In Srinagar and in Kashmir periphery, there are dozens of buildings meant to house schools, hospitals and other public facilities, which have come up at huge costs but are not in use now for various reasons, reports Faheem Mir
As it snowed heavily on February 26, 2019, Baramulla’s higher reaches were impassable. A man with an injured leg was taken to primary public health sub-centre at Pazwalpora, almost the last village in the Rafiaabad belt, on a cot.
This was not happening for the first time. Earlier as well, the people would take patients on cots to reach the dispensary. Once, they reached the hospital, its main door was blocked by the snow leaving room for just one person to enter.
The centre is housed in a run-down private structure in village outskirts. Health Ministry has built a new building in 2011, but due to some dispute between the landowner and the government, the building is locked.
Pazwalpora is just one instance. There are dozens of cases in which the governments have massively invested in public infrastructure but are locked and in disuse. Most of this infrastructure is in Kashmir periphery.
In 2009, the government built a 3-room building with a washroom in the same Pazwalpora village. After it came up, the health department raised an objection and did not accept it. “Almost Rs 10 lakh was invested but the reasons for rejecting it are best known to officials,” one resident said.
In another similar case in the same village, the government in 2011 sanctioned another one-storied building to shift the health centre with 5 rooms and 3 washrooms and an office room at an estimated cost of Rs 20 lakh. After completing the construction, a year later, the building was never handed over to the department. The building is all right but the landowner Sabdar Ali is in dispute with the public works department.
The landowner claims the department has promised him and signed an agreement in which the department accepted the conditions of the landowner including a fourth class job and Rs 6 lakh for 2.5 kanals of land.
“After sacrificing 24 trees which were the lone source of income for my family, the authorities just gave me Rs 2.5 lakh and rejected my plea for the job,” Ali said. “Now, I just want them to pay me the money for it.”
Two buildings and a lot of investment later, the people are unable to use the facility. “There are not many facilities in this centre,” the only nurse posted at the centre said. “There is no washroom for the patients and the staff. At least, there should be a washroom that we have in a new building but the circumstances didn’t allow us to shift.” A patient, Mohammad Akbar complained: “People are suffering due to non-availability of space and equipment.”
Not far away from Pazwalpora is a village. There, a pathetic school building welcomes visitors, which has never been in use since 1980s. It is a similar case of dispute between the government and the landowners – Mohammad Subhan and Ali Mohammad.
Due to this conflict, the building remained closed for years and the students suffered till 2010 when a new building was constructed. “Up to fifth primary, we used to study in a room situated on a cowshed,” a former student of the school, now a driver, said. “What is the fun of spending money that does not benefit?”
Some of the students dropped out of school due to unhealthy surroundings. “What you can expect from a student sitting in a room where the air is polluted by cow dung,” Ishfaq Ahmad, 26, a former student, who is now a daily wage labourer, said.
Almost 70 km away in Srinagar’s Hazratbal, the government has built a two-storied mega community hall that can accommodate a few thousand people. Estimated cost for this building was almost half a crore when it came up almost eight years ago. But the hall was not used by people as it went in a dispute with the neighbouring house owner.
The building is huge; it has blocked the sunlight and there is not much of the fire gap in between the residential house and the hall. “The house owner filed a case against the public works department, and since then, the building is locked and never opened for public use,” a resident said.
A few kilometres away in Srinagar’s old city there is a similar community hall in Hamzah Mohalla, Umar Colony. The construction of the building was completed some six years back but the PWD failed to donate it to the community. The reason the residents said is the inappropriate location. The hall remains full of drainage water around the year and it is impossible for the public to gather here for weddings.
Locals alleged that authorities take these things non-serious during the conceptual and exploration stages. “See they invested, made it but unfortunately they wasted approximately Rs 15 lakh,” said Muneer Ahmad, a resident.
More than 80-km south of Srinagar in Kulgam, the government-sanctioned the construction of Sub-district hospital in 2008. After investing almost half of the allocated funds on its construction in Dhamal Hanjipora (DHPora), the government authorities abandoned the building as well as the site. Reason: it was unapproachable and inappropriate for a hospital! Why not the planners did know it in anticipation?
It was a mega project of Rs 16 crore and the sub-district hospital was supposed to be equipped with modern technologies. “The constructional work was started in National Conference – Congress government but it was abandoned by the successor government,” locals alleged.
The residents are divided over why the work stopped. A section says it was because of the political reasons. But there are some who believe the location-selection was bad. “Whatever the reasons, one thing is clear that the government wasted this huge amount,” Dawood Naik said.
A small part of the building is now used by the social welfare department. Some locals said that the building will be occupied by police as authorities have decided to shift the DHpora police station in the building that will cover 20 per cent of it.
District authorities previously asked different departments to shift their offices in the building but the departments rejected this offer by saying that the building is not suitable for any other office other than the hospital.
A few kilometres away in Nihama, the government built a primary health centre with nearly 10 rooms but the building was not accepted by the health department. The building was completed in 2000. It has also a dispute between the department and the landowner and the case is pending before the court of law.
In Anantnag’s Takiya Behram Shah, a primary health centre was constructed years ago but is not in use. Reason: the man who houses the hospital in his building is using his influence and prevents shifting!
Officials said there are countless such instances in which the infrastructure has been built at huge costs but the people have been unable to use it. Though in most of the cases, the reasons are around the disputes between the landowners and the respective departments, there are various instances in which the planners permitted investments at bad locations. In certain cases, even political priorities were forced on this infrastructure.
In the just-concluded Back to Village, officials said they were shown such instances and they have taken note of them. Now the question is will the governor Satya Pal Malik’s administration transfers these buildings to the people for the use they actually are meant for.