(Mr. Junaid Azim Mattu, 26, was born in Srinagar. He partly completed his schooling at the Burn Hall School, Srinagar, and partly at the Bishop Cotton School, Shimla. He attended college in America and graduated with a degree in Business and Finance from the Eli Broad School of Business at Michigan State University. He is a consulting financial analyst and telecom-IT entrepreneur based in Srinagar. A seeded national varsity debater throughout his school and college career (his grandfather - Khwaja Ghulam Ahmed Ashai - was one of the founding fathers of the Muslim/National Conference), Mr. Mattu also played under-19 cricket at national level for J&K. He is a founder of the World Kashmiri Students Association (WKSA), a global youth association for Kashmiris based in Srinagar, Kashmir, working on social, economic and political issues through constructive and informed activism. WKSA, as of today has 1,700+ registered members in Kashmir. He is also a nominated alumnus of the Global Young Leaders Conference. He is also the Srinagar District President of J&K Peoples’ Conference, led by Mr. Sajad Lone. In his leisure time, Junaid likes to engage in reading, gardening, watching movies and listening to music.)
The Story of a Stadium
This column is about a reality that, as Mark Twain would put it, might seem stranger than fiction. This is a real-life story about how a certain elected functionary of the ruling party has blatantly dared to waste public money and resources to apparently benefit his own kith and kin. Since years, the government has been planning to construct a sports stadium at Kulangam, Handwara on a stretch of land measuring around 200 kanals of land owned by the State. This was after repeated representations from the people of Kulangam to the government to utilize this vacant, barren piece of land for an infrastructural addition to the village and the district as a whole. Lo and behold, the local elected functionary of the ruling party had something else in mind.
It’s a well known fact in the area that the local elected functionary’s relatives (and perhaps him as well) own a significant amount of land in a village called Byaaripora. Byaaripora is incidentally loacated right next to Kulangam. So, the local elected functionary of the ruling party started to pull strings to change the planned location of the stadium from Kulangam to Byaaripora despite the fact that the earmarked land at Kulangam is owned by the State and the land that the elected local functionary wants the stadium to be located at is private, agricultural land owned by the locals – acquisition of which would cost the exchequer a significant amount of money. Money that wouldn’t be spent if the stadium is constructed at the location in Kulangam which is just approximately 800 meters from the new location at Byaaripora.
Land that is agricultural and a vital source of livelihood for the locals of Byaaripora.
The local elected functionary’s intention is to benefit his relatives and eventually, through this political maneuver, convert the land in Byaaripora into residential land – a move that would jack up land prices for the land owned by his kith and kin. Byaaripora, like all villages of rural Kashmir, depends on paddy land and agriculture for it’s livelihood and economic welfare. Byaaripora has also been a victim of politics of greed on earlier occasions as well.
Years ago, the State decided to construct a Fruit Mandi in Byaaripora at the behest of traders in Delhi with the single motive of failing the Fruit Mandi in Sopore, a Mandi that – by the grace of God and the persistence and courage of local visionary trade leaders – has been a huge success despite the State doing anything and everything to ensure its failure. Individuals who envisioned the Sopore Fruit Mandi were incidentally slapped with Public Safety Acts, yet they courageously prevailed. In addition to the land taken up by the Byaaripora Fruit Mandi, more agricultural land was then infringed on by the By-pass, the Degree College, the Police Station and the “Environmental Hall”. The “Environmental Hall” was constructed with the sole purpose of doling out contracts to a few chosen individuals who were aligned with the ruling party’s local elected functionary. The hall was constructed despite the fact that the Dak Bunglow – as it exists – was sufficient to hold all events and functions that the “Environmental Hall” was allegedly constructed for.
So why move an earmarked stadium from the proposed free, state-owned land in Kulangam to agricultural land that needs to be acquired and compensated for just 800 meters away? The answer, my friends, is as unique as its general in nature. The ruling party, throughout the history of this unfortunate State, has prioritized the economic welfare of its leaders and functionaries over the general economic and infrastructural welfare of the nation – almost always at a great cost to the exchequer.
A number of public representations were made to the Sports Minister highlighting this case that defies logic and justice. In those meetings with the locals, the Sports Minister has often accepted and stated that he has himself failed to comprehend the logic behind this move while also expressing that pressure is being exerted from certain quarters. Before the Sports Minister issues a denial for this, I accept his denial. The local people who called on him were figments of their own uppity imagination and the shifting of the stadium from FREE, State-land to private land just 800 meters away is based on logic. The “logic” of greed, misappropriation and plunder!
This case mirrors the reality of Kashmiri mainstream politics as it exists today. This is a classic example of the modus-operandi of the ruling party – its ways and style of plundering the State resulting in a total and complete economic paralysis of this State. Predictably, the ruling party and the government will propose this illogical, visibly malicious move on the basis of “public interest”. If we are to believe this government and the ruling party, apparently Haji Yousuf died in “public interest” as well. The Education Minister’s son cheated for “public interest”. Money was looted from the coffers of the J&K Cricket Association for “public interest”. Unfortunately, when the courts of this State are confronted with the over-abused, oft used term – “public interest”, they categorically choose to presume that these moves, these deals and these propositions are actually aimed for the welfare of the public.
Same is the case with the “Green Belt” law around Dal Lake. It’s a cardinal and unforgivable sin if an indigenous inhabitant puts a new latch on a 50 year old window but the rich, well-connected former and current bureaucrats, politicians and businessmen can construct homes and hotels in the same “Green Belt” – again allegedly in “public interest”.