A young photojournalist is battling to save his eyesight after he fell into an uncovered pit in Srinagar, his plight underscoring how priorities for the recent trophy G20 event may have compromised civic measures meant to ensure the safety of citizens.
Bilal Ahmad, the 21-year-old photojournalist, had already lost an eye in an alleged pellet injury inflicted by security personnel in 2016 as a Class X student and had to give up his studies after that.
On the night of May 20, his other eye also suffered grievous injury after he fell into the uncovered pit while covering preparations for the G20 meeting that was to begin in three days. Bilal could not see the pit, which had been dug to install underground cables, as it was filled with rainwater.
It is suspected that the pit was left uncovered because of the haste with which the Jammu and Kashmir government was pushing through construction projects at the Srinagar city centre in the run-up to the G20 meeting.
The cables were being dug for the Narendra Modi government’s smart city for Srinagar, whose work had been hastened to give the city a glistening look for the G20 meeting.
“I can see nothing but darkness. The whole world has turned black for me. I dread going completely blind, for none of my fault,” Bilal, a resident of Sopore, told The Telegraph.
“It was pitch dark at 10.15pm. It looked like a plain surface as the pit was full of (rain) water. There was no signage warning people to stay away. Anybody could have fallen into the pit. It was so deep that I almost drowned. My friend tried to pull me out but could not. Later, a man driving a Scorpio rescued me. But I could not see anything after being pulled out,” he said.
The authorities had displayed unusual eagerness to give a massive facelift to parts of the city after the Centre announced that Srinagar would be the venue of a G20 meeting on tourism, Jammu and Kashmir’s first major international event after the 2019 scrapping of special status.
Most of the work in the otherwise largely ignored city was confined to the city centre or localities where the delegates were supposed to go.
The hasty implementation led to hardships for residents and innumerable complaints of businesses getting affected and roads getting clogged.
Bilal said he was returning to his office after clicking pictures on May 20 when he fell into the pit close to the clock tower.
Injured badly, he was taken to hospital where he stayed for three days. He is now recuperating at his home.
“The doctors had initially said I might have (temporarily) lost eyesight in my only eye because of shock or infection. But it has been many days since and there is no improvement. We went to a specialist two days ago and he asked me to undergo an MRI,” Bilal said.
“We are waiting for the report but I am worried why he suggested an MRI. I fear it could point to some brain damage,” he added.
Bilal’s family said they planned to take him to AIIMS, New Delhi.
Bilal’s brother Jaffer said: “I pray that my brother does not go completely blind. He has already been through hell when he lost an eye to a pellet injury in 2016. He was in Class X then. He had to give up studies as he lost his focus. He took up photography, which he loves.”
Bilal comes from a poor family. “Nobody from the government came to us. I earned Rs 7,000 a month working as a photojournalist at a local newspaper. The accident not only hit me physically but also damaged my two cameras and two mobile phones,” he said.
Iftikhar Kakroo, chief engineer of Srinagar Smart Project, said this was the first such incident that had come to his notice and that his agency had not kept the pit open.
“There are multiple agencies involved in these construction projects. We have taken care to ensure the safety of the people. As far as this particular spot is concerned, it is not us but some other agency that was working there,” he said.
Officials said several private and government agencies were laying underground telephone cables in the area.