Messy Corporation

With mud-slinging a routine and no-confidence motions hugely frequent, Srinagar, the Shehr-e-Kashmir, could be the collateral of the politicking within the SMC, reports Yawar Hussain

Srinagar Mayor, Junaid Mattu addressing a press conference with Sheikh Imran (third from left) accusing National Conference of corruption. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

In September 2018, when Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) went for elections after 13 years, National Conference (NC) boycotted. Then, Apni Party had not been floated. Four years later, Srinagar has Apni Party Mayor and NC has the Deputy Mayor’s position.

Currently, both parties enjoy the support of by and large the same corporators whose only constant in the past four years has been switching sides while the city populace watched the allegations and counter-allegations saga unfold.

SMC’s new elections are a year away. However, the political canvas is being coloured for future elections. In order to keep the pot boiling, the two parties are engaged in muck-slanging matches involving corruption. Mayor Junaid Azim Mattu and his Deputy Mayor Parvaiz Qadri are accusing each other of corruption and both seek Anti-Corruption Bureau’s (ACB) attention.

The Current Crisis

Right now, there are three players. The Mayor, the Deputy Mayor and the former Deputy Mayor, Sheikh Imran. Reports indicate that Imran is a tactical ally of Mattu. Both Mattu and Imran were with the Peoples Conference (PC). Then Mattu joined Apni Party. In July 2022, Imran was thrown out by PC from the party.

Early this year, Srinagar Corporators Front (SCF) came into being with 30 corporators. It is headed by Danish Bhat. In June 2020, NC expelled him for going against the whip and voting for Mattu. A year later, he was appointed as advisor to the Mayor by Mattu. Soon, Bhat and Mattu lost love, with the former resigning as an advisor and accusing him (Mattu) of corruption. Bhat also dented Apni Party by getting another SMC Corporator Muhammad Saleem into the SCF fold after his (Saleem’s) resignation from the party.

More recently, Mattu and Imran, despite not being in the same parties, have been putting out tweets from their official accounts about Qadri being charge-sheeted by Crime Branch Kashmir in a case of fake appointment in 2013 in the Rural Development Department.

Both Mattu and Imran have alleged that Qadri, a close confidant of NC Youth President and incumbent SMC corporator Salman Ali Sagar, did the fake appointment scam at the behest of Salman’s father Ali Muhammad Sagar who was then a minister in the NC-Congress coalition government.

“Who was the Rural Development Minister at the time? What proximity did the charge-sheeted culprit enjoy with the Minister? How did the Minister continue his association with the culprit till date? This goes miles beyond the culprit. It will open Pandora’s box,” Mattu commented on a tweet shared by Imran on the charge sheet against Qadri.

Salman Sagar

Mattu went on to allege that the crime branch is now identifying more fake appointees including the cousin of a senior NC leader and also the wife of an NC leader who is also a current elected representative. “Three current elected representatives, all belonging to JKNC and at least two SMC employees involved in the scam prima facie.”

Imran responding to Mattu alleged that the police and ACB are carrying out selective arrests because Qadri is still free. Last Friday, Imran published a “white paper” detailing the alleged corruption of Qadri in which he had linked him with the NC.

Mattu held a press conference at Mayor’s Office alleging that the NC was in connivance with the BJP as both parties have hit out at him for alleged corruption.

Flanked by Imran, Mattu said that the BJP and NC should openly announce their alliance like the PDP and PC. “If they want to destabilise the SMC, they should do it openly rather than tacitly.”

He said that he has been keeping quiet because SMC has always been in the news for such things. “Everyone asks why is this always happening in the SMC. I use to mum but I can’t let anyone take undue advantage of that silence.”

In response, Qadri also raked up the alleged corruption of Mattu.

Qadri, last Friday, tweeted Imran’s previous videos in which he was accusing Mattu of all sorts of corruption.

The SCF in a statement alleged that Mayor has siphoned off crores in the procurement of vehicles. Qadri said that the corporation had purchased sufficient machinery but lacks the manpower to run this machinery due to mismanagement in the Corporation.

“Last year, SMC was lacking the machinery and accordingly same was procured. But now, there is a manpower shortage in the corporation. At present, some hoppers are run by people who don’t have commercial licenses, which is a violation of the law.” Qadri said, adding, “It has also been observed that the new hopper vehicles were not made as per the modifications committed by the department.”

“The conditions of these vehicles deteriorated by only carrying a 6-quintal load even though the company had claimed that these vehicles can easily manage loads up to 10 quintals,” Qadri alleged.

The SCF wrote to the Director ACB, alleging that the vehicles were purchased without the Executive Committee’s approval to the tune of Rs 27.33 crore.

Parvez Qadri is the new Dy Mayor of Srinagar

The letter reads “SMC has authorised Chief Engineer, Mechanical Engineering Department Srinagar wing for purchasing of vehicles to the tune of Rs 27.33 crore. The administrative approval for the said project has been accorded without the prior approval of the Executive Committee of SMC, which is a gross violation of Section 159 clause (C) of Jammu & Kashmir Municipal Corporation Act-2000,” the letter to ACB reads. “Every contract involving an expenditure up to Rs 1 crore as the Corporation may fix can be made by the Commissioner while contracts exceeding Rs 1 crore or the higher fixed by the Corporation, can be made by the Executive Committee. It has come to our notice that Mayor (MoS) Srinagar is giving approval to all such projects which are above one crore as Chairman of Executive Committee SMC without the approval of the members of the Committee.”

Danish Bhat, whose tweets are shared by Qadri, alleged that “high political offices along with senior officers of planning wing of SMC had several meetings in Greater Kailash Delhi with the lowest bidder even before tenders were floated and specifications of Detailed Project Report were changed to simply favour this bidder in lieu of crores as a bribe.”

However, the allegations on Mattu were paid back in kind when a news report in a local news organisation alleged that Qadri in 2017 led a 5-G Tower Installation Scam in district Ramban in which over 100 families including landowners were cheated of nearly 40 lakh rupees.

Mattu and Imran started throwing the salvo at Qadri who alleged that SMC was macadamizing private paths of “blue-eyed” people on Idgah road while Srinagar’s roads continue to be dilapidated. In the fighting over political chastity, the rival groups have accused each other of employing two media outlets to trade charges. In October 2022, the court of 2nd Additional District Judge Srinagar – on an application by Qadri, temporarily restrained Imran from publishing any defamatory content in print or electronic media against Qadri.

Since then, Imran has used the terms “Mr.50 Paisa” and “Crime Master Gogo” in tweets about the charge sheet in the fake appointment case against Qadri.

Amid this Apni Party versus NC in the SMC, Salman Ali Sagar has been silent on the mudslinging on social media platforms. However, he retweets SCF’s allegations against Mattu indicating a silently conspicuous endorsement. Salman was elected to the Corporation from Solina and Soura wards in 2020, two years after his party boycotted the SMC elections.

Interestingly, Salman, who has been recently given the charge of the Hazratbal assembly segment by NC, might have to face Mattu from the area who has been actively camping in the vicinity.

Apni Party Vs BJP

With daggers drawn between Apni Party and NC, the BJP corporators, who in 2018 supported Mattu to become the Mayor and then also brought him down in July 2020, have now levelled fresh corruption allegations against him.

In a presser last week, the BJP Corporators alleged that SMC spent Rs 31 crores on the macadamization of Zadibal and Hazratbal wards sparing only Rs 6 crore on the other 72 wards. Insisting that funds were being utilised without the Council’s approval, Nazir Gilkar sought an ACB probe.

Strange Bedfellows

Interestingly, Imran in June 2021 won the election to the Executive Committee of SMC post. Then, he was with PC and he alleged that Apni Party and BJP are allies. He claimed he won without the support of NC and Congress as well. In 2020, when Salman entered the SMC, Imran was in awe of him as Mattu had deserted PC. On Salman’s visit to fire victims of Namchbal Khanqa-i-Moula, Imran said, “One could imagine the surprise and delight of people on your visit as a newly elected councillor that too in this freezing cold. Well done, your efforts are appreciated.” Now he is being seen as Mattu’s ally.

PC-BJP VS CONGRESS

In January 2019, the tussle between Mayor Mattu, then representing PC with BJP support, and the then Deputy Mayor Imran, supported by Congress, reached a crescendo when the latter was allegedly assaulted during an SMC council session. The case was taken up by police for investigation.

The tussle halted scores of works in the corporation. The attack came against the backdrop of a female Corporator levelling sexual harassment allegations against Mayor Mattu.

However, everything changed in May 2019, when Imran joined the PC. Like brothers in arms, the duo posed for the cameras in presence of Sajad Lone.

Mattu said the People’s Conference “has now become the single largest party in SMC.”

After getting the top two positions in the SMC, both of them deserted the PC, later. Mattu had quit the NC to contest the urban local body polls in 2018. He was elected Mayor with support from the BJP and the PC.  He polled 40 of the 74 votes – BJP’s five, PCs four and the rest 31 coming from independents. However, the same independents didn’t vote for his then-party PC’s Deputy Mayor candidate resulting in Imran bagging 35 votes with 16 from Congress and the rest independents. The 53 independents in 2018 have since then been free-wheelers changing allegiances.

No  Confidence Motions

In December 2019, Imran was removed as Deputy Mayor after 47 of the 70 corporators passed a no-confidence motion against him. Back then, he was detained in MLA Hostel sub-jail following his detention post-August-5 developments.

A day later, 40 corporators moved a no-confidence motion against Mattu. Those going against him included those who had supported him in 2018. “The BJP has supported the no-confidence motion against the SMC Mayor moved by independent corporators,” Kashmir BJP media in-charge Manzoor Bhat told media persons back then. The reason: The mayor and his deputy had “failed” to carry out developmental work in the city and had lost the confidence of the corporators.

Though Mattu survived the no-confidence motion in 2019, he faced another one initiated by the BJP on June 11, 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic had locked up the world. Mattu had to step down as 42 corporators voted against him

Mattu claimed his ouster was the result of the BJP and the NC joining hands. Many think it was Imran’s tit-for-tat.

Just two months after his removal, when PC joined hands with NC in the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), Mattu quit PC.

Comeback Politics

Less than six months after his ouster, Mattu again became SMC Mayor on November 26, 2020.

Interestingly, Mattu, who didn’t represent a party in the election, defeated Imran, who was still with PC. Mattu got 44 votes while Imran got seven. Nineteen corporators abstained from voting. Two days later after returning to Mayor’s post, Mattu joined the Apni Party.

However, Mattu isn’t the only one to stage a comeback. Qadri, who was elected Deputy Mayor in January 2020 after Imran’s removal, survived a no-confidence motion in November 2020. He was elected to the post as an independent with the support of 33 corporators out of a total of 68 who cast their votes. The BJP’s Arif Majeed Pampori got only 24 votes. Qadri, later, overtly declared his association with the NC.

When Mattu was voted back with 44 votes after being removed by 42, he had the backing of none but the free-wheelers having allegiance to no one party. Qadri also won the election and then a no-confidence motion with his party having no clear majority in the house.

NC’s Sudden Entry

The NC along with its now PAGD partner, the PDP, had boycotted the 2018 elections. However, the PC and the BJP had accused the two Kashmir parties of fielding proxy candidates in the SMC election, a charge they denied. A year after the polls, they opened their doors. In May 2019, 11 corporators joined the NC. In 2020, NC Youth Wing President and former SMC mayor Salman Sagar contested two vacant SMC ward seats.

In 2020, NC expelled four corporators – GN Sofi, Neelofar, Danish Bhat and Majid Shulloo – for defying the whip and voting in a No-Confidence Motion against Mattu when he was removed.

United By Interest

Despite all the in-fighting, the parties ganged up together in May 2021 to get Joint Planning Commissioner Ghulam Hassan Mir removed from the SMC. As many as 61 corporators made the demand.

“Enclosed please find a representation signed by 61 Corporators of Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) – constituting more than a 3/4th Majority, seeking the enacting of Sections 46 (2) and 50 (b) of the J&K Municipal Corporation Act, 2000 – seeking the removal and repatriation to Housing and Urban Development Department (MUDD) of Ghulam Hassan Mir, Joint Commissioner (Planning) of SMC”, Mayor’s letter addressed to SMC Commissioner, Athar Amin Khan reads.

NC’s Qadri supported the move. Cutting across party lines, they were jointly on protest.

Srinagar Suffering

With the SMC marred by political bickering, Srinagar city last year figured at the bottom of ‘Ease of Living Index (EoLI)-2020’ released by the Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry. The poor performance on the index has made it the worst big city to live in the country with more than one million population. Srinagar city got the bottom rank, 49th, among the cities with a population of more than 10 lakh people with a score of 42.95/100.

Besides, Srinagar city figured at the bottom of the ‘Municipal Performance Index (MPI) 2020’ leaving behind only Kota and Guwahati among the cities with a million-plus population. Srinagar’s scored only 25.93/100.

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