SRINAGAR: Naturally beautiful, actually horrible

Srinagar city, unlike many other cities, is thousands of years old. It is mentioned in ancient scriptures and many a traveler has given an account of this city in their records. Ideal for being a capital, Srinagar was built on either side of river Jhelum, surrounded by mountains, rich in greenery, with gardens laid around a famous lake, chinars and poplars dotting its landscape. This city was ‘smart’ for all the reasons. A city that was a delight of emperors, foreigners, and travelers  has been reduced to a messy city due to ill planning.  Over last 3 decades it has expanded exponentially and unplanned, quite contrary to what an ideal city should have been. Messy on all counts as has a recent survey shown (GK, 5/3/2021).

One sure and smart act that tells us about the city’s development is the uprooting and then the rearranging of the deṽer stones on the edges of footpaths and dividers, an annual event not missed by the contractors and the engineers. The only city in world that is alive for 6 months on developmental front, which goes into hibernation for 6 months that the Darbar gets shifted.

Of late the government is mulling a smart city project for Srinagar. “Smart city” project is a proposal initiated by the government to enhance the amenities, beautify and uplift the already existing cities that will be upgraded to the demands of its affording population, be in line with the green norms, and cater to the domestic as well as international touristic influx. It holds true for a city that has deficiencies and is needed for any city considering the need for development on all fronts. Does this hold true for Srinagar, a city that has been reduced to “Raz’ze Gaendh’s” on many a count.

‘Raz’ze Gaendh’ is a Kashmiri term meaning ‘to tie something’ with a thread or a rope to hold the things together. In local language it may be a loosely applied to some misdoings at individual or collective level, a temporary make-shift arrangement for something that needs ideally to be done far better and good. Instead of a standard and up to date management in city affairs, the authorities try something temporary and silly, totally contrary to scientific principles. There are many examples of such (mis) endeavors in everything around, some visible to eye and most seen by keen minds only.

The ‘Raazze Gaendh’ phenomenon is portrayed everywhere but exemplary raazze gaendhs are on display at Lal chowk, Jehangir chowk, Batmalloo, LD, Zero Bridge, Raj Bagh, Jawahar Nagar, Soura, Dalgate, Bemina and almost every major intersection. Shabby plastic dividers and cones connected to each other by even shabbier ropes of cotton, plastic, wire or anything that will do. Some of the raz’ze gaendhs are exemplified by the concrete dividers raised by the ‘Nobel winning’ engineers on roads that already were squeezed to its limits.Total disaster in terms of road management.

In a good city one gets the feel of traffic management by clean, well laid out, and adequately labelled roads, proper traffic signals, appropriate signs and markings, apt manpower and all this is scientifically done. But here we have traffic managed more by the blockades and by the whims and gusto of the traffic walla at a particular point. Traffic is and will be a disaster as has been foreseen by many unless it is handled scientifically by the relevant department. Roads nearly the same and now divided into two by the worthy engineers (or is it the contractors). One has to have a divider that is scientifically done so that at times of emergency such a divider proves to be useful rather than a deterrent. Then the check points that have reemerged and have defined their own territory for their safety and least bothered for the common man. Any deviations by the local is dealt by the authorities in strict compliance to the rules, not so for the hundreds of high officials.

Srinagar has failed master plans, human intervention and even nature’s own plan (floods of 2014 should have taught us many a thing); thanks to land mafia, abysmal planning and lack of coordination which has led to a huge decline in the stature of this city. I repeat, this city was smart, made less smart by decades of despondency, dis-coordination and the uncertainty.

I am not touching on myriad of other issues, like the dust that has accumulated and is about to take off come the warmer days, like the large proportions of the 60 K lights installed a year back that have substandard controls that stand destroyed, like the macadamization of roads done only for a limited period of three months.

It brings a sense of unease to see the worsening of a city for those who have lived here for decades. We would appreciate the efforts by the administration, if many obnoxious things are taken care before rebuilding in the name of smart city starts – the raz’zee gaendhs, the silly dividers, the dust, and dismantle a blot on Srinagar……that toilet built on the Dal-lake at Nishat just at the beginning of the foreshore road. Remove these to bring in some basic semblance to the smart city that Srinagar once was.

Dr Muzafar Maqsood Wani is Consultant Nephrologist, SKIMS, Soura