Government gets a platoon of contractor to Dargah for implementing small Rs 42 Cr project, Wakf tense

Kashmir Wire

SRINAGAR: The government has done a Jaspal Bhati of a major pilgrim tourism project which is being implemented around Dargah Hazratbal, Kashmir’s most revered shrine. The Rs 42 crore project has been fragmented into a series of small projects and their execution has been given to diverse players with the J&K Wakf Board literally lacking any say.

Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti visits Dargah Hazratbal (KL Image: DIPR)

The chaotic implementation of the project has been one of the factors that, insiders said, might have been one of the key factors for Wakf’s Vice Chairman Pir Mohammad Hussain’s resignation early this month.

The Rs 42 crore project is a centrally sponsored scheme which funds the creation of infrastructure around the pilgrim spots. Though the Tourism Ministry is the literal master of the project, the fragmentation in implantation has multiplied the stockholding which Wakf had repeatedly reacted to. It had sought a single project manager with Wakf in a loop.

The shrine has a 12 kanals piece of land and the government wants to convert it into a multi-story parking slot. “Almost 27 percent of the project cost goes in the implementation of this parking lot and when completed it can accommodate only 180 vehicles,” insiders said. “The Wakf stand was that this piece of land being used by the Wakf for the creation of a commercial space should be left notched because accommodating 180 vehicles will not help manage the traffic on key festival days and on Friday.”

Dargah witnesses for major gathering on special occasions in a year. One of them is approaching next week. “On these days we have requirement of up to 5000 vehicles and this transport is parking at Kashmir University, the IIT, and other vacant spaces,” one Wakf official said. “Even on Friday, the routine parking requirement is to the tune of 800 vehicles so this small parking lot being implemented under the project for Rs 11.5 crore will not help at all and instead will devour the Wakf from a huge recurring income.”

But the “policy makers” in the government have not respected the decision, unanimously taken by the Wakf Board of Directors. The rejection of the idea is being seen by the Wakf as government enforcing its writ at the cost of the public institution. Sources said an influential lobby of engineers, mostly in the JKPCC, the contractors, and a few vested interests were desperate to ensure that the piece of land is devoured in the parking lot.

Under the project, there are almost 200 ablution points being set up. This is a key intervention aimed at having a better system of Wazu and washing of the pilgrims before entering the shrine. This is being implemented on the IIT side.

“When the Wakf was told about the site, it reacted and the case went to the Chief Minister. She directed Secretary Tourism to visit and understand the Wakf concerns. He visited but nothing changed,” source said. Wakf said that the washrooms need to be fairly distributed at least on two sides even though the number of points is small.

The parking lot and the ablutions complex have been given to the JKPCC for implementation. The work is in progress.

The project also envisages setting up of Islamic Interpretation Centre, an idea cleared by the Wakf Board as early as March 2017. The Wakf said that the shrine has historic Madinat-ul-Uloom that survived various conflagrations and lost most of the prized possessions. It now operates in a single story structure. Chief Minister was part of the meeting of February 18, 2017, in which it was decided that the IIC be integrated with the existing Madinat-ul-Uloom because of clear functional relevance. To the contrary of the decision, a separate structure is being set up very close to the lavatory complex.

File Image of Hazratbal Dargah (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

Interestingly, the IIC has been bestowed to J&K Cable Car Corporation for implementation. The other sub-projects the cable car corporation has been given includes a Tourists Facilitation Centre being set up at Boatbagh!

J&K Housing Board has been allotted the project of flooring the surroundings with Devri stone. Right now the work is in progress from the Dal lakeside.

Wakf Board had suggested the inclusion of bigger umbrellas in the lawns so that it would help devotees pray during scorching heat or rains. It was agreed upon and the project was given to SICOP for implementation. These are mechanised umbrellas that need creating a bed on which they will be installed.

File image of a women devotee at Hazratbal Dargah (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

Even SKICC has been given one project: the installation of sound and light system. The Compound Wall project is being implemented by the Directorate of Tourism.

“There is fragmentation of project and fragmentation of command. Everybody is doing everything and there is no person who could even coordinate,” sources said. “At one point in time the Chief Minister directed that the Deputy Commissioner Srinagar should be given the charge of overall project but no order was issued, ever.” Sources said the fragmentation of the project was done at the behest of an influential engineer-contractor lobby that had political blessings as well.

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