Batamaloo bus stand up for sale, Govt unconcerned

Forget passenger facility, terminal building converted into shopping complex

GOING, GOING, GONE!

M HYDERI

Srinagar, Apr 30: Salman Khan’s comedy sequence of duping Shakti Kapoor by selling him a bus stop as “shop” in a movie remained a popular gossip, a decade back. For now, something similar but serious has come true in this summer Capital as a government owned bus stand has been “illegally” converted into a shopping complex.
 The terminal building of General Bus Stand Batamaloo, instead of being a facility for passengers and transporters has been converted into cubical shops. While the vendors say they have “paid heavily for rehabilitation in the bus stand”, the officials say the GBS was never sold but quickly added that it’s “conversion was a serious issue.”
 Curiously, around 400 shops have already come up inside the terminal building with authorities feigning ignorance on how this massive build-up took place within a past few months.

THE TERMINAL CONVERSION
 Sources said some three years back police had sought details of pavement vendors operating from the Batamaloo bus stand “so as to maintain their record for security reasons.”
 “Fearing untoward incident from the crowds which the pavement vendors attract in the area the police wanted their registration and subsequent relocation elsewhere for security reasons,” said a senior official, requesting not to be named.
 Subsequently the Srinagar Development Authority (SDA), which owns the GBS Batamaloo registered details of over 300 vendors in 2009 and is understood to have sent a copy to the police for records.
 But thereafter, some SDA officials allowed the pavement vendors to operate from the terminal building on the “precondition that they won’t raise any permanent structures there.” However, in a surprise move, the vendors in February 2013 started raising permanent pre-fabricated 6*8 ft shops inside the terminal building and within a span of just two months around 400 such shops have already come up there. Recently some vendors have even started raising similar constructions on the first floor of the terminal building as well.
 
THE GOVT SILENCE
 Last month the concerned including transporters took up the conversion issue with the government at a meeting chaired by Divisional Commissioner Shailendra Kumar. The divisional and the district administration had called the joint meeting for a civil society feedback on development of Srinagar City.
 The stakeholders appealed the administration to get the building vacated from the “illegal occupants”. A month on, no action has been taken.

VENDORS POINT
 The vendors on the other hand have a point. They say the building hasn’t been occupied “illegally but after consent from the SDA top brass.”
 “We are in possession of documents that we have paid fee as per the written communications from SDA officials,” the vendors said. “Don’t call it encroachment. This is our genuine rehabilitation approved by the government,” they added.

THE SCAM IN OFFING
 Insiders said the issue could snowball into a scam worth millions of rupees. “Let’s look at the cubicle structures as shops on prime land which is worth crores of rupees per kanal. How come the government allowed passenger facility be converted into bazaar?” questioned an observer. But this isn’t the only query.
 If only 300 vendors were registered in 2009, for shifting, how come cabins have been allotted to 400 vendors inside the terminal building? Who allotted the spaces to these additional 100 vendors and wherefrom they got the documents, if any? According to sources, the illegal construction of these cabins is turning out to be a huge racket with some ‘influential’ persons having grabbed scores of such cabins-cum-shops, taking advantage of SDA inertia. “The modus operandi is to grab an area inside the terminal building in connivance with SDA staff, erect cabins during the night, and sell the same in the morning for around Rs 5 to 8 lakh each,” a source privy the shoddy dealings in the buss stand said.
 How did the SDA allow such a huge number (400) of permanent structures to come up inside the terminal building, which is necessarily for the convenience of passengers and transporters?
 And given the fact that the GBS Batamaloo is to be shifted to Shalteng where 240 kanals of land have already been allocated to SDA for the purpose, why such a huge market has been allowed to come up inside the terminal building in such a hush-hush manner?

SDA SPEAKS
 The Vice Chairperson SDA, Muhammad Shafi Rather, said the matter has come to his notice and he recently visited the spot.
 “It’s a full-fledged Palika Bazaar out there… Its something very intriguing,” the SDA VC told Greater Kashmir. The official said he has got scene of constructions which have come up inside the terminal building captured in video cameras and a follow-up action would be taken soon.
 The SDA VC, however, maintained that the matter was of “sensitive and serious nature and all stakeholders including those occupying the building for vending would have to be taken into confidence.”
 “I have sought all the records with regard to the construction of shops inside the terminal building and have directed the Deputy Director Enforcement to ensure that no further kiosks come up in the area,” he added.
 Meanwhile, officials said, sensing government action, the vendors through newspaper advertisements have “urged the SDA to provide them alternate site for rehabilitation in Sector-7 of the Bus Stand as already agreed.”

THE COINCIDENCE
 Call it fate or coincidence, the Batamaloo issue has popped up at a time when a division bench of High Court comprising Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Ali Muhammad Magrey has directed all Deputy Commissioners of  Valley to curb the menace of encroachments and explore possibility of bringing out some plans to accommodate the increasing populations in their respective districts on modern lines.
 The Court has directed the Chief Secretary, Commissioner Secretary Revenue Department, Commissioner Secretary Housing and Urban Development, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Vice-Chairman SDA and Commissioner Srinagar Municipal Corporation to strictly comply with the directions passed by it from time to time on the issue. The respondents have been directed to file status report within a week.
 
THE BOLLYWOOD INSTINCT
 Unlike the Salman Khan-starer Kahin Pyaar Na Ho Jaaye, where the encroachment was razed instantly, officials are yet to know who sold the Batamaloo terminal building and how?
 While some suspect that Babus might have gone for the shady deal worth millions, others relate it with political nexus. Observers alleged that in ‘70s and ‘80s many such markets mushroomed in the City under similar situations and were later regularized by a particular party in power!

Lastupdate on : Tue, 30 Apr 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 30 Apr 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 1 May 2013 00:00:00 IST




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