A Haunting Tale Of Dead Houses In Jammu And Kashmir

A Haunting Tale Of Dead Houses In Jammu And Kashmir

30 March 2012
India Today
Naseer Ganai

Srinagar: If they are all put together on a plot of land, they could make a massive ghost town replete with haunted houses, dark alleys and creaking gates. The state of Jammu and Kashmir, battered by militancy since the 1990s, has more than 3,00,000 houses - mostly mansions and bungalows - unoccupied and seldom attended to. These 'dead houses', according to an official estimate, are together worth a stupendous Rs.90,000 crore. Ironically, the state also has nearly 6,00,000 families living in sub-human conditions in one-room tenements. 'These houses were constructed by welloff people, mostly government employees, bureaucrats and businessmen. Then they left them vacant. Each house costs a minimum Rs.30 lakh and the dead investment could add up to roughly around Rs.90,000 crore. It is a dead investment because it doesn't benefit anyone, not even its owners,' a government official said. The officials described this trend of 'dead houses' worrying. They said some of these houses have been vacant for decades. 'More than 64,000 vacant houses were added over the past decade in Srinagar and Jammu. The number of such houses has gone up from 2,40,000 in 2001 to 304,000 in 2011,' Chander Shakar Sapru, joint director of the state's census operations, said while releasing the census figures for housing and households. Sapru refused to give the profile of the people who own these 'dead houses'. But Saleem Beg, chief of the J&K chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), said the vacant houses speak about the state's cultural and economic position. 'In Kashmiri society, people have no other avenue of investment other than land and housing. This is the economic aspect. The social aspect is that we all want to own huge houses,' he said. The 2011 Census found that the total number of houses in the state - from palatial homes to decrepit huts to nondescript barns and stables - stood at 36,03,632, of which 32,99,219 were occupied dwellings. The figures also highlight the yawning gap between the rich and poor. Around 680,000 households fall in the poor category, where families were living in one-room pigeonholes. The state has also seen a spurt in the construction of places of worships. From 32,025 holy places such as mosques, temples, gurdwaras and churches in 2001, the number has risen to 49,135 in 2011. That's more than 53 per cent increase, the officials said. There is one aspect of growth that this trouble-torn state can crow about - that is an almost 65 per cent growth in the number of educational institutions, from 12,455 to 31,843 over a decade.