Dumping The Dumpers!

This is probably the only constituency in Kashmir that seeks a breath of fresh air, literally. Eidgah in downtown Srinagar sits on what locals call a ticking bomb that explodes everyday without making any sound. Saima Bhat reports how removal of Achen dumping site is crucial in deciding the outcome of elections 

Achan-DumpIt is not the colourful buntings or cut-outs of contestants that one notices on arrival in Eidgah, but the smell of dumped garbage from Achen. The stench is too strong for any outsiders to bear. But for locals, it is an everyday struggle that define their lives.

But with elections just days away in Srinagar’s Eidgah constituency, removal of SMC’s infamous Achen dumping site ranks top on the list of promises for candidates.

Ghulam Mohammad Wani, 68, a local resident says, “You will find a dog bite case in every household in Eidgah. And the smell that this site emits is simply unbearable. We are living in extreme conditions because of Achen. No person in the area is free from chest infection.”

As per the agreement of Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) dated 10 April 2007, the garbage would be dumped at Achen temporarily for a period of 20 months only (till 9th November 2008), but SMC still continues to do so.

Locals blame Achen for alarming rise in Tuberculosis and Breast Cancer cases in the area since 2007. “Even our cattle are suffering because of Achen,” says Kaisar Ahmad, a resident of Eidgah. “There has been a considerable decline in agriculture produce in the area since Achen became functional. The price of our land has nosedived as nobody wants to reside here anymore,” says Kaisar. “I will vote for whosoever promises to get rid of this menace from our lives.”

With 56,150 electorates Eidgah is currently represented by NC’s senior leader and speaker legislative assembly Mubarak Gul.

Four time legislator, Gul, a resident of Nawab Bazar is seeking re-election. And it is not going to be a ‘cake walk’ at all.

Pitted against five candidates, Peoples Democratic Party’s Ali Muhammad Wani is his biggest threat.

The other four are: Fayaz Ahmad Bhat (Independent), Imtiyaz Ahmad Khan (Congress), Irfan Ahmad Matoo (PC), Mehraj Din Bhat (Independent).

The contestants and their followers claim that this time around the participation would be ‘huge’, but when Kashmir Life talked to few locals, they ‘rejected’ the process of ballot. They had their reasons too. “See we have huge martyrs’ graveyard here. How could we be so blind to go and cast votes, neglecting the sacrifices,” said Abid Ahmad of Rathpora Eidgah.

Pointing towards a signboard outside martyr’s graveyard which reads: ‘We have sacrificed our today for your tomorrow,’ Abid says, “How can we betray them?”

But there are those who are fed up of the neglect that they blame on the ruling government. “We want to be at par with other areas in terms of development and infrastructure. We will be voting for change,” says Mohammad Subhan, a local.

It is the PDP flags that greet you to the Saidapora area. A little further into the constituency and you will see PDP’s Wani moving around with a huge flock of workers on bikes, cars and some follow him by foot.

Wani an independent candidate in 2008 is now fighting on PDP’s ticket. Being a local resident, Wani claims to know what people want and what are the issues that concern people in Eidgah.

“The most important promise he (Wani) made is that he will fight for the removal of Achen dumping site from the area,” says Ghulam Mohammad, a local resident. “Because of that promise only PDP was successful in holding one of the biggest rallies and road shows in the area.”

Eidgah-ContestantsAccording to locals, Gul, who successfully got state assembly complex digitalized by installing electronic attendance machines, Wi-Fi connectivity, and a soon to be started TV channel, has failed to lessen the woes of his people who voted him to power in 2008.  First as Chief Minister’s political advisor and then as Speaker of legislative assembly, it has always remained difficult for locals to reach Gul.

Mohammad Ayub, a resident of Zoonimar says, “Come with me and I’ll show you in what conditions we are living. Most of the people living in Eidgah constituency belong to the below poverty line, around a thousand people, but we don’t have a candidate who will talk about us.”

Gul, an erstwhile singer, is in news for reason other than development or lack of it in his constituency.  The latest being his son getting caught red-handed while copying in Jammu University’s LLB examination. As many as 28 chits were recovered from his possession.

Not only his son, his daughter Safina Gul also made it to the headlines when Board of Professional Entrance Examinations (BOPEE) selected Safina for a post-graduate diploma in ophthalmology under the reserved “Rural” category despite the fact that she was neither in possession of the essential qualification (five years of continuous working in rural areas) nor had ever applied under any reserved category.

Gul’s controversial stint might end up favouring PDP’s Wani, who has remained in limelight for last 10 years as a political and social worker. Many say, it is the promise of development that will help him sail past Gul. More than Wani’s image, locals believe, it will be anti-Gul vote that will make the difference.

When Kashmir Life tried to contact Gul for his comments regarding alleged lack of development in his constituency and importance of Achen, he did not pick up the phone. But the caller-tone on his number probably summed up his mood and expectation: Aye Khuda har faisla tera mujhai Manzoor hai, samney terey tera bandha bohat majboor hai…

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