Hundreds of people in Nehru market of Jammu risk their lives every day living in ramshackle government flats which outlived their utility years back with little to no hope of a safe rehabilitation from the authorities.
The buildings were declared “unsafe for habitation” by the Jammu Development Authority (JDA) in 2012, yet they house several families and businesses.
Nehru market happens to be Jammu and Kashmir’s biggest warehouse belt having firms serving the region since the 1950s, when the buildings were first erected.
The three buildings located in the market have 72 quarters and over 50 shops which were constructed in the early 1950s in the heart of the city famed for its temples.
But over the decades, they have been reduced to being rundown structures with their residents eking out with a precarious existence with a very literal danger hanging above their heads.
Besides their old age, these buildings are also alleged by the residents to be the victims of neglect and poor maintenance by the estates department and JDA.
Their occupants have been demanding that they be shifted to a safer place, and worry it will take nothing less than a catastrophe before the authorities wake up.
“I feel the government is waiting for a tragedy to happen before they wake up. For 32 years, no repair and renovation was carried out by the JDA and estates department,” Bharat Bushan, a migrant, who lives in quarter number 7, with his three-member family on a relief amount of Rs 13,000, told PTI.
“Government should immediately wake up to save the people here,” he said.
Meenakshi, his wife, says that they moved to the flat 32 years ago, when her father-in-law, who worked as a government employee with the civil secretariat, and was a Kashmiri migrant, got it in allotment.
“There is no care of us. Despite repeated requests, neither they renovated the buildings, nor provided us alternative accommodation,” said Meenakshi, adding that how will the family afford rent elsewhere, when it survives on a pittance.
Even as the administration put up boards warning the residents of danger, migrants living in these blocks and shopkeepers running trade there refuse to leave the place due to, among other things, fear of loss of business.
“They have left us to die here. We raised issues with all but nobody is listening to us or coming forward to help us. We urge Lieutenant Governor to help us by relocating us to a safer place,” said 70-year-old Kishni Wantoo, wife of former civil secretariat officer Late T N Wantoo.
DA declared the buildings unsafe for living and for carrying out trading activity in 2012-13 after considering the assessment of the Public Works department (PWD) which had notified JDA that the buildings had outlived their utility and structural stability.
Though some occupants left the buildings after JDA put up warning boards, still about 50 families live in them and scores of other people run businesses there.
Traders Association Warehouse president Deepak Gupta called for immediate shifting of families and asked the authorities to ensure some mechanism so that livelihood of traders do not suffer during the rehabilitation.
“It is the biggest warehouse of Jammu and Kashmir which has been supplying essential commodities to the twin provinces since 1962,” he said.
“Government cannot escape from its responsibilities by putting up warning sign boards. They have ensured security of life of flat dwellers and ensure that there is loss to livelihood of the traders and shopkeepers,” he added.
Gupta urged the government to relocate residents to safe accommodations and build temporary shops for the traders to carry out their regular work.
JDA which oversees the buildings in the area is working on setting up an India Habitat Centre type hub here.
After it found the buildings unsafe for habitation, JDA put up warning boards for the residents suggesting to them that they should find a new place.
“It is brought in the notice occupants residing in government quarters at Nehru market, warehouse in block A, B (old and new) and D need to vacate the quarters keeping in view the deplorable and dilapidated conditions of the buildings to avoid any untoward mishap to their life and properties.
“Despite this notice, if somebody still chooses to reside in these quarters, he or she will be doing it at his or her own risk and cost,” the board reads.
Magotra too has appealed to the residents to vacate the premises, but with no alternative arrangement on offer.
“It is my submission to people that it is highly unsafe to live there. It is time you shift from that place. It is urged to both shopkeepers as well as families — don’t put your lives at risk. It is more important than the economic aspect,” Magotra told PTI.
He added that the rehabilitation issue is very important and will be raised with the government as it involves the livelihood of the people.
Magotra said that the process of declaring these buildings “unsafe” was started in 2012.
“State PWD conducted a survey of buildings, which are 70 years old now. They found that these buildings had outlived their utility and structural stability. They notified to us that they have turned unsafe. You (JDA) rebuild it,” he said.
He said the authority accordingly began a process for setting up an IHC-type hub here and began work in this direction from 2018-19.
“But it requires that people vacate these buildings,” Magotra added. (PTI)