The Government of J&K enacted J&K Municipal Corporation Act 2000 and the J&K Municipal Council Act 2000. By virtue of these Acts three tier Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) viz, Municipal Corporations, Municipal Councils and Municipal Committees were created in J&K and endowed them with duties, powers, resources and responsibilities to make them viable & vibrant local self Government Institutions. Presently there are some 80 ULBs which include two corporations, six municipal councils and 72 municipal committees. The overall administrative control vests with the Secretary Housing & Urban Development Department at the Government level with two municipal Commissioners/Mayors and the two Directors at provincial /executive level. In 4/2013 the Corporation under the two Acts notified 18 functions and powers to ULBs which are as follows:-a)Public health, sanitation conservancy and solid waste management. b) Cattle ponds, protection of cruelty to animals, c) Vital statistics including registration of births and deaths, d) Regulation of slaughter houses & tanneries, e) Slump improvement and upgradation, f) Burial & burial grounds and cremation & cremation grounds and electric crematoriums, g) Public amenities including street lighting, parking lots, bus stops and public convenience, h)Regulation of land use and construction of buildings, i) Urban planning including town planning, j)Planning for economic and social development, k)Roads & bridges, l) Water supply for domestic, industrial and commercial purposes, m) Fire services, n)Urban forestry , protection of the environment and prevention of ecological aspects, o)safeguarding the interests of weaker sections of society including the handicapped & mentally retarded , p) Urban poverty alleviation, q) Provision of urban amenities and facilities such as parks, gardens and play grounds; and r) Promotion of cultural, education and aesthetic aspects. Of these only first eight functions from (a) to (f) are being carried out by the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC).
Being one of his assignments, the then Chief Minister during 4/2016 asked for setting up an alternate vendor market followed by the Hon’ble High Court of J & K orders in 4/2017 for removing street vendors (HSHS & Civil Lines area) within a month. During 8/2017 Divisional Commissioner directed SMC to remove all street vendors. In 11/2017 the SMC Commissioner proposed shifting of ‘Sunday market’ from Polo View to Eidgah ‘ followed by Commissioner’s statement in 7/2018 that vending zones near Exhibition Crossing were ready. It is, however, alleged that lack of cooperation from the hawkers has been a hurdle to make vending zones operational quoting example of vending zones near Exhibition Crossing where vendors showed their indifference to move. As per news reports SMC now seeks help of an outside J&K non-governmental organization for rehabilitation of vendors. The SMC is stated to have contacted an NGO from outside J&K for helping it in rehabilitation of street vendors who have been congesting many city areas and consequently causing immense difficulties to commuters by hampering the smooth flow of traffic in these areas. It is disclosed that one of the Delhi based NGO has visited Srinagar recently to discuss ways for rehabilitation of 2,910 registered vendors in Srinagar and an initial meeting has also been held with this NGO. The SMC authorities are awaiting their feed back.
1. In view of 133 years old experience of the civic body (SMC) established in 1,886 as Municipal Committee looking after population in thousands, now grown upto the status of a Municipal Corporation having coverage of lakhs of people & area in hundreds of square kilometers with practice of street vendors almost in towns as well, seeking intervention of an outside State private body gives vent to some questions:- Primus)Is rehabilitation a final solution to the problem? Secundus) Shall not other new street vendors follow the suit creating a plethora of problems short of any durable solution? Tertius) Don’t we have such expertise available here as so many Development Authorities exist here at sub-district, district level and to cap it all a full fledged Srinagar Development Authority? Quartus) Aren’t we acquainted with mood and manner of our street vendors than the outsiders? Quintus) Why should an outside state NGO be invited to help mitigate a local problem ? Sextus) Shall not the problem spread its tentacle to other urban/rural local bodies forcing ejection or redundancy of local management? Septimus) Shall outside State NGO come with pieces of land and bags of money to spread & distribute it here and solve the problem? Never. One is reminded of a verse in Urdu of Dr. Sir Mohammad Iqbal that reads: “ Intiha be es ke hai aakhir khriendi kub talak – Chitriyan, romal, muffler, perahan Japan say …….Apni gaflat ke yehi halat agar qaim rehi – Aayiangay gussal Kabal say, kafun Japan say which roughly translates to It is utmost limit how far will you go on purchasing umbrellas, handkerchief, muffler, long robes from Japan….If this condition of negligence continued washers for the dead will come from Kabul and shrouds from Japan”. The topography, geography and demography of Srinagar lash us to find solution within our own resources and under our own circumstances which recapitulates us of a Persian adage of ‘qazia zameen bur sare zameen’ meaning that ‘dispute of a place should be settled on the same land.”
Where there is hustle & bustle of people owing to any reasons street vendors too appear automatically for economic activities unlike barren streets and deserted lands that don’t attract hawkers as a natural corollary. So markets , congregation of people by virtue of Government offices, schools, hospitals, commercial places, populous area etc, peripheral developments crop up indispensably. The projectised collaboration between SMC and the outside state NGO authorities has raised apprehensions of various types and kinds among the people. One such apprehension being fear of rehabilitating undeserving people and some blue eyed persons not otherwise entitled to and at the cost of State exchequer. Still this is no solution as we have street vendors/hawkers at Batamaloo, Jamia Masjid Nowhatta, Lalla Ded Hospital, New Bus Stand Mandi, Pandchukh, SMHS Hospital, Soura, Hazratbal, Dalgate etc to name a few and a similar situation is posturing in towns also. A possible solution can be to maintain these street vendors/hawkers to the alleys/lanes where no public transport plies. However, Sunday markets may continue only on Sundays at Polo View, Lal Chowk, Eidhgah or Batamaloo etc where these are functioning at present so that movement of vehicular and public transport is not disrupted.
[The author is a former Sr. Audit Officer working as Consultant in the A.G’s Office Srinagar.]