While the government has sealed the Srinagar shopping malls without car parking on court directive, at least four big business companies are planning to shift operations to Jammu and Chandigarh which they feel is safe and protected from coercive actions of the government. A trader, who wished not to be named, said the sealing of commercial complexes has yet again brought into limelight the fragile nature of business operations in Srinagar city. The traders said that due to sealing the lose hundreds of crores daily as their business was shut. “On one hand the government is keen to portray itself as a keen advocate of private sector and on the other hand the private sector is literally hounded,” he said, adding that the business losses translate into 200,000 square feet of rental space and loss of around 500 jobs in the private sector if the companies shift outside Valley. He said the onus lies on the government to heal the bruised and shattered business confidence and give a clear message that Srinagar is not an unwelcome and a difficult place to do business. “Any building which is clean, planned and has a beautiful facade is a target. The shop next to it which is like a slum and has no permission is not a target.” The traders believe that in Valley, a strange culture has evolved, wherein portrayal of enterprise and business is negative and an enterprising businessman is presumed to be guilty unless he proves himself innocent. “The businessman of the Kashmir region and Srinagar city in particular are amazed as to why only Srinagar city is targeted. What about Jammu city. Are there no violations,” asked a senior trader, Iqbal Ahmed. The traders said though master plan violation is supposedly of the severest nature in comparison to building plan violations, yet building plan violations, an offense of relatively milder nature, has attracted punishment and has resulted in sealing of complexes. Even the extension of the ordinance for master plan violations which is to lapse by the end of the year is mired in suspense, as the SMC is seemingly in a deep state of slumber, the traders said. The NC-Congress coalition had brought an ordinance after the High Court had ordered sealing of hotels in Kashmir. The ordinance was extended by the present government. Ahmad alleged that SMC is facilitating its own intimidation. “The efficiency of the SMC lies in ensuring that there is minimum damage and that business confidence is not shattered. The SMC has the power and the legal mandate to issue no objection certificates to those complexes where it feels that despite the building plan deviations, there is sufficient parking space.” He rued that SMC was not legalizing the change in building plans even of those complexes which have parking space and where the SMC has the legal space to issue such permissions. “It simply lacks the confidence and unless and until they have something to hide why are they not displaying the confidence that a government institution should display.” The trader said instead a reign of terror has been unleashed and traders and business community are complaining that they are being threatened with inclusion in the list for sealing. The traders said that if the government wants the private sector to flourish, it has to understand the importance of SMC and appoint capable people who share a vision of making Srinagar a viable tourist destination and also the commercial capital of the Valley that accommodates needs of the private sector. “The era of rewarding people with a sinecure has to end.” SMC Commissioner Showkat Zargar told KNS that for business to flourish, people have to cooperate with the corporation. “A sense of belonging should get developed among the people of Kashmir. We must do trade, build malls, but protect our city, and obey rules. People first do violate law, and then seek remedy. To make Srinagar a thriving tourism and business city, people have to cooperate with SMC, and in turn SMC also has to play a fair role in allowing people to construct buildings and malls,” Zargar told KNS. On the sealing of the shopping malls, Zargar said that it was a court decision, and the SMC had to obey that. Over the delay claimed by owners of these malls in filing status report by SMC to the court, the commissioner said that collecting report was an extensive exercise which will take time to gather. “Collecting all details about the malls and shopping complexes is an extensive exercise which will take more time. SMC will file an application in the court to seek extension of time to file the report,” he said.
2015 Kashmir Despatch