with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Civil Aviation Ministry. At that time, the council was assured that more airlines would provide services to Ladakh from 2016 while the ticket rates would also be slashed and subsidised.
Nawang Rigzin Jora, Leh MLA and Congress Legislature Party leader, said, “No action has been taken so far. This is gross injustice with the people of Ladakh. The high airfares have not only been affecting the tourism sector but the students also. The state government has miserably failed to vigorously take up the issue with the quarters concerned in New Delhi.”
The senior leader said, “The airlines charge at their sweet will because there is no regulatory authority for the airfares. The need of the hour is to form a regulatory authority on the pattern of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and Central Electricity Authority of India to end the monopoly of the airlines.”
If one analyses the rates of different airlines operating in Ladakh, single journey (one-way) travel to Leh in June will cost anything between Rs 9,000 to Rs 17,000 per passenger on advanced booking. These rates may further go up for instant bookings.
PT Kunzang, president of All Tourists’ Trade Alliance, Leh, said they had been pressing hard for subsidised air travel to Ladakh to provide some succour to the locals.
“The Civil Aviation Ministry has taken no action so far. Students and patients face hardships during peak tourist season because it becomes quite unaffordable for them to travel at such high rates. The only solution is to evolve civil aviation policy on the pattern of North-East region for Ladakh,” Kunzang said.
Sonam Dawa Lonpo, Chief Executive Councillor, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh, said they had taken up the matter with the Central government and it was decided that a policy would be framed wherein the airfares would be assessed on the total time taken for the travel.
“It could not happen because of some technicalities. We will again take up the matter with the Central leaderships to provide relief to the people. However, the increase in number of flights per day will definitely bring some comfort to the tourists and locals,” Dawa said.
Thupstan Chhewang, Member of Parliament, Ladakh, said they had taken up the matter with the Civil Aviation Ministry resulting in increase in daily flights. “This increase will bring down the rates of air tickets. Yet efforts are being made to provide more relief to students and senior citizens.”
Currently, at least seven-eight flights operate on the Leh-Delhi sector or Leh and other sectors on a daily basis against the requirement of at least 15 flights to cater to the heavy inflow of tourists and visitors in summer.
Leh in frontier Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir was the coldest place in the state with the night temperature plummeting to minus 9.5 degrees Celsius.
The cold has set in Kashmir as the minimum temperatures have dipped below the freezing point in most places in the Valley along with Ladakh region, MeT office said here today.
It said Kargil town, also in Ladakh region, recorded the minimum temperature of minus 5.4 degrees Celsius.
Srinagar, the summer capital of the state, registered the coldest night of the season so far at minus 1.9 degrees Celsius – three degrees below the normal for the season.
There has been a continuous drop in the night temperature in the city in the last few days. The drop in the night temperature is attributed to the continued dry spell in the Valley.
There was very scant rainfall over the past two months as a result of which the days remain warmer while the night temperature continued to be on a decline.
The MeT has forecast mainly dry weather for the next 24 hours and the night temperatures are expected to fall further.
The officials said the hill resort of Pahalgam in south Kashmir recorded a minimum of minus 3.4 degrees Celsius yesterday, making it the coldest place in the Valley.
The famous ski-resort of Gulmarg in north Kashmir registered the low of minus 0.6 degrees Celsius. Kupwara, in north Kashmir, recorded minus 1.7 degrees Celsius, while Qazigund in south registered minus 1.8 degrees Celsius.
Kokernag, in south Kashmir, was the only recorded place in the Valley where the minimum temperature remained above the freezing point at 1.2 degrees Celsius, the officials said.
Thousands of people attending the fourth day ceremonies after Ashura in Sankoo near Kargil turned into protest against the recent killings of Muslims in different parts of the world including Kashmir valley.
Anjuman-e-Sahib Zaman spokesperson Agha Ahmad Rizvi in a statement appealed for meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir to restore peace and normalcy. “Today worst atrocities are being perpetrated in Kashmir including on women and children and Kashmir has been converted into big jail and we strongly condemn it,” the statement said.
The procession organised by Anjuman-e-Sahib Zaman Sankoo passed through the main bazar denouncing the recent killings in Kashmir.
Mourners were also carrying placards with slogans expressing solidarity with the people of Kashmir.
The procession started from Zainabia thang Imambargah and marching through main bazar Sankoo culminated at Musalah e Mehdia.
Day after Leh’s united face over issue, Kargil district opposes demand
The long-standing demand for union territory (UT) status to Ladakh today divided the region on religious lines with the Muslim-majority Kargil area telling the Centre that it was against the division of Ladakh and its separation from the state.
The move came a day after the demand of a joint delegation of all political parties, religious organisations and civil society groups in Leh to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday.
The Ladakh region comprises Leh and Kargil districts. Leh is predominately inhabited by the Buddhist community while Kargil is dominated by Shia Muslims.
On the concluding day of his visit to Ladakh, the Union Home Minister reached Kargil around 11:45 am and straightway went to the Kargil War Memorial in Drass, where he laid a wreath in memory of martyrs.
He met over 150 persons in 21 delegations representing political parties, religious organisations and civil society groups in Kargil.
“He heard them and accepted memoranda from them. He assured them that the government would look into their demands on merit,” an official spokesperson said. Rajnath Singh left for New Delhi in the evening.
Congress MLA from Kargil Asgar Ali Karbalai said, “Zanskar MLA Aga Syed Baqir Rizvi and I have told him that we are against division of Ladakh on religious lines. We oppose the demand for UT status made in Leh. Ladakh does not mean only Leh district.”
He regretted that Leh had been demanding UT status on religious lines, which was not acceptable to Kargil.
“We want a united and integrated J&K. We have suffered heavily and cannot afford it anymore. Over 5,000 families are still separated on both the sides of the Line of Control in Ladakh and Gilgit-Baltistan regions,” Karbalai said.
Rizvi said they raised the issue of “discrimination” against the people of Kargil on the development front.
“We are not in favour of division of the state on religious lines. We informed the Home Minister about discrimination against Kargil in development. The Centre should pay special attention for the development of Kargil and Zanskar,” he said.
Sources said two religious bodies in Kargil — Islamia School and Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust — opposed the demand for UT status to Ladakh as well.
The government has ordered relaxation in the protected area permit regime for allowing foreigners to visit the hitherto restricted areas in Leh district. A formal notification in this connection has been issued by the Home Department.
According to a spokesman of the Home Department, foreign tourists will now be permitted to visit a number of unexplored areas like Panamik, Phukpochey, Hargam, Taksha, Sasoma, Chaglung, Kobet, Aranu, Khemi, Warshi, Yarma Gompa and Yarma Gonbo monastery in Leh.
These areas were thrown open to local tourists last year. Situated at an average altitude of 10,000 feet, the Nubra valley is well-known for its breathtaking beauty, gushing rivers, Buddhist monasteries and pashmina goat rearing.
The spokesman said after taking note of positive dividends from the initiative and to further augment the opportunities of employment and income generation for the local youth, the state government had decided to open the area to foreign tourists as well.
“With this decision, a long-pending demand of people of the Nubra valley and Ladakh has been met, which in effect is expected to give a considerable boost to the local economy,” he said. A statement said the decision was in continuation of its policy to enhance footfalls in Ladakh.
Amid escalating Indo-Pak tension after the Army’s surgical strikes on terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), Ladakh, which shares vast boundaries with China and Pakistan, has been put on a high alert, following apprehension of “possible aggression” from the other side of the border.
While the administration has sounded the alert for all habitations along the Line of Control (LoC), it has kept the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), an unmarked boundary between China and India, on a “close watch.”
The Ladakh region has 225-km LoC, 955-km LAC that includes some portion of international border and 122-km Actual Ground Position Line with China which has friendly relations with Pakistan.
“We have sounded a high alert for all villages along the LoC in Leh district. Though the number of such inhabitations (along the LoC in Leh district) is small, we have maintained a close vigil on developing situation. For any kind of cross-border hostility or firing, we have kept our contingency plan ready but it has not been activated so far. We don’t want to create an unnecessary panic among the people. This is the only reason that no evacuation so far has been ordered in the district,” said Prasanna Ramaswamy G, Deputy Commissioner, Leh.
Ramaswamy said the situation was, however, peaceful along the LAC and there was no report of any unusual activity from the other side. “We have directed all senior district officers to remain alert and keep a tight vigil on any kind of unusual border activity,” he added.
Similarly, the border villages, close to the LoC, in Kargil district, have also been put on the high alert with the administration chalking out a strategy to shift the people to safer places in case of any border skirmish.
“A high alert has been sounded in Kargil. The sarpanches and numberdars have been asked to remain in constant contact with the administration and inform it immediately if they find anything unusual along the LoC. The administration has devised a comprehensive strategy to deal with any emergent situation,” a senior officer told Kashmir Post over phone from Kargil.
Even as ceasefire violation was reported only in the Akhnoor sector of Jammu district, the whole border belt of Samba and Kathua district wore a deserted look as the authorities have persuaded border inhabitants to move to safer places to avoid any human loss.
The authorities have reasons to advise people living within 5-km radius of the border to shift to safer places, because Pakistan, on the other side, has already vacated all its villages situated near the international border (IB).
Samkal is a Pakistan village, situated just opposite Londi village on the order side of the IB. “Every Friday we used to observe hectic activities in the local mosque of Samkal village. Aazan from the mosque was earlier audible here, but today there is no activity, which substantiates that the Pakistani authorities have vacated all the villages situated on the IB,” said Puran Chand, sarpanch of the local panchayat comprising four border villages. The sarpanch said Amar Chak and Sukh Chak villages across the IB were already got vacated by the Pakistani authorities.
Through naked eyes one can easily see Samkal village of Pakistan from Londi village, but there is no activity on other side of the border which is an indication that Pakistani authorities have already vacated their areas.
After the Army conducted surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) on the intervening night of Wednesday and Thursday, the authorities had asked border residents to move to safer places following tension. “Whole population of the border belt has shifted to safer places on Thursday evening but this morning youth returned to their native place to feed cattle and to look after crops,” Ravinder Sharma, a resident of Manyari village of Hiranagar, told Kashmir Post, adding, “children and aged persons have already been shifted to safer places”.
Putting their lives at stake, border youth seem to be not ready to leave their homes and hearths at this point of time. “Agriculture is the only source of livelihood for us. Harvesting season is approach, so we have no other option but to stay here to look after our crops and feed our cattle,” Suram Singh of Londi village said, adding, “if we shifted to safer places, our crops will be destroyed”.
The authorities on the other hand have persuading people to move to safer places for the time being. “As a precaution we have asked people to shift to the nearby safer places. We know that the harvesting season is going to start but our priority is to save human lives,” Deputy Commissioner, Samba, Sheetal Nanda said. She said due to their persuasion border residents had moved to the houses of their relatives.
Deputy Commissioner, Kathua, Ramesh Kumar said 10 camps had already been established to accommodate border residents. “We have already deputed naib tehsildars and other officers to convince the border residents not to live in their houses during night,” he said.
Meanwhile, violating the ceasefire, Pakistani troops opened small arm fire along the LoC in Akhnoor district. This is the fifth ceasefire violation in September and the third in the past 36 hours.
Deputy Commissioner, Jammu, Simrandeep Singh posted on the social media that there was small arm firing (from Pakistan on forward posts) along the LoC in the Pallanwala, Chapriyal and Samnam areas of Jammu district during the night. He said the firing started at 0030 hours and ended at 0130 hours. There was no loss of life or injury to anyone in the firing, he said.
On Thursday, Pakistani troops had resorted to firing in the Balnoie area of the Mendhar sector, but there was no casualty. On September 28, the Pakistan army had violated the ceasefire by opening fire on the Indian Army posts along the LoC in the Sabzian area of the Poonch sector.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has discovered a 10,500-year-old (8,500 BC) camping site at a height of 14,000 feet en route the Karakoram Pass in Ladakh. There is an evidence of human activity at the camping site for about 800 years.
The site is in the Nubra valley on the way to Saser La which leads to the Karakoram Pass.
While exploring the Nubra valley in 2015-16, Dr SB Ota, Joint DG, ASI, observed both sides of the hill and valley as the serpentine road gradually climbed along the Saser stream. After a distance of around 22 km, there was a section which had been exposed due to road construction.
It was a small flat area with snow-covered peaks on one extreme, dry barren land with loose rocks all around and gushing stream within the deep western gorges, an ideal place for camping in a picturesque setting. A charcoal sample from the site was sent to a lab in Florida, US, for radiocarbon date determination. The site was dated 8,500 BC — the very first for the region.
A team of ASI officials and outside experts inspected the site in July, 2016, and collected more charcoal samples and bones. Preliminary studies of charred bones carried out by Prof PP Joglekar of Deccan Collage, Pune, have shown the presence of gorals and yaks.
The research so far has proved the antiquity and nature of human activities to an extent, but their camping patterns, extent of camping area, tools and other cultural aspects are yet to be traced. The ASI is now planning further archaeological excavations and explorations of the site.