From trading hub to terrified town-village

Dr Mohinder Kumar
Prior to 1947-Partition, Tangdhar as a village had tremendous commercial and trading importance. It was known for its prosperity along with Teetwal, also a trading hub. Today Tangdhar as town has no commercial importance or agricultural base. Over time Tangdhar grew in population and became small town retaining old feel of village, like ancient Greek cities with citizens engaged in farming, going to fields. Both are strange and estranged from old prosperity.
In official documents Tangdhar is a town in Kupwara district. It covers Panchayat Halqas of Shatpala-A and Shatpala-B villages. Tangdhar appears village if one overlooks shops, bazaar and hundreds of bank-financed Tata Sumo vehicles parked idly in the parking area of bazaar. A large number of taxi vehicles were financed by banks in Tangdhar Shatpala even as investments are unviable due to cut-throat competition since neither tourists nor outsiders visited Tangdhar. The glut of vehicle owners facing loan repayment problems got created by thoughtless financing.
Shatpala-(B) is located 45 km from LoC with Pakistan. Its area is 2250 acres, of which 1100 acres (49%) is common land, 900 acres (40%) agricultural land, and remaining 250 acres (11%) is residential area. Average size of owned holding is 2.70 acres and average size of common land 3.30 acres, used for grazing cattle. Except tracts located near nallah, all agricultural land is rain-fed. Total population is 1850 persons (333 households). All households are Muslim Pahari community, who are poor, resource less and OBCs. Farmers grow paddy, maize and vegetables i.e. sufficient only to survive for six months. Tangdhar area has produced maximum number of medical doctors to Kashmir valley. Being situated in difficult terrain, villagers’ problems are of diverse kind: (i) cold conditions during winter due to heavy snowfall; (ii) floods (e.g. in 1992); (iii) earthquake (in 2005); (iv) electricity; (v) irrigation; (vi) medical and health care; (vii) ration shop; (viii) farm inputs (seeds, fertilizers); (ix) supply of LPG cylinders; (x) mobile tower for telecom connectivity; (xi) landline connectivity; (xii) services in block offices; (xiii) ‘Indira Awas Yojna’ (IAY);  (xiv) militancy-security; and (xv) road connectivity/ transportation.
Village faced flood in 1992 as lands, houses, shops, properties, etc. were destroyed. There was no relief in sight. It seems no lessons were leant from 1992 flood. Floods of September 2014 in Kashmir valley remind us about the impending threat of floods. People need adequate protection like ready availability of portable plastic-boats to be instantly dropped by air for the affected people. Need for evacuation of the affected people by boats within no time, or real time response to the disaster was the first requirement for assured safety every person deserved. Village also witnessed earthquake in 2005. In Teetwal block, damage was 100%; over 350 persons died in Karna block adjacent to Tangdhar; 85% houses were damaged. Relief and compensation was provided to few select households. People demand earthquake-proof residential structures since entire valley of North Kashmir is located in seismic sensitive zone. Even pucca stone-built houses got damaged. Power supply is very limited (negligible during winter and 2-3 hours per day during summer). People demand access to solar light facilities.
Farmers are dependent on rain water for irrigation. Farmers whose lands are located near Batamaji nallah face no difficulty. Lift irrigation schemes could be devised with pipelines from nallah so that all farmers may get access to water for irrigation. Village Shatpala in Tangdhar has a hospital constructed 30 years ago. However, villagers reported that doctors’ medical facility is marginal despite that this area produced many qualified medical doctors for valley. Villagers visit dispensary located at Teetwal or Gabra village. However, these dispensaries were merely workable and faced same problem of regular availability of doctor. They demand proper facility of doctor exclusively posted for each dispensary. It was reported that spurious and duplicate medicines were sold in medical shops of Tangdhar bazaar/ Shatpala. Villagers demand drug inspectors should raid medical stores selling fake and duplicate medicines so as to create in them a sense of respect, fear and adherence to law.
There is only one ration shop for the entire Panchayat Halqa of Tangdhar Shatpala. Supply of kerosene oil which is their main necessity is badly affected. Supply is irregular and inadequate. Villagers demanded opening of new ration shop in village Shatpala-B and more regular and adequate supply of kerosene oil, particularly during winter. Villagers live in harsh conditions even as 20% do not have access to adequate food and warm clothing. Shatpala is exposed to 5-8 feet snowfall during winter. They arrange good warm clothes and adequate food with difficulty. Village demands more coverage of households under “Antodaya Ann Yojna” (AAY), to the extent of 20% of households (presently 5%). They also want access to fuel wood for winters though area is rich in forests. Adequate and easy access to LPG cylinder would take care of their winter problems. Supply of LPG cylinders is restricted and inadequate. The problem persists in entire Tangdhar block (or Karna Valley). Out of 333 households in village, LPG connection is taken by 233 households. Villagers demand home delivery of gas cylinders. Under existing system, households apply and submit empty cylinder three months before delivery. Delivery is made from Tangdhar town as agency vehicle loaded with cylinders would be parked there. Dealer agency brings truck to Tangdhar once a month for delivery and charges Rs.50-100 extra on prescribed rate per cylinder as carriage cost of transportation.
Due to poor telecom connectivity, villagers demand installation of mobile phone tower near Shapala-B or Tangdhar village. Being sensitive area for security, mobile connectivity gets automatically jammed, first at Sadhna Top (Shamshabri) and then near Tangdhar. This state creates huge inconvenience for local people. Villagers want greater and easier access to mobile phone connectivity because in case of emergency they are unable to get connected to the outer world. Landline phone facility is functional for once or twice a month. Villagers need greater access to landline phone connectivity also. Out of 333 houses in Shatpala-B and in entire Tangdhar, landline connection is subscribed by 250 households. Neighboring villages of Teetwal, Gabra, Tadd, Mechiyan, etc. do not have landline connection. For administrative services, villagers mainly depend on Tehsil office of Tangdhar. They reported that efficiency of services received from office is not satisfactory. They face lot of problems in due delivery of services. Access to the SDM office and Tehsildar to meet directly for resolving critical problems is available once or twice in a month. People want more frequent services from offices to reduce inconvenience and experience development. For the past 30 years villagers did not get any significant support for house construction for the BPL and AAY families under IAY. Poor people wanted IAY scheme to provide extensive financial grant facility for house construction as they could not afford money to construct even single pucca room in their existing kutcha houses. Each household lives in kutcha or semi-kutcha house of one or two rooms in congested conditions. They need greater financial support under IAY scheme.
Five-six youths from village got misguided long back and turned to militancy. Some of them got settled in Pakistan after crossing over. Some of them surrendered. Presently village does not have such problem of unsatisfied youth turning to militancy. Shatpala-Tangdhar village is immune to militant politics. People demand reduced strictness of security measures in Tangdhar even as villages are peaceful. Due to security strictness, they feel being surrounded, from three sides by Pakistan (LoC) and on fourth side by check post at Sadhna Top. It adversely affects their psyche as fear psychosis rules their minds. Amid security surrounding them from all sides villagers vie for another social security i.e. of reservation facility for government permanent jobs. Gurjar-Bakarwal (ST) tribal households who are 35% of population in village reported that actual quota in jobs is 6%, and is only for reservation in government jobs. They also want reservation benefits for facilities like bank loan, inputs supply, etc. oblivious of the fact that it is not feasible. Nevertheless demands of villagers for reservation are overwhelmingly expressive, indicating desperation i.e. becoming a usual trend and pattern of the present times.
Villagers demand frequent transport services to Kupwara town, particularly up to Sadhna Top check post. In case private vehicles get damaged on road, public transport service is not available. Private Tata Sumo vehicles ply on road. Sometimes security compulsion causes delays in releasing vehicle from Sadhna Top check post. Private vehicles, in such times, are mandatorily required to have obtained permission in writing from the district authority (DDC). During heavy snowfall, if vehicle gets trapped or damaged on road, it creates problems as security forces may not be able to give much help beyond courtesy of tea and snacks. Transport facility on Tangdhar-SadhnaTop-Kupwara highway is not good even as multiplicity of check posts and pickets inquire and stop private vehicles, and ask various documents (particularly from outside visitors) like, identity card, authority letter showing purpose of visit to Tangdhar, letter of DDC, etc. Tagdhar Shatpala lies in difficult terrain where development opportunities are desired to reach fast.
Main occupation of Shatpala-B village (90%) is wage-labor. They have second option of self-employment in taxi operator, driver, tailor, carpenter, grocery shops (300), etc. in bazaar. Villagers’ third allied occupation is farming i.e. least preferred. Mostly villagers depend for cash income on wage-labor as opportunities exist in MNREGA works and army. Army uses local youth as paid potters and casual laborers in hilly and mountainous terrain. KCCs are formed though farmers do not get bank loan, since not sanctioned. For money they depend on one another, only to find that none of them have surplus to loan-out: “We request money from 20 persons but get it from 21st person”, told villagers, revealing the facts about financial poverty. Not more than 5% people in Shatpala-B have surplus cash or savings to lend money as and when needed by fellow farmers or villagers. That is the village-town today that once flourished as trading hub before the Partition of 1947. Earlier, village traded in commodities; today they have nothing to sell but their labor-power.
(Author works for NABARD. Views expressed are personal)