SRINAGAR: The government has readied a plan to close down the Kashmir Haat in Srinagar and set up a new one in Pampore, citing “too much security” as the reason why people are staying away from the handicraft market. But is the proposed new site any safer?
Officials of the Handicraft department said that customers and tourists were hardly turning up for shopping as they had to confront security barricades because of the market being situated in a highly secured area of several top government institutions.
The Handicraft department has asked the World Bank for Rs 45 crore to fund the setting up of a Kashmir Haat-II on the highway near Sempora in Pampore. Director Handicrafts Department Mushtaq Ahmad told Kashmir Reader that the Kashmir Haat’s current location was not good for business.
“The area was highly secured with a number of troops guarding institutions like the Legislative Assemble, High Court, Police Headquarters, and the Secretariat. People, especially tourists, were discouraged from visiting the market by the sight of all the restrictions and were going elsewhere where they had easy access,” Ahmad said.
When asked the reason behind choosing Sempora as the new location, Ahmad said that the department had no alternative available. “In Srinagar or anywhere else we were facing a basic problem of non-availability of land. At Sempora, we would be having more than 300 acres of land with 100 acres only for Kashmir Haat. The area also witnesses a huge rush of tourists. For them the new location would be an ideal place to visit and explore the market,” he said.
Pampore has seen several militant attacks in the past few months, majority of them occurring at the place where the Handicraft department is planning to set-up Kashmir Haat-II.
At least three militant attacks were witnessed near the new location during the past one year in which 13 people lost their lives and half-a-dozen others were injured by firing from the both sides.
In February 2016, three militants had stormed the three-storey EDI building. In the three day-long long encounter, two army captains, a para commando, two paramilitary CRPF men and a civilian besides all three attackers were killed. It was one of the longest encounters in the Valley.
In October the same year, two militants attacked a forces convoy and took shelter in nearby Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) at Sempora, Pampore. The three-day long gunfight between holed-up militants and forces ended with the killing of two militants.
Again in December, three soldiers were killed after an army convoy was attacked by militants near Kadlabal area of Pampore along national highway. Two soldiers were also injured in the attack.
Mushtaq said that the Rs 45-crore project is funded by the World Bank to which a Detailed Project Report has already been submitted and the amount is expected to be sanctioned in March this year. Many shopkeepers at the market were unaware of the government plan, while those who knew said that rather than shifting the market, the government should have invested money in its renovation and other initiatives to attract customers.
“We don’t see any miracle happening by shifting the market. If the government and its agencies continue to show negligence, the coming market won’t flourish like this one did. It would have been better if the government had taken some measures for its renovation here,” a shopkeeper said. Many shopkeepers said they were comfortable with the current location and that it was the “apathy” of the Handicraft department that had ruined the once-buzzing market.
“Today our condition is reduced to such that most of the days we shut our shops and look for other avenues to earn for our daily needs. This market looks deserted as the government hasn’t been sincere enough in attracting buyers to this market,” a group of shopkeepers told Reader. Arif Nabi, a businessman in Srinagar, said that the government is leaving a prime location and shifting the market to a place that does not inspire a sense of security.
“I, as a common man, won’t be interested in going to a place where militant attacks are a usual scene. Secondly, a tourist would hesitate in staying in that area given the recent attacks there. It would have been better if the lost sheen of this market had been restored,” Nabi said.
During the 6th Industrial Advisory Council meeting on February 7, chaired by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, it was said that Kashmir Haat-II would be developed opposite the EDI building at Pampore on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway with a cost of over Rs 40 crore. It was also said at the meeting that 45,000 youth in the state would be given professional-skill training in the coming three years.