Housing policy for Kashmir
It's all about changing the mindset of the people
DEVELOPMENT BY AATIF AHMAD MEHJOOR
Kashmir urgently needs a housing policy to address the burgeoning shortage in housing that has long existed and that appears to be on the brink of exploding. Srinagar's population is expected to be around 2.5 million by 2020, i.e. 1 million more than the current figure. Where will all these people live? Where will the land to house them come from?
Due to rapid population growth (the current population of the valley is around 7 million), Kashmir's land resources have come under severe pressure. This includes not only our agricultural land, which has traditionally been devoted to the cultivation of either paddy or horticulture products, but also other natural resources that exist on land such as lakes, waterways and forests. Many of Kashmir's famous water bodies, such as the Anchar lake, have disappeared. Others such as the Dal have suffered encroachment. Kashmir's forests have been cut down and the land often grabbed to be converted into agricultural land.
The expansion of cities and towns has consumed thousands of acres of agricultural land. There is insufficient land to meet projected needs across all uses, whether they be residential, industrial, agricultural, or recreational. The unchecked growth of cities and towns, none of which have any strictly enforced green belts, has meant that even land devoted to cash-yielding crops has been turned into residential colonies. There are economic incentives to doing so; as land with residential or commercial construction potential commands a significantly higher price than pure agricultural land.
If the growth of cities continues at its current pace, it is quite possible than the entire floor of the valley will one day become an urban area. This would put considerable pressure on the natural environment, leaving aside the fact that it would mean the destruction of agriculture and the need to substitute it with other means of livelihood. It is therefore important for the Government to come up with a rational land-use policy that takes into account projections for growth.
The Government recently contemplated prohibiting the conversion of agricultural land for other uses. Such a blanket ban is not only unnecessary, it is actually counterproductive. There is no denying the fact that land will be required for housing purposes and some of this land will be land that is converted from agricultural use. There is nothing wrong with this and in fact most rapidly urbanising economies in the world have allowed their cities to expand into the countryside. Furthermore, banning conversion of agricultural land incentivises people to refrain from cultivation in the hope of getting their land classified as non-agricultural.
There is, in fact, one area in which Government intervention could produce tremendous results. That is the nature of residential units that are constructed. Until now almost everyone in Kashmir has preferred to live in detached houses on a plot of 0.5 to 1 kanal. If this trend continues, there will simply be insufficient land to meet the demands of all the family units that are expected to form over the course of the next decade. The Government should encourage the construction of high-rise apartments and the conversion of detached houses into multiple apartments. Such apartments can be built with earthquake resistant features, something which is missing in almost the entire housing stock. There are many ways in which apartment building can be encouraged, including tax incentives and improved public services such as electricity to people living in such buildings. The Government could even designate certain areas where only apartment building would be allowed. Such measures have been adopted by territories such as Hong Kong and Singapore which suffer from a structural shortage of land.
The historic tendency in Kashmir to stay detached when it comes to housing needs to take take a fresh turn if the valley wishes to progress socially, economically and commercially. Just like any type of crisis, the resolution can only begin with a shift in psyche of all individuals involved.
Lastupdate on : Thu, 19 Apr 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 19 Apr 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 20 Apr 2012 00:00:00 IST
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