Not the winter, it’s Kashmiris who have changed (Letter from Kashmir)

January 24th, 2012 - 12:22 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, Jan 24 (IANS) It is not that Kashmiris have seen such heavy snowfall for the first time as they did this winter. What has changed is their own lifestyle, with a newfound laidback attitude and the urge to buy instead of grow.

People through the ages have cooked their food on firewood-lit hearths in Kashmir and now virtually every household in Srinagar city has shifted to the more convenient cooking gas, instead of the traditional time-tested hearths.

An acute shortage of cooking gas cylinders during the last fortnight has caused panic among both the people and the administration.

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders filled and weighing just five kilograms instead of the standard 15 kg were rationed, with police being employed to control the swelling crowds of those demanding them.

Complacent with the reported sufficient storage of LPG by the oil companies in the Valley, the panicked administration has now ordered a probe to find out where all the gas had leaked.

Incidentally, in many foothill villages, where the hearth is still in place, the LPG shortage was not even noticed.

The heaviest of the three snowfalls recorded in Srinagar city, where the crisis of essential commodities was most acute - the city has a 1.5 million population - was not more than one and a half feet.

What was described as “a heavy snowfall in Srinagar” is a just a drizzle compared to what the city has witnessed in many past winters.

“Yes, the night temperature remained below the freezing point this winter for a much longer period comparatively, but we had the same precipitation in the month of January last year also,” said Shakeel Ahmad Ramshoo, head of the Geo-Informatics and remote sensing department at Kashmir University.

There is no use crying against any shortages in the supply of electricity in the Valley during the recent snowfall.

The local electricity department has done a commendable job maintaining a steady supply of power.

“There were transmission problems during the first snowfall which were corrected within three days. Since then, we have been supplying electric power as per schedule to our consumers, essential services, water filtration plants, etc,” said Muhammad Muzaffar Mattu, chief engineer, electric maintenance, Kashmir.

“In fact, just a day back, we supplied 200 lakh (20 million) units of energy in the valley which is the highest in terms of energy ever supplied here.”

People have in fact been pleasantly surprised this winter with the local electricity department maintaining a steady supply.

But in the absence of the hearth and the non-availability of LPG cylinders, it is not difficult to imagine what use electricity is being put to by consumers in the Valley.

The blockade of the Jammu-Srinagar highway, the landlocked Valley’s only road link to the rest of the country, resulted in shortages of mutton, poultry, eggs and vegetables as the highway remained closed for many days due to slippery road conditions, snow blizzards and landslides.

Kashmir has some of the best meadows in the world and yet because locals believe in buying rather than growing, the Valley’s entire mutton supply comes from Rajasthan, technically a desert.

In the past, every household used to have its kitchen garden, a small poultry and even a flock of sheep for wool and mutton in times of need.

As most of the agricultural land is being sold at exorbitant rates for commercial purposes despite a local law forbidding the same, kitchen gardens, poultry and sheep raring are now almost looked down upon as a fruitful pursuit in the Valley.

The huge land prices have lured most of the local farmers into selling ancestral lands for their choice of the latest car models, concrete houses, electric blankets, washing machines and LCD television sets.

The crisis witnessed in Kashmir because of the so-called unprecedented snowfall resulting in shortages of everything is in fact a creation of our own. Blaming the government, however, continues to remain a favourite pastime in the Valley.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at

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