Srinagar, the largest city and the summer capital of erstwhile JK state now UT, carries with it the history of 5 thousand years. The city is considered to be one of the oldest cities of the world. The city once known for its natural environment, gardens, waterfronts, house boats, lakes, wetlands and traditional Kashmiri handicrafts has lost its grandeur years back due to wrong urban development planning. A decade back Srinagar was also declared as the filthiest city of India. Now the Srinagar city has achieved one more feather in its cap by figuring at the bottom of the list of 111 Indian cities in EoLI survey recently conducted by the government. Bangaluru figured at the top being the most livable among 111 Indian cities as declared by the Housing and Urban Development Department of union government in its ‘Ease of Living Index’ (EoLI) and Municipal Performance Index(MPI)
We should not blame each other because as a society we all are responsible for this mess. The politicians, administration and the people, are the members of the society who ultimately form the state in wider terms of political science. So far the memory goes, no politician who held the seat of power has ever thought or tried to plan Srinagar as really livable city of the country. Within the span of last 40 years, the Srinagar city spread haphazardly, in an unplanned form and gave rise to many unauthorized colonies. In the whole Srinagar city, Sanatnagar is the only well placed and designed government colony with all basic infrastructure. The rest of the colonies have been developed either on low level areas or wet lands which has made the city most vulnerable to floods.
The mass urbanization and migration of people from rural areas to settle in Srinagar has further worsened the situation, and brought much pressure on the limited space and original inhabitants of the city. The Srinagar city was not so large in the area to bear the brunt of such a heavy influx of rural population and this ultimately resulted in the congestion of this beautiful city.
The unabated encroachment on government land, wet land and river banks has deprived the city from keeping a buffer for absorbing extra rainy waters. The performance of SMC has also remained dismal as per MPI survey conducted recently by union urban development department. The SMC has been slow in implementing the municipal laws and regulations and callous in taking action against violators of these laws. There are dumps of wastage and garbage on the roadside at many places in the city, polluting the environment besides being a health hazard. Even during the recent winter the SMC did not rise to the occasion in disposing of the accumulated snow on the road sides and foot paths, making hell of a problem for the pedestrians. Neither the Municipality nor the traders themselves could arrange labour and a few trucks for lifting the accumulated snow for further disposal. In Kashmir we lack the spirit of volunteerism and community service. We totally depend on the services of government which is not good for meeting the situation during the time of exigencies. However, the members of an advanced civilized society do inculcate the spirit of community service.
Another menace, which SMC has failed to deal with, is the stray dogs. Now-a-days we have been witnessing large packs of dogs sitting and running in the streets of almost all Mohallhas, threatening the lives of pedestrians particularly the school going children. There have been a number of reported cases of dog bites taking place at various places in Srinagar city. The government had done a good job in constructing a walk way on the bund of Rawalpora–Peerbagh flood channel but unfortunately people fear to go for a walk as the stray dogs are always seen relaxing and resting on the path. They have made burrows and tunnels in the bund underneath; this walk way is actually now for their dwellings and to protect them from rain. And due to this, endangering human lives. No doubt some of the families living nearby this bund are also using this canal as garbage bin, and dumping trash, converting it into the filthiest spot of the area. They are also requested to desist from this unhealthiest of acts in the interest of common good. After the 2014 deluge, the concerned authorities have not done any de-silting and drudging work for this flood channel, with the result wild weed has grown making the canal most vulnerable to floods. The flood and irrigation department has been very callous towards the maintenance of this channel. A stream which used to flow in the middle of the channel for irrigation purposes is no more there. For last few decades, water bodies have been under constant and unrelenting stress. Some years back a great chunk of the government wet land available on both sides of the canal was home to birds, but has now squeezed, and big houses are found raised with the connivance of the concerned authorities. A visit by L.G. or one of his advisers to this place may be a game changer for retrieving the canal to its original significance. It is heartening to note that a team of NGO like ‘IHSAS’ is reported to have successfully retrieved Gilser lake to its original position. The other NGOs could also contribute to the society in a similar way
Due to increased volume of traffic and shortage of alternative roads for dispersal, the traffic congestion in the city has further worsened. The wrong decisions of erstwhile politicians in power have added to the misery of traffic congestion by converting vehicular bridge near Rajbagh into foot bridge. Even the old Zero Bridge after repairs could have been used for light vehicular traffic to ease the traffic congestion. The reportedly unwarranted intervention of some politician in delaying the construction of overhead bridge at Sanatnagar/Rawalpora crossing on bypass for their own interest is disservice to lakhs of people residing in that area. The unabated permission by SMC to commercial units in residential areas in the city, without keeping the provision of parking spaces, has made the situation even worse.
The Downtown of Srinagar city having historical and archeological significance was once under strong consideration of UNESCO to declare it as a world heritage city. Now the Srinagar city appears to be a paradise lost. The dream of developing Srinagar as a smart city could be fulfilled only when it improves its ranking in the index of most livable cities of the country.
Abdul Rashid Khan is former IGP, J&K.