Habit Of Hafta

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If an early-morning sight of streets in most of Srinagar, particularly downtown markets, is an indication, citizens of the summer capital are totally devoid of a sense of responsibility towards their city, and display what can only be described as abundant lack of self-respect. It is an everyday scene: lanes, streets-corners, roads along strings of shops, and sites where vendors of all sorts ply their trade, all littered with trash – rotting fruit and vegetable peel, filthy paper-and-plastic wrappers, peanut shells, and every other kind of trash left behind by roadside vendors. This is embellished by mounds of refuse, from shopkeepers, unfeelingly dumped into the streets at closing time, and heaps of garbage from households even in areas where the municipality runs its sanitation fee scheme. No cure seems to be in sight of this obnoxious practice because it is a mystery how and under what terms road-side vendors and shopkeepers are allowed to run their trades. The police is notorious for its habit of hafta from every possible source, and the Srinagar municipality, notwithstanding its feeble attempts at functioning, too ineffectual to enforce any code.

Only a few years ago, even the fashionable Residency Road, with its Regal Crossing, Polo View, and other branches, used to be an early-morning treat, with so-called high-end and trendy stores and shops having dumped all their rubbish into the streets before closing the previous evening. It is not clear whether the situation has been remedied somewhat in the city centre, but it can be said with assurance that elsewhere this inveterate behaviour is firmly intact, with impressive modifications.

As stated above, there are areas – and not necessarily only pockets – where residents and shopkeepers just cannot do without adorning the nearest street corner or lamppost with refuse from their homes and stores, even when municipal personnel come by for collection almost every other day. Evidently, owners – of shops, stores and homes – do not deem their establishments spic-and-span unless a neat pile of rubbish has come up just across the street, clearly visible from huge, expensively-stocked show-windows. This state of affairs would not have come about but for the compromised nature of authorities supposed to uphold and enforce codes. One cannot expect any government functionary, be it from the police, the municipality or the any other civic wing, to discipline violators and offenders when they are highly on the take, receiving generous gratification every week as hafta. But still, it remains a wonder that streets and lanes lined with generous overnight donations of fruit-and-vegetable waste, discarded wrappers and paper bags, and indestructible plastic refuse, fail to disturb anyone taking an early morning constitutional – not even worshippers hurrying to mosques for dawn prayers who are supposed to know that cleanliness is next to godliness.

Since police and other wings of the administration, possibly even municipal functionaries, have long found a goldmine in roadside and pavement vendors, there is little possibility of Srinagar ever getting uncluttered kerbsides and walkways constructed in most markets and thoroughfares at great cost to the public exchequer. It is also unlikely for Srinagar and its citizens to take their place among cities and people with pride in their neighbourhoods. 

 

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