Known for its gushing springs and a long history, this beautiful South Kashmir town is spreading in every direction due to increase in population but there is no Master Plan to guide the expansion.
Haphazard and illegal constructions galore under the nose of the authorities who witness all this as mute spectators, allege the local residents.
The town, once bedecked with vast open spaces, has off late lost its sheen due to the official apathy and, also, partly because of vested interests of some people who take advantage of the absence of Master Plan for the town.
"It is an irony that the town is without any Master Plan," said an official. He said that that the proposal to frame a concrete Master Plan for the town has been gathering dust for years now.
"The officials and legislators of Islamabad have shown callousness in coming up with a Master Plan so as to prevent the haphazard constructions and de-congest the town, which has turned into an urban slum", another official said.
"Even buildings have come up on spring outlets, irrigation canals and flood channels. These water bodies have either vanished altogether or have been reduced to drains and cesspools as residential houses, shops and toilets have been raised all over them," said a resident, Riyaz Shah.
These, he said, include Ladi-Laizbal irrigation canal, flood channels passing through Anchidora, Chee and Qazibagh; Nagbal spring outlets at Mattan Chowk and Dangerpora and Gajinag springs at Kadipora.
"There is no plan of decongesting the town with narrow streets and squeezed lanes in the old town resulting in frequent traffic jams leaving no space for pedestrians to move," said Adil Sheikh of Janglatmandi.
He said that most of the roads – Cheeni-Chowk-Malakhnag-Sherpora; Cheeni Chowk-Janglat Mandi; Mattan Chowk-Dangerpora; Sherbagh- Reeshi Bazar road and Kadipora-Sarnal road are so narrow that hardly a single vehicle can pass through at a time and even the pedestrians find it difficult to walk.
"Certain areas along Khanabal-Pahalgam (KP) road and Khanabal-Mehandi Kadal road must be declared non-permissible for any commercial or residential structures, instead haphazard constructions are thriving there," said Rao Farman Ali, a member of South Kashmir Civil Society. "There has been a rapid urban shift from rural areas and with its centrality in entire South Kashmir, the population density of the town has reached as high as 1000 per Km."
He said that new residential colonies should be established to overcome the problem of congestion in old town.
"The government had already designated plots at High Ground for Fatehgarh residential colony prior to the 90s but that was unfortunately shelved after Army occupied the orchard land there," said Farman. He said that government should now re-consider the proposal to overcome the problem of congestion.
MLA elect of Anantnag (Islamabad), Mufti Muhammad Syed, has also assured of designating new residential colonies including the erstwhile Fatehgarh colony at High Ground besides connecting the area through ropeway.
"If government is serious in stopping further conversion of agriculture land in villages adjacent to the town then it should designate planned colonies," said Farman.
He said that residential colonies which have come up during last two decades on KP road and Achajipora- Moominabad are without any proper planning and are without proper drainage system and lanes. "The encroachment on water bodies compounded by poor drainage system was one of the major causes of last year's flood," said Farman.
Residents also opine that the land available at High Ground can be availed for establishing cricket stadium and technical colleges. "A campus has already been set up there. Now the land available there should be used to build sports infrastructure and establishing technical colleges," said Saadat Bilal, a local resident.
Deputy Commissioner Anantnag (Islamabad), Tassaduk Jeelani said, "We are at it and a Master Plan will be in place soon."
He said that the job of formulation of Master Plan for the town has already been entrusted to Chief Town Planner and he is being assisted by Additional Town Planner. "As soon as it is finalized, it will be implemented," said the DC.