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Editorial: Ensure food safety

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Ensure food safety

It is the government’s responsibility to ensure the safety of the food and enforce the food safety laws for the wellbeing of the citizens. But so far, authorities have failed to do so. Despite clear orders for implementing the stringent Food Safety Standards Act, hardly any food safety checks are conducted. Neither there is any action against the violators of food safety norms.

Food safety is a big challenge faced by Jammu and Kashmir, like the rest of the country. Food adulteration and contamination is a problem that needs serious government attention.

The rising number of food-borne diseases due to lack of environmental sanitation, unavailability of safe drinking water and unabated use of chemicals at the various stages of our food chain has made it necessary to enforce strict safety standards and make quality checks a routine. According to the World Health Organisation, one in 10 people fell ill due to contaminated food in developing countries like India.

In Kashmir, random checks undertaken by the authorities have shown milk and food items, particularly oil and vegetables, are highly contaminated and adulterated, even containing harmful elements. A survey by the FSSAI, as early as in 2012, has also revealed that 83% of milk consumed in Jammu and Kashmir is adulterated. Higher levels of adulteration and contamination can have adverse effects on the health of the citizens.

It is the government’s responsibility to ensure the safety of the food and enforce the food safety laws for the wellbeing of the citizens. But so far, authorities have failed to do so. Despite clear orders for implementing the stringent Food Safety Standards Act, hardly any food safety checks are conducted. Neither there is any action against the violators of food safety norms.

The infrastructure required for routine food checks is not adequate. A single food-testing laboratory cannot cater to the whole Kashmir division. It is not even sufficient for about two million population of Srinagar city. What about the other towns and villages of the Valley?

If the officials claim that routine checks and testing are going on at some places, one fails to know why not a single case of contamination or adulteration is brought to the surface. How come people will believe that the concerned government agencies do it, silently, when it publicises even a minor violation of misbranding and wrong printing on a candy wrapper with mention of fine taken, besides other details.

The government needs to take necessary steps to check the adulteration and contamination of food and milk by ensuring the implementation of the FSSA Act in letter and spirit. Besides, there is a need to upgrade the existing infrastructure with more laboratories and other testing equipment in the UT.

Checking for adulteration and contamination of food and milk should be a regular practice by the Food Safety Commission and other agencies. As it is the practice around the world, to check the samples from time to time for conformity of safety and standard. The same should be the case here as well. Whatever the basic infrastructure and manpower for testing food standards available, the facilities are not utilised at all.

Concerted efforts of various government agencies and private businesses can make food safe. Food safety laws must be implemented strictly, and the government must take strict action against all those found violating the prescribed standards of food safety. Besides, there is a need for awareness campaigns about food safety norms and standards.

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Editorial

Rising unemployment

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Rising unemployment

The rising unemployment is turning into a major issue in Jammu and Kashmir. The number of youth who want to work but find no jobs is highest in J&K, as per a recent study. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) recently released figures, J&K has a 21.6 percent unemployment rate that is the worst among states/Union Territories in India. Tackling the high unemployment rate needs a holistic response from the government, where it should be drawing policies to find long-term solutions. Otherwise, it is going to turn into a catastrophe in future.

But the government response so far is very short-sighted, where it does not have any real planning to create jobs for the unemployed youth of the UT. Though it is not possible for the government to provide job to everyone, but it is the responsibility of the government to bring such policies which will create more jobs, provide professional skills, right kind of education, and boost industrial and entrepreneurial activities, which will help the youth to find jobs. It is the government, who does all macro-level planning and decides policy matters, that includes a job policy as well.

In J&K, unfortunately, the government only burdens the state exchequer by employing more and more people in the government sector. J&K has the highest government job ratio as compared to any Indian state or a UT. Beyond government jobs, there is almost nothing from the government to offer. Self-employment and entrepreneurship have been made next to impossible, as the babuism and high handedness of the banks make it extremely tough for the educated youth to get loans and receive project clearances. Given the self-employment figures from the last few years, there is little room for any optimism.

Though it is not possible for the government to provide job to everyone, but it is the responsibility of the government to bring such policies which will create more jobs, provide professional skills, right kind of education, and boost industrial and entrepreneurial activities, which will help the youth to find jobs. It is the government, who does all macro-level planning and decides policy matters, that includes a job policy as well.

Despite many claims, the figures from the JKEDI, KVIB and other institutions responsible for the handholding of startups and new enterprises are not encouraging. Similarly, the last two years have been very tough for the people, who would go outside for jobs or small businesses. Due to COVID19, a huge number of people who were working outside have lost their jobs, while the imports of Kashmir crafts have nosedived.

Another problem is that, despite some initial efforts, there has not been much progress on the skill development front. J&K imports most of the skilled workers required in the construction sector or industries. There must have been incentives for the local youth for learning and doing such works. The rising unemployment rate and labour shortage do not sync. It indicates the skill gap and policy failure.

The Himayat programme, where ‘not so educated’ youth are provided with some communication skills and basic computer knowledge so they can work in the unskilled market in different industries and corporates. However, the programme has not shown so good results, as was expected by its planners. The retention rate of these trainees in different cities of the country is very less so far. Besides, creating a migrant labour force is not a panacea for the unemployment problem. To tackle the issue, the government needs to look for creating employment avenues within J&K by attracting investment.

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COVID19

Covid19 reopening: A close watch needed

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Covid19 reopening

Jammu and Kashmir, like other parts of the country, continues to battle the Covid19 pandemic. Though the number of daily positive cases is not as alarming as it would be a few months earlier, yet there are some indications of a slow rise in positive cases in the past few weeks. This situation clearly calls for very careful handling of the situation, especially in view of the apprehensions of a possible third wave hitting the country in the months of October and November.

In a welcome move, the Jammu and Kashmir administration recently ordered phased reopening of educational institutions, including colleges and higher-level schools. It was a long-pending demand of all stakeholders, in the larger interest of the student community, to allow children to return to their on-campus classes after a long hiatus. The move coincided with the phased reopening of businesses in the Union Territory to infuse a fresh lease of life into the otherwise ‘dismal’ economy that was badly hit in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic.

The post-pandemic situation calls for revival of economic activity to enable people associated with various trades to resume their businesses and earn a livelihood following a depressing scenario. There is a large section of the population directly dependent on daily earnings to make both ends meet.

There is no denying the fact that the post-pandemic situation calls for revival of economic activity to enable people associated with various trades to resume their businesses and earn a livelihood following a depressing scenario. There is a large section of the population directly dependent on daily earnings to make both ends meet.

It was therefore imperative upon the administration to take care of the interests of this section of the society. It is equally a fact that the resumption of academic activities across Jammu and Kashmir was the need of the hour to enable students to interact with their teachers and peers, re-socialise on the campuses and heave a sigh of relief. To this extent, the administration took certain welcome decisions. However, the fact that the pandemic is still not over can’t be overlooked in such a scenario. It is therefore important to watch the situation very closely for its better management and minimal disruptions in case of any eventuality like the third Covid19 wave.

The onus to ensure a close watch on the situation certainly lies on the officials concerned, especially the Deputy Commissioners of various districts. In the past two months, the number of daily positive cases largely ranges from 100 to 200. This is not alarming if a comparison of these figures is made with the figures of the previous few months. But the level of unpredictability is too high to be taken casually. On September 22, the UT recorded the highest single-day tally of 204 Covid positive cases—up from 145 cases recorded a day earlier. This is where the situation demands utmost caution. At the official level, it is important to keep a track of these figures to decide on further reopening. If the rate of positivity surges, it would be in the fitness of things to reconsider the further process of reopening and reimpose the curbs, wherever necessary. Alongside, it is imperative to ensure that mass gatherings are disallowed and people adhere to the Covid Appropriate Behavior (CAB) in letter and spirit. The administration also requires to watch the Covid scenario in other states of the country and handle the inflow of tourists and visitors to the UT accordingly in strict adherence to the SOPs. The situation just cannot be allowed to go out of control any longer. Sustained and focused attention on the situation can go a long way in facilitating its better management at all levels.

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Editorial

Srinagar roads unfriendly for pedestrians 

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Srinagar roads unfriendly for pedestrians 

Lack of footpaths, walkways makes it dangerous for people to move around in the city.

As the vehicular traffic in the Srinagar roads has witnessed an unprecedented rise in the last few years, it is becoming extremely dangerous for pedestrians to move around in the city. On the one side, fast-moving traffic is making it life-threatening to cross the roads and streets, while on the other side, illegal encroachment of footpaths, walkways is pushing back foot-travellers to walk alongside the cars and motorcycles on transport tracks at great risk to their lives.

When there are no legal provisions for protecting pedestrians and their movement, our government and policymakers do not plan safe passages, neither there are proper crossing points in their road designs. Existing footpaths and crossing points are ill-planned and without any zebra crossing signs. As on-street parking takes precedence over pedestrian infrastructure like paved sidewalks in our city planning, space for pedestrian movement is shrinking fast on the city roads. It is a dangerous trend for a city that homes more than two million people, is touted as a metropolis, and projected as a key tourist destination.

Modern cities are not only pedestrian-friendly, but they take special care of the needs of children and old age people. People with disabilities, especially those with mobility issues, face a hard time moving around in Srinagar city. There is no way that one can push around a wheelchair or a pram.

Pedestrian right of way needs to be the priority of any road planning in the city, but it is otherwise here.

Most of the existing footpaths – as the pavements or sidewalks are named here – are narrow or full of obstacles making them unfit for public use. There is no uniformity. At some places, these footpaths are so high that they look like a supporting bund or retention wall. At many junctions, they lack connectivity with each other. Electricity poles, TV and telecommunication cable poles, billboards, even city beautification lights and trees are installed, in such a way, that these footpaths automatically become unusable.   

While traffic lights have been installed at many major traffic junctions in the city from time to time, but most of them are not made functional due to unknown reasons. There are no pedestrian crossing arrangements at these traffic crossing points. Even vehicular blockades are laid without keeping into consideration foot travellers. Take the example of Jehangir Chowk – Exhibition Ground junction, which witnesses heavy traffic throughout the day. As there is no system to stop the traffic, to let the pedestrians cross, it is extremely difficult for the people on foot to cross the congested junction. (These issues cannot be overcome by painting the pillars of the overhead bridge.)

The same is the case ahead of Badshah Bridge near the Maisuma-Koker Bazaar crossing. People keep crossing in moving traffic, mostly at great risk to their life and safety. In fact, there are no designated pedestrian crossing points in the entire Srinagar city.  

While the administration keeps saying that Srinagar will be developed into a world-class ‘smart city’, they should note that it is not possible by allowing haphazard and unplanned constructions by both the private sector and the government agencies. 

Modern cities are not only pedestrian-friendly, but they take special care of the needs of children and old age people. People with disabilities, especially those with mobility issues, face a hard time moving around in Srinagar city. There is no way that one can push around a wheelchair or a pram.

To make Srinagar a modern city, its roads not only need redesign but more focus must be given to footpaths, sidewalks, bicycle tracks and sophisticated public transport. That is doable within the available resources.

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