Environmental groups up in arms against ex-Minister’s relative after PDP Govt’s fall
Srinagar: Taking cognisance of a deluge of complaints from different environmental activists and groups, Governor’s administration has ordered an in-depth enquiry into the No Objection Certificates (NOCs) from different government departments and consequently permission to construction of a nine-storey hotel building on the bank of river Jhelum in Srinagar.
Vigilance Section of General Administration Department (GAD) has on July 20 ordered the in-depth enquiry vide Government Order No: 30-GAD(Vig) of 2014 Dated 20-07-2014. Vide this order, sanction has been issued to “constitution of a committee to conduct an in-depth enquiry into the grant of building permission for construction of commercial complex by one Sheikh Gulzar Ahmad” who is currently raising a nine-story hotel complex on the bank of river Jhelum near Abdullah Bridge in Rajbagh.
While Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar, Dr Syed Abid Rashid, has been appointed Chairman of the committee, Special Secretary Housing and Urban Development Department, Vice Chairman Srinagar Development Authority, Director Floriculture, besides two representatives of Irrigation and PHE Department and Public Works Department (R&B), not below the rank of Superintending Engineer, have been appointed as Members.
According to a corrigendum issued on Tuesday, the committee would submit its report to the Government within four weeks.
The terms of reference of the committee include establishing the ownership of land and to scrutinise if State land/kahcharai land, which is not allowed to be sold as per the provisions of J&K Land Law, has been sold or purchased. It will find out whether the area of 7 kanals 7 marlas, in the midst of 27 kanals of kahcharai land in jurisdiction of Srinagar Municipal Corporation was in the category of residential or commercial zone in the existing Master Plan.
Officials privy to the development revealed to ST that the committee would investigate the circumstances under which different government departments, particularly SDA and Irrigation and Flood Control, have issued NOCs to the hotel owner that enabled SMC’s BOCA to issue building permission to the applicant. According to these sources, a number of environmental activists and groups swung into action particularly after the fall of PDP-led State government as one of the Cabinet Ministers was known to be shielding and promoting the entrepreneur, reportedly his close relative.
In the last three years, there was serious allegation from environmental groups that one of the SMC Commissioners had received bribe of Rs 50 lakh. According to sources, one of the former SMC Commissioners, who is now heading a top constitutional body, had revealed to then Chief Minister how one of the promoters of the hotel had shown him a diary with entries of senior government officers and politicians and claimed that the amounts shown against them had been paid to the individuals for facilitating construction of the hotel.
There were unsubstantiated reports that bribe worth Rs 60 lakh was offered to one SMC Commissioner which he refused to receive. He did not issue permission even after the entrepreneur obtained favourable orders from a court. However, immediately after the transfer of the honest SMC Commissioner, his successors arranged for NOCs and subsequently the building permission was issued.
The environmental groups have complained that four successive Ministers of Housing and Urban Development and Irrigation and Flood Control, two each from BJP, pushed permission to the hotel building despite the fact that H&UDD had proposed construction of a Sewage Treatment Plant for Rajbagh area on the same piece of kahcharai land but subsequently abandoned it when one SE of Irrigation and Flood Control Department cautioned in year 2013 that the STP would get destroyed in the event of flood in river Jhelum.
Faiz Bakhshi of Environmental Protection Group told ST that his team filed a complaint with Police Station Rajbagh against construction of the hotel after Chief Judicial Magistrate of Srinagar directed Police to conduct an investigation. He said that previously J&K High Court had sought response from SMC which fraudulently mentioned that the site had been cleared after an automobile workshop had been relocated. Bakhshi claimed that the workshop actually existed far away near Zero Bridge.
“As per the Srinagar Master Plan of 2000-2021, this area is a no construction zone. No other person has been permitted to raise a construction around that site”, Bakhshi said. He said that on June 14 his group submitted a 10-page memorandum with details about irregularities in issuance of the permission and demanded demolition of the hotel which has its superstructure almost complete. After the fall of the PDP-led government, EPG sent a reminder to Governor N.N. Vohra.
Commissioner-Secretary GAD, Hilal Ahmad Parray, said that his department received a proposal of enquiry and proposed names of chairman and members of the committee from H&UDD and issued Government Order on July 20. He said that the Government would take necessary decision after a detailed investigation into the allegations levelled by environmental groups.
Gulzar Ahmad Sheikh was not reachable for comment. However, one of his businessman friends asserted that he had raised the construction only after completing all necessary formalities including issuance of NOCs and building permission from SMC.