SRINAGAR: Demolition of a building in Kathua’s Shaheedi Chowk area triggered a massive protest that also disrupted traffic on the Jammu-Pathankot highway for several hours. In addition, officers from the civil administration and local elected representatives locked horns with each other and were later blamed for making unilateral decisions without consulting the governing council.
An eyewitness said that the Municipal Council of Kathua had ordered the demolition of a building that reportedly violated usage norms. The owner had obtained permission for a residential complex but had opened a commercial mart instead.
The team from the municipal council, led by its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Santosh Kotwal, initiated the demolition in the early hours of the morning.
However, on the spot, the building owners and local residents protested against such action and later closed down the Kathua market to express their anger.
Protesters gathered at Kali Bari Chowk, chanting slogans against the administration, and blocked the movement of all vehicles on the busy Jammu-Pathankot highway. The building owners alleged that the demolition drive was carried out without issuing any notice to them. They added that they have filed a plea in the high court, and the hearing is scheduled for Friday.
The owner of the building, Mohinder Mahajan, arrived at the site and raised objections to the government’s action. He asked the CEO to produce the demolition notice. The CEO failed to do so, which further angered the traders’ community and sparked protests, according to sources.
Authorities alleged that the building owners had bribed officials to illegally construct the structure, leading to heated arguments between the owners and officials. Police had to intervene to prevent a clash between the two sides.
The Beopar Mandal Kathua expressed concern over the development. Members of the organization staged a protest against Kathua Deputy Commissioner Rakesh Minhas and chanted anti-BJP slogans.
They started raising slogans against the District Administration and Municipal Council of Kathua.
Joining the protest, President of the Municipal Council of Kathua, Rajinder Singh Bubby, along with other councillors, former minister Rajeev Jasrotia, Vice-Chairman of DDC Kathua Raghunandan Singh, and other dignitaries, blocked the Jammu-Pathankot National Highway.
President of the Municipal Council, Rajinder Singh Bubby, said that the rule of law is not being followed by the CEO.
“We are the elected representatives. How can the CEO carry out a demolition without even informing the elected body?” he said, adding that it seems bureaucrats are more powerful than the democratic setup, and they do not even bother to follow the law.
According to officials, the building owners converted the residential complex into a commercial one. The municipal council had issued a notice to the building owners, and the matter was under the consideration of the deputy commissioner.
“We have filed an application in the high court. The hearing is scheduled for Friday itself. It is unfortunate that they damaged the structure without issuing any notice,” one of the owners told reporters.
The protesters have staged a sit-in, blocking a highway in the district. Police are requesting them to disperse to ensure a smooth flow of traffic.
The Deputy Commissioner of Kathua reached the protest site and pacified the people, after which the Jammu-Pathankot National Highway was completely reopened.
Meanwhile, Apni Party Provincial President, Jammu, and Former Minister, Manjit Singh, have condemned the actions of municipal authorities in Kathua, where they demolished a three-floor commercial building for its alleged illegal construction.
In a statement to the press, the former minister said that the way the civil administration and municipality acted and punished the building owner and showroom owner was unprecedented and against the constitutional rights of the people.
“The incident has shocked all of us to the core, as the people were left helpless with crores of liability on them and the complete destruction of the commercial structure, which could have generated employment for local youth,” he said.
He appealed to LG Manoj Singh for his intervention so that the government officials responsible for acting senselessly and causing huge damage to private property in the name of illegal construction (without permission) would be punished.
He said that the administration and municipality could have imposed a penalty or sealed the building until the owners resolved their issues with the authorities and obtained permission.
However, the decision to demolish has further widened the gap between the LG administration and the people, he said, and added that the people feel isolated in the absence of an elected government as no one listens to them.
He demanded that J&K should have its own government, and therefore, Assembly Elections should be announced as early as possible. (KNO)