Back to Village and Unfulfilled Promises

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
I hardly believe in superstitious ideas, but the way construction of a small low cost steel footbridge connecting a beautiful playground in Budgam district with main land has been delayed for almost 50 years, it sometimes makes me believe this prolonged delay is accursed by someone ! Every year the Government spends billions of rupees on developmental works in J&K but I can’t understand why authorities at helm are not able to spend mere Rs 10 to 15 lakhs on a steel footbridge ? In remote and inaccessible areas of Budgam district or far off places like Kishtwar or Kupwara, blacktopped roads and huge bridges were constructed during last 20 years but on the other hand a long pending public demand of around 30 to 40 villages and towns around Wathoora is not fulfilled by Government. Even during the back to village meetings the officers promised to make the bridge operational with months but now more 18 months have passed nothing has happened on ground.
Case study from Budgam
At a time when we are losing playgrounds and green spaces in villages and towns due to massive urbanization, a 100 kanal (5hectares) Kahcharai land is still protected by the local youth of Wathoora, a semi-urbanized locality in Srinagar outskirts in district Budgam. Wathoora is only 11 kms from Srinagar city center and just 5 to 6 kms from many uptown posh colonies like Rawalpora, Chanapora, Hyderporaetc .
Cricketers from most of these areas and even Srinagar old city continue to play cricket at Wathoora. The problem with this cricket ground is that it is an Island and has no direct access via road. On the other hand the ground has many advantages as well like better water absorption capacity and being safe from land grabbers etc . On the front side of the ground (eastern area) we have Doodh Ganga and towards its south we have Shali Ganga which joins Doodh-Ganga near the southern tail of this ground. There are some irrigation canals andKhulstowards the north and eastern side of the ground. Cricket lovers enter this play ground through Shahpora locality of Wathoora which is located on Srinagar-Chadoora – Charar e Sharief road.
Entry into the ground
Having spent my childhood near this cricket ground, I along with many village kids would swim in Doodh Ganga locally called Chaz Kull. We would take a sunbath on its banks connecting the ground which had a lot of clean sand until 10-15 years back. As a kid, on Sundays and holidays , I would often carry a lunch box from home for my uncle’s playing cricket across. When I grew up I also played cricket on this ground which is locally known as WatalWaen. Although I was not a good cricketer, I loved the game and always tried my best to get a bridge constructed when I grew up. I never succeeded till date. Today my 10 year old son is asking me why there is not a permanent bridge so that he could go across and play cricket or football? Same question my father, my uncles and myself have raised in the past?
Local residents tried a lot to ensure construction of a bridge but at the last moment something happens and work never gets executed. Almost 45 to 50 years back when the professional cricket was introduced in our area, people, especially local youth would construct a makeshift wooden bridge ( 30 to 40 feet long) to help players and spectators go into the ground. This has been a constant affair for the last many decades. Wathora and adjoining area have produced great cricket players. When the water level in Chaz Kull rises during summer rains, the makeshift wooden bridge gets washed away and that is the most tragic time for those youth who make best use of their skills , time and energy erecting the makeshift-bridge . It takes lots of efforts to get a new makeshift bridge installed. Every year at least 5 to 6 makeshift bridges are constructed at Wathoora which get washed away when water level in Doodh Ganga goes up. Another way to enter the playground is to walk a 1 km distance from ShahporaWathoora main road and reach a small hamlet Banhaar and then cross small canals and enter the ground from its northern side.
Drowning incidents
The absence of a permanent foot bridge is not only frustrating the sports lovers, morning walkers or joggers but several cricketers and locals have been drowned in Doodh Ganga river while they tried to cross the river by walking through it. During the last 10-15 years at least 3 to 4 persons died while crossing the river thinking that water level was less. Some years back a cricketer from Srinagar got drowned when he was chasing a cricket ball that went into Doodh Ganga. He died on spot.
Promises during Back to Village
During the Back to Village-I (B2V-I) programme June 26-27 2019 , a large number of officers had come to Wathoora. MrSarmadHafeez, the present ToursimSecretary who was the then Secretary Youth Services and Sports was the designated Visiting Officer for Wathoora. I am quoting his words when he addressed a gathering of locals and sportsmen on the day II of B 2 V programme while inaugurating a cricket match
“I am leaving highly inspired. The stadium of this size and beauty is something that caught my eyes. We will definitely work to encash its size and beauty to develop it. So I would request the concerned DC to handover this stadium to the Youth services and sports department,”
Mr Sarmad Hafiz along with DG Youth Services and Sports Saleem Ur Rehman were mesmerized by the beauty of the playground. The officeron spot directed for construction of a steel footbridge.
Rural Development Depart-ment (RDD) was to take up the project. It has been almost 2 years now, nothing has happened. Infact Director Rural Development Department Ka-shmir told me several times that money has been allocated for the project but we see nothing happening on the ground.
Ironically, that the guy who constructed the wooden makes-hift bridge that day on the request of local BDO was not paid his dues by District Administration for almost a year. He kept moving from pillar to post for a year , I am still not sure whether he got that money or not ?
People who began demanding a foot bridge in the late 1970’s and early 80’s are now old. Now their grandsons and grand-daughters are urging authorities to fulfill the promise. I along with many local friends have been trying our best to highlight the issue for the last 15 years or more. Recently I posted the pics of the youth making the makeshift bridge on social media with the aim that it would shake the conscience of authorities. Under the Khelo India programme so many stadiums were built during the last 4 to 5 years but Wathoora continues to be deprived.
(The author is Founder & Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement)