SRINAGAR: Putting all speculations to rest, Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) Mayor Junaid Azim Mattu on Monday said Srinagar will be one of the last cities to ease out of the lockdown, even as he pitched for restoring high-speed 4G internet to effectively fight COVID.
“We are not going to allow flea market anytime soon. That will give rise to unemployment challenges. Sustenance is a challenge and we need to think over it. How do our daily wage earners, fruit cart and push cart owners feed their families? I am here to ensure that Srinagar as and when it has to ease out of the lockdown; we are extra vigilant and extra careful. We will take brickbats and curses again, but Srinagar will be one of the last cities to ease out of the lockdown,” Mattu told The Kashmir Monitor in an exclusive interview.
Mattu, who tested negative for COVID after staying away from the family for 24 days, said doctors should dictate the policy of easing out of the lockdown, not the administration. “Doctors and scientists should be at the forefront. They should be ones who should decide when lockdown should end. What are the phases of easing out? I do not think the administration should devise the ease out policy. Doctors and scientists should,” he said.
Pitching for restoring 4G, Mattu said the central government has missed a great opportunity to integrate youth with the rest of the country by not allowing high-speed internet.
“I do not know who is advising the central government on these issues. Whoever is advising the central government is the enemy of the larger cause of integrating alienated youth with the central government and the rest of the country. This was a golden opportunity,” he said.
Mattu said the lack of internet is hampering the fight against the COVID. “Internet is a medium of information. I talk to doctors every day. They say the lack of internet is a problem. Tell me one city in the country where the internet is not misused, where it is not used to incite. Is it not misused in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore or any other city? This was a great missed opportunity. I appeal the central government to restore high-speed internet service,” he said.
The Mayor said Srinagar fared much better than other cities in fighting the COVID challenge. “Prime Minister recently chose 16 districts which shared best practices in the country. Srinagar was at number 6. We started early. We were the first district to start some sort of lockdown mechanism,” he said
Mattu regretted that the system is seeing everything through the law and order prism. “Police man with lathi needs to understand that he is not fighting terrorism. Pandemic lockdown is something different. This is a medical crisis and not a law and order situation. It is a lockdown to prevent a pandemic. We have seen instances of sanitation workers being beaten black and blue. That is a challenge. For the past few days, we are orienting ourselves to understand gravity,” he said.
The Mayor admitted that he had a run-in with the administration when he announced shutting down of schools to contain the pandemic last month.
“As the mayor of the city, I am responsible for people. I am not a bureaucrat. I summoned a special session. I understood the gravity of the situation. We need to shut down public transport, flea market, schools, and colleges. And the very same day, the administration said in schools will function normally. And the same evening they decided to shut down. I have had my run in and I am sure I will continue to have them in future too”, he said.
Mattu noted that the best-case scenario in the battle against COVID is that they have avoided community transmission. “Unfortunately the worst-case scenario is that we failed to avoid community transmission… It all revolves around the fact that whether we are going into stage three or not. I have always been vocal about the fact that the state of healthcare infrastructure in Srinagar or Kashmir, in general, is not of the capacity and the quality that we can afford contingent stage and stage three,” he said
The Mayor said the lack of elected government is not blessing but a curse. “I have invested in democracy. Lack of government no matter how bad it is, I would not call it a blessing,” he said
Mattu also advised the people not to buy air tickets as there are slim chances of airlines starting operations soon. “I do think people should buy air tickets. There is an advisory from the central government asking airlines to refrain from booking. It is better to buy costlier tickets when airlines resume rather than buying now when there is a possibility of money getting stuck. I do not think air traffic will resume anytime soon,” he said