Srinagar: Unimaginable happened a fortnight ago. Boats and makeshift rafts roved through Jahangir Chowk, one of Srinagar’s most bustling streets. The avenue with Kashmir’s only flyover has a feel of a far flung village.
The neighborhood also houses Kashmir’s highest judicature—the Srinagar wing of the J&K High Court—besides the Civil Secretariat, the seat of the government housing offices of Chief Minister and his Cabinet colleagues.
Like other parts of the capital city, the flood water also ripped through the court, submerging ground floors completely. When the waters receded few days ago, destruction was uncovered and the loss included valuable treasure: more than 40,000 law books apart from legal journals and law digests kept in library of the judges and the lawyers.
Among the damaged lot include the precious treasure of books containing judgments by the jurists who presided over the bench since 1928, when the full-fledged High Court of judicature for the Jammu and Kashmir State was established. The library also contained books pertaining to judgments pronounced by the British judges.
Before the establishment of High Court, the Ruler of the State (Maharaja) was the final authority in the administration of justice. In 1889, the British government asked the then Ruler of the State, Maharaja Pratap Singh, to appoint a council, and a judicial member of the council exercised all the appellate powers both on civil and criminal side.
The state having two provinces –Jammu and Kashmir—had chief judges exercising judicial authority, but they acted under the superintendence and control of the law member of the council. Later the council was abolished and a minister designated as judge of the High Court was appointed by the Ruler to decide judicial cases.
In 1927, a new constitution was sanctioned by the then Ruler of the state and instead of law member, a ministry in the Judicial Department was created. Thereafter, in 1928, by virtue of order (No. 1, dated March 26, 1928), the High Court of Judicature was established and for the first time the High Court was to consist of the Chief Justice and two judges.
Apart from books, the raving floods also damaged library infrastructure, especially racks.
“When we opened doors of the library, everything was in disarray. The books were actually muddied. The flood had damaged everything,” one of the court librarians told Kashmir Reader.
For Zahoor Ahmad, incharge of the library, the trail of destructions left by the unprecedented floods was unbearable. “Just to see these books falling apart was devastating. I could not bear it,” Zahoor said. “I have been associated with the library for last more than 14 years, and to be honest the loss seems to be very personal,” he said.
The library staff is still sorting through the books and other items to see if anything can be salvaged.
“The loss is huge. As per rough estimate, it is more than four crores rupees,” Zahoor said.
The flood has also left a trail of destruction in the branch office of Jammu and Kashmir Bank, Bar room and the record section in its vicinity.
The lockers, containing files and gowns of lawyers, were also damaged by the floods along with the furniture. The waters also spoiled what remained normally remained flooded with customers, the canteen.