Kashmir has always been compared to Paradise or Heaven. Right from the Mughal times it has served as a summer retreat for the rulers who came from far off places. Apart from a cool climate in summer (incidentally it is not that cool now!) its attraction has been the abundant greenery. The majestic towering Chinars are a symbol of that greenery notwithstanding the fact that we have been mercilessly cutting these hundreds of years old symbolic trees! Our soil is so fertile that rain for a few days or so makes grass grow automatically to turn the area green. Unfortunately, a virtual population explosion in the city because of every one wanting to come here to stay and work, our green space has been drastically reduced. Recently, the Town Planning Organisation had circulated a master plan for making Srinagar a smart city. There was also a plan for increasing the green spaces in the city. As per urban development norms circulated by the Union Urban Development Ministry, a city like Srinagar should have a minimum of 570 hectares (11,268 kanals) of land under organized parks and gardens. In contrast the city only has 287 hectares (5,673 kanals) of such space spread over 169 parks. The World Health Organisation has fixed the minimum organized space for every citizen of city to be 9 square meters. Unfortunately, the capital city of the Paradise has only 2.6 square meters per citizen!
The only world famous gardens of Srinagar, Nishat, Shalimar and Chashmashahi were constructed by Mughals centuries ago. There has been no addition to gardens or parks of that standard since the Mughal times. Had the Mughals not laid these historical gardens Srinagar would have had nothing to show as a tourist attraction! Except the much touted Tulip Garden claimed to be the biggest in Asia, there has been no worthwhile addition to such level of parks. Justice Bilal Nazki, former Chief Justice of Bihar had written a letter in May 2016 to the J & K Chief Justice which was treated by him as a Public Interest Litigation. The High Court had directed the Government through Chief Secretary to take note of the letter of the former Chief Justice with regard to increasing the level of green space in Srinagar. Mr Nazki in his letter had mentioned about various parks which had been virtually converted into buildings by the Government itself! These include Usman Zanana Park, on which civil secretariat has been built; part of Badamwari which has been turned into a government housing colony; some area of Naseem Bagh has been used for Kashmir University’s various blocks; Polo Ground has been turned into taxi stand and floricultural nursery; Lal Mandi Park has been squeezed on all sides over the years; Iqbal Park has also been considerably reduced in size. The Court directed Advocate Faisal Qadri to inspect 11 parks and report the status of these. After getting the report, the Court noted that nothing substantial had been done to increase the green space. In fact, it asked the Government to state where Rs 64 lakhs released for the development of parks had gone as the condition of the parks on the ground had remained unchanged!
Recently, the Governor started a campaign to plant 50 lakh trees by 2020. It is a commendable initiative and is going to make a big difference to the general atmosphere and the climate. Along with tree plantation there is need to create green spaces like parks and play grounds etc. Sometime back a golf course was set up on the banks of Dal Lake. The said course known as the Royal Spring Golf Course is a very good example of creating a green space. One wishes if a number of such courses had been created along the banks of the Lake. These would have helped in keeping the lake unpolluted by preventing dumping of sewage by the colonies set up on the banks of the lake! While observing the government efforts for preserving the greenery one must keep in mind the treatment given to the Chinars supposedly a heritage tree of Kashmir. Some of these Chinars are even 400 years old. Many of these trees have been mercilessly cut down to make way for roads and even some buildings. The easiest way has been to strangulate these by choking the space around the base of these which makes these wither away slowly and then these are cut down. One can see some of these trees in this state on the banks of River Jhelum near Zero Bridge!
Governor while starting the plantation drive observed that the people in charge of forests had made millions. Well, if true, the declaration needs to be followed up by initiating legal proceedings against the culprits. That would not only be a bold and courageous step but a big favor to future generations by way of preservation of our green gold as also a lesson for the defaulters. Let us pray and hope such an action is initiated soon! Preserving our greenery and creating more in future is not only the responsibility of the government. Every citizen irrespective of caste, colour and creed needs to participate in the effort. We need to guard our forests like Bahugna’s Chipko Movement. Similarly, every new colony must necessarily have open and green spaces. Let us hope the planners of the future “Smart Srinagar” keep these most essential requirements in view before executing various plans!