Parking Paupers

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For more than 125 days, neither the parking lots nor the octroi posts worked. Since they have paid hefty sums to get these spaces to earn a livelihood, Umar Mukhtar reports about their crisis they are desperate to find an answer for

Traffic Jam. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Every morning, on the banks of desolated Dal Lake, five kiosks were set at the popular Makai Point.  By late forenoon this spot on the Foreshore Road smelts of mutton roast fragrance. They are the master Seakh Tuj (barbeque) makers who roast fresh marinated mutton. These kiosks, equidistant from each other, have lot of room in between for a grand parking space, something rare on the Boulevard that usually remains crowded for most of the year.

These stalls have resumed business almost after 100 days owing to the situation that emerged after August 5. As they are struggling to revive their bread-and-butter activity, the space they occupy is still incurring huge losses. Basically a municipal car parking slot, this space was allotted to Nazir Ahmad Dar, for a bid of Rs 10, 93, 111 on July 27, 2019. He has made the payment to the Srinagar Municipal Corporation. In the subsequent 365 days, he is supposed to earn this amount in addition to his profit.

This amount was polled by the five kiosk owners who were already in the Seakh Tuj business on the same spot. “We were hopeful of a good business year so we decided to go for the bid,” said Dar’s partner, Mohammad Mahsheed. “Everyone of us contributed more than Rs 100 thousands each.” Whoever wants to relish the barbeques, had to park his vehicle there against Rs 20 rupees ticket.

Prior to the abrogation of Article 370, the Makai Point was literally inundated with people as hundreds of cars would stay parked till the visitors treated their taste buds. The earnings were better. As around 200 cars would park in a day, they would earn Rs 4000 from the parking slot alone.

“But now the number has dropped to around 60 to 70 vehicles visiting the place a day, making it hardly to Rs 1400,” regretted Mahsheed. “I do not think we can make even part of the money that we have already deposited.”

Earlier rush was enough to offer business to all the ten kiosks. Since November 16, they have mutually decided that five each of them would work on alternative days to make their operations economically viable. They resumed work in off-season.

In Srinagar city, there are more than a dozen parking slots – mostly owned by Srinagar Development Authority (SDA), Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA). Though in most of the cases, the three stakeholders of the city infrastructure had not completed their tendering process for allotment of parking slots for the new year, still some had been given to the successful bidders. Now they are booking losses.

The Lala Rukh road side car parking lies around the Lala Rukh Hotel at Lal Chowk. The space was allotted to Mohammad Younis Dar for the highest bid of Rs 3.75 lakh by the SMC. Dar took its possession barely 20 days before the August 5. By an average he was managing 90 cars in a day at around Rs 10, per vehicle, till new situation took over. With most of the year gone, Dar said he may not be able to manage even part of the funds he has already paid.

Up to November 23, Dar was at home. “For three months and 18 days I earned nothing.” Dar, who had employed five assistants to manage the slot, said. “I have an agreement with them that I will pay half of the salaries if there will be a complete shut down.”

Now back to business, there is a slight increase in his traffic – almost 130 vehicles remained parked in his slot. Dar calculates that if the numbers jump to 300 a day, he may sail through. “It is not that there are not vehicles around but the uncertainty factor is the real problem,” Dar said. “The market remains shut for half day.”

Dar is now in talks with SMC seeking an extension by four months. They have not reached a consensus.

Unlike these two slots, where a ticket giver is present, the macadamized car parking space outside the Nishat Mughal garden still lies vacant with no vehicles parked in. Instead of cars, the space is now used by the novices learning driving in the morning as for most of the day, children play cricket there. Its paid toilet block is locked.

Parking slot holders are not the only ill-fated ones. Those who have taken possession of the octroi posts (chungis) are also facing the same music. Muzaffar Ahmad Beg and Farooq Ahmad Mir made a successful joint bid for the octroi’s post of Pulwama. All the seven routes that get into the town have Mir’s gate-keeping staff on the outskirts. Beg also has bagged the bid for Shopian town also.

On March 1, 2019, the bid by the municipal department was allotted to Beg for Rs 80 lakh, a year. He deposited the entire amount in advance, as per the rules.

A resident of Shopian, Beg decided to take care of his own town and asked his partner to look after Pulwama. The revenue was as per their expectations. They were anxiously waiting for the apple harvest season. “It is the peak season for our earnings,” said Mir. They grant entry into the town against Rs 10 for load carriers and passenger vehicles, Rs 50 for trucks and tippers and Rs 250 for the heavy vehicles. After August 5, all their gates remained open as no commercial vehicles were around.

For four months, Mir and Beg were sitting at home, waiting for the day they would resume the commercial gate-keeping for the two towns. Mir said it was a loss of around Rs 45 lakh. Their seven check-posts are managed by 24 employees. Paying them is an additional cost.

“I hope the concerned will understand our crisis and help us come out of the red,” said Mir. They have some more costs that they pay to ensure they are not harassed by the cops.

In wake of the attacks on the drivers, police would escort convoys of as many as 30 trucks a time and not permitting the octroi managers to charge them. “I just want to get my principle amount back and I will never go for it again,” asserted Mir.

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