Frankly speaking, from last three decades, the responsibility, sensibility and smartness of the citizens has reached full stop. Literally, the built-environment of Srinagar city is being destroyed from every corner by the violators & encroachers. If we had a couple of more cities, and if few of them get defaced/de-shaped or mismanaged because of insensitivity of citizens, we could still boast of the rest. But unfortunately, we have only one city- SRINAGAR, the city of our dreams in the Kashmir valley. And this city is turning ugly day by day with slum like situation and simultaneously going through worst kind of environmental degradation. Mayhem of the mindless development is crippling the city by way of reducing green cover, thereby taking a heavy toll on sponge character of Srinagar and its fragile ecology.
Two reasons behind the worsening conditions include – encroachments and violations. People encroach or illegally occupy any kind of available government land, forest land, Nallahs & other water bodies, public roads, open spaces & social/community spaces etc. Such kind of attitude has become a usual habit and everyone tries to grab whatever s/he can. The built-up area has tremendous effect and impact on the future the city.
Violation normally means illegal/unauthorized constructions or deviations from the sanctioned permission. In the first category, the owner or developer does not approach the concerned authorities for building/development permission and constructs structures without permission. Secondly, even if the intending owner/developer obtains permission from the competent authorities, still s/he violates or deviates (wholly or partially) from the granted permission.
Impact of violations/encroachments on environment
More human intervention in the natural environment means more problems. Therefore, one can conclude: man is the main problem. However, s/he can be a solution too. Once a plan is formulated for the whole city, it has to have a logical sense in terms of environmental improvements, conserving more of the natural elements, increasing the green spaces/recreational areas , conserving water bodies/wetlands so that city lives a fuller life and provides congenial environment to the inhabitants. The idea of sustainability of the city has become more relevant due to over exploitation of the natural resources.
If city is left to the complete choice of its citizens, then even God cannot save it because of the greed and selfishness of the people. That is why rules/regulations and byelaws help in the environmental sustainability of a city region. In fact minor violations (as provided in byelaws) may be tolerable but major violations have tremendous impact on the city environment. In fact people violate/deviate in six different ways:
i) Increase in ground coverage:
This simply means reducing the open space or green cover in the city. The less the open space/green cover, the more chances of temperature rise or heat increase. The developed roads, the buildings/structures and more of human interventions create a negative environment and helps in increasing the reflected heat/generation of heat, thereby changing the climatic conditions of the area/region. The better way is to plant trees in the courtyards and develop lawns/ kitchen gardens around the building/house. People should not use their house lawns/gardens for raising additional structures. The open space in front of the house will also serve as a relief during natural disasters like earthquakes or man-made disasters like fire etc. One should not be too cunning for his/her own safety as well as his/her progeny. Tremendous increase in ground coverage creates blighted areas or slum like situation.
ii) Encroachment of Setbacks: Every building/structure has to have setbacks on front, rear and sides i.e.; the building has to be away/ distanced from the plot boundaries as per byelaws. The minimum setback for a two storey building is 10 feet. The front varies as per plot depth or area of land and also due to Right of Way and Building line. In case of twin houses, one side could be a common wall/blind side and in case of row housing, two parallel sides of each building are blind and common to other houses. These setbacks are for light, sunlight, ventilation, fire gap and privacy purposes. Imagine the situation, when there are no setbacks? Encroachment of setbacks will reduce the open space thereby increasing ground coverage and affecting light & ventilation which ultimately shall lead to slum like situation. The fact of the matter is that during an earthquake even of low category, everyone tries to come out of the house feeling a sense of insecurity (whether day or night) and does not have a faith in the strength of the structure and imagine, when there is not space around the building. Recently, in research, it has been concluded that more energy could be saved, if building has enough free space around it for natural light & ventilation, thereby reducing the use of electricity during day-time.
iv) Change in the Land Use: Under the garb of sanctioned residential permission, people build commercial structures like shopping complexes, Malls, schools, nursing homes etc. Then what is the fun of preparing Master Plan which is broadly a Land Use Plan? Commercial structures demand more of open spaces and parking facilities. But as we see, no private commercial complex has parking facilities as they want every inch to be sold purely on commercial basis. Where will the cars of the owners be parked or even of their customers? Change of land use is totally prohibited and no law can help in this behalf. People who have converted basement (to be used for parking/services) of their complexes into some other commercial use have in fact paved the whole area around the building for surface parking and this type of conversion has lead to 100% negative development. They have left no space for plantation and green areas.
v) Change of use (activity) in the utility of the building: People change the activity (use of the structure) even if the structure/building has been constructed as per norms/design, i.e.; use it for commercial, educational, health facility etc against the permitted residential use. It also creates parking problems plus density issues in the ward/zone. For example if a residential house (built purely residential) is being converted into a guest house or hostel, then its commercial status definitely has an impact in the neighbourhood because of change of nature/utility. If the family of five was supposed to use it, now 25 people inhabit there and it has literally added to the woes of basic services like traffic, electricity, water usage etc.
vi) Encroachment of Right of Way & Building Line: People encroach upon Right of Way or Building Line, i.e.; RoW is the actual existing/proposed width of the road and B. L is the distance of the structure from the centre of the road (existing/proposed). We see, people constructing houses/shops/complexes on the edges of road in a linear fashion, thereby creating bottlenecks for road widening. Also people park their vehicles on the public roads in the absence of parking facility, thereby creating traffic jams etc. Our roads are very old and have not been widened enough up to its full potential width. In case of a future widening (after the road has been built as per Master Plan norms), there is a margin in the form of building line. Building line is the only tool available for planners to meet futuristic mobility needs of ever growing population of the city. Once Building line is encroached, the hope of road widening decreases. As such, citizens who intend to develop their plots/landed property must regard the sanctity of the RoW and Building line for their own posterity and progeny. Roads are backbone of transportation and communication; rather these are related directly to accessibility of better health, efficient education and smarter sociability. Religiously also, roads are given high respect and anyone who gives land in charity for roads, is rewarded by sacred books. Encroachment on roads is a bigger crime that cannot be compensated either now or in future.
City belongs to citizens and citizens have to have civic sense, otherwise the city by itself has no cure for their ills. The carelessness of citizens does impact and affect the soul of the city and the soul of the city is its wetlands, water-bodies, green vistas, the mountains, open spaces, roads/footpaths, nooks/chowks, social/community spaces, children's play areas and its heritage/culture etc. The health, hygiene and happiness is the core focus for the city and if the citizens do not acknowledge the rights of the city, the rights of the building/structure, the rights of its inhabitants, the rights of the neighbours, the laws of the land and values of the Valley, then, we should accept self-destructive destiny without blaming anyone else for the mess we are in – be it God or the Government. The city is calling its careless and carefree citizens to be careful and mindful of mindless development which is crippling the city, be conscious of civic sense, be aware of environmental & ecological issues, and be active and participatory in "clean and green policy", to work more for inclusive development so that every citizen lives to his/her full potential.
The writer is a city planner and public policy analyst with background education in urban Planning, architecture, disaster management, sustainable development and human rights.