Stop This Plunder of Urban Srinagar

We have entrusted the city development to the Srinagar Municipal Corporation which ironically is single-handedly responsible for its devastation

Mushtaq Sidiqi
Publish Date: Nov 11 2012 12:00PM

  The article “City must go for vertical expansion” by Mr. Ashraf Fazili, Retd. Chief Engineer (R&B), carried by the Greater Kashmir (7th November) is an addition of a new dimension to the future of Srinagar City. Mr. Fazili is piqued at the non-preparation of zonal plans for past 12 years after the Master Plan was put in place by the Government. He has strongly advocated expediting the zonal plans and recommends that, until that is done, no new building permissions be sanctioned. He is obviously concerned at the haphazard growth of the city. His concern is quite genuine but our problems are not as simple as he attempts to make out. 
We have entrusted the city development to the Srinagar Municipal Corporation which ironically is single-handedly responsible for its devastation.  Its officials at varied levels have devised ways and means of bulldozing the Srinagar Master Plan that was so painstakingly prepared and the whole thing has been possible because it also controls the Building Operation and Control Authority (BOCA). The devastation has already assumed menacing proportions in last few years and it continues unabated.
Not just the Master Plan and the State Laws, even the National Building Code 2005 finds no recognition in our place. What a tragedy that where the municipal corporations across the country are tirelessly involved in securing planned urban development making full use of the Code, the authorities in Srinagar Municipal Corporation are actively involved in devising devious means of violating all rules and regulations with impunity. The result is that Srinagar city is now giving an awful look.
Not just illegal complexes are coming up everywhere in and around the city with active support and connivance of the staff of the Corporation, but all safety norms, that are so lucidly detailed in the National Building Code of 2005, are ignored with disdain. It is a sheer good luck that the city has till date escaped a major mishap otherwise SMC has put everything in place to invite trouble at any time by allowing haphazard development. What is mindboggling that a few meters away from the headquarters of the SMC massive complexes  are coming up perilously close to a big petrol pump. One wonders whether the Petroleum authorities have taken any note of that at the time of sanction and later while according revalidation in course of its mandatory periodic checks. The fire incident in the Odean Theatre in New Delhi is a living example of human tragedies for all of us.  That tragic incident followed violation of safety norms. It is a different thing that those theatre owners and the local Government Officials held responsible are paying the price for having been jailed and disgraced at the country level, but that does not even out the tragic loss of human lives! There are many similar examples for one to take a lesson in course of conduct of official duty but regardless of these living examples, what is clear is that the officials of the SMC are not just intensely corrupt but daring as well!
A news report had recently appeared in the daily Greater Kashmir (24th October) that a few illegal constructions were spotted by the Commissioner, SMC  in course of his  visit to the interiors of the City.  These were reported to have been progressing under a camouflage of erected tin sheets and were ordered to be demolished promptly. Whether such demolition was just as symbolic like many other similar demolitions carried out in the recent past, remains to be seen, but what is astounding is that the municipal authorities failed to take note of many such constructions progressing under the camouflage of tin sheets in its immediate neighbourhood. Are these the protected constructions! 
These clandestinely coming up complexes are found not on the main roads only but have sneaked into the interiors. Courtesy: SMC staff. What devastation these would spill on traffic conditions on the already chocked roads, is something that all can appreciate. So is the threat these illegal constructions pose because the prescribed safety have not been adhered.
What thus urgently needs to be done is that the working of SMC should be critically examined and the organisation purged of the inefficient and corrupt officials without any wait. The working of BOCA  should be delinked from the SMC and  put to the charge of
Chief Town Planner who would be assisted by a group of professionals comprising town planners, architects and structural engineers  in keeping with the recommendations of the National Building Code of 2005 to professionalise these services. That would mean that the Srinagar Municipal Corporation should be made subservient to the approvals of BOCA. It should strictly abide by the approvals granted to a construction and charged with the responsibility to deliver. The job of preparing zonal plans too should be entrusted to BOCA instead of any other authority. Also, the provisions of National Building Code should be referred to this body for study and recommendation for approval with whatever modifications needed, having regard to local conditions.
The Committee constituted under the Chairmanship of the Divisional Commissioner called the Urban Transport Environment Committee (UTEIC) should proactively get involved to arrest the ongoing unruliness taking place. No high rise construction should come up without its approval and it should consider taking action against such constructions which have come up illegally and are without safety and other requirements. That is so critically needed to restore the semblance of order. Else, this city will end up in disaster. 

 (The author is the former Special Secretary, Finance  and Housing & Urban Development Department and  can be mailed at mushtaqsidiqi@