Tauseef Ahmad
Tauseef Ahmad
Tauseef has been covering education, environment and conflict in the Kashmir Valley as a freelance reporter for two years.
Stories by Tauseef Ahmad
 09 Mar, 2023

Despite panchayat nod for PMAY aid, the wait gets longer for poor in Kashmir’s Bandipore

Five families in Sumlar braved the recent sub-zero temperatures in tin sheds as Rural Development Department is yet to transfer the Rs 2.25 lakh approved for building concrete housesBandipore, Jammu and Kashmir: "I check the pulse of my sleeping kids every morning and thank Allah for keeping them alive in this chilly weather," says Shahmeema*, a mother of three from Sumlar-A in Halqa panchayat of North Kashmir’s Bandipore district. Her family comprising a carpenter husband and children aged four years, two years and 10 months has been living in a tin shed for four years, awaiting the construction of a concrete house under the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana-Gramin (PMAY-G).“I have knocked on all doors. I have approached the panchayat at least eight times recently to understand the reason for the delay in construction. My last visit was 15 days ago. Unfortunately, they just try to avoid me and come up with some unique excuses,” says a disheartened Shahmeema. “My faith in the PMAY gives me the courage to tell my children that we will also have a concrete house. But nothing has moved for the last three years. After working the entire day, all that I earn is Rs 400, which is spent on basic needs. How can I even think of building a house on my own with such a meagre income?” says her husband, Farooq Ahmad*. Four other families in Sumlar face a similar plight. Shama Begum* lives in a single-room tin shed with a small kitchen. Her family comprises her son, the sole breadwinner, and two daughters. “My son works as a labourer with the local contractor, earning Rs 400 per day,” she says.“We try to reduce the effects of freezing cold by wrapping the inside of our tin house with polythene sheets… I think it is better to shift to a rented building in this biting cold.”   Another proposed beneficiary, Ghulam Nabi Khan expressed his anguish over the repeated delays in getting money under the PMAY, while lamenting that he could not even secure his children’s future with his monthly income of Rs 8,000. Shahmeema's kitchen inside her tin home, feebly insulated from the cold (Photos - Tauseef Ahmad, 101Reporters)The delays are not restricted to Sumlar. In Tangthari area of Bandipore, a seven-member family lives a trapped life. Spending just 10 minutes in their dark, narrow room is enough to make one realise what the grave of punishment is like. Muhammad Shafi, his wife and five tiny tots have been suffering this punishment for long. No adult can walk in without bending his/her back. Every ray of sunlight is blocked in the room. The only light that gleams is from the kitchen fireplace. Though it provides some relief from the cold, the smoke from burning wood chokes those staying there.Coming out of this living hell, this reporter found out from neighbours that Shafi’s family has been facing near starvation. One could easily discern it by throwing a glance at the place. Apart from the empty kitchen and pots, only two blankets were present for the use of seven persons.   Shafi has been ailing from a lung disease for the last few years, which has seriously affected the family’s income. Neighbours are also not financially well off. As a result, only a few could bring food to the family every two or three days.Slow processThe PMAY beneficiaries are selected during the gram sabha meetings of panchayats each year. Subsequently, the Rural Development Department verifies the eligibility of the proposed beneficiaries and approves their names for receipt of funds worth Rs 2.25 lakh. “But the problem is if five people are selected from a given village, we may probably have funds for building only two houses at our disposal. As a result, the panchayat has to recommend the names of two beneficiaries whose condition needs urgent redressal,” Block Development Officer Shariq Iqbal told 101Reporters.While provisions can be made to include the rest three proposed beneficiaries in the next financial years, access to PMAY funds continues to elude many due to the long waitlist and quota system for funds.Three months ago, during a meeting with Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, Commissioner Secretary (Rural Development and Panchayati Raj) Mandeep Kaur had informed that an exhaustive exercise was being taken up through camps at the block level in all districts to update the waitlist of PMAY-G beneficiaries.A snapshot of Sumlar-A (Photos - Tauseef Ahmad, 101Reporters)A Right to Information document revealed that Halqa panchayat had submitted details of the five proposed beneficiaries in Sumlar to the Rural Development Department for the release of payment for housing subsidy in 2019, but payment was still pending due to "a technical issue", though no one is a position of authority is able to clarify what this issue is. Even in normal conditions, the funds reach the beneficiary almost one-and-a-half years after the panchayat/block approvals.  According to villagers, only nine beneficiaries have received the PMAY funds in Sumlar in the last several years. Manzoor Ahmad was fortunate enough to get the money in his bank account in 2018, after he applied under the PMAY a year before. The work on his concrete house was completed in 2020. “It was really difficult living in a dilapidated mud house with my children, especially in the rainy season. Now we can brave harsh winters, thanks to the Lieutenant Governor and district administration. My children feel safe and happy now,” says Ahmad, the sole breadwinner of the family.Abdul Hamid’s family, including his wife and two children, faced freezing temperatures inside a tin shed until the PMAY lent a helping hand. The panchayat recommended his name in 2018 gram sabha and he got funds in 2020.  (Above) A home in Sumlar built under PMAY-G; (Below) Incomplete Swachh Bharat Abhiyan bathrooms in the village (Photos - Tauseef Ahmad, 101Reporters) “The families that are supposed to benefit from the scheme in Sumlar live a hand-to-mouth existence. Unfortunately, the locals are also not financially sound to shift them to rented places. I have worked a lot to bring transparency in the PMAY in many villages, by approaching the authorities several times to learn about the reasons for the delay in fund transfer,” says Abdul Basit, a young local social activist.Even as Bilal Ahmad Bhat and others await the day when the PMAY benefit would be transferred to their accounts, Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din, an elder from Sumlar, is furious. “These families are braving extreme weather, including minus 10 to 12 degrees Celsius. But the government department has been reiterating since 2019 that the money did not reach them due to technical errors. I want to ask the government if it does not even have a technician to fix this error.”  *Name changed to protect identity Cover photo - The home of one of the PMAY-G beneficiaries still awaiting funds (Photo - Tauseef Ahmad, 101Reporters)Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli

Read Now  
 5min Read
  
Despite panchayat nod for PMAY aid, the wait gets longer for poor in Kashmir’s Bandipore

 02 Sep, 2022

A long road to healthcare for Gurez Valley residents

Heavy snow during winters and administrative inaction in filling vacant positions in medical services force people to travel almost 90 km to get aid.  Bandipore, Jammu and Kashmir: "We don't even have a gynaecologist or dentist here. For the slightest toothache, we need to travel almost 90 km," says Irshad Samoon of Dawar village in Gurez Valley, laying bare the poor healthcare facilities in the border area with a population of 37,000 spread across 29 villages. Located 86 km from district headquarters Bandipore in Jammu and Kashmir, most parts of the Gurez remain cut off for at least six months due to heavy snowfall in winter. With it, the hardship of Samoon and the like multiply, mainly as the transport system comes to a standstill.  Gurez has two primary health centres (PHCs) and a community health centre(CHC), where positions of 11 medical officers, three dentists and three specialists (physician, gynaecologist and paediatrician) are lying vacant. According to Block Medical Officer (BMO) Dr Tahira Nazir, the valley also has 23 sub health centres.Winter woesThough Gurez has 11 ambulances, heavy snowfall in winter hampers their operations. “It is not always practical to airlift patients. So they are referred to other hospitals in cities, even for minor issues," Fayaz Ahmad Lone of Bagtore village told 101Reporters. "We ask patients to remain stationed near CHC Dawar as it becomes tough for them to travel long distances by foot in heavy snowfall. Else, we shift them to the district hospital in Bandipore," says Dr Tahira, stationed at Dawar CHC.Patients and their caregivers are advised to stay near heath centres like the Community Health Centre in Dawar (above) or the District Hospital in Bandipore (Photos: Tauseef Ahmed)However, this is hardly a solace for those like Mohd Iqbal Lone from Kilshay village, who recounts how he carried his sick father on his shoulders through the snow-clad paths. “Last December, I walked 15 km to Dawar carrying my father, only to be referred to the Bandipore District Hospital," Lone says. The district hospital is located in Nusoo, almost 90 km from Dawar. Lone somehow managed to get his father there for treatment. Much like him, several locals of Gurez have faced difficulties in accessing medical care.  For pregnant women awaiting deliveries in winter, things are even worse. Zona Begum of Purana Tulail village recalls how her daughter was referred to the district hospital from the CHC. “No ASHA worker can reach us during the wintry period lasting six to seven months. My daughter was not even provided with an iron tablet by these ASHA workers,” Begum tells 101Reporters. “Her baby was underweight at the time of birth. That last minute rush to the district hospital only served to increase her blood pressure,” she adds. However, Dr Tahira counters this with numbers. “We have 27 ASHA workers in Gurez Valley, and we have constituted six new posts in sub-centres and PHCs," she says.ASHA worker Naheema of Tulail valley of Gurez responds to the complaints. "We are also helpless in winters as it is impossible to step out of the house." Improper maternal care leads to anaemia, blood pressure issues and infections, besides affecting the newborn's health. In the absence of gynaecologists, midwives present in villages provide primary, prenatal and obstetric care, but complications in pregnancies pose a big challenge. Refugees at higher riskGurez Valley has seen cross-border migration on three occasions —in 1947, and after the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars. Migrants from West Pakistan were given 'refugee' status and settled properly. But those who migrated from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, mainly from Muzaffarabad and Mirpur, are yet to receive such favours.  Gurez has three community development blocks — Bagtore, Kanzalwan Gurez and Tulail. The residents of Refugee-1 Tulail Valley allege that basic facilities elude them because the authorities still see them as refugees.It's a tiresome walk for many in Gurez Valley because of poorly connected transit (Photo: Tauseef Ahmed)Ameer Lone (92) was 17 when he came to Gurez. “In Jammu, refugees were given land for establishing their colony, and money to build houses. However, we have not seen any such development in our village. We suffer a lot in winters,” laments Lone, who is from Bhudab village. Claiming that they have received a “harsh” directive from the district administration telling them to remain stationed near the main district hospital of Bandipore or shift there during winters, many residents say “they cannot afford to do so.” Meanwhile, a medical officer based in Gurez says on the condition of anonymity that there is a 'no-transfer policy' in practice. “No doctor has been referred to come here. I was posted here in winter. We cannot even step out of our rooms due to heavy snowfall. Even the BMO is stationed here for the last 12 years. The higher authorities should set rolling the transfer policies for doctors in Gurez so that the health system can run smoothly,” he says.  However, Dr Mushtaq, Chief Medical Officer, Bandipore, tells 101Reporters that the government is taking the initiative to fill vacancies in the border villages of Gurez, and action can be expected soon.

Read Now  
 4min Read
  
A long road to healthcare for Gurez Valley residents

Write For 101Reporters

Follow Us On

101 Stories Around The Web

Explore All News