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Udoosa is hilly village located 25 km from Uri town, 80 km from Baramulla city and just 100 meters far from fencing on Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan. Houses on adjoining Pakistani hills can be seen clearly from Udoosa. Villagers in Udoosa get up in the morning hearing Aazaan on loudspeaker from mosques across the LoC. All households belong to Muslim Pahari community and they speak Pahari language, quite similar in accent with Punjabi-Multani languages of West Punjab in Pakistan.
Udoosa is small village of 113 acres that includes 25 acres of common land. Agricultural land is 88 acres with average owned holding 1.26 acres. Population is 400 persons (70 households) doing farming. They grow maize, paddy and vegetables for household consumption and family subsistence. Land is irrigated by ‘nallah’ which flows throughout the year. Terracing of farm land is not possible due to stony land. Whatever is produced is not sufficient for full year’s consumption and they’ve to purchase food and vegetables from market half of year. Survival on agriculture is “very difficult”, reported villagers.
Udoosa has 150 youth, of which 50 are unemployed, 50 are in government service, and 50 are doing wage labor. Earlier they used to look to recruitment in army and police, but “after 1990 recruitment from this village/area was stopped”. Unemployed 50 youths are now absorbed in farming as disguised unemployed. Wage laborers tied-up with contractors get work for 7-10 days a month. Over 50% houses are Below Poverty Line (BPL). Poverty is widespread. Literacy is low. Its difficulties are numerous. Villagers need pucca link road to connect up to National Highway (3 km). Streets are kutcha and not worthy of proper passage. People face difficulty during rains as it is hilly area. Entire road from Uri to Udoosa village is damaged with pot holes. It is difficult to carry patients to Uri hospital during night due to bad condition of road.
After earthquake in 2005 Army helped build a makeshift Middle School building with fabricated plywood walls. Villagers instead demanded a pucca concrete school building. Nevertheless this school has staff shortage. Teachers are needed for science subject in 7th and 8th classes. Upper ward 4 needs primary school. Small children have to walk up and down the hill 2 km daily, and as they reach home upon climbing up the steep hill after school, they are exhausted.
Flow of water in Udoosa nallh is not regular as source is on top of hill. Snowfall is maximum in December and normal/reduced in February. It impacts flow of water in drains after melting of snow. In January/February, soil is carried with snow-melt water and it keeps accumulating and causing silting and choking of drains. Farmers submitted applications to Irrigation Department. Desilting of drains is done in August, by which time it is too late to sow paddy. Normal season for their paddy variety is March-April. August is too late to sow paddy. Constructing storage tank in middle course (by water harvesting) could solve problem but due to poverty they cannot associate to pool resources for investment in tank. They expect government support as cooperative/joint spirit is lacking. Above all awareness is also lacking; otherwise farmers could have formed association.
Villagers rue and protest in view of the fact that despite Uri block having three hydro-electric power projects namely Lower Jhelum (104 MW), Uri-I (480 MW) and Uri-II (400 MW) there is shortage of power supply in the village. During summer they get 8-10 hours supply and in winter 6 hours a day but only two days a week. Common sense reasoning of villagers demands power generation from this area to be retained more adequately for local use than “exporting” outside.
Wooden electric poles were installed in village Udoosa in 1972. Presently these poles are in decayed condition/ fallen. Electric wiring is done by winding with tree tops and branches. So, it poses a danger. Villagers demand steel electric poles. In Udoosa area (five Panchayat Halqas) there are 22 electricity transformers but one Lineman to look after. Due to short-circuit, transformers catch fire and get damaged. There is need for at least 10 Linemen. Villagers submitted applications to PDD and Ministers. They awaited suitable action.
There is only one store keeper to look after five ration stores in five Panchayat Halqas. He would keep four other stores closed to open any one. Each store was opened only once a week. Moreover many villages were attached to one Panchayat Halqa. The extent and kind of service to villagers for ration supply could be gauged from the fact of low spread of ration stores in villages including Udoosa. Since March 2013 sugar was supplied only on rozas @2 kg per ration card holder household per month (earlier it was fixed higher i.e. 700 gm per member of household). The reason for low supply is reported as shortage of supply from CA&PD Department. Supply of rice is 35 kg per family per month for BPL households and 25 kg for APL households. Villagers demand increase in supply of ration and more regular supply.
There are 15 BPL households in Udoosa yet to be issued new ration card as per 2011 Census. Sarpanch already submitted new list to Tehsildar (Uri). For six months, Sarpanch was informed that quota for new households is yet to be approved. This delay is sort of disservice to the needy households as they are BPL households. Household survey for new ration cards was conducted in 2013. Now it is due in 2018. Sarpanch reported that there is provision that surveys could be conducted in-between five years, but this clause/ rule of CA&PD Department is not followed practically. Villagers demand speedy disposal of their requests for new ration cards for BPL households.
Before 1998 mortar-shelling was faced on LoC after each 2-3 days, during day or night. Intensity of shelling was very high. They do not have bunkers to protect from the attack. Shelling incidences had effect up to Uri town. A woman was killed even as victim’s body was splintered away by high intensity and ferocity of shelling. Villagers had to flee as they took shelter in Ghatmola village and Baramulla town for 2-3 months. Villagers require proper safety in Udoosa by government constructing bunkers instead of villagers made to flee without protective cover.
Udoosa does not have dispensary. Villagers visit nearby village Gwalta by walking 5-6 km. This dispensary is not accessible because village is located at far greater height than Udoosa. Therefore, patients could not walk up to Gwalta dispensary. They demand new dispensary at a central point in Udoosa village on urgent basis. Visiting Uri town frequently for medical problems is not feasible since it is 25 km from village and transport problem is the biggest.
There is intensive checking during night as there are 4-5 check-posts of Army, and on main road also there is huge frisking and inquiry. After 7 or 8 PM it is very difficult to visit Uri from village. Even free walking down the road is not allowed by security personnel. This system of security causes huge problems for pregnant women and patients. Each household is issued border area Identity Card/ “pass”. But during night this identity card is also not valid or permissible for movement on road. People want freedom from intensive scrutiny and strictness by security forces. Captivity enforced on them within house after 7 PM is protested by villagers.
From Udoosa to Uri (25 km) there is uncertain and irregular service by private Tata Sumo vehicle operators, who move only if vehicle is packed with passengers fully. Therefore, villagers demand private mini bus service or government SRTC buses to ply from village. At times army comes forward to offer help but it takes minimum two hours to move and they are obliged for help. No villager can directly approach army personnel to have transport vehicle help for Uri; recommendation of Sarpanch is required. Army personnel in vehicle take permission from seniors and then only help is provided. Villagers need public transport service on urgent basis.
Cross LoC Trade Center was opened for trade with Pakistan in 2005. It was also aimed at fulfilling the need of local people to visit Pakistan to meet their relatives. Bus service is conducted once a week. There is no problem as such even as bus fare is Rs.1500 from Salamabad (Uri) to Aman Setu (5 km) on LoC; then from Aman Setu to Chakoti in Pakistan (3 km) it is Rs.400/-. However, people demand that local goods/ farm produce in surplus should be exported and what is needed by local people and neighboring villages should be imported from Pakistan via Cross LoC Trade Center at Salamabad. Hitherto goods imported from Pakistan are: apple, pomegranate, keenu, onion, potato, garlic, herbs, chappals (footwear), wall-to-wall mats, etc. Mats are forwarded to Delhi. Other goods are dropped at Srinagar. Some fruits (pomegranate, keenu) are dropped at Uri. From India (not Udoosa) these goods are exported: banana (banned after 2012), chilly, potato, mango, spices, vegetables, tomato, etc. People feel that Uri and Udoosa village or other villages are not any way benefitted by trade at LoC. People do expect mechanisms to be devised for participation of Udoosa and other villages in cross-LoC trade by creating marketable surplus of farm produce.
Entire village feels united with the plight of a family of Udoosa whose head of household by mistake/ negligence crossed over to Pakistan when conditions were deteriorating in 1990 and there was crisis of politics. For the past 25 years this family in Udoosa waited for his return, or at least his son to be allowed to visit Pakistan to meet his estranged father. Villagers demand that government may at least allow his son to go to Pakistan based on issuing visa. Sarpanch and villagers affirmed that son is elected Panch of Udoosa village but still considered as “suspicious character” by authorities simply because his father crossed over to Pakistan by mistake when border was relatively free from restrictions. It is very difficult for family as they have missed their head/ father figure for over two decades and it is uncertain if they shall ever be given permission to meet him at least once. Plight of Panch (Kamar Zaman ward no.3) has now become common plight of Udoosa village as they shared his grief and demanded his family’s union with the head, now in Pakistan. Village situated on LoC feels a deep sense of human alienation amid difficulties of lack of access to basic facilities and amenities.
(Author works for NABARD. Views expressed are personal)