It is not easy to characterize any organization. The difficulty lies in the complexity of processes that shape structures. In case of Srinagar Municipal Corporation, the culture of machinery defies that difficulty. So define it at ease: Systematic Machinery of Corruption (SMC). It has experimented a lot with various ways and means of “not-functioning” according to its own rules, and is innovative in meeting the target of fetching money that does not go to the ‘Organization’. SMC as an organization belongs to itself only; to its staff, of course. Audit can catch only a miniscule of it. Anti-corruption set up will take ages. It knows it, and is comfortably working in its own way unmindful of the law, and consequences on ‘city-zens’.
In the second week of June 2019, the residents of Ward 11 through a representative complained to the Commissioner, SMC, of illegal construction. It has had dual illegal feature: means and method. That is, construction began without seeking permission from SMC and the method employed is legally unrecognized (highly unsafe screw-jacks). Sahib referred it to Enforcement Cell. Referral continues to Ward Office down to Lane Jamadar. It had a zero impact. Matter went to Court. It orders ‘halt’ of illegal construction. Compliance followed for couple of days. Construction goes on, but during nights. They know it. Report it. Lodge an FIR. It does not dismantle any construction done in violation of Court Orders, and also in contradiction of its own rules. SMC, in fact, halted Court Order. A Police Officer, who very rightly said that this Organization has all the necessary powers provided by law to take action including dismantling, whispered that SMC ‘does not uproot its fruit-bearing trees (illegal constructions)’.
Mode of Operation –I: ‘Cotton Dust’
Normally, SMC ‘men’ (as they call themselves with a full vigour of masculinity) do not listen. Forgive me, they have ears like ‘women’ –sometimes, silver rings too. You ‘roar’, they yell at you: ‘we can hear’. They do not pay attention unless you attend their pockets and swell their belly: in kind and cash. Your degree of attendance will define their character of attention. Get a directive from Commissioner to its own staff. They float it with a dash of third class Phenyl. You remind them of accountability to Court. ‘Ah! Don’t you know what happens in courts: nothing’, is a general retort you receive back. Matter was also complained to Grievance Cell directly under the control of Honourable Governor. Sorry to bring this to public domain. An SMC officer termed Grievance Cell enquiry as ‘everyday routine’. Hence, unimportant! Top brass of organization, Court and GC are there for respect. Something else is followed. Finally, you go to Mayor. Honestly, in his uprightness he verbally ordered the Ward Officer to “uphold law and implement it 100 percent (fully)” and “go for dismantling”. It was publicly directed by Mayor at Bagh-i-Dilawar Khan during his supervision of dismantling illegal structures. The concerned official at SMC main office said to this author: “It involves law, and taking JCB to locality is not easy. Mayor is unaware of complexity”. Who know? Who matters? And importantly, what matters? Whatsoever the agency, each and every order/directive proves all but a cotton dust. Blow a breath, it is no-where.
Mode of Operation–II: Shift to Night
SMC officials are categorical: ‘our job is 10am to 4pm’. Fair enough that they cannot guard during nights. This is where the trick lies! Illegal constructions are undertaken mostly during the late evening and nights till dawn. You alert them. They will refer you to “the concerned Police Station” or prescribe you to “stop” construction on your own. In the morning, Jamadar reports to Ward Officer. And report is dispatched very rarely to higher ups. Reports documented rarely, and dispatched very rarely. Night constructions are not dismantled mostly. Recall the words of police officer: if the tree yielded a good fruit. It is part of an understanding between such citizens and the officials. It is an agreement to harvest for both the parties. And the former party under the guidance of such officials are advised to keep a gang of goons to keep social check at bay. Land Mafia and SMC officials share experiences and innovate/experiment with ways and means of developing effective mechanisms of undermining its own procedures, court and administration at large. ‘Trees’ are uprooted in extremely rare cases. When uprooted, it makes news. The scenes of dismantling captured in Newspapers and TV news are used against erring citizens to fetch more ‘fruits’. The calculation is remarkable. If you don’t pay more, get ready for JCB.
Silver Line: DDC Srinagar
An officer who responds well is DDC, Srinagar, Dr Shahid Iqbal. Accessible, he replies to private messages as well. Call it anything, his sincerity does not find a match in subordinate machinery. On two occasions SMC misinformed him. ‘Misinformation’ is a trusted tool employed by organizations like SMC. One cannot expect him to move beyond a point. In a social set up where some people behave as if they are above law. Regrettably, they prove it albeit with the nexus with government machinery. Wish, one could disagree with DDC who wrote: ‘I hardly see anyone on the side of law here…very rare’. Rightly, he points to a larger picture. Whether SMC swings in action (of course, it will reap from that even), the point remains that there is a silver line in administration in Srinagar.
Where to go?
SMC and allied organizations can be frustrating. They being very inert for implementation of their own rules and law in general. Contrarily, as experience shows that they are supra-active in reaping illegal self-benefits. Where to go? Of course, do not migrate. World is not a heaven. We have inherited many things including a tendency to break law and morality. Sadly, this tendency has become a norm. Quite dangerously, such people take a pride in undermining law and in sweeping institutions to the side of functioning. Imitation is not solution either. Definitely, one can lose on social capital. You can be denied public office for it requires a different ‘gene’ to be successful in a society where, as Dr Shahid Iqbal says, law-abiding is ‘very rare’. One must not leave the turf of reasoned argument and the use of force of logic, instead of muscle. Law of Jungle can be instrument of ‘reputation’, but it is not an attractive medium for ethical standards. In no-case, humans should dent moral capital. It may be a lazy resolution. Let it be!
Author is a Resident of Lal Bazar, Srinagar and views are based on personal experiences of resisting an illegal construction.