A slice of history reveals how panchayat made way for military in Kashmir

A slice of history reveals how panchayat made way for military in Kashmir
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SRINAGAR: Panchayat elections are being held in Kashmir with the avowed aim of strengthening grassroots democracy, but a former Panchayat Ghar in Srinagar has been serving as an armed forces’ camp for decades now. Locals living in the vicinity are least hopeful that it would ever be vacated.
Zakura on the outskirts of Srinagar was governed till the ’80s by a panchayat, before becoming part of an extended Srinagar city. Here, a two-storey Panchayat Ghar, which was never put to use, built in the 1980s was soon to function as a camp.
Abdul Gaffar Bhat, a former Mukaddam, said that up to 1980s, Zakura along with Buchpora, Umarhair and Gulab Bagh were governed by panchayats, and areas of present-day Ilahi Bagh, Rangpora, Banda Mohalla (Ahmadnagar), and parts of Aantabhawn were also looked after by panchayats.
Bhat said that in the 1980s, prior to the inclusion of these areas in Srinagar city, a major Panchyat Bhavan was constructed on state land measuring four kanals (half an acre). It was meant to be the assembling place of the elected panchayat.
“In those days panchayats played a significant role in looking after village affairs and settling disputes among individuals and villages,” Bhat said, adding that panchayats met regularly. When the need of an assembling space was felt, a spacious building was constructed in Zakur called as Panchayat Bhavan.
A similar facility, but having fewer rooms, was available at Umarhair, Bhat said.
The then panchayats, according to Bhat, were very effective and strong, as any decision given by a panchayat could only be challenged in JK High Court. Bhat said that mostly, decisions given by panchayts were honoured even by the High Court.
In 1987, more areas were added to Srinagar city and Zakura, Buchpora were in this list. The panchayat set-up in these areas became obsolete.
“What remained in our area was the Bhavan that was taken over by the Municipality. It was soon converted into a camp for troops after militancy erupted in 1990s,” Bhat said.
Since then, the camp has been there. It is adjacent to a government-run juice plant. It is a vast military camp on the strategic Srinagar-Ladakh route.
The camp, according to locals, has seen several forces occupy it. However, it was the counter-insurgent militia that in 1994-95 took control of the camp that made life hell for the locals.
Zahoor Ahmad, a local resident, said that the panchayat bhavan was converted into an operational base for pro-government gunmen, or Ikhwan, to fight militants. Their leader, Ghulam Muhamamd Sadipora, popularly known as Mom Sadipora, unleashed a reign of terror in the area.
Bhat, however, said that the Ikhwan was almost eliminated from the scene soon after a BSF contingent was moved into the camp.
Bhat said that many a time locals called for removal of the camp and sought the use of this facility for some civic amenity, but it did not happen.
Block Development Officer at the Srinagar headquarters of Directorate of Rural Development Department Kashmir, Muhammad Akbar, said that some of the assets of the department exist at Zukura and there are communications regarding their proper utilisation to the department. However, he is not aware about the present status, he said.