Last month Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) extended an invitation to attend two days interaction session at SKICC regarding the evolving concept of 'Greater Srinagar'. Defying unrest and strict restrictions I would have loved to be part of this event, but an important date at Delhi hospital constrained me to miss the event. Anyways, Srinagar is a subject worth to be involved in. In contemporary era of progress and modern scientific habitation planning, a city can be made greater and splendid only through planned and sustained expansion strictly in agreement with existing ambiance and environs with highest degree of self-reliance being essence of such development.
Srinagar—the sun-city located on both the sides of the River Jhelum (Vyath) and once famed as city of bridges for its spectacular wooden bridges is a historic and unique city. Resting in the middle of saucer shaped valley surrounded by several mountain ranges, Srinagar city is advantaged with exceptional landscape and surrounding of many well laid formal gardens. It's archaeological, architectural and cultural heritage categorise Srinagar into an interesting repository of culture and layers of history. Once described as `Venice of the East' by many foreign travellers, Srinagar as a city is exceptional in many ways. In 1665 the French physician and traveller François Bernier Described Kashmir of which Srinagar city is the most prominent part as, "In truth, the kingdom surpasses in beauty all that my warmest imagination had anticipated". Much later, Sir Francis Edward Younghusband a British Army officer and explorer in his book 'Kashmir' narrates, "Srinagar has attractions of its own, and built as it is on either side of the river, with canals and waterways everywhere intersecting it, and with the snowy ranges filling the background of every vista, the city of Srinagar must be ranked among the most beautiful in the East, and in its peculiar style unique. The distinguishing feature is the combination of picturesque but rickety wooden houses, of mosques and Hindu temples, of balconied shops, of merchants' houses and the royal palaces with the broad sweeping river and the White Mountain background".
Srinagar city has a recorded history of being a large, prosperous and a planned city. Historians like Kalhana in his 12th century chronicle Rajatarangini described Srinagar in a much bigger way, particularly about its size, affluence and design. Srinagar's civic and developmental activities are as old as history of this city. However, over the period of time, particularly during last six decades of people's rule, Kashmir in general and Srinagar city in particular has lost its sheen and shine. Most of the Srinagar water features and vast terraced gardens in immediate vicinity of Srinagar city are no more same what Younghusband and others of that ilk described. No doubt, over the period of time civic and developmental plans have grown many folds, but most of the time quality and standard got compromised. Materialistic urge and greed of its residents and managers has turned whole city into a concrete jungle. Most of the roads, lanes and even open space devotedly preserved by earlier autocratic rulers are encroached or exist no more. One-time Hazuri-Bagh, Goal-Bagh and much loved Polo grounds have almost vanished from the scene of Srinagar city. In civil lines area the famous 'Bund' on right side of river Jhelum with beautiful architectural structures existing till late sixties, looks like a junkyard now. In old city areas, where every part is full of history and marvellous architecture, the situation is not pleasing. Mentioning about a few; Budshah tomb, where each stone speak of an era, is now almost in dilapidated condition; the outer façade of Pathar Masjid build by Noor Jahaan in 1623 stands pockmarked by encroachers. Even after implementing several developmental and expansion schemes the entire old city is crumbling, drains opening in water bodies and heaps of garbage left unattended for weeks even after pumping millions for civic amenities, describe pathetic situation of civic facilities. Flawed transport system and other issues related to potable-water, energy and roads add to confusion within the inhabitants.
Concluding with hope, Srinagar can transmute into a greater city and its people have every right to dream for it, but for that we as rightful residents and owners of this great city have to change from materialistic plunders into lovers of this city. Administrators too have to plan, implement and manage the city with positive approach and a strong emphasis on preserving our rich repository of heritage, ecosystem and developing a self-reliant management mechanism. Otherwise, real 'Greater Srinagar' will be a distant dream!