Empty government coffer has put two important road widening projects on indefinite hold in Srinagar. But that was not all. There are hundreds of families who wait for promised compensation. Saima Bhat narrates their everyday struggle and life after demolition
Every day is a new struggle for Abdul Ahad Ahangar, a retired Awkaf employee whose family of six is living in a 4×6 shop-turned-room in Old city’s Khanyar area.
A few feet away is the debris of what used to be Ahangar’s house. Pointing towards the demolished structure, Ahangar says he was happy when he heard his house comes under Khanyar-Zadibal-Pandach (KZP) road widening project.
His property, which he shares with his two sisters, was valued worth Rs 53.16 lakhs.
In the first High Committee Level (HCL) meeting (April 3, 2013) at Divisional Commissioners’ office, Ahangar signed the necessary papers and accepted the compensation.
After receiving 20 per cent of the promised amount he started demolishing his house. Ahangar had built four shops adjacent to his house; two were rented out and the rest two were operated by his nephews. In September 2013, two of the shopkeepers, whom Ahangar had rented his shops, managed to get a stay order from the District Court Srinagar. The demolition was stopped mid-way.
With no roof over his head, Ahangar shifted to Fateh Kadal area and got a room on rent. He was hopeful that he will buy a new house after he gets full compensation money. “It was not easy to manage given the size of my family. I have six members and my sister’s family has eight. You can imagine how difficult it was to live in two small rooms,” says Ahangar.
However, things got worse after the shopkeeper duo approached the District Court Srinagar. The District Court ordered Ahangar to divide Rs 16.80 lakh among the three parties, including Ahangar, out of his total compensation money. Ahangar’s share was 25 per cent. But Ahangar was yet to receive anything except the initial 20 per cent.
In the meantime, Ahangar ran out of money he had got as an initial amount. “I was paying Rs 4000 per month as rent in Fateh Kadal. And because of the stress, my daughter got sick. Her treatment cost me fortunes,” says Ahangar.
By April 2015, Ahangar along with the family of his two sisters was back at his old house. He had cleared one of the two shops his nephews ran and started living there. Besides, he erected two fabricated huts inside the premises to shelter his sister’s families.
“I am fed up of living like nomads. I have decided to construct a house at the same place. I don’t mind if the government bulldozes these two shops.”
In 2008-09, in order to decongest the historic Old City, J&K government proposed to widen two roads: Dalgate-Nowpora-Rainawari- Dargah-Zakoora and Gulab Bagh road, named as Syed Mirakh Shah (SMS) and Khanyar-Zadibal-Pandach (KZP) roads.
The aim was to upgrade these existing roads to four lanes by demolishing residential properties and commercial structures on either side of these roads.
The Roads and Buildings (R&B) department, implementing agency, estimated the acquisition cost for the project at Rs 336.24 crore for SMS road and Rs 235 crores for KZP road.
Once completed, KZP road will pass through Nowhatta, touching the historic Jamia Masjid and SKIMS on its way to Pandach in Ganderbal where it ends.
“Both SMS and KZP roads stand incomplete as the government is running short of money. For SMS road we had to acquire 332 structures but till date, only 177 cases are decided. Out of which we have demolished 160 structures, the remaining 17 structures are still there. For KZP road government was supposed to acquire 368 structures. But so far only 98 cases are settled out of which 88 are demolished,” said an Executive Engineer who is privy to the project on condition of anonymity. “So far the government has released only Rs 47.75 crores for SMS road and Rs 16 crores for KZP road.”
Another victim of the project is Wajahat Hussain Matoo.
Matoo’s property at Shiraz Road, Khanyar was estimated worth Rs 47 lakhs for structure (house) and land.
In the first HCL meeting, he did not agree to the rates. “In 2008 government fixed per kanal rate at Rs 30 lakhs which was later increased to Rs 40 lakhs. But the market value of my property then was at least Rs 2 crores per kanal,” claims Matoo.
As per the Land Acquisition Act’s Section 4 (Sub Section 1) notice should be served first to the owner that he should file his objections in 15 days. “But in my case officials simply acted like the land mafia,” says Matoo.
On April 10, 2012, a notice was served to Matoo through newspaper and within next three days, a demolition order followed. “That was their way to pressurize people. But I refused to surrender and got a stay order from District Court Srinagar just one day before the demolition.”
When this road widening project was conceived Matoo was already constructing a new house in Lal Bazar. “I was waiting for final compensation money to complete the construction.”
However, in 2014 the government took possession of Matoo’s house and land by paying him just Rs 9.80 lakhs. “Remaining Rs 33 lakhs are still pending,” says Matoo. “I was left with no roof over my head. So I took a loan from the bank to complete the house at Lal Bazar.”
But with compensation amount still pending with the government Matoo could not repay the loan on time. “I turned into a defaulter,” says Matoo.
As per the government guidelines, (order no. SE (R&B LAC/425 of 2010, date 20-01-2010) at the time of execution of sale deed with the department 20 per cent compensation has to be paid. Another 30 per cent has to be paid at the time of dismantling the structure up to the ground floor. Remaining 50 per cent has to be paid on handing over the possession of the land to the department.
“The day government took possession of my property they told me that they are running short of funds. So I had no option but to wait,” says Matoo.
At one point of time government had even promised to relocate the affected families by giving them plots of land at Elahi Bagh. But later the government changed that to pay Rs 5 lakh in cash and finally to Rs 10 lakh. “Nobody knows what happened to those identified plots at Elahi Bagh,” says Matoo.
But not all were as unlucky as Ahanagar and Matoo.
Ejaz Ahmad Mattoo who owns property near Shiraz Cinema managed to get full compensation. “I agreed to government norms in the very first HCL meeting,” says Ejaz.
Ejaz’s property was valued worth Rs 1.10 crore by the government. “It was worth Rs 2.5 crores,” claims Ejaz.
“I had 5 marlas of land on which I had a house, shops and godown. For land and house, I was given Rs 11 lakhs each. For 4 shops and the godown I got Rs 88 lakhs,” says Ejaz.
Ejaz claims that the rates fixed by the R&B department are less than what market offers. “But nobody listens to you during these HCL meetings. They simply ask you, ‘do you agree with government rate?’ If you do, it is okay, if you don’t, they say ‘get lost’”.
Ejaz feels that the compensation amount for commercial properties was better compared to what they paid for residential houses.
However, there are many businessmen who despite getting compensated handsomely could not restart their lives. “They could not find proper places to relocate. That affected their customer base,” feels Ejaz. “If a shop owner had razed the interior walls and joined two shops, R&B compensated it as one shop only. It proved costly for the owner.”
But how Ejaz managed to get full compensation without any problem when all others are suffering? “I was tipped by my friends in the administration. They told me to agree to the compensation amount in first HCL meeting as it is a devalued property.”
Perhaps the most interesting compensation story is of famous Dr Latief’s property. Dr Latief and his mother live separately for last 20 years, but the government paid compensation to just one household. Dr Latief had a clinic adjacent to his property which was not compensated. “They told him that since private practice is banned your clinic cannot be compensated!” says Ejaz, who lives in the neighbourhood.
But the most painful story belongs to Farooq Ahmad Chaila. He received full compensation but only after he set himself on fire!
Farooq cannot forget the day when his house was demolished. “In the wee hours of morning authorities came to our house with police. They dragged my mother, my two nieces and my brother’s wife out and took them away. They were kept inside the police lockup for four hours,” claims Farooq. “There is a case of stone pelting registered against my family members.”
Farooq accepts that in desperation he pelted stones on the bulldozer and on the officials. “When I felt nothing is going to happen I sprayed kerosene over myself and set myself on fire,” says Farooq.
Farooq was saved by his neighbours. “I had to spend two days at SMHS hospital.”
That day, Farooq says, his brother’s wife was home after delivering a baby girl. “When police dragged people out she fainted. She was under shock for most of the time. We consulted many doctors but nothing happened. Six months later she died leaving behind her 14-month-old girl baby,” says Farooq. “But who cares!”
Farooq had three shops, a four-story house and two plots near Nowpora Bridge on 1744 feet of land for which he was given a compensation of Rs 57.77 lakhs.