Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

No South Asian city is as Beautiful as Srinagar, then why is it going downhill like any other South Asian city?

Srinagar continues to spiral into a nightmare, laments Ajaz Ahmad. Here is something that the author missed - even though the city traffic has increased by an order of magnitude in the last decade, Srinagar is the only big city in South Asia without a functioning traffic light system!

(The columnist, 37, writes under the name Ajaz Ahmad and lives in Srinagar.)

A city bursting at its seams!

Overcrowding, clogged roads, and stinking overflowing garbage dumps – the Srinagar city is fast turning into one unholy mess! It is a grim scenario and given the circumstances the future looks even bleaker. Belying all claims of being the 'capital' city of a 'paradise on earth', the city is fast turning into a hell for its inhabitants as well as its visitors!

The city is heavily overcrowded. This in spite of the fact that it has expanded far beyond the original city limits in terms of area. So much so that recently a need was felt to redraw the city borders to include much of what was previously rural area within the municipal limits. This expansion however has not only encroached upon agriculturally productive land but being wholly unplanned and haphazard have most of the times been more of a problem than a solution.
In any case it has done little to offset the problem of overcrowding.

Population has seen an exponential rise in modern times and Srinagar city is no exception to this population boom. Then again there has been a steady migration of people from the rural areas to the city because of the fact that, the tall claims of the authorities not withstanding, even today the very basic amenities of life are missing in our villages. Not that there have been any great strides on this front in the urban sector as such but still given the primitive life style and hardships of village life, the migrants find the city a better option any time. This migration has moreover seen a sharp rise in the last couple of decades because the rural areas had to face the maximum brunt of the turmoil that the valley has been going through. This factor in itself has resulted in mass migrations from the rural and remote areas to the Srinagar city.

The two decades of turmoil have again added to the population burden of the city in the form of a heavy presence of the men in uniform. These security forces tend to be concentrated more in the capital city because a higher number of security sensitive areas fall within the city limits than elsewhere. Not only have the sheer numbers increased but also whereas previously the security forces were confined to the cantonment areas and a few select pockets, now they are present alongside the civilian population.

There is yet another factor that has put further strain on the already overburdened city. In recent times artisans and laborers from outside the state have been flocking to the valley in unchecked profusion. For these workers from outside, the Valley is indeed a 'paradise on earth' considering the cool climes, abundant work and considerably higher wages than in their own country. Following closely on heels of these artisans and laborers an increasing number of beggars have been swarming to the city again finding both the local climate as well as charity quite conducive. Slums which were unknown in this part of the world are now cropping up everywhere.

Then of course there is this holy cow of tourism. Kashmir is increasingly being promoted as the ultimate tourist destination. The authorities have been leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to pump tourists into the place, trying every promotional trick in the book. This is being done ostensibly for the economic upliftment of the place but the fact remains that it is more of a political exercise, the number of tourists being paraded as a statistical proof of peace, prosperity and 'integration'. The pilgrim tourism aspect being increasingly highlighted has been attracting even more crowds. To even suggest that a check on the number of tourists, both pilgrim and otherwise, is necessary to safeguard the environment and the natural beauty of the place (and hence to avoid killing the very 'golden goose' of tourism!) would be considered a sacrilege and an 'anti national' sentiment.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of private-owned vehicles encouraged more than anything else by the easily available finance schemes. One additional very important factor for this increased number of private vehicles is that the authorities have completely failed to provide a worthwhile public transport system. Forget about metros and underground trains and the stuff, even the previously existing public transport systems have completely collapsed. The potential of the natural as well as man-made waterways of the city, which provided an important means of transportation of men and materials in the past, has never been even considered.

These waterways are in most cases breathing their last anyway. With this profusion of privately owned vehicles added to by the fleets of official and security convoys and in the tourist season by huge buses and other vehicles ferrying tourists the city is headed for a big jam session in the days to come. The hustle and bustle of the city is fast turning into a demented frenzy of honking vehicles, frustrated drivers and irate commuters.

The roads, except for a very few exceptions, continue to be the same in size and condition. In recent years the city has witnessed the construction of a single flyover which too is more of a crawl-over considering its span. This much trumpeted flyover is almost the only breather that the city has received in the recent years. There was a drive to remove encroachments in the main city so as to widen the roads to their one time existence. Even this restoring of a previous status of these roads as against upgradation has either been abandoned or has been progressing at a very tawdry pace.It is a fact that the lawlessness in the recent years has led to unbridled construction and encroachment of public spaces.

This is also a fact that like in everything else the 'turmoil' has been and continues to be used as a shield for its apathy and inefficiency by the authorities. Development has been a much talked about affair in the last few years and many achievements have been claimed in this direction but the fact remains that development for most part has been a patchwork affair with more of a 'cosmetic' rather than a solid aspect. The authorities have miserably failed to enhance the existing infrastructure to keep pace with the growing demands on the Srinagar city. What is more of concern is that the authorities do not seem to have any well concerted plan as well in this regard. The doomed historic and beautiful city of Srinagar meanwhile continues to spiral into a nightmare.

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