The central consumer commission’s swift act to award Rs 2 crore compensation to a Delhi model for a bad haircut has shifted focus to Kashmir’s flood victims seeking closure of their cases since 2014.
Ishrat Nazir is yet to come out of the calamity that fell on Kashmir in the fall of 2014.
The 40-year-old government contractor from Gulab Bagh Srinagar still carries the devastating deluge inside him while struggling to recover a loss of Rs 40 lakh he suffered in the floods.
Just before the brimming Jhelum would come out of its banks in September 2014 and make muck of everything, Ishrat was constructing government quarters in Tulsibagh and Old Secretariat area of Srinagar. The contractor had unloaded the raw material in huge quantity there. But everything vanished overnight.
Once the floodwater receded, he approached the bank for compensation. The fact-finding teams visited the locations to confirm the loss “but they didn’t compensate me,” the contractor laments. “I was told that my office location is far from the construction sites.”
Ishrat offered a simple explanation to this query: “I don’t place raw material inside my offices but on the construction sites.” But it never helped.
Fed up with the system, he finally approached the state consumer commission where he almost won the case. But the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019 came as the rudest shock to his life. In the region’s reorganization, the commission got dissolved and he lost the track of his case.
“The state consumer commission was my only hope,” Ishrat says. “It did hear my plea and I was about to get the compensation but the system changed suddenly. Since Jammu and Kashmir have no elected government for the past many years, its people are immensely suffering. The administration is not releasing our payments for projects that we have previously completed.”
On the seventh flood anniversary this September, the contractor wasn’t alone expressing anguish over the suspended state of commission and lingering fate of the flood cases.
All these years, thousands of people from different walks of life who lost their homes and livelihood to the 2014 floods never stop seeking legal justice. But after the August 5, 2019 decision nullified state consumer commission, most of them couldn’t keep tab on their cases.
In the “Naya Kashmir”, the Jammu & Kashmir Consumer Act 1986 was replaced by J&K Reorganization Act 2019. This change brought the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission directly in charge of consumer affairs in Kashmir. The central commission, however, is yet to see the light of the day in the valley.
But when the same commission lately awarded Rs 2 crore compensation to a woman for a wrong haircut and treatment given to her by staff at a salon in Hotel ITC Maurya’s New Delhi, thousands of Kashmir residents became hopeful about their pending cases.
“Despite administered by the same government, they’re implementing some other rules in Kashmir,” said Furqan Habib, a flood victim from Srinagar.
“All these years we [flood victims] were made to believe that justice is around the corner, but guess it was all farce, just like government’s ‘Jaago Grahak Jaago’ tagline encouraging people for their consumer rights, acts services and courts.”
A consumer court holds the responsibility of services to all consumers, whether s/he has brought a product for Rs 2 or invested 2 crores, said B.A. Shah, a Srinagar-based consumer court lawyer.
“But sadly, the process to apply central law in the newly created UT is very much slower,” advocate Shah said. “It shouldn’t be the way it’s going.”
Expressing displeasure over this sluggish state of consumer affairs, the Supreme Court of India lately directed New Delhi and regional governments to fill up vacancies in the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission within eight weeks.
But while Kashmir is still awaiting the constitution of consumer courts, Advocate Nasir Shala, President Consumer Bar Association told Free Press Kashmir that thousands of consumer cases that were being adjudicated upon by the erstwhile consumer commission stand null and void today.
“Over 700 clients of mine who had put their hopes in the consumer courts come to my office daily and seek the status of their cases but I’ve no answers for them,” advocate Nazir said.
Government of India’s claims of development fails in Kashmir, the advocate added. “People feel that they’re being pushed into lawless state. If they cannot reopen consumer courts in the context of central acts, what sort of development are they talking about?”
The lawyer said that he has personally raised the issue with the Lieutenant Governor’s Grievance Cell without getting any desired response.
“Before J&K became a UT, in one of my cases, the consumer court commissioned Rs 2 crores to my client but he could only withdraw Rs 45 lakhs as the abrogation froze the entire process.”
This suspended state of justice is today distressing many victims who lost everything in the floods.
Afroza Begum, a needle-work artisan from Rambagh Srinagar, is still lamenting her ‘handicraft heap’ lost in floods.
“As the floods hit Srinagar,” Afroza recalled, “our house was completely submerged in floodwater and all the curtains, cushions that I had designed flowed within Jhelum.” Saying this, she took a long look outside the window, as if watching the woeful scene all over again.
“But I was the one who informed people about the compensation scheme,” Afroza continued. “The government had announced that it would free artisans from loans and compensation will also be given.”
However, an ensued heated exchange between an officer-in-charge of the said scheme and her flood-hit coworker would bar Afroza from the flood compensation. She would later learn how all of her coworkers were compensated, forcing her to approach the consumer court.
“But after this abrogation thing happened, we’ve no idea where to go and what to do now,” she said.
“For all these years, many people have guided me on this case because I’m not highly educated but it seems all of that stands null and void. We’ve no system where our problem would be heard and addressed.”
The flood compensation cases are on a halt till the government comes up with an implementation strategy, said Dr. Abdul Salam Mir, Director of Food, Civil Supplies & Consumer Affairs.
“As we’re the only body representing consumer forum, we cannot let these cases become null,” Director Salam told FPK. “The government may come up with something in this regard, as they’ve asked the department to submit all the previous records which we did.”
But till something concrete translates on the ground, the flood victims of Kashmir, like Ayoub Dar from Sail area of Awantipora, have to wait for the closure.
This 50-year-old man had taken a housing loan of Rs 5 lakh under insurance with Bajaj Alliance, in which Rs 2.5 lakh were sanctioned to him.
“As the floods demolished my house,” he said, “I filed a case in the consumer court and got Rs 97000 before August 2019. After that the court was closed, so was my case!”