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Amid Ragging Pandemic, Infighting Paralyses SMC

by Yawar Hussain

SRINAGAR: Amid the raging pandemic which has led to massive morbidity in Srinagar, scores of corporators of Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) headed by Mayor Junaid Azim Mattu had gone on an indefinite hunger strike against the Joint Commissioner Planning alleging that the officer is “corrupt”. The strike ended today after the Divisional Commissioner intervened.

Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC)

The issue has snowballed into a major fight between the SMC bureaucracy and elected councillors with the JCP Ghulam Hassan Mir now reportedly suing the Mayor with Rs 5 crore defamation suit.

The tensions started when the newly appointed SMC Commissioner Athar Amir Khan last week formed a Task Force of seven officials headed by the JCP Mir to look into illegal constructions, deviations and conversion of residential buildings into commercial in Srinagar city.

The Commissioner also ordered their demolition and recovery of the money lost by such constructions from the involved SMC officials.

The Task Force headed by Mir has been demolishing illegal structures that were coming up during lockdown allegedly with the active connivance of some Municipal officials and Corporators.

Sources in the SMC said that many of the “illegal” structures whose permission was given since the Corporation was elected in 2018 have now been cancelled by the Task Force irking the Corporators. Some of these permissions were granted by an officer who now is a BJP member.

On Friday, SMC Mayor along with two dozen Corporators locked the gates of Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) in protest against SMC Commissioner and Joint Commissioner and didn’t allow these two officers to enter the premises.

Raising slogans like ‘down with bureaucracy’ and against Principal Secretary to Government, Housing and Urban Development Department, Dheeraj Gupta; SMC Commissioner, Athar Amin Khan and Joint Commissioner (Planning), Ghulam Hassan Mir; the Corporators led by Mayor of Srinagar Junaid Azim Mattu locked the main gate of the SMC and held a sit-in protest at the entrance.

Junaid Azim Mattu

In a series of tweets, however, SMC Mayor and J&K Apni Party Youth President Junaid Azim Mattu lashed out at JCP for allegedly defaming the elected body by obnoxious allegations and gas-lighting.

“Ease with which a corrupt, thoroughly inept Joint Commissioner (Planning) of the SMC can defame an entire elected body by obnoxious allegations and gas-lighting should be a matter of concern for the Administration and a red-flag for the subversion of elected institutions,” he wrote his official Twitter handle.

He said not only has Joint Commissioner (Planning) committed forgery, bent rules in the grant of select commercial permissions (while tormenting thousands of ordinary poor citizens for grant of genuine permissions) – he has embarked on a journey to defame those who question his sadism.

“The elected Corporation of SMC has repeatedly flagged the Joint Commissioner (Planning)’s aberrant ways and is well within statutory rights to seek his removal. His removal has absolutely nothing to do with the enforcement of master plan in Srinagar,” he said.

Mattu said it is primarily because of his failure as Joint Commissioner (Planning) in dispensing basic duties that illegal constructions are being encouraged and incentivized. “The Mayor, Deputy Mayor or the elected Corporators play no role in the grant of permissions or enforcement,” he said.

He alleged that there are irrefutable proofs of his (JCP’s) corrupt practices. “Numerous building permission applicants have filed written complaints alleging extortion from him! Said officer cannot hide behind a smokescreen to torment the resident of Srinagar and in turn defame and vilify them,” he said.

“I didn’t want to comment on this administrative matter and simply forwarded a joint representation from 61 elected representatives to the Govt – as is mandated by the statute. Sadly the officer has again chosen to be a politician and given an absolutely obnoxious interview,” Mattu said.

“Strange times. For an officer to abuse and demonize elected institutions at will and whim – with such ease —- God help democratic institutions in J&K! The elected Corporation will not only stay the course in seeking his removal but also approach the Hon’ble Courts now,” he wrote.

“The Corporation has rejected his continuance in SMC with full statutory validity. His efforts to discredit an elected body are unacceptable,” he added.

The developments come in the wake of Srinagar district being among the worst affected by Covid-19’s second wave in Jammu and Kashmir.

Its counterpart in Jammu city has been at the forefront of tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Pandurang Kondhbharao Pole and SMC Commissioner Athar Amir Khan held a detailed meeting with the SMC Corporators and Mayor promising that the “genuine” demands would be looked in by the government.

Subsequently, the indefinite strike was called off. Earlier, they organised SMC’s special session in which, according to Matu, 3/4th majority of the Corporation unanimously passed a resolution seeking the removal of Mir.

Talking to Kashmir Life, SMC Corporator from Zakura Waheed Dar said gave the other version of the happenings. “I believe that JCP Ghulam Hasan Mir is an honest and upright officer like the Commissioner SMC,” Dar said.

“The Mayor didn’t convene a single meeting of the council since he took over but now amid a pandemic, he called a meeting,” Dar said. He said he along with his group didn’t sign the petition floated by the Mayor because they believe the JCP should have been given the time to complete the job he was handed, the deadline of which was June 6.
“I don’t know what the hurry was. The corporators supporting him fear repercussions otherwise everyone knows the JCP is an honest officer,” he said.

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