Experts pitch revival of Maharaj Gunj glory

Greater Kashmir

INTACH proposes pilot project for Shahr-e-Khaas Jhelum banks

Srinagar, May 7: Imagine historic Maharaj Gunj market in Shahr-e-Khaas getting back its glory with heritage buildings looking the same as it was around a century ago and you going there for shopping with no problem of car parking. And at the top of it getting a chance to enjoy a walk on the Devri stone carved banks at Aali Kadal..
 This is what the experts Saturday proposed before the government during a presentation on Socio-Cultural Revival of River Jhelum leading to Revitalization of Historic Character of Srinagar City, by INTACH, an organization dedicated to conservation of heritage in the country.
 Following a briefing about the historic importance of Srinagar by INTACH’s state Chapter Convener Muhammad Saleem Beg, the officials and members of civil society admitted that over the years City’s heritage had been “badly vandalized” and that a beginning needs to be made for the conservation.

MAHARAJ GUNJ PROPOSAL
 INTACH has prepared a detailed report on the conservation of historic sites along Jhelum. And to start with the area around Maharaj Gunj has been taken as a pilot project.
 Giving details Koen Aertgeerts, an architect from Belgium who has been extensively working in Srinagar for his thesis said the conservation of heritage was no big deal provided there is a commitment to the task.
 He said a Rs 12 odd crore project could transform the Maharaj Gunj locality into a eye-catching heritage site which apart from local business can attract tourists from world over.
 He said the “restoration/ conservation of heritage structures” would require revival of traditional facades, proper solid waste management, repairs of Ghats and the narrow lanes.
 Besides, the Belgian expert said, four Ghats at Aali Kadal be given a facelift.
 “But dustbins and benches shouldn’t  be placed the way it has been done at park on Jheum banks(near Raj Bagh)… Instead typical Kashmiri benches, dustbins and lighting system need to be introduced,” he told the meeting, which amongst others was attended by Director Tourism Farooq Ahmed Shah.

LOCAL EMPLOYMENT
 Koen said to undertake the work local unemployed youth should be trained through technical advise from organizations like INTACH.
 “Same was done in Lhasa where 2000 locals were trained and finally they grew up to give expertise to the entire country,” he added.

FAÇADE CONTROL
 The meeting, attended by professionals including senior architects and town planners agreed that the buildings in Srinagar looked “messy” simply because no attention was being paid towards the pattern of façade.
 “Nobody thinks of Façade control at-least on the main roads and places of historic importance,” the INTACH Coverer said.

FUNDS SHOULDN’T BE PROBLEM
 Beg, who is also former Director General of Tourism said financial resources for the Maharaj Gunj pilot project shouldn’t be a problem.
 “Its not an in-appropriable money that too when its going to fetch long term benefits,” Beg said.
 Some senior officials echoed his views saying organizations like Srinagar Development Authority should provide requisite funds.
 “SDA already has Rs 10 crore earmarked for heritage conservation related activities… Why don’t they fund the pilot project,” argued one of them.

CONSERVE LISTED BUILDINGS
 The meeting observed that stress be paid on the conservation of building structures already listed by INTACH for heritage conservation.
 Pertinently, the organization has identified atleast 835 structures of heritage value which need to be conserved. But till date successive regimes have failed to wake up to the situation.

OFFICIALS SPEAK
 Commissioner Srinagar Municipal Corporation Sheikh Mushtaq while hailing the Maharaj Gunj proposal said it was high time for INTACH to send to copy of the same to concerned departments so that future course of action is decided.
 He also stressed for creation of a nodal agency that would coordinate with the concerned in the execution of the prestigious project.
  INTACH architect Sameer Hamdani was also present on the occasion.