Has Srinagar lost its sheen?

Waterlogging caused by morning downpour led to a serpentine traffic Jam on MA Road in Lal Chowk area of Srinagar on Thursday, 01 August 2019. Mubashir Khan

Cities talk, frown, smile, laugh, wail and rejoice, but their language can only be heard by those who care to listen. Srinagar is a suffocating place. It is shredded to pieces. The shards spread around-clinging and bleeding. Once called Venice of the east, it has ceased to exist. After witnessing countless promises and betrayals, it’s withered. It feels slow and somber. The sheen is gone. Blood-spilled on its streets has turned it crimson red. It wants to cleanse its stomach. Having cafés at every corner is not a sign of development, affordable housing in the city is. Shopping complex boom is hurting the ecology. It does no good to the city. No slums around water bodies should have been prioritized.

Srinagar is shrinking, stinking and stinging. It has lost the social value of being a city. Fresh streams, roaring rivulets, lovely lakes-all chocked. It presents a ghostly look. It haunts. City is supposed to be free and fair. With no night life, it is no less than a cage. If chirping of birds, Shikara ride and houseboat stay is picture-perfect; curfew, cordon, crackdown taints the image.  Mushrooming of constructions on flood channels, illegal and irregular sand-mining of Jhelum, coils of concertina worsen the mess. This city is pathless. Walkways have been invaded. The pavements meant for pedestrians are occupied by concertina wires. The fate of this city seems tangled in a cobweb. It may take a lifetime to unwind knots of the noose.

The projection, profile and placement of this Nagar is not taken care of. From municipal committees to development authorities, Srinagar seems waiting for Godot to repair its damage.  Who owns this city is again an uncomfortable question for many of its residents. As alterations in demography are visible from skies, the dwellers seem lost and smiles seem evaporating from its air. The air quality index of Srinagar will worsen as the air will also be full of particulate matter after some time. From congested roads and lanes to silent and lonely colonies, the city seems breathless. The liveliness has faded. It is an urban chaos now.

The Economically Weaker Section (EWS) struggle to meet ends. People used to rush to Srinagar to find work, which is now getting scarce. The condition of migrants has worsened. The change in living conditions has pressed people to adopt the traditional means in various sectors. With handful of manufacturing units, will setting up of industries help generate employment? It is yet unknown if this dream can be translated into reality? Sans consultations with urban planners, the city continues to expand without any roadmap or any cap to its expansion. Srinagar’s power corridor is equally helpless. There is basically no vision of the way you want this city to grow. People at the helm are clueless as to how we can make this city ecologically resilient.

Transportation is a nightmare in Srinagar. No smooth rides. At any given time, you are stuck in a gridlock. 2019 Action draft plan on Solid Waste Management reveals that Srinagar produces 400 metric tons of waste each day. Ideally, it should be dumped in a scientific landfill site. But there is none. Achan- located in the heart of the city is being polluted under the very nose of the administration. Stench emanating from the miscellaneous waste, which is not segregated, keeps the residents away. Where will the tourists go? It was admitted by former Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh on the floor of the assembly. For the last 15 years, Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) is in search of a scientific landfill site but they are not able to get the land.

Heritage houses are crumbling under the heavy weight of master plan for this not-so-smart city! Srinagar is going waterless. Protest falls on deaf ears. Who to blame? Otherwise blessed with raw and organic beauty, Srinagar is getting dirtier with passing time.  Packs of canines have become a source of fright. Srinagar has sixty thousand stray dogs. Increase in canine attacks is no shocker.

In 2018, Srinagar was listed as the tenth worst polluted city in the world according to WHO’s global urban air pollution database. Urban Local Body and Municipal Corporation can be held accountable for what they have done to this haphazard city.  And what do they intend to do with it now? Why is the Pollution Control Board (PCB) mute when we seek answers to pressing questions concerning the city? Garbage is being thrown into rivers in bulk. Why is no action being taken? Even National Green Tribunal (NGT) is slow.

The cries, shrieks, howls of this sad city are ear-piercing. Listen to the woes of the residents, we learn that they are looking for an escape but they don’t have an option. Cities entertain unlike Srinagar. Calling it an unlivable place is not a hyperbole. Mushrooming of private vehicles honking endlessly, traffic gridlocks at crucial junctions are just adding insult to the injury. Moving on from the overview, to the anatomy of the city. The old, historical markets are dusty, lanes are choked, drains are defunct, houses are huge but roads are rough. Bus-stops and parking spaces are a rarity. The Entertainment industry died three decades ago, so there is hardly any source of recreation, if any, and activities are scarce. It is a dull, dreary city.

Famous playgrounds of Srinagar have been encroached by locals long ago. The administration has left no stone unturned either into turning this key-space for children, into parks and government departments. Womenfolk have always been the worst sufferers in downtown. They don’t own spaces. Women shape the identity of the urban. But conflict has snatched this right from them in this part of the globe. From shop-fronts to coffee-shops, it is all dominated by men. As an Urban Fellow, when I toss these queries to people about women owning spaces, I get cold looks. What is the source of recreation for the “other half” of the city? People feign ignorance. For them, it has become forbidden.

With markets unorganized, walkways invaded by vendors, messy traffic snarls, obsolete mini-buses, Srinagar presents an unwelcome look. So, what is there to boast about this city?

What is so historic about it, now? Unless some radical steps are taken to resuscitate  it, the city is already dying a silent death. Will even the Smart City Mission be of any help?