The culture of elite immunity

Discriminatory application of rule of law in the state becomes visible from the failure of the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) to prevent the construction of permanent structures by influential people in areas notified as prohibited around the world famous Dal Lake. As per law, all types of constructions in the areas close to water bodies or forests have been banned in the state since LAWDA came into existence in the late ‘90s. Accordingly, a large portion of summer capital Srinagar has been declared ‘non-permissible’ for constructions. While the LAWDA’s demolition drives are mainly targeted at the ‘poor’ people, many influential people, mostly affiliated with pro-India political parties including the ruling National Conference, PDP and Congress, don’t give a damn to the laws banning constructions in the ‘Green Belt’ and manage to get away with it, too. This situation came to fore once again when Kashmir Reader reported that People’s Democratic Party’s national spokesperson, Dr Sameer Kaul, has illegally constructed a residential house in the prohibited area under the noose of the authorities. New Delhi-based Kashmiri doctor’s multi-storey residential structure has come up close to the stream, Sharab Kul, a location which falls in the area declared non-permissible for constructions by the LAWDA, the government body dedicated to preservation of water bodies. Despite admission by the LAWDA officials that Dr Kaul was illegally constructing the house, they failed to take any action and instead choose to pass the buck with incumbent officials of the government body accusing their precursors of inaction. A LAWDA official was quoted by Kashmir Reader as saying that in cases involving high profile people, like in Dr Kaul’s instance, the authorities actually only hinder the construction work if it is brought into the notice by media or some other agencies. In reality, the action is only reduced to paper work. While the authorities may have acted against this particular case after it was highlighted by Kashmir Reader, the general inability of the authorities to act against the influential people is not limited to the LAWDA only. In fact, the culture of “elite immunity” has crept in all the government departments. This culture of putting the political and business elites above law prevents the implementation of rule of law in the state and acts as the biggest impediment in the equitable development of the society. The trend also induces alienation and class-confrontation among masses, which is not a healthy omen for any society.