Batakoot (Pahalgam): Under the canopy of tall conifer trees, a retired government officer is raising a large concrete plinth in Pahalgam’s Batkoot block. The construction work has been going on for the past week and the plinth was nearing completion because an army of labourers and masons had been asked to finish the work in the “quickest” possible time. But once the complaints poured in, the Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) woke up and demolished the structure partially.
That, however, did not prevent the owner, Ghulam Rasool Malik, from attempting to finish the construction under the cover of darkness. PDA Chief Executive Officer Riyaz Ahmad Wani accepted Malik had started construction work, but said the plinth was razed by his team last week. “We demolished the plinth twice but he takes advantage of darkness and starts work again,” said Riyaz, while dispatching an enforcement squad to the site again.
A paved track leads to the interior of Gujran Batkoot, a green zone normally inhabited by nomads. When the High Court imposed a blanket ban on new constructions in Pahalgam after hearing a public interest litigation, the focus turned to Batkoot because of its inaccessibility due to its being a heavily forested area.
Right from the beginning of the track, commercial structures are coming up behind the shield of huge tin-sheet fences. On the top of Gujran Batkoot, construction work is proceeding on a two-storey building with a couple of labourers shifting material inside the building. A little ahead, an incomplete cottage on the road has come up recently, but the locals have no idea who its owner is. “We don’t know who owns it,” said a local, Abdul Jabbar, “but we have seen a person coming in a car occasionally, otherwise the labourers keep working inside.” The fence is too high to really know what’s going on inside.
On a curve of the road, a doctor who works at SMHS hospital in Srinagar, has constructed a three-storey concrete building along with two extended huts. It is alleged that the doctor was aided in the construction by a senior official in the PDA.
A board of Hotel Walnut Resort welcomes visitors at the mouth of the Pachwad Batkoot road. The area is still open, amid the occasional small houses and a few dokas (usually Gujjar dwellings). Where the unpaved road ends, the 118 Bn of the CRPF is camping in newly-constructed huts (13 of them) owned by Dr Javaid Mir, who is also the owner of Srinagar’s Classic Hospital. Mir has also allegedly encroached on 22 kanals of forestland near Hill Park, Pahalgam. Mir had failed to produce a no-objection certificate for his huts when asked for the same by former PDA CEO Mohammad Yusuf Bhat.
On his part, Mir claimed it’s his ‘majbori’ (compulsion) to put up CRPF men in his huts. “It was not a choice,” he said to this reporter, insisting that he didn’t want to talk about the issue.
What is interesting, to say the least, is that all these structures which have come up in Batkoot block were not issued a no-objection certificate by the forest department, and have been declared “illegal” by the department, an official revealed.