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ON SRINAGAR CITY- LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD

The process and phenomenon of Urbanization is transpiring internationallyand will continue to be so. But we are confronted with a choice between plannedand unplanned one. Planned urbanization entails a holistic and multi-disciplinaryapproach. As the matter of the fact, Srinagar city is the largest urban entity inthe entire Himalayan region in terms of population and constitutes the mosturbanized district as well. The city in the face of its physical threshold andconstraints is likely to extend and grow. In case this growth is not channelizedand regulated it is likely to encroach in the direction of an urban settlementpattern characterizing of unorganized, unplanned mess and haphazardness.

The concept of Smart city is contemporarily the talk of the town and isgaining momentum specifically in the name of Srinagar city. As it happens, a’smart city’ is an urban region that is extremely advanced in terms of inclusive infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications, basic amenities andmarket viability. It is a city where information technology is the chiefinfrastructure and the base for providing essential services to the residents viz.

Adequate water supply, Assured electricity supply, Sanitation, including solidwaste management, Efficient urban mobility and public transport, Affordablehousing, especially for the poor, Robust IT connectivity and digitalisation, Goodgovernance, especially e-Governance and citizen participation, Sustainableenvironment, Safety and security of citizens, particularly women, children andthe elderly, Health and education. While analysing the same, we have not evenquarter of these, and in terms of absolute proportion we even don’t possess basicessential ratio prerequisite for any urban centre and especially a metropolis(Million plus city) like Srinagar.

According to the findings of a study the population of Srinagar city by year2021 would be crossing 18 lakh, when the city will utterly run out of space for newconstructions and infrastructural development. According to SrinagarDevelopment Authority (SDA) official documents ?there are two cities inSrinagar, one is in official records and other is actually on ground. Thegovernment‘s only step towards resolving the issue has been to proclaim theescalation of local area of Srinagar city from the current area of 417 km2to 757km2in the Master Plan 2012-2032, now Master Plan 2015-2035, currently underformulation. According to the urban planners/urbanists, SDA, authorised with notonly framing Srinagar Master Plan but providing planned and affordable housingin the city, has completely botched in fulfilling the desired objective. During the past six decades of its existence SDA has developed a single housing Colony atBemina, which unfortunately has turned out to be the biggest slum in Srinagar.

Moreover, SDA is presently almost non-operational as there are no viableprojects in hand and the organization is snowed under by mismanagement,maladministration and ineptitude at various levels. The government too did not lagbehind and it also constructed many official buildings in prohibited areas. Theoffice of the Srinagar Development Authority (SDA), which is supposed to ensureplanned implementation of development schemes for the city, was itself built onswampy land in the Bemina locality, which actually is meant to be the flood channel.

Similarly, there are at least two dozen government offices, including Haj House,Housing and Urban Development Department, Town Planning Organisation, J&KState BOSE, State Institute of Education, DIET, a city hospital and ForensicScience Laboratory along with many offices that have come in this area, actuallysupposed and anticipated as Flood channel.

The present mess including lack of adequate spatial and other amenities inmost of the housing colonies and commercial centres in Srinagar is because of thefailure of Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and S.D.A. in enforcing even theminimum basic regulatory mechanism while according building permissions.

Srinagar city is already witnessing a huge shortage of houses. According to 2011census figures, 43 percent of houses in Srinagar have two, three or morehouseholds. Three Lakh people are in need of relocation to ease congestion in thecity. The Srinagar Master Plan (2012-2032) calls for making housing arrangements for 11 lakh additional people, and that requires 1,37,500 plots ofland running into thousands of acres. Apropos to and in perspective of thisscenario the urban planners opine that the Proposed Land use/Land cover Plan forSrinagar city by year 2032 as prepared by Srinagar Development Authority(SDA) is not in tune with urban needs vis-à-vis the future expansion and growthof the Srinagar city.Ultimately, this (growth) is obviously going to be more of problem thansolution. It is very pertinent and vibrant to everyone, not to talk of urban plannersor policy makers that ‘No one is paying heed‘ to Master Plan (2012-2032). Eachand every year a new Srinagar City Master Plan is framed and put in public domain,nevertheless none is implemented on ground, ( for instance, SCMP, 2012-2032,then SCMP, 2015-2035 and likewise). Categorically Zoning wasn’t adhered to inthe past nor is at present. For that matter, we have commercial complexes inresidential areas, educational institutes in commercial, residential areas in greenbelts and likewise. It is literally a mess everywhere with no exception from anylocality within Srinagar city. The urban primacy analysis of Srinagar city infers that impetus must be provided to generate newer growth centres and the existingones must be revived. Proper investments in developmental sectors likeinfrastructure, education, occupation is needed, which will relieve existingpressure on Srinagar city. There is a need for Protecting and revitalization of thenatural quality of city core of Srinagar metropolis for economic efficiencyincluding urban renewal and re-development, up-gradation of infrastructure,poverty reduction, employment creation, promotion of trade and relateddevelopmental activities.

Town Planning Organisation, Kashmir (2011) in one of its reports highlightedthat, housing problem in Srinagar city is of an acute type, as about 43 per centhouses in Srinagar have two, three and more households. About 5 lakh populationof core area (downtown) live in 1114 hectares only which works out to 450persons/hectare against the standard of 175 persons/hectare maximum forMetro cities. Thus an area of 1114 hectares should have about 2 lakhs populationmaximum. Removal of congestion of 3 lakh population is the existing problem ofhousing shortage, which will need addition of 37,500 plots at 8 persons/plotagainst the existing 9.45 persons/house. Besides this there will be a continuousrise in the demand in future years to come, when the population of Srinagar citywill be touching 2 Million souls by the year 2020 (as projected by author).

There is an urgent need to revise the Master Plan and enforce itsimplementation in letter and spirit. An Urban Housing Policy, with an impetuswhereby inner city areas would systematically decrease in population, the middleareas remain almost static and the surrounding outer areas increase, is needed.A rational land use policy for the State in general and Srinagar city in particularis also recommended.

Therefore, massive concerted efforts need to be made with best ofadministrative actions and deft political handling for the sake of our futuregenerations.

(Author, a Doctoral Scholar at Kashmir University is working on “Urban Problems &Planning in Srinagar City”, and teaches at a school near Jamia Masjid, Srinagar. He can bemailed at: [email protected])