‘Hafta’ system

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Few months back, the High Court ordered a slew of directions to different agencies, which if implemented, could certainly deliver people from the problems they have been facing on account of traffic mismanagement here. In these directions, the Traffic Police got what it had asked for – a directive that no passenger vehicle (buses, minibuses and cabs) from the countryside could move beyond the cut-off points at Parimpora and Pantha Chowk. However, as was expected, this too has not been able to make much difference to the city’s traffic problems. There were directions for the civic bodies and other government agencies also to chip in their bit. For instance, the court minced no words in directing the authorities that roads, streets, and footpaths should be freed of all encroachments, including from the street vendors who have occupied almost every nook in the Srinagar city, leaving almost no space for the people or the vehicular traffic. Previously also the High Court has issued similar directions from time to time, but it is really tragic that nobody in the administration has bothered to implement these directions. Instead of asking the roadside vendors and even shopkeepers, who have permanently occupied the footpaths and sidewalks in the City, too make some way for pedestrians’ movement, various agencies of the government have and still are actually protecting and patronizing these encroachments.

It might sound strange, but fact of the matter is that besides the complicity of the Municipal authorities, which certainly doesn’t come for nothing, it is the territorial police from concerned police stations which has all along encouraged and patronized this grab of the pedestrian pathways in the Srinagar City as well as in the towns. Both municipal employees as well as cops generate whooping sums as ‘Hafta’ from the vendors and in return allow them a free-run. The amount and extent of the sleazy money thus generated could be imagined from the fact that in the jurisdictions of some police stations each roadside vendor pays anywhere between Rs 1000-1500 a month to the police only. Similar amounts are pledged towards the Municipal authorities as well. Now anybody wanting to check it could very well go and ask the roadside vendors in and around Batamaloo or Hazuri Bagh or Hari Singh High Street or Soura areas how much they shell out on daily and weekly basis so as to buy favours of police and other concerned agencies to do business on the main roads and sidewalks without any hassles. A good amount of money is also generated from the commercial transport vehicles – both passenger vehicles and goods carriers — as well. For instance, tipper trucks pay regular amounts each month to various police stations so as to buy favour of entering the city limits during daytime when otherwise they are not allowed to service the city. Similarly passenger vehicles pay to get away with overloading.

Indeed there are a few police stations which are so rich in terms of the money they generate through corrupt means of ‘Hafta’ that cops actually pay huge bribes for posting to these “lucrative” locations. Be it the Police Station Batamaloo, or Shergarhi, or Shaheed Gunj or Maisuma for that matter the Police Station Soura, all these are “huge wealth generators”. Although this is not to say that other police stations lag behind. For instance the Police Station Ram Munshi Bagh has very attractive catchments at Dalgate and Sonwar adding substantially to its kitty. The police top brass as well as the civil administration is in complete know of how this ‘Hafta’ system works and how the same has been undermining the law of the land. Yet nothing has been, or is being done to check this problem.

So as long as corruption continues to plague all these government agencies, expecting any real and sincere drive to reclaim footpaths for the ordinary people will be foolish. Unless and until the municipal authorities as well as the police are taken to task and held accountable for the roads and streets in their respective jurisdictions, nothing is going to help. So while the authorities or the courts may pledge a drive against the small businesses that thrive and progress by encroaching on common people’s spaces on the roads and streets, they should also turn their attention a bit towards the big sharks in SMC and our neighbourhood police stations, who are habitual of claiming and extracting illegal gratifications from everyone as if it was their legal right.

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