Srinagar throughout history has been an important center of tourism. It has rather been an epicenter of tourist activities in the whole J&K since times immemorial. In response, over the years Srinagar in particular and J&K in general, has predominantly evolved in an informal mode and build up a strong hospitality sector. Till 1989, Kashmir as a whole and Srinagar in particular has been receiving significant number of international tourists along with a sizeable share of domestic tourists which had infused momentum in various sectors of economy. Srinagar as such had made its mark internationally much before most of the present day thriving tourist cities of the country. Despite its rich tourism legacy, capital city status, distinction of being largest metro-city in Himalayan region, wide range of natural endowment areas, existing international airport, serene landscape, salubrious climate, variegated and rich cultural distinctiveness, art and craft, it is presently struggling to carve out a space in the world map of Global cities regardless of it possessing vital ingredients to be a “Global City”.
Except all this, the level of infrastructure has remained grossly inadequate in comparison to requirements of international standards. There has been also lack of concerted and strategic effort to bequeath an impetus through predetermined and well-conceived development policies for purposes of shaping it, as a city of significant prominence in global arena. Despite having third generation master plan in operation, with exceedingly tardy implementation has resulted into a significant policy deficit to diversify its tourist base and harness its inherent potential for stimulating the economic growth and for giving a fillip to the development of the city. Since true urban development has been eluded in Srinagar, it has deprived the city from economic competitiveness as a growth center at a bigger canvas. It has, despite attracting tourism, not been able to pull highly skilled workers and investment, however, has excelled in art and handicrafts which has also provided a thrust and played a decisive role in its economic vibrancy. It has added to its role in world’s famous art and handicrafts. However, consequence to the range of tourist characteristics Srinagar has to cater wide variety of requirements of tourists ranging from international to domestic and to local needs; it has tried to fulfil the role and meet the aspirations of the cross section. Nevertheless, one thing of significant importance is the pervasive role that arts and handicrafts have played in upgrading the economy. These knowledge based skill oriented and labour intensive small scale and household industries coupled with tourism activities have sustained the economy despite reeling through critically disturbed environment in the valley.
The current strides to develop Srinagar as a metro-city is though a modest beginning to transform it. If the efforts are taken to logical conclusion, benefits accruing from it are bound to generate trickle down influence and result into urban renaissance throughout Srinagar as immediate region and Kashmir valley as extended zone of influence. Various development measures like inclusion of Srinagar in smart city mission scheme, re-imaging of the city center, go-ahead for metro-rail transit system, development of craft center, conservation of lake, bringing investors from outside for real estate development of the city, development of outer ring road, completion rail connectivity with rest of the country, work on a number of grade separators, street furniture, revival of traditional crafts, comprehensive development of road infra, development of industrial estates, power projects and many more, are all going to act as a catalyst to infuse development impetus which is furthermore bound to improve the image of Srinagar. In addition, government has also launched massive initiative for urban reforms such as management innovation, horizontal and vertical integration, creation of Srinagar Metropolitan Regional Development Authority, transferring of core city function to SMC, reformed urban legislation and laws, creation of land bank through retrieval of encroached land, and comprehensive digitalization are bound to change local governance structure, promote Srinagar’s natural endowments and potentials with enhanced competitiveness as city and as tourist epicenter in JKUT.
May 2023 G-20 Summit
An international event scheduled to be held in the month of May 2023 in Srinagar represents a great opportunity for Srinagar city to showcase its potential for tourism, rich cultural and natural heritage, salubrious climate, art and crafts, neat and clean environment, horticulture and other sectors. The deadline for completing the finishing touches of face-lifting and to remodel Srinagar-the main city center is mainly to meet the requirements of it going “Global”. Along with other development and construction projects, clearance of main arteries, improvement in services and infrastructure is underway as a priority to showcase its commitments and endeavors for sustainable urban development at global platform. It is pertinent to mention here that before this event, G-20 infrastructure working group meeting under the Chairmanship India on private financing of cities along with challenges and opportunities of the cities of the future was held at Pune, Maharashtra which is known as “Queen of Deccan”, on 16-17TH of January. In this working meeting urbanization as an inevitable rapid phenomenon was deliberated upon besides development of cities on many themes including smart cities, cyber cities, and green cities. This two day working group was attended by 64 participants from 18 countries, 8 guest countries and 8 international organizations. In continuation to the declarations of earlier presidencies meeting was focused on “financing cities of future” - inclusive, strong and sustainable was the center of the theme with underlined objective of promoting development on basis of equality. The meeting brought cross section of international experts to deliberate and discuss the issues how cities of the future must integrate their key functions-the planning and financing to enhance private participation. Private funding also came in discussion for the cities of future. The finance Ministry is guiding the G20 infrastructure agenda to ensure the declarations of G20 are made to act as a global catalyst to visualize new ideas and accelerate collective actions. After this second round of working meeting of G20 was held in Vishakhapatnam, Odisha, with more or less same theme –Financing Cities of Tomorrow-to promote inclusive, resilient and sustainable development.
On similar lines a G20 Summit is being hosted for Tourism Working Group in Srinagar on 22-24TH of May, 2023. It is the first significant international event to be hosted by Srinagar city in which almost 100 non-ministerial members area scheduled to represent G20 nations. The meeting is expected to bring Kashmir in general and Srinagar in particular on the world tourist map back again and tourism sector is expected to receive a major boost to film tourism in collocation with varied tourism activities provided by its bountiful landscape. Through this meeting many countries which have declared Kashmir a no-go-zone and issued travel adversaries to their citizen by declaring it a dangerous place to visit are expected to lift the ban on travel. The scheduled G20 summit is expected to culminate in a stupendous increase in tourist visits, revive the arrival of foreign tourists, and attract the global market for Kashmiri arts, handicrafts, agricultural products, spices to promote durable economic development and sustainable growth through job creation and build confidence for outside investment for all round development tourism with Srinagar city as it pivot. Ultimately it will lead to improving the living standards of Kashmir people with greater accessibility to education, healthcare and basic services. These are the tangible benefit, however, intangible benefits to Srinagar city are going to bring a much desired effervescence and place it at a high pedestal as a destination for investment and economic growth impetus.
Take Away for Srinagar
Being a host city for 22-24th May Summit, provides Srinagar an opportunity to avail and utilize it positively and efficiently in its endeavor to upscale the development process and transform into throbbing tourist center of global importance. Srinagar which dominate the urban scene of J&K has better infrastructure and service than other cities and towns of J&K along with its advantages of fulfilling most of the characteristic features for the global city status, can march with effortlessness and smoothly towards attaining this eminence provided concerted efforts are articulated to avail opportunities thrown up with the development initiative and hosting of the G20 Summit.
Till date Srinagar has more or less remained underpowered due to weak policy framework, poor financial strength, weak and inefficient municipal functioning, non-implementation of development plans, inappropriate local self –government, lack of collective leadership tasks, soft power, missing participation of pro-active citizens, lack of adoption of new approaches and innovative ideas to transform its urban fabric as a successful city at global platform. Continued disturbance in the Valley along with democratic vacuum had debilitated the city to the extent that it was difficult for it even to “stay local”.
Despite all these efforts and development booster which Srinagar will be infused through Smart City Mission Scheme and hosting of G20 Summit, challenges of achieving required transformation and renaissance for boosting its status and image still remain. It needs framing of coherent policies/plans for elimination of policy and planning deficit, sustained effort to reshape urban form and urban landscape of the city, augmentation of matching fiscal resources for development, improved urban governance, analytically efficient monitoring and evaluation, adaptable plans over rigid and flexibly rigid plans, greater focus on service like appropriate sanitation, waste water treatment, comprehensive sewerage, sports infrastructure, establish institutes of eminence/universities and world level related facilities. Mainly to ensure greater connectedness of Srinagar with other parts country and the world through improved world-wide communication networks and desired transformation of cityscape. It is pertinent to mention all this is only possible if Shiekh-Ul-Alam International Airport is made fully operational for international air traffic to make tourist foot fall more diversified, encourage foreign direct investment and boost the economy; otherwise whole development initiative would die down soon merely as a euphoric cry. Therefore, there is a dire need for continuation of such measure to enable Srinagar to overcome the inadequacies and discrepancies so as not to leave it behind in its search and longing to improve and lend it an image of global city.
Hammid Ahmad Wani, Professional City Planner
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.