The city is witnessing the first-ever drive against hundreds of illegal structures, including multiplexes at commercial hubs, which came up during two decades of militancy.
The Srinagar municipal commissioner (SMC) on late Wednesday evening started sealing 39 structures --- which house famous eateries, multi-storey shopping malls, reputed banks, hotels and poly-clinics --- in its first phase.
"Of 39 structures, 19 were sealed at Srinagar's Karanagar and Jawahar Nagar areas. The sealing operation will start again after the sundown on Thursday and around eight more structures will be sealed at Karanagar and one multi-storey structure at Hyderpora," said SMC media relations officer Masrat Yousuf.
The sealing, at Srinagar's posh and commercial hubs, is being carried under Section 8 of the J&K Control of Building Operations Act, 1988, (COBA) for violating the Srinagar master plan, which the administration has failed to implement time and again.
The move has already posed a law and order problem for the administration. A huge contingent of police, which was accompanying the SMC officers, were attacked with stones on Wednesday evening apparently by those who own shops and offices in these buildings.
With situation turning volatile, the sealing operation against the violators is being overseen by Srinagar deputy commissioner Farooq Ahmad Shah, municipal commissioner GN Qasba and senior superintendent of police Ashiq Bukhari, who has already mobilised hundreds of police personnel.
The drive has come in the backdrop of the high court double bench --- chief justice MM Kumar and justice Ali Muhammad Magrey --- order asking the SMC to seal 39 structures identified by it.
The court, hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) on illegal colonies and structures mushrooming in the militancy-ridden city, has asked the SMC to come up with status report on illegal structures. Besides 39 structures identified by it, the SMC will come up with more numbers on September 4 when the case comes up for hearing again.
Petitioners' counsel advocate FA Parray has submitted a sensational disclosure before the court. "The SMC has issued notices against only 39 violators when there are more than 40,000 violations in Srinagar," said Parray.
Parray also questioned the SMC repeating show-case notices to these violators. "The court issued demolition orders on March 16, 2009. However, no action was taken," he added.
The SMC is tightlipped about the operation and refused divulging the details of the owners, who may have close political links, and skirted off questions on SMC's alleged officials-business houses nexus.
"We shall definitely revert back (on questions) after completing the sealing process as it is going on," said SMC commissioner Qasba in response to the Hindustan Times questionnaire on the issue.
"There is pressure. The big fish have been let off. Only ordinary businessmen are being targeted," said Jawahar Nagar Traders Association spokesman Irshad Ahmad Khan. "Our families will suffer if our shops are sealed."
Karannagar Traders Association spokesman Farooq Ahmad said shop-owners have taken huge loans. "The decision to seal our units will hit us hard. We are registered with the government departments and pay taxes," he said.
Some posers for MC commissioner
The Srinagar municipal corporation (SMC) has started sealing of illegal structures in the city. How many structures have been identified so far? How long will it take to seal them?
The sealing of illegal structures has been carried out at the directions of the high court. What would be the follow up action against these violators?
In the first place, why have so many buildings come up under the nose of the SMC? Who is responsible for mushrooming of illegal structures?
There are reports of around at least 3,000 and the maximum of 40,000 illegal structures in the city? How do you respond to these reports?
What is the nature of the buildings sealed? Are these the cases of deviations or altogether illegal structures?
Are Srinagar business houses and reputed families too involved in these illegal structures or these have come up because of mafia?
There are allegations that many structures which were sealed were given permission by the SMC and the ward officers would routinely check their premises for violations.
What action would be taken against the SMC officials, if involved, in allowing these structures?
What will the SMC do to stop such practices in the future?
People smell a rat
"In our locality, a building owner had paid to construct a three-storey structure without permission. Ironically, the sealing notice bears signatures of the same corrupt official who allowed him to build it. Another unauthorised building has not been touched because an ex-ward officer took a shop as a gift. The 'gifted' shop is being run by the father and a nephew of that official. No show-cause notices or demolition notices were served on the owner of that structure," alleges Mohammed Afaaq Sayeed, CEO and founder of Beeline Dynamics.
"The government is on the prowl to demolish Karannagar's commercial buildings. Those who were hand-in-glove with the violators at the time of granting permission are the same people who will demolish illegal buildings today. First, they encourage youth to set up their own ventures and now snatch morsels of food from their mouths," says Altaf Bashir, a student of Islamic University for Science and Technology.