Srinagar: the City of Shops

Shankerpora is a mohalla deep inside the main byepass road near Nowgam, which surprisingly has more than a dozen high rises erected in last few years each laden with scores of shop which may never be occupied and even if occupied will unlikely be visited by many. Similar will be a tale about shops being raised within your vicinity. Why to have so many shops in relatively secluded areas is worth a thought.

Srinagar, an ancient city set on the banks of Jhelum, was the capital of many Kingdoms and presently stands unique as ‘half the year’ capital to the state of J&K, and recently under a central government initiative has been designated as ‘smart city’ to be. Though town planners did give us many master plans that more or less have been less adhered to and more adhered against and as a consequence the unplanned growth continues.  It has expanded from 284 sq km area about 6 decades back to an expanse of 786 sq km (as per the master plan statistics). On the pretext of unending urbanization, “Greater Srinagar” as we may call it has engulfed the fertile agricultural fields of Ganderbal on its south east, Pulwama on its south, Baramulla on the north and Budgam to its west. As should be the case everywhere as the city develops so does the need of having the shopping spaces. Previously there were few big shopping areas in Srinagar with designated shops for whole sale or retail shopping. Maharaj Gunj, Lal Chowk, Batmaloo, Nowhatta, Hazaratbal, Mahraj Bazar and later Nalahmar were few limited and restricted places where people would go for big time shopping. And for the daily needs, just recollect the old mohalla of yours and remember few shop owners there few decades back.

Expected with the growing influx of people from all districts there has been a malignant growth of houses and along with the same there has been more than malignant growth of shops as well. There are at present 74 wards under Srinagar Municipal Corporation and since the city has tentacled into adjoining areas the outreach of Srinagar may well be more than a 100 wards. And in each ward there are a good number of shops that were there and thousands that have spread like wild fire over last 3 decades. About 18,500 of these are registered (needs verification) but along with operate the unregistered ones.

The growth has been haphazard to be precise. Within the lanes and bylanes of the old mohallas have come up small shops (most carved out from even the homes), most selling food items.  New colonies that have erupted all over the city, be it Lalbazar, Buchpora, Zakura, Chanapora, HMT, Nowgam, Hyderpora, Ompora have hundreds of shops laid with less vigil on the layout, plan and even execution.  On the 12 km byepass, the 90 feet road from Soura to Ganderbal, the HMT stretch, Hazaratbal-GulabBagh link way on either side has now turned into a concrete jungle with shops visible every few meters. Look around the erstwhile residential areas of Jawahar Nagar, Raj Bagh, Karan Nagar, Dalgate, Khayam, Nowpora which have been consumed for business purposes and one can see that every home/house is now converted into a hotel/guest house or a shopping arena.

Well these days it doesn’t take much to come up with a mohalla or a road-side shop. In a  space, we have to dangle few packs of chips, daal, and other ready to eat namkeens, pile up few packs of biscuits, few cans of oil, few bags of atta, arrange few jars of toffees, chocolates  in parallel and hide few bottles/cans of cold drinks/ juices in a company provided refrigerator and here comes  up a shop. All the items for starting a shop are available at your doorstep by the van wallas dropping this stuff on credit. 

True that with rising population and the tumultuous conditions we need to have availability of things close by all through the day and local shops do ease our worries a lot. With a lull in the business and the uneasy conditions, these small mohalla shops are for sustenance of  poor people who  because of the circumstances(total slowdown of various businesses)  have been forced to do something alternate for a living. Sustenance of the poor brethren is valid but not at the cost of inconvenience. As it goes without saying that the shops have brought with them lots of problems. It is not that the shopkeepers limit themselves to the space that there shop has but they occupy much more and beyond. Foot paths, adjacent government spaces, even the main road at times is occupied by the shop owners much to the inconvenience of the commuters. A shop keeper takes the surroundings as his property and will not allow anybody to obstruct his shop. It is true that a shop is to be registered with the municipal/labour authorities and yearly fee for same is to be deposited for the legal security of the shop. In addition depending on the business done by the shop owner further registrations and necessary fee are to be paid. This means that we should have a data base about the exact number of shops in a particular ward and hence in the city, which likely is lacking.

The smart city tag given to Srinagar city should be the reason of having the city carved into something unique and presentable, not ugly and disarrayed. Amongst the many reasons of Srinagar city being not up to the mark are cleanliness, proper roads and traffic tsunami followed by disarrayed increase in the number of shops. We can have them but with strict adherence to well laid norms as well as limitations in their spread on the public space. Let us limit and regulate the unsurpassable growth of shops that is proving dear to the beauty and appeal of this lovely and now to be a “smart city”.

(Dr Muzafar Maqsood Wani is Consultant Nephrologist, SKIMS, Soura)