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Kashmir Inc alleges disaster funds to buy road barriers; DM says not true

The KCCI stated that while shopkeepers are put behind bars for opening their shops, the Srinagar golf course has been thrown open for the “royals” even amid the coronavirus-induced lockdown.

Srinagar district magistrate Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, who is also chairman of Srinagar DDMA, stated: “No funds have been either requisitioned, authorized, released or utilised out of SDRF for road barricades.” (File)

Calling the indefinite lockdown of business establishments in the Valley a “serious infringement on rights of the business community”, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) on Thursday slammed the J&K administration’s priorities and alleged that funds under the District Disaster Management Act (DDMA) have been spent on purchase of road barriers instead of building healthcare infrastructure in the Valley.

The authorities dismissed the charge.

The KCCI stated that while shopkeepers are put behind bars for opening their shops, the Srinagar golf course has been thrown open for the “royals” even amid the coronavirus-induced lockdown.

Srinagar district magistrate Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, who is also chairman of Srinagar DDMA, stated: “No funds have been either requisitioned, authorized, released or utilised out of SDRF for road barricades.”

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Choudhary also said, “Any such statement made by a responsible organisation without verifying the facts is a serious concern and will be responded appropriately. I hope KCCI revisits any such alleged statement if issued.”

The KCCI pointed out that Kashmir has been under a lockdown since August last year, when restrictions were imposed following withdrawal of the special status to the erstwhile state.

KCCI joint-secretary Sheikh Gowhar Ali said on Thursday: “Despite full cooperation extended by the public and the business community, the administration appears to be running around in circles for the past five months and seems oblivious to the fact that the business community of Kashmir is presently in the 13th month of disruption, which has wiped out enterprises and devastated the economy. The indefinite lockdown of business establishments in Kashmir, especially Srinagar, is a serious infringement on the rights of the business community to earn a livelihood.”

Maintaining that there was “grievous dereliction” in properly using the earlier stages of lockdown to prepare for the unlocking phase, Ali said, “DDMA funds have been spent on purchase of barriers despite Kashmir having the highest inventory of barriers, including barbed wire, available.”

He was referring to purchase of smart road barriers by Srinagar District Disaster Management Authority.

“The price of critical medical equipment, including oxygen concentrators, has skyrocketed without any system of checks and balances in place. Butchers are hauled in for selling meat at meagrely higher prices but no attention is paid to regulate prices of essential and critical medical equipment,” he stated.

In response, DM Choudhary stated: “The DDMA has multifaceted roles. Nearly 400 smart barricades for containment zones and specific areas have been provided under ‘Road Furniture’ component of district plan under PWD R&B ‘Head’, which can’t be used for any other sector. DDMA has just used the space for message about masks and other SOPs in helpline numbers.”

He also said, “Procurement of medical infrastructure is done by JKMSCL [J&K Medical Supplies Corporation Limited, a public sector entity] or tertiary care hospitals directly. District administration deals with primary healthcare partly under District Plan, and funding under the sector can neither be diverted nor altered.”

Given this, he said, “linking road furniture with health equipment is beyond comprehension”.

The Chamber questioned the logic behind opening the Royal Springs Golf Course (RSGC) in Srinagar when the entire Valley is under lockdown. It said, “Handpicked star restaurants frequented by the high and mighty have been allowed to operate without any interruption whereas lesser mortals are not allowed any activities…. Even when the District Magistrate declared curfew in Srinagar [August 4-5], when a majority of 17 lakh people were caged behind fancy barriers and barbed wire, RSGC was open and jam-packed.”

Drawing comparisons with Mumbai, the KCCI said, “Despite total cases numbering 5.35 lakh with a daily average of 1,700 cases for the past two months, Mumbai has now entered Unlock-3. A population of more than 2 crore living in an area of 603 sq km, compared to Srinagar’s population of around 17 lakh in an area of 294 sq km — a six-times higher population density of 33,168 persons per sq km compared to 5,782 persons per sq km in Srinagar…”

The industry chamber said, “There are currently around 700 containment zones in Mumbai but unlike in Srinagar, they mostly consist of individual buildings and chawls/slums… But here the administration barbwires-off entire neighbourhoods…”

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