Once Raised in SMC Dominion, Why Can Only God Bring the Illegal Buildings Down?

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There are nearly eight assembly segments, 74 four wards, and about 17.50 lakh people living in Srinagar city, all of whom have developed this perception that once a building is raised in the domain of Srinagar Municipal Corporation, whether legally, or illegally, it cannot be rectified or touched. The question remains, why?

Many buildings have come up in gross violation of the norms, the unified building By-laws, and the Masterplan in Srinagar, which is rendering the Srinagar Master Plan, 2035, ineffective. The previous Srinagar Master Plan which was first conceived in 1971 also fell prey to such uncalculated ground realities and later, the policymakers had to come up with another Master Plan and start from ground zero.

A case in point is a commercial building built by Ali Mohammad Baba, S/O Haji Ahmad Baba, and others, under permission number 4256 dated 22/11/2018, at Hari Singh High Street, the heart of Srinagar city. On May 3, 2024, acting on High Court orders, the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) sealed the offending portions of the said building, which included the top two stories, that had come up in violation of the law. The division bench of the High Court of J&K and Ladakh had directed the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) to seal the offending portion of the building.

“We implemented the High Court orders and sealed two stories which had been constructed in violation of the permission,” the then Chief Enforcement Officer of SMC Mudasir Banday had said while speaking to media after overseeing the seal. However, Justice Sanjay Dhar had stated in his order dated 29/01/2024 that the “offending portion of the building constructed by the private respondents shall be sealed by the petitioner-corporation till such time a decision is taken by the Commissioner, Srinagar Municipal Corporation about the question of compounding of deviations. In case the deviations are not compounded/ regularized by the Commissioner, the private respondents shall ensure that the offending portion of the building is demolished or, alternatively, the Corporation shall undertake demolition of the offending portion in accordance with law.”

Clearly, according to the judgment of the honourable High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, the Srinagar Municipal Corporation has been given the prerogative to decide whether the offending portions of the said building can be regularized, and if not, carry out the demolition.

But such is the state of affairs in the SMC domain, that, people safely assume that no one, except God, can bring down the buildings once they are raised, whether legally or illegally. In another similar case, the SMC rejected to regularise the building of one Mohammad Subhan Bhat, wherein, the Joint Commissioner Planning on 27/05/2024, said that the building constructed by the applicant cannot be regularised on grounds that the applicant had deviated from permitted guidelines, not only in terms of ground coverage but also, in terms of floors.

However, the fate of the said building has also remained the same, as SMC does not have a history of bringing down the illegally constructed building.

Furthermore, since Kashmir is an active earthquake-prone area; a volcanic/seismic Zone-V where the height of the buildings has to be monitored due to safety and hazard concerns, raises a question on the geographical and topographical knowledge of the functionaries of Srinagar Municipal Corporation, who allowed a high raising commercial building to come up under their watch, and that in the city center, without even considering the structural integrity of the building and its load capacity, since according to the permission, the house has been built over an existing, old plinth.

According to the SMC law officer, Mr. Nadir, the corporation cannot keep a “building sealed for so long and has to approach a decision regarding regularization or the demolition thereof.” However, it appears to be seen whether a precedent would be set in this case, and this perception where Srinagar Municipal Corporation is considered toothless in the face of illegally raised buildings would be negated, and the corporation would go for the demolition of such structures.

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