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In ‘scenic’ Srinagar, where are the green open spaces?

Srinagar, Feb 25: Fast turning into a hotchpotch of constructions, Srinagar, the summer capital of J&K, has only around 50 per cent of accessible and organised green spaces compared to the standard set for urban India.
As per Urban and Regional Development Plans Formulation and Implementation (URDPFI), a set of guidelines passed by the Union Ministry of Urban Development, a city like Srinagar should have a minimum of 570 hectares (11,268 kanals) of land under organised parks and gardens.
The city, however, has just 287 hectares (5,673 kanals) of such space spread over 169 parks in it.
The information was revealed in a ‘Draft Action Plan for Augmentation of Organised Green Spaces in Srinagar’, a document recently formulated by Urban Development Department’s Chief Town Planner, Kashmir.
In a public notice issued Saturday, the Chief Town Planner, Fayaz Ahmad Khan, asked the public for feedback on the ‘Action Plan’ within six weeks.
“There is no denying the fact that Srinagar city is grossly deficient in organised green spaces (parks and gardens). As such, the city needs to have a long term Action Plan across departments/sectors to meet out the deficiency of green spaces in incremental manner over a period of time,” read the document.
“Rapid population growth and unplanned urbanization are fast resulting in depletion, deterioration and over-extraction of Srinagar’s ecological resources including green space…Even more precarious situation is seen in the core city which is comprehensively without green cover presenting a very desolate picture,” it added.
The picture gets even grimmer when one compares Srinagar with other seemingly-denser cities of India.
World Health Organisation (WHO) has set up a minimum scale of 9 square metres (SQM) of organised green space, which should be available to every inhabitant of a city.
While cities like Varanasi, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Bhopal, Allahabad, Noida and even New Delhi easily surpassing the standard, Srinagar stands at a disappointing 2.6 SQM.
The WHO also suggests designing green area networks, so that all residents live within a 15 minute walk to an open space.
Given the present scheme of things, however, it seems unattainable in Srinagar.
A look at the 2017 State Annual Action Plan (SAAP) under Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation scheme (AMRUT) reveals that J&K government plans to marginally increase the existing per capita green space cover to 4.5 SQM by 2020.
That is because the government plans to develop just four such spaces–the parks along the Jhelum Bank, Green Park at Harwan, Tulip Garden, and a park along Nishat Bund.
Besides, there seems a clear rift between the Srinagar Smart City plan, which is silent on increasing the green cover, and the Draft Master Plan, which foresees construction of 860 parks between 2015 and 2035.
Since the Mughals constructing a few gardens in Srinagar centuries ago, there has hardly been any addition to the city’s green space by the current or preceding governments.
Except Tulip Garden, no mentionable new parks have been created.
On the contrary, many such spaces that existed are now buried under tall concrete figures, which the state disdainfully allowed and still does.
The situation remains so even as there are five government establishments – Floriculture, Srinagar Municipal Corporation, Srinagar Development Authority, J&K Housing Board, Landscape Division (R&B)–directly responsible for the development and maintenance of public parks.
Last year, a letter sent to the government by State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) Chairperson Justice (Retd) Bilal Nazki castigated the successive regimes for concretising various parks.
The letter mentioned Usman Zanana Park, on which civil secretariat exists now; part of Badamwari turned into a government housing colony; part of Naseem Bagh paved way for Kashmir University’s various blocks; parts of Polo Ground turned into taxi stand and floricultural nursery; Lal Mandi Park encroached on all sides over the years; Iqbal Park’s size reduced considerably since 1981.
Fayaz, the Chief Town Planner, told The Kashmir Monitor that Srinagar badly lacked in green spaces accessible to a common person.
“Say for instance, the CM’s or the governor’s residence, or the Golf course has a lot of open space. But it does not qualify as green space for the common man, as he cannot freely access it,” he said.
Fayaz was wary to mention the 45,000 kanals of land under defense and paramilitary establishments in Srinagar alone.
He, however, agreed that the city has lost many historic gardens to “indifference and apathetic” attitude.
“Gardens like Dewan Bagh, Baghi Ali Mardan, Baghi Dilawar Khan have already been lost,” he said.
His Draft Action Plan recommends 15 per cent surface area of any development project to be earmarked for the development of organised green spaces.
It adds that Malkhah in the old city abutting Kalai can be developed into a “vital lung space” in this area.
“It is recommended that the state government shall ensure proper landscaping of historic graveyards and Eidgahs for enriching the biodiversity and ecology in these areas.
“All these spaces including the Polo Ground, Emporium Garden, TRC Park/TRC Ground, Golf Course, Chinar Bagh, and Sher-i-Kashmir Park will have to be integrated into a Central City Park providing multi-faceted experiences to the people,” it reads.