New Delhi/Jammu, Sep 14 (IANS) The bureaucracy in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is in so much disarray that several developmental projects are either entangled in controversies or delayed.
Recently, a land row erupted in Jammu over an ancient, 1000-year-old Panjhbakhtar temple. Believed to have been visited by Shri Adi Shankaracharya, the oldest Mahadev Temple in Jammu also houses various Akhadas during the Amarnath Yatra.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic related lockdown, Jammu Smart City Limited, in a meeting chaired by Divisional Commissioner Sanjiv Verma, decided to build a multilevel parking partially on the temple land. The proposal came from Director of Smart City project Sushma Chauhan, who also happens to be the District Magistrate and Collector of Jammu.
However, suddenly the NHIDCL floated a Notice Inviting Tender (NIT) without any authority on June 18, sources said.
Though NHIDCL, a public sector company, has excellent track record in the implementation of projects across the country, in Jammu and Kashmir, it is not known for its efficiency or competence. It has re-tendered Zojila twice and the progress of the project has been slow.
When the temple devotees questioned the PPP project floated by NHIDCL, KAS Babila Rakwal, Vice Chairman, Jammu Development Authority (JDA), instructed authorities to postpone the tender process immediately.
“It was an error which we withdrew and even clarified,” Rakwal told IANS on phone. Jammu Municipal Corporation also washed its hands off the issue.
The Panchbakhtar Temple land is currently under high court appointed administration. The court appointed caretaker, Suresh Sharma, told IANS that he eventually had to seek the intervention of the court, which gave clear instructions that the land did not belong to JMC or JDA.
According to sources, the District Collector, who is responsible for maintenance of land records as revenue head of the district, had not verified whether the competent authority owned the title and possession of temple land for the development of the multi-level parking project under the PPP mode.
“Even discussion on parking constructions on smart city project was done without official details of the land meant for parking,” an official source in Jammu said.
An explanation was sought from the Vice Chairman of JDA with respect to the tender. However, the district administration in its response was silent on how the temple agenda was discussed in its board meeting of June 20 without following the due process of law to acquire the land, have it demarcated from the owners, effectively the high court. Chauhan was not available for a comment even as IANS reached out to her.
Sources said NHIDCL had floated the tender over verbal instructions, which are issued regularly in Jammu and Kashmir, forcing junior officers to toe the line.
Though the bureaucracy, headed by Chief Secretary BVR Subramanyam, has been pulled up by successive Governors and LGs from time to time for such unnecessary controversies, non-performance and failure to complete development projects, yet not much has changed.
Several Prime Minister’s package projects are yet to be awarded as many projects remain pending due to administrative red tape.
In another controversy, the JMC decided to build a shopping complex over a cremation ground in Jammu, at a time when cremation grounds are being modernised by installing electric and fuel operated furnaces across India to cope with the deaths due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“While in other states, several municipal corporations are providing concessional rates for the use of eco-friendly furnaces, J&K administration’s priorities are different,” sources said.
Frustration and anger is growing in Jammu and Kashmir due to unaccountability of the bureaucracy. People were furious, for example, when the Jammu District Administration did not give its consent for Pratham Puja of Baba Amarnath Yatra till late night, an official said.
The then Lieutenant Governor GC Murmu had sent his written comments to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) for appropriate action. But the DoPT did not even acknowledge the letter, sources said. The concerned officer, sources said, had been so arrogant that he always breached the protocols during the visits of former LG Murmu.
On several occasions during lockdown, the Jammu District Administration was seen as rigid; be it issuance of passes, opening of bookshops, responding to the needs of vegetable and fruit traders or the industry.
“On several occasions, the LG’s intervention was unwelcome and overruled. While the standard operating procedure (SOP) for Kashmir Division was liberal, the SOP for Jammu was very coercive,” sources added.
“All of this is in public domain but the officer is being considered for the Padma Shri award due to his proximity of some IAS officer who himself claims to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” an officer in Jammu said.
Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has recently taken over and is still in the process of familiarising himself with the administrative issues. Last week, Sinha visited the Charar-e-Sharif shrine and questioned the administration headed by the Chief Secretary for not adhering to time schedules of completion of projects.
He pulled up officials at the Hazratbal shrine for the same reason and ordered probe into the delays. Sinha has also tasked his team to make a time bound programme for completion of important projects.