Tales From Towns

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Unlike Back to Village programme that saw reasonable participation of people, ‘My Town, My Pride’ was struggling to draw crowds, reports  Khalid Bashir Gura

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Srinagar remained lukewarm to the My Pride My Town initiative of the government. KL Image: Khalid Bashir Gura

On a warm autumn afternoon, under crimson Chinars at Sher-i-Kashmir Park, Showket Ahmed Bhat, an official deputed by the Jammu and Kashmir Handloom and Handicraft department is busy explaining to a group of females the government schemes, eligibility criteria and documents required to avail the schemes. There are officials from Animal Husbandry, Agriculture, Horticulture, Social Welfare, Revenue, Education, Housing Board and Floriculture also disseminated information through brochures, banners and booklets containing all the relevant information regarding their schemes.

On the second day of the programme, the crowd in the Park was thin as compared to other locations like Ganjbaksh Park in old city Nowhatta.

“As the location is away from residential areas, maybe that is the reason for the low response of people,” said Zahid Ahmed, the official deputed by housing and urban development department. “Only five people have turned up”.  

After the conclusion of Back to Village Phase 3 (B2V3’ on October 19, the Manoj Sinha administration announced My Town My Pride to reach out to people in towns and deliver services at doorsteps. Though the systems in democratic set-ups are supposed to work around the year, the administration tried to fill the gulf created by the absence of political representatives by sending the officers to the village under B2V and now to towns.

More than 45 departments established their stalls at all eight locations in the city for public awareness, grievance redressal, and enrolment under beneficiary schemes.

“People lack awareness about schemes of all the departments,” Bhat said as he was answering questions by citizens seeking information to avail benefits.  “We make them aware of the procedures of applying for schemes. At least 25 girls who are school dropouts are needed to start a centre”.

The beneficiaries, Bhat said, get a monthly stipend of Rs 500 in the elementary course to Rs 700 in an advanced course during training to learn the art of crewel, sozni, Namda making and other crafts. Once the course is completed, the skilled females can avail registration cards to avail loans at subsidised interest.

There are many schemes that skilled women can avail themselves with different government departments. “Around 23 eligible women registered themselves,” he said.

Weaving Dreams: This chromolithograph drawn by Scottish artist, war artist and war correspondent William Simpson who visited Kashmir somewhere between 1859-60.

Flanking Bhat’s stall, Owais Ahmed from the Horticulture department stares at the domicile stall where the deputed officials rarely have time to lift their heads to talk as they are busy issuing domicile certificates. Anchal Arora, a resident near Sonwar, accompanied her ageing father said: “It is instant and without any pain of running from pillar to post. I have brought all the documents. And I also do not have to go through excruciating low-speed Internet speed.”

From his deserted horticulture stall, Ahmed was watching the swelling queue near the stall issuing domicile certificates.

“The response on the first day was better. The response is poor when compared to B2Vack to Village,” Ahmed said.

On the first day, people came with enquiries about backyard horticulture,” he said adding the department provides plants at ninety per cent subsidy rates. The plant that people can buy Rs 60 in the market can be availed at Rs 6 from the department. Also, people can avail machines required in backyard horticulture at fifty per cent discount.

“Thirty-four people turned up on the first day and 30 people on the second day,” Ahmed said.

A little far away from Ahmed’s stall is the stall of Housing and Urban Development Department where the huge cardboard cheque and the key is attracting attention. Rarely anyone enquires about the schemes of the department as the pile of brochures lay untouched. The scheme that avails financial assistance of Rs 1.66 lakh to urban poor and economically weaker section of cities and towns apparently does not have any takers as only six people had turned up till afternoon of the second day.

Zahid Ahmad, one of the deputed officials meant to disseminate the information and awareness said: “Most of the beneficiaries came to enquire about payment pending, while many sought awareness about the schemes,” Ahmad said.

Opposite to the stall of Ahmad is the stall of the Education department. One of the deputed officials Noor-u-din, a teacher at Government Middle School Shalimar said that they have received grievances for the shortage of staff in Girls Higher Secondary School Nishat, request for up-gradation of Girls High School Drugjan, Dalgate and applications of the school heads for school renovations to student’s enquiries for online scholarship forms.

Seeking Redressal

The programme was also organized at Baghat Barzulla’s MET School. Abdul Majeed, 63, a resident of Baghat Barzulla, a dealer in handicrafts spent almost a day at the programme listening to officials disseminating information about the schemes of various departments and also raised his issue of power fee hike and sought the redressal. He also registered his wife Asmat Majeed for the scheme Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Urban) but is yet to apply for it as he is collecting prerequisite documents to avail the scheme.

 Another resident of Pantha Chowk, Nazir Ahmed Ganie, a stone quarry worker, from an economically weaker section, owns three marlas of land also sought enquiries to avail the Housing for All scheme. According to him he is yet to procure requisite documents and will go to departments’ office for further procedures.

The wife of a private employee, Yawer Bashir had also registered to avail the scheme. “My husband is a private employee. We live in private accommodation and do not own land. Our yearly income does not even exceed above the eligibility criteria of Rs 3 lakh from all sources,” said Bashir’s wife who is also yet to procure the documents.

Visiting Officials

Director Hospitality and Protocol, Hashmat Ali Khan, attended a function held at the Government Boys Higher Secondary School Safakadal, and Ganj Baksh Park, Nowhatta in the interiors of the old city. The people, he said, were happy as they had to run from pillar to post from one department to another and the My Town My Pride umbrella service solved many problems.

“People raised various demands and problems like augmentation of the road network, lack of the proper drainage system, adequate power and water supply in their areas,” Khan said as the people kept coming till late hours.

The officials designated at other locations said that almost 500 domicile certificates were issued to people. Besides, that people were said to have registered for Ayushman Bharat Gold card, besides waiting for getting Aadhar enrolments or updating the credentials in their existing cards.

Authorities received dozens of applications for macadamization and widening of roads. People also demanded amplifying the capacity of electric transformers in their respective areas to receive the quality power supply during the winter months in the old city.

Lt Governor, Manoj Sinha addressing people during My Town My Pride at Baramulla on Monday, October 19, 2020.

 The stall operated by the Agriculture Department said that they are creating awareness among people about securing farm implements, tools like poly greenhouses on subsidized rates. At the stall of Jal Shakti, PWD and PDD, the departmental representatives were collecting applications from the consumers. People representing their communities were asking for round the clock water supply, widening of roads and up-gradation or installation of new transformers from the concerned departments.

The department of Health registered the people for the gold cards. They were also making women aware of the benefits for pregnant women and new-borns extended by the department.

In Towns

Far away from Srinagar in Shopian, a large number of people sought redressal to individual and collective problems as the district administration roped in departments involved in public service delivery like issuance of domicile certificates, widow/disabled /old-age pension, enrolment and updation of Aadhar and power supply, issuance of birth/ death certificate, a sanction of loans to start-ups/ entrepreneurs by banks and others for setting up dedicated stalls at the venue of the program.

Social Activist Tufail Ahmed who participated and interacted with the visiting government officials in the programme raised the issue of Shopian District hospital, which is still incomplete since its construction began in 2006. He demanded the blood bank, ultrasound machines, and doctors for the hospital. 

“Poor man cannot afford to pay at private clinics. At government hospitals we do not have facilities,” Ahmed said reiterating that winters add woes as snowbound roads make it difficult for people to travel to other places for treatment or work.

Besides, he also raised the issue of encroachments of roads, time-bound clearance of snow-laden roads and demand for streetlights. “We also raised the demand for shifting of bus stand as it will help decongesting roads. We do not have parks and playgrounds where children can play,” he said.

Mansoor Ahmad Magray participated in the programs and raised the issues of garbage dumping stations, drainage systems, and development of roads. “As the winter is approaching people experience frequent power outages, water woes,” Magray said. He also sought rehabilitation of street vendors, beautification of the towns and employment schemes.

In this scene from a My Town, My Pride function in Shopian, a social activist is highlighting the peoples’ problem. Photo: Special arrangement

Bilal Ahmed, Tehsildar Shopian, one of the deputed officials said that the response of people was overwhelming as more than 500 people participated in the very first day in the town hall Shopian.

“The major issues raised by the people were regarding town planning, beautification, water, roads, drainage, parking and parks, garbage dumping and disposal and agriculture and horticulture-related,” he said adding that in two days almost 700 domicile certificates were issued besides EWS certificates, NOCs for parking slots and other pending requests of people for which they were seeking redressal.

Shafait Ahmed, District Social Welfare Officer and Child Protection Shopian said that the department felicitated more than ten newly born girl child under Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana and around fourteen school dropouts were enrolled besides distributing wheelchairs for specially disabled and hearing equipment for the elderly.

The citizens believe that this time they hope some redressal to their issues will come, unlike previous times when such public outreach programs turned out to be a charade and formality and the situation on the ground remained unchanged. “We want the benefit to be availed by deserving poor people, not by the privileged that have access to higher authorities,” went the refrain.

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About Author

A Mass Communication and Journalism postgraduate from the University of Kashmir, Khalid is a writer by choice and a journalist by chance.

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