SRINAGAR: The state government has continuously reneged on promises made to stone chiselers at Sempora, Pantha Chowk in the outskirts of Srinagar who were dislodged during execution of a road-widening plan that included their rehabilitation. Deprived of promised concrete shops, the chiselers continue to work under battered tin sheets.
Nearly two thousand families involved in stone-carving profession live in different areas along the highway. The art of stone carving is practiced at various places in Kashmir with Pantha Chowk being its hub. The workers there are widely known for their craft across the valley.
Ali Mohammad Bhat, 56, a resident of Pantha chowk has been into the profession for the past four decades. His shop was dismantled in June 2015 by the administration citing road widening as a reason. He alleged that his protest only invited him threats and thrashing from the police.
“We were never willing to surrender our shops. We were deprived from the ownership rights on our property,” he said adding that to continue his profession, like many of his neighbours, he erected a makeshift tin-roofed shed to carve stones.
“Government made promises of giving new constructed shops to us but date we haven’t received any aid,” he said.
In this locality of stone-carvers, the daily income ranges from Rs 200 to 300. Most of the chiseled stones are used in the plinth of houses, roadsides and other structures.
“This trade feeds my entire family. Primarily my motive is to generate sufficient income by sticking to routine,” he said adding that lack of proper working place has deprived them of proper customers.
During winters and rains and fierce winds in summers, it becomes difficult for the stone carvers to work under these makeshift sheds. So far, only a few effected families have received compensation, which is very less than the loss incurred due the demolition drive. Other families are yet to be compensated.
“Stone chiseling is really hard to do, as we are working on roads. We are always exposed to dust and noise which takes toll on our health,” admitted Ali Mohammad.
Gulzar Ahmad Dagga, 48, another stone carver said that life has completed changed for them after the demolition in the area. “I remain stressed all the time. We were helpless when demolition was carried out,” Dagga, father of four daughters, said.
“There has been huge loss in our income since last year. We get half of the material as we have no shops to work at,” he said. “We can’t change our profession because we have no other skill or investment,” he said.
Basheer Ahmad Ganai is worst victim. The demolition campaign deflated his five workshops. “The demolition practically brought me on the roadside. During this year my family has even faced the days of starvation,” Ganai said.
He said the government attacked private properties and left the state land untouched. “Even the compensation was not paid fairly. Some families got Rs 30 lakhs, others Rs 2 lakhs and there are many familes, which didn’t get a penny,” he said.
The demolition of the shops has not only deprived the families of their workplaces but it has also badly impacted the aesthetics of the area.
“Due to these temporary tin sheds, tourist attraction of this place has also decreased apart from the negative impact on our profession,” Basheer said. “We went to officials many times, but they are just tossing our files from desk to desk. We want the promises to be fulfilled as soon as possible,” the residents said.
Speaking with Kashmir Reader Divisional Commissioner Baseer Khan said, “We have already rehabilitated many shop holders who had to be relocated due to road widening at Pantha Chowk. Those who are still waiting the rehabilitation will be compensated soon. Some who may need relocation of their shops will be rehabilitated at some other location.”