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Friday, June 27, 2008

Role of Voluntary Organizations in Reconstruction of Kashmir

The concept of voluntary organization or NGOs’ in Kashmir is recent. Kashmiri society never felt the need to organize such help-groups on a larger scale. The helping nature of the people was inbuilt in the system in the form of Halshari and Zakat that is used for the greater social good. Kashmir has been traditionally a plural & very close-knit religious society. As a result, the need for NGOs’ in the social sphere was not felt necessary. For example, an orphan in the pre-1989 period would immediately be adopted by one of his relatives or neighbors in accordance with their religious and social practices; hence the need for orphanages was not felt. This phenomenon was so wide-spread that every family in Kashmir could be called an NGO’, since it has always played this role. Thus, very few social welfare or voluntary organizations existed in Kashmir earlier. The period after 1989 marked a watershed for NGOs’ in Kashmir and their need was deeply felt for the first time. With violence increasing, the number of casualties and victims of violence rose. One of the worst affected groups was children, who were rendered homeless, often as orphans. The spurt in the growth of NGOs’ has been spread over different domains.

The main fields in which they are active in Kashmir are, orphanages, self-help groups, dialogue groups, medical care, rural development and employment generation-oriented groups, widow care, coalitions of NGOs’, ecological and environmental groups, and awareness groups. Among the active NGOs’ working in Kashmir, orphanages are the most prominent in terms of their work, reputation and goodwill. Environmental groups have also been active in Kashmir in recent years, especially with the serious ecological problems that the world famous Dal Lake in Srinagar is facing. The need for medical care NGOs’ has also come to the fore in the violence-ridden State. Government and social welfare agencies like the Women’s Development Corporation or the State Social Welfare Board also contributed by providing training in arts and crafts for women.

NGO’ culture has however not permeated the Kashmiri society yet. The movement to revive civil society was never mass-based. It has simply involved and attracted individuals. Then there is the concern that the work of a few functional NGOs’ falls much below expectations, though there are exceptions to the rule. It is well-known that the concept of civil society and the role and importance accorded to NGOs is still in its infant stage, not only in India, but in the whole of South Asia.

By any account, there are hundreds of NGOs registered in Srinagar under the Societies Registration Act, ranging from religious to human rights and community-based organizations, all serving a specific purpose. There are several voluntary and charity organizations that are not registered as NGOs, but are doing the same kind of work and genuinely addressing the needs of the people. Thus, any comprehensive list of NGOs’ working in Kashmir should include such organizations.

While NGOs, as the concept exists now, are by definition independent and distinct from governmental organizations, it is widely believed that they cannot be very effective without the help and co-operation of their counterparts. With increasing popular demand for better quality and delivery of public services, governments everywhere are responding by taking steps to involve the civil society. They recognize that the voluntary sector enjoys certain functional advantages, being community based, more accountable and capable of providing services at a lesser cost. More significantly, voluntary organizations have the flexibility to develop innovative projects based on local needs and resources in contrast to the standardization that normally characterizes governmental actions.

After the 8th October 2005 earthquake, national and international NGOs’ are working in our state for reconstruction of Kashmir. We however have to understand that we should not depend entirely on outsiders to come and help us, we have to take local initiatives with commitment, combined with the organizational and institutional guidance of national and international organizations to show us the way ahead. United Nations Dev Programme (UNDP) extended support to state government of Jammu and Kashmir by deploying staff under the Disaster Risk Management programme to provide technical support to state government in information management of relief and reconstruction activities; reducing vulnerabilities of earthquakes and other hazards, and accelerating implementation of the Earthquake reduction programme in Srinagar. Resource persons are engaged to develop state level capacities for earthquake vulnerability reduction and technical requirements for reconstruction. In consultation with the state Government departments, earthquake resistant designs for the reconstruction of houses using local materials such as stones and wood has been designed; which has helped the state government to develop strategies for reconstruction programmes; and local engineers have been trained on seismic safe construction practices.

UNDP has not been working as the project leader but as facilitator, by supporting the Government on setting up the adequate institutional and administrative system. This project essentially aims to strengthen communities' capacities, along with urban local bodies and administrations in earthquake mitigation, preparedness and response in 38 cities in India.
The project has been demonstrating a suitable model for mainstreaming earthquake risk management initiatives at all levels and for reducing this hazard risk. Project activities have five broad components: 1. awareness generation, 2. development of preparedness and response plans at the community and administrative levels, 3. development of a techno-legal regime for the States, 4. capacity building at all levels and 5. knowledge on international and national best-practices among all the cities and urban centres in the programme. The role of Voluntary organization in Reconstruction of Kashmir will involve restoration of damages which can be classified as visible and not so visible. The visible damages would include the reconstruction of destructed buildings and infrastructure, such as roads, water, telecommunication, health, education and electricity. The not so visible, but more important, damage includes injury to social structures, institutions and human dignity. In order to bring about reconciliation and reconstruction, these structures have to be woven together.Voluntary Organizations need to venture in the field of development of infrastructure, by utilizing the manpower and available facilities to better implement the schemes introduced by the Government.

National and International NGOs’ could provide guidance and financial support to local NGOs’ and enhance their capabilities so as to better fulfill their roles in society. There is an immediate need for environmental groups and environmental activists to raise their voices to save the environmental heritage of the State of Jammu & Kashmir.

The livelihood of many Kashmiris is dependent on the health of the ecology and the environmental balance. In view of the improving governance position in Kashmir, the socio-political situation has become conducive for more NGOs’ to enter Kashmiri society. It is high time that some of the more established NGOs’ come forward with plans and programs to work in Kashmir, however, they should keep in view the unique culture, customs, traditions and distinct faith that we are proud to have. It is necessary to encourage NGOs’ to set up projects based on local customs and traditions, for the capacity building in production as well as marketing, furniture making, handicrafts, tourism and agro-industries. T

here is great potential for development of electronic units, computer hardware, TV and watch manufacturing that would be low in volume, high in value industries, pollution free and benefiting from moderately cheap labour. Sericulture and silk industry, textiles and ready made garments, sports goods industry, processing of gems and precious stones, selective mining projects and mineral based industry, are some other areas that have potential. There is tremendous potential for horticulture, floriculture, fruit processing and food processing.Out State is predominantly mono-cropped and rain-fed with about 40 per cent of the area in Jammu division and 60 per cent in Kashmir division having assured means of irrigation. Agriculture is the mainstay of the state's economy.

In Kashmir, wheat, oil seeds and fodder cultivation can be introduced as a second crop. Walnut is another important crop that has tremendous potential in J&K. The state is already the largest producer of walnut in India with an annual production of approximately 60,000 tonnes. There is scope to increase it in Doda, Rajouri, Poonch and Udhampur. About 20 per cent of the cultivated area in J&K is under fruit cultivation. About half a million families are engaged, directly or indirectly, in horticultural activities. Sopore & Shopian are the main fruit producing areas in the valley that accounts for 50 per cent of the total fruit production. There is however a dire need to improve marketing of these products and other fruits like pears, cherries, apricots and peaches in the temperate areas and mango and citrus in the sub-tropical areas which need proper grading, packaging & marketing. Saffron cultivation is unique to Jammu & Kashmir, the only place producing the flower crop outside Spain & Iran. Annual production of saffron is confined to Pampore in the Kashmir valley and to the Kishtwar valley of Jammu province, the production varies from 10 to 12 tonnes. Honey, herbs and herbal products also have tremendous opportunities for export worldwide. To impel horticultural activities creation of cold storage facilities, through non governmental organizations and public or private investments, is warranted.Our state has tremendous hydropower potential, estimated at over 25,000 MW. Out of this hardly 10 per cent has been harnessed till date. With a view to tapping the available hydel potential, the state government is exploring the possibility of attracting private local and foreign capital. Non governmental organizations could venture into this field.

There is tremendous scope of employment in the field of Eco-tourism. It is possible to identify many other areas for the reconstruction and development of Jammu & Kashmir. The most obvious is tourism, which has attracted attention of the whole world. Another major emphasis of restructuring has to be in the field of health and education. Together a joint and concerted effort by all the stakeholders needs to be made so that we can take Kashmir forward and prepare a holistic programme of reconstruction of Kashmir.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.


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Sandy Shaw said...

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