Changed Concerns

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The battle against the virus triggered pandemic has pushed everything else to the back-burner in the private and public sector reports Tasavur Mushtaq

Darbar Move: Div Com Visits Civil Secretariat, Inspects Preparations

Said to be the outcome of Great Games, it was after almost 148 years that Durbar move was halted, for the time being. Postponed till June 15, the routine date of opening was May 4. Started by Dogra despots in 1872, the Durbar delay is attributed to the ongoing pandemic.

An indecisive UT administration took several meetings to reach to the conclusion that the offices would stay in Jammu. Later, two orders were issued to devise a mechanism for running the operations. First-order was rescinded by the second.

“It has been observed that the formal opening of the Durbar on 04.05.2020, as ordered vide government order no. 464-JK (GAD) of 2020 dated 10/04/2020 may affect the Covid-19 control efforts in the Union Territory,” the final General Administration Department (GAD)’s order read.  “The formal opening of the Durbar at Srinagar will take place on 15.06.2020. All officers assigned specific Covid-19 control tasks shall continue to function from their present location till further orders, so as to ensure Covid-19 control effects and not hampers on account of physical dislocation of officers.”

It was also directed that the Civil Secretariat at Srinagar shall start functioning on May 4 with the staff and officers on an “as is where is” basis. Besides halting the shifting of the top seat of governance, the Covid-19 pandemic has hindered the routine, completely. 

Durbar would see a facelift of the place it was shifting to. This time, it was Srinagar’s turn. Refurbishing of the government establishments, maintenance works, patchworks, highway traffic management, and many other things have been routinely part of the Durbar procedure. Caught in the pandemic, the administration has one priority, stop the spread. All other activities have taken the back seat. The regular governance structure has been replaced by the disaster management activities.

The historic Srinagar city has stopped reacting to things since August 5, 2019. There were no responses to the move that Durbar will get delayed. While one former politician wrote a detailed opinion suggesting that Durbar should actually be done away with so that Srinagar breathes and rediscovers itself.

Off roads, at home and on WhatsApp communication, people said the rulers are living to their expectations and history. “In 1900 when the plague hit Kashmir, the Maharaja fled Kashmir and sought suggestion from his Mahant’s in Jammu. They refused to come to Kashmir either,” Kashmir’s most known raconteur, Zareef Ahmad Zareef read from his book in a social media video. “Instead, they finally gave him a mantra that was sold to the people. Since subjects were Muslims, they refused to take the Hindu talisman. The soldiers extracted its costs and put the mantra on their doors.”

The common refrain is that given the situation that Kashmir is more impacted by the pandemic in comparison to Jammu, the ruling elite would prefer staying back. Kashmir has 105 Covid-19 Red Zones with Srinagar at the top with 22 localities. In comparison, Jammu has quite a few.

Politicians have evolved their own dark humour. They say UT administration flew four secretaries to Kashmir to guard the secretariat! This, help the ruler’s reduced the burden in Jammu.

Development Halts

The Covid-19 has halted the entire development process. After a protracted delay, the  AIIMS Kashmir project had seen the light of the day in February. The process of digging had started for laying the foundation of the building. Then came Covid and the workforce diminished. “We had started the process, but virus compelled the labourers to move away,” said an official wishing anonymity. He further said, the lockdown later stopped the work completely. 

LG Murmu Receiving Guard Of Honour At Civil Secretariat Srinagar on Monday, May 4, 2020. KL Image By Bilal Bahadur

Another official privy to the development said “it seems this season is gone as well. The month of May is here and we still don’t know how long it will take us.”

Expected to add 1000 beds at a cost of around Rs 1800 crore, AIIMS was supposed to be up and operational by 2024. This project also includes a 100-berth medical college and 60-seat nursing college. The UT administration has already started the process of admitting the first batch of 50 students for this institute with a makeshift campus this year.

Many events that were in pipeline are expected to get delayed.

Post scrapping of special status, the much talked ‘Global Investors Summit’ was scheduled to take place in April. The initiative of the government of India was to attract investments for Jammu and Kashmir. The administration had identified 6000 acres of land for the new investment. But as of now, the month has passed, fighting the pandemic while putting other activities to the halt.

Besides the summit, the administration had also plan of holding the panchayat by-election. Earlier delayed due to law and order issues, there is no word on happening of elections anytime soon. As per the figures, currently, the posts of 11457 Panch and 1011 Sarpanches are lying vacant in J&K.

Taxman Hit

The pandemic has hit severely the revenue collection by the UT’s tax department. A senior tax officer on condition of anonymity revealed to Kashmir Life that this year there is a mismatch. Giving details, he said there is evident revenue deficiency in the month of March.

Srinagar district is divided into 18 circles from A to R by the taxman, the officer said, during the last financial year the target was almost achieved. “Our one officer of a particular circle had a target of Rs 90 crore and he achieved Rs 100 crore by the end of March 31, 2019,” he said. “This year the same circle had a target of around Rs 210 crore and only Rs 40 crore have been realised.”

Commenting upon the less revenue generation, the officer said, “March is considered important in GST collection. Even the defaulting traders try to pay the liability. But this time the pandemic put everything to halt.”

Another officer of the department said the last financial year has been troublesome for the department. “We had political disturbances post August and now this virus at the crucial juncture, what will happen to the collection.”

In Kashmir division, the officer said revenue collected as Goods and Services Tax in March 2019 was Rs 138.48 crore, and this March, it dropped to Rs 80.55 crore.

One reason that prevented any major forward movement on projects was the boycott call by the Joint Coordination Committee of Contractors. They are seeking the release of their bills amounting to Rs 1050 crore. As per the figures, the liability of only PWD contractors is around 700 crore.

The hit in March has also resulted in a lapse of many bills, an officer privy to the development said. On condition of anonymity, he said: “because of pending sanction and withdrawal, many bills lapsed.”

The officers were not willing to come to offices and sign the documents, alleges Abdul Hamid, a contractor. He said despite repeated requests, they did not agree. “I left home early in the morning and reached Sopore where I had pending bills before March 31. The concerned officer did not receive my repeated calls,” he said. “Finally when he did, he was not willing to come office.” Hopeless, Hamid had to return home.

Hamid further said those bills can be processed for reimbursement and reconciled again, but it would take time and effort.

Banking Blues

As the businesses got shut amid the corona scare and subsequent lockdown, the mandatorily annual closing of the banks also did not happen. Otherwise day of calculations, March 31, this year passed in isolation. The centralized processes to categorize accounts based on their conduct were not executed. Instead, the packages, termed as Covid-19 were announced. In this initiative, 10 per cent of the additional facility was provided to the existing borrowers on the limit availed.  Besides, the term loans were re-phased and the interest portion of cash credit accounts was reimbursed as overdraft facility.

Why Srinagar Can Live Better Without A Darbar?

With only essential services allowed to operate, the routine has hampered. Tufail Ahmad, a resident of Harwan said the transformer in the area had some issue and it took a lot of effort to ensure its repairing. “We had difficulty managing its repairing and then had involved higher-ups to get things done,” he said.

Administrative works aside, the construction and allied activities at the local and individual level too got hit. People plan during winters about constructions, renovations, additions, or alterations. Come spring, they start working. But this year, the plans have flattened. Nothing is in sight to carry upon the works. Survival is the only priority right now. “We had booked carpenters and painters before time but as of now nothing is going to be right,” said Fayaz Ahmad, a resident of Gulab Bagh.

This report appeared in Kashmir LIfe 12.5.

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