In August last year, Srinagar resident Farida Jahangir (41) was close to a court order that would register her Rs 22 lakh sale deed. A month later, flood waters stormed the premises of Srinagar District Court, damaging thousands of files, including Farida’s.
“It had taken over a month to complete the formalities for registration of my sale deed. But then the floods came and I lost all documents,” she recalled.
Farida, however, heaved a sigh of relief this March, when the court asked her to provide some proof for reconstruction of the case. “I had an additional copy of the documents. On submitting that, the case was reconstructed and my sale deed was registered.”
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Thousands of such cases were reconstructed by the Srinagar district court and the J&K High Court a year after the two buildings were devastated in the deluge.
Noor Mohammed was arrested in 2010 from the Lalmandi area of Srinagar after narcotics were recovered from his possession. The case file was washed out in the floods and the case was reconstructed after the defence lawyer submitted the missing documents to the court.
“After we provided copies of the witnesses’ statements, the case was reconstructed,” said Noor’s lawyer Imran Malik.
However, not all were as fortunate as Farida and Noor.
Abid Ahmad (23) was arrested on charges of assaulting a government staff in 2014. Before the floods, police had presented the challan. Then the calamity struck and the file was damaged. Abid and his lawyer are now waiting for the file to be retrieved and the case to be reconstructed.
“When we approached the officials concerned after the floods, they told us the file was yet to be traced,” said Abid’s lawyer Firdous Ahmad Bhat.
At the Srinagar district court, all the files damaged in the floods have been retrieved. The court now functions from a rented building in Bemina on the city outskirts, after its building at Lal Chowk was declared unsafe.
“The court has reconstructed most of the damaged files. We consulted the archive department and worked on their instructions to save the inundated files,” said Junaid Qureshi, who works at the administration section of the Principal District and Sessions Judge at the district court.
What is worrying the officials, however, is partial damage to the files. “The content was written in ink pen. After being inundated, it is difficult to read them now,” said Qureshi.
As for the J&K high court, files of the court library, prosecution wing and the Advocate General’s office were damaged in the calamity.
Judicial Registrar of the high court Parvez Hussain Kachroo, however, claimed around 90 per cent of the records have been retrieved. “The recovery process is still on,” said Kachroo.
A high court official said they had also sought advice from the archaeological department with regard to restoring the damaged records. “Initially we kept the files out in the sun to dry. Later, after consultation with the archaeological department, special treatment was given to them. They are gradually being retrieved,” he said.
At the Advocate General’s office in Srinagar, nearly 29,000 case files were left damaged after the deluge. As many as 10,000 of them have been restored, said officials.
Officials at the AG office said that after the floods, they wrote to all departments in the state, asking them to provide records related to the cases. The office has installed a photocopy machine to copy these records.
“The retrieval process started from March 8 and so far 10,000 files have been reconstructed,” said administrative officer Mohammed Yaqoob Dar. “The process is on and each day we are restoring around 100 files,” he said.
Although most of the case files have been restored, the lawyers feel that problems could still crop up and delay final judgments.
Shahid Ahmad, a lawyer at Srinagar district court, said: “We may not face any problem at this stage. But after a few years, when some important document is found missing, final judgments would be delayed.”
The lawyers added that besides the fear of a delay in judgment, people have also developed a fear that their cases might have been destroyed in the floods.
To address such fears, the Srinagar district court last week asked all those whose civil and criminal cases are pending for disposal before the Ist Additional Munsiff, Srinagar, and who have not appeared in the court after the floods, to appear before it within 15 days.