Sins Stink

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The politics within the various factions making the SMC triggered a crisis within the class that led to the collapse of the basic activity. Masood Hussain argues that even if the low participation and questionable processes resulted in sending the young men and women to the Corporation, they must behave to justify the costs envisaged in their elevation

A social activist holding placards to protest against SMC. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Srinagar would remember the elections for Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) for a long time for the surprising ingredients it envisaged. People stayed indoors, so did the main political parties but still, the governor’s administration ensured the SMC must have a representative character. It eventually happened. Barring one, all 74 wards have a ‘representative’.

Almost 1.5 million population of the historic city will take its own time in knowing who are the men and women representing them. These ‘representatives’ have come from the margins of the society and the extreme periphery of politics. They were voted by an absolute minority of the electorate that in most of the cases is not even one per cent. Mostly, driven by their individual ambitions, they will obviously have personal plans for prosperity and growth.

It has started showing. Right now, they have two immediate priorities – secured accommodation and a good salary.

Not accountable to people, they have already engaged in a battle of outwitting each other without giving a damn to the costs. This has already created a situation in Srinagar that it was stinking for four days as the employees stopped working in protest. They called off the strike on Friday after they were promised fair action against the accused.

But it is important to understand what led to the crisis. It was triggered when a female corporator representing Rajbagh, went public with the allegation that the Mayor was seeking “favours” from her. She had reportedly gone to the police with the formal complaint. She is also accused of resorting to vandalism in the SMC office where she damaged the computers and the furniture and even beat one officer. Mayor Junaid Mattoo said he has also sent a complaint to the police and is seeking investigations.

After the allegations went viral on the social media, Mattoo talked to media suggesting that the lady had to regularise some shop in the old city. Besides, she also wanted her son to be appointed. He termed her a “mother-like figure”.

Later, the Deputy Mayor Sheikh Imran also joined the chorus. It seemed that the two are at loggerheads. With the lady managing enough of media attention, the two men fought a pitched battle accusing each other of many things including the backdoor appointments in recent days. Already, the two men were engaged in a cold war as most of the committees that exist in the SMC were being headed by Imran.

Since an official of the SMC was attacked in the crisis, the employee stopped working. This has converted Srinagar city into a huge stinking space. Four days after the crisis, it is now the much-awaited snowfall that has put a sort of shroud on the heaps of garbage across the city.

Notwithstanding law on the statute books, the SMC is one of the weakest municipal bodies in the region. It might have access to a lot of funds, especially after the sham elections this past autumn, but it has historically remained one of the most mismanaged entities. In comparison to Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC), for instance, SMC has doubled the staff. JMC has 1709 employees and SMC has 3110. While the salary component of SMC is yearly Rs 289.50 crore, it was only Rs 84.16 crore for JMC. Still, Jammu is much cleaner a city than Kashmir. Why?

Unlike JMC, SMC does not earn much. Its income has formally dropped even as the officials are accused of making the best of it. That paints a slightly bad picture of Srinagar’s municipal issues.

There is a possibility of improving and changing the entire municipal set-up. But that would require stockholding for the people who manage it. If the lot of people holding the berths were not voted by people where will they be accountable for whatever they are doing? Stakeholding comes out of participation and accountability. In this case, this dichotomy fails because the system in place has accepted them regardless of who voted for them. They are now the liability of the system and the society that will suffer for their follies and individuals ambitions.

Kashmir has the tradition of individuals somehow getting power and then they start their fight to have legitimacy. Continuous circulation eventually gets them fresher layers of cleansing and they eventually become the ‘leaders’. It has happened in the ‘election’ for the constituent assembly and for many other elections later. This can happen with the men and women who saw an opportunity in the municipal polls in 2018.

But to achieve that goal, they need to at least put in some effort for which the system spent so much of taxpayers’ money. The system has to oil its machinery and fix targets to spend the resource that will come to the SMC. There have to adequate layers of accountability to ensure that a system resurrecting while defying the politics of the place must attempt to have some relevance to the society. Fills in the blanks can neither serve the society nor the larger idea of democracy for which the entire effort was undertaken.

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